Watch… and Hope

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Watch… and Hope

November 29, 2020*

By John Partridge

Isaiah 64:1-9            1 Corinthians 1:3-9         Mark 13:24-37

Have you met anyone that you know lately?

Many of us have been so isolated because of the coronavirus that we don’t get to talk to very many people but when we do, one of the common thoughts that we share is, “what a strange time this is.”  Our isolation, in fact, is one of the big worries that we have about quarantines, self-isolation, and social distancing.  Social, isolation amplifies our feelings of loneliness, abandonment, depression, and hopelessness which, in turn, increases the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide.  And all these things, as well as our fear of disease, sickness, and death, are what makes living through a time of pandemic so hard.

But the people of scripture were familiar with hardship.

At the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire was on the rise and its armies were marching across the region toward Israel and Judah exactly at a time when those nations were declining in influence and military power.  Worse, Isaiah carries a message from God that Israel will be defeated, destroyed, and her people carried off into seventy years of captivity and slavery in Babylon.  Life was about to get more difficult than anyone had imagined, and everyone’s plans and dreams for the future were about to be erased and dramatically rewritten.  But before Isaiah ends that bleak message, he also includes these words (Isaiah 64:1-9):

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
    and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
    and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
    you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
    who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
    you were angry.
    How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over toour sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
    do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
    for we are all your people.

As doom approaches Israel, the prophet Isaiah prays that God would come down and reveal his power to the world just as fire unleashes its power and is revealed to anyone, and anything, that comes close to it.  Fire cannot hide the effects of its heat and, Isaiah knows that likewise, God’s power is so great that its effects cannot be hidden from the world.   When God comes down from heaven, nations quake and mountains tremble.  But Isaiah also knows that our God is different than other gods.  The God of Israel does not use power to bring death and destruction, but to help and to heal people who do what is right and who remember to follow and obey the ways of God.

But God’s love and care for the righteous is exactly the thing that has brought judgement and destruction to Israel’s doorstep.  Isaiah confesses that for too long, Israel has persecuted and sinned against the true followers of God and brought harm to them.  It was that sin against the good and the righteous that angered God against his people and caused him to turn his face from them.  Israel had entered a time when God simply refused to rescue them from themselves and allowed them to stew in the mess that they had created.  As such, Isaiah’s prayer both confesses their guilt, but also begs that God would not stay angry at them forever.  Despite their guilt, Isaiah has hope for the day that God would once again return to rescue them because, regardless of what they had done, they remained God’s chosen people.

And then, in Mark 13:24-37, at a time that was nearly as familiar with difficulty and hardship as in the time of Isaiah, Jesus picks up the Old Testament theme discussing the day of judgment and the coming of the Messiah.  At that time, Israel was no longer captive in a foreign land, but they were ruled by a foreign government, watched over by a hostile army, and paid heavy taxes to Rome.  And in that time, just as they had in the time of Isaiah, the people of Israel prayed for God’s Messiah to rescue them.  And Jesus said…

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that itis near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Jesus reinforces God’s promise that the Messiah would return in judgement and declares that at that time, God would finally reveal his power and glory to the world and would gather his people from the ends of the earth.  But until then, Jesus reminds us that although no one can know the day or the hour of his return, the end of the world will not come completely without warning.  Just as we watch the trees during the winter, and we recognize that Spring is coming when the trees begin to bud, in the same way we will know that judgment and the end of the world is coming if we are alert and watch for the signs.

Similarly, Jesus warns his followers, and us, that we are like the servants that have been left in charge while the owner of the house is away.  We do not know when he will return, but we must watch for his return, remain at our posts, and continue to do the work that he has given us, so that we will not be found slacking when he returns.

And so, once again, God’s promise and prophecy bring hope to his people, both in the time of the New Testament and in the twenty-first century, as we look forward to the return of God’s messiah the rescue of God’s people, and the final redemption of the world.

But as is often the case, as we look forward, we often worry about how which side we will find ourselves on Judgement Day.  And so, the very passages of scripture that were intended to give us hope, are the very passages that cause us concern and steal our joy.  But Paul knew that people in the church were going to worry about that and so as he wrote to the church in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, he reassured them by including this reminder:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul reminds us that it in, and through, Jesus Christ that we are enriched in every way and given our abilities to speak, to preach, to tell stories, and to carry the gospel message to the people around us.  It is through God’s gifts of speech and knowledge that God confirms the truth of our testimony.  Further, while we wait for the return of Jesus Christ, we are given all of God’s spiritual gifts to aid us in sharing the gospel and in carrying out the mission and vision of Jesus Christ.  What’s more, Paul says, is that it is Jesus, and his power, that hold us steady and firm in the against the temptations of the world, so that we will be found blameless when Jesus return and we stand in judgement.  And finally, Paul reminds us of the faithfulness of the God who called us to follow Jesus and who adopted us as his children.  If God has done all these things, and if we continue to diligently work for him while he is away, then we have nothing at all to fear when he returns because we know that on that day, the world will finally be put right, justice will be done, the broken will be repaired, the lame will walk, the blind will see, disease, suffering, poverty, and death will come to an end, and the world will finally know… peace.

And that is why, from the time of Isaiah, to the coming of Jesus, and even until today, the consistent message of scripture is that the coming of the Messiah, and the day of judgement, is not a message that should cause us fear or concern.  Instead, the message of the power of God, the birth of his Son Jesus, and the promised day of judgement was, is, and has always been…

…a message of hope.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/9XG6erKs3go

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

How to be Everyplace at Once

November 22, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24    Ephesians 1:15-23      Matthew 25:31-46

Have you ever been so busy that you really needed to be in two places at the same time?

We all try not to do that, but on more than one occasion I have accidentally double-booked myself and needed to be in two places at the same time.  At other times, District Superintendents, or various committee chairs have changed meeting dates that conflicted with other activities to which I had already committed, and as many of you have experienced, when our children were in school, we often needed to be at soccer, cross-country, cheer-leading, football, band, school, church, or scouting events in different places at the same time. 

But we all know that we can’t be in two places at once.

Or can we?

Obviously, God, being omni-present, is everywhere at the same time, but since we are individuals that are bound by the limits of space and time, we can only be in one place at any particular moment in time.  But that’s not the end of the story, although it is a good place to begin.  Let’s continue by reading Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, where God has just condemned the leaders and shepherds of Israel for misleading and bringing harm to his people, and now, instead, promises to lead and care for his people himself.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

Throughout this passage, God speaks in the first person. “I myself will search,” I will bring them, I will pasture them, I will tend them, “I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.”  But God also promises that he will, personally, bring punishment and destruction to the bullies who used their strength and power to abuse the people and to drive them away from God.  Instead, God promises that he, through his servant David, will place one shepherd to watch over his people.

And this prophecy and promise of God is reiterated and echoed in Matthew 25:31-46, as Jesus says, …

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

There are three things that struck me as I read this, and all are worth remembering as we consider the idea of being everywhere at once.  First, Jesus reminds us that everyone, Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist and everything in between will one day stand in front of Jesus and be judged.  In that moment, the good will be separated from the bad or, as Jesus said, the sheep will be separated from the goats.  Sheep and goats are similar, but are not the same, and that is also true of human beings.  We might look the same on the outside, but what is inside of us makes us different from one another.  And that difference of heart creates the next two distinctions. 

The second thing worth remembering is that the good, or the righteous people, had no idea that they had done good.  For them, doing good, was so automatic that they did it without thinking and weren’t even aware that they were doing it for, or to, Jesus.  Doing good, helping others, and being Jesus to the world, was so ingrained, so natural to them, that it was simply who they were.  And the third thing is nearly the same thing.  The people who Jesus condemns didn’t really do anything overtly, or obviously evil.  Instead, they simply looked past the evil and suffering of the world, they looked, they saw, and they ignored.  And when Jesus condemns them, they had no idea who they had ignored, or the pain and suffering that they had ignored.  Like the righteous, the behavior of the unrighteous was so ingrained, so natural, and so normal to them, that it was simply who they were.

But what does that have to do with us, or with being everywhere at once?

We are connected to the person, and to the mission, of Jesus, and to his omnipresence, because we are his followers. And, in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-23), he explains it this way…

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that he has not stopped giving thanks for the people of the church and goes on to pray that God would bless them with the wisdom to know Jesus better, enlightenment to know the hope that Jesus brings, to know the riches of God’s inheritance, and to understand the great power that God gives to those who believe.  Paul then reminds the people of the church of the God’s great power and the power that God has granted to Jesus Christ and to his church which is the body of Christ.

Paul emphasizes God’s great power, and the power that God gave to Jesus, and then surprises us by explaining that the great power of Jesus Christ has been given to the church which, he says, “is the fullness” of God.  I want to be clear that what Paul is saying, is that we are Jesus to the world because we are the body of Christ.

And so, as the body of Christ, collectively, we, as the church, find ourselves, at any moment in time, spread all over the world.  Although we are certainly not omnipresent in the way that God is, we are, almost, everywhere at once when we are acting as the body of Christ.  But to do that, there is something that we need to do first.  We must tune our hearts so that, as much as possible, we have the same heart as Jesus Christ.

There are two steps for us to take.  First, we are to shape and tune our hearts to be like the heart of Jesus Christ.  Our hearts are to be so in tune with Jesus that we become Jesus to the world around us.  And second, we must be the church.  We must be the body of Christ and do the work of Jesus.

But it really is easier than that.

The people in Jesus’ parable who did good, did so without even realizing that they were doing good.  Being Christlike was automatic.  Doing the work of Jesus was a completely unconscious action once their hearts became like the heart of Christ.  So, our first step is to do everything we can to be like Jesus, to love like Jesus, to care like Jesus, and to have the heart of Jesus for the world, and for the people around us.  Once we accomplish that, the rest is automatic.  Once we accomplish that, we only have to go out into the world…

…and be ourselves.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/DFz1jUZnWTw

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Investing, Fraud, and Weakness

Investing, Fraud, and Weakness

July 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

Genesis 29:15-28                   Romans 8:26-39                     Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

 

Have you ever been ripped off?

Have you ever gotten home before you figured out that someone gave you the wrong change?

Have you paid for something that turned out to be a lot less than what was advertised?

But what if you spent seven years of your life investing in your future, and suddenly discovered that your broker had taken your money?  Or of you bought a house and, after you took out a mortgage, and the closing was signed, they gave you the keys to different house?  Or, the car dealer gave you an uglier car than the one you paid for?  You get the idea.  This fraudulent tactic has been used so often over the years that it has a name, bait and switch, and is specifically illegal in most states.

And this only gives us a taste of the anger and betrayal that Jacob must have felt when his uncle, a beloved family member, robbed him of seven years of his life.  We read that story of love and betrayal in Genesis 29:15-28.

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So, Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Jacob invested seven years of his life working, and waiting, for the love of his life.  He loved Rachael so much that seven years of his life seemed to fly past.  Can you imagine?  Most people today can barely imagine an engagement that lasts for more than six months.  I’ve known a few people who waited a year or two so that they could wait in line for the specific venue that they wanted for their perfect storybook wedding, but can you imagine waiting, and investing seven years’ worth of your labor, for the woman of your dreams?  And then, on the day after your wedding, discovering that the woman you married, isn’t the woman that you wanted?  And to make matters worse, even though you finally get the one you want, you end up working another seven years to pay for the wedding.

Jacob had to have been beside himself with fury, anger, and frustration.  Sure, Laban tried to explain it all away by saying that it was customary to marry the eldest daughter first.  But regardless, this still must be one of the most well-known cases of bait and switch in the history of fraud and bad deals.  Not surprisingly, after this moment, despite being his father-in-law, Laban is no longer a beloved member of Jacob’s extended family.  After this, Jacob begins to plan his departure as well as how he will take as much of Laban’s wealth with him as he can when he leaves.

Clearly, this is a story about fraud, betrayal, and bad investing (although, in the end, Jacob did get to marry the woman of his dreams).  But it serves as a contrast to the investments that we make in the kingdom of God.  In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus tells several parables that all connect to the value of faith, and the value of investing in God’s kingdom, along with a warning or two.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Jesus explains that joining the kingdom can be thought of in a transactional sense.  We are buying into the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God and when we buy in, we spend ourselves, we spend our time and effort in new ways and in new places that are, or at least should be, less focused on self, and focused instead on the good of the kingdom.  But that investment brings returns.  Jesus compares it to planting a mustard seed, which is tiny and not much bigger than a grain of table salt.  But that tiny seed grows into a plant that can be the size of a tree.  If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that it doesn’t take much yeast to bake a lot of bread.  But while only a little bit of yeast is needed for many pounds of flour and other ingredients, those ingredients won’t make bread without it.  Some treasure, Jesus says, is so valuable, that even if we sell all that we possess to buy it, we still come out far ahead of where we were before.  Imagine selling everything you had to buy a million-dollar home, because you knew that there was a hundred-million-dollar treasure buried underneath.  That’s the picture that Jesus paints for us as we struggle to understand the value of our membership and participation in the kingdom of God.

But there’s a warning in this message as well.  Jesus says that just as fishermen sort through their catch to save the good and valuable fish, and throw back the worthless ones, this same sort of thing will happen in God’s kingdom.  At the end of time, the people of the earth will be sorted.  The good and valuable people will be saved, and the worthless and evil ones will be thrown into the fire.

But, while that all makes sense on one level, on another level when we hear stories about judgement we begin to worry that we’re going to spend our entire lives trying to get things right, and trying to invest in the right things, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, and still get it wrong and end up on the wrong side of the judgement.  But our fears on that account are unfounded because that’s not the way that it works.  As long as we are genuine in our faith, and are trying our best and are not just selfishly ignoring God’s instructions whenever it is inconvenient, then God will not only walk with us on our journey, but will help us to make better decisions and support us when our human strength fails.  This is how Paul explains it in Romans 8:26-39:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered 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, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When we feel beaten down, emotionally, and physically worn out, destroyed, drained, and helpless, Paul reminds us that a part of the package that came with our investment in the kingdom of God is that we are never alone.  We are never alone with our grief, never alone with our pain, or our fear, our suffering, our struggles, or our weakness.  When we struggle, or when we are weak, worn down, and exhausted, whenever we reach the end of ourselves, the Spirit of God is there to help us.  Even when we are distraught, confused, and in such emotional turmoil that we can’t even express ourselves in words, our groans, our weeping, and our tears, are translated by the Spirit and lifted to God as prayers for us and those we love.  We may not have the words, but God hears our cries, and understands.

But not only does God understand our pain, God is constantly working for the good of his people.  God has not only called us to follow him, but he is shaping us, and molding us, into the image of his Son, Jesus so that we might become like him.  No matter what enemy, beast, bully, person, pandemic, power, or politician stand against us, God is on our side.  And if God is on your side, there is nothing else that you need to worry about.  No matter what accusations might be thrown against us, God is the final judge.  It is God who, through his Son, Jesus Christ, redeemed the world, and it is Jesus who speaks to God on our behalf.  No one, no trouble, no hardship, no persecution, famine, poverty, danger, or violence can ever separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.  No one.

No matter what we face, because we stand with God, we are conquerors through him, and through his love for us.

Our bargain with God is not the fraudulent kind of bait and switch deal that Laban made with Jacob. 

We needn’t worry that we will spend decades investing in our eternal future only to have God betray us and pull the rug out from under us.

Jesus’ parables help us to understand that even if we choose to see our relationship in a transactional sense, and it is far more than that, that transaction is an incredible bargain.  What we get, in exchange for “buying in” to the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God, is far more that we could ever ask, or imagine.  Our return on investment, if you will, is many hundreds, thousands, or millions of times greater than anything we could ever do, or spend, in return.

God is always for us.

God is always with us.

God is always working toward what is best for us.

God is always shaping us to become more than we are, and more like Jesus.

And because we are justified by God, through his son Jesus Christ, we have no fear of fraud or bait and switch and no fear of God’s judgment.  We need not even fear our own weakness.

Because of our investment in the kingdom of God, we are more than conquerors.

And nothing in all of creation, can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/NOnfHIyrLBc

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Urgency of the Truth

The Urgency of the Truth

April 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 24:13-35                        Acts 2:14a, 36-41                   1 Peter 1:17-23

 

 

Have you ever watched any disaster movies?

 

In just about every one of them, there is either a scientist that knows the truth and is trying to sound the alarm to a world that isn’t listening, or there is someone who has discovered the truth about what is going on and there is a rush to get that information to important decision makers or to the news media.  The message in both cases is clear, lives can be saved if only the truth were known.  That was the message in San Andreas with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and in “Dante’s Peak” with Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, “2012” with John Cusack and Woody Harrelson, “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, and a great many others and all too often that is how things happen in real life as well. 

 

Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

In the world’s current struggle with the Coronavirus pandemic, that’s as true in real life today as it is in the movies and the same has been true throughout history.  The more we know, the better decisions we can make, and sometimes that knowledge saves lives.  And it is that principle that we see in action in the story of the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 which says:

 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

 

In this story, two followers of Jesus are walking home from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus seven miles away.  While they were walking, they were joined by a third man who, at the time, they did not realize was Jesus.  As they walked, Jesus explained all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the messiah and how the scriptures had, centuries earlier, told of his death, burial, and resurrection.  But when they arrived in their village, Jesus continued as if he would continue walking down the road and the two men urged him to stay with them overnight instead.  That part is well explained in the story, but it is important for us to consider why they made this offer to someone they had only just met, and why this offer, and their urgency in making it, is important to the story.

 

Remember that in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, one man, who was walking alone, was attacked by bandits, stripped, beaten, and robbed.  When Jesus told that story, everyone could easily grasp its significance because those sorts of things happened with some regularity.  The trails and paths between towns were often narrow, dark, and passed through hills or mountains where you could easily misstep, and fall to your death, and where bandits could, and did, easily lay in wait for their victims.  Walking those paths, at night, was incredibly dangerous, and doing so alone was doubly dangerous.  Sensible people travelled in groups and only in daylight.  And so, even though these two men had not recognized Jesus, and thought him to be a stranger, they urged him to stay the night with them because, even as a stranger, they cared about his well-being.  It was just too dangerous to walk the road at night.

 

But then, as he breaks bread and give thanks to God, these followers of Jesus realize that it is he who is with them and who has been walking with them for the last few hours.  It is at that moment that they realize the truth and, our story tells us, that they immediately got up and left for Jerusalem… just the two of them… in the dark.

 

But why was it that, only moments earlier, they considered it so dangerous to be out at night that they invited a total stranger to spend the night, but suddenly rush out into the night themselves?

 

And the only reasonable answer is that the information that they had just learned was a matter of life and death.  They suddenly realized the incredible urgency of the truth.  Lives would be saved if only the truth were known.  And so, ignoring the danger, these two followers of Jesus rush out into the night so that they could return to Jerusalem, find the disciples, and tell them what had happened to them.

Like the men who walked the Emmaus road, the disciples also had to decide what to do with this truth and Peter emphasizes the conclusions of the gathered disciples in his summary statement at the end of his speech in Acts 2:14a, 36-41.

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

Peter’s summary begins, as it often does, with the word, “therefore.”   After all that they have seen, and all that they have heard, the disciples now boldly step into the public arena, at the risk of their lives, and conclude that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah.  With that conclusion, then it is imperative that every brother, sister, Israelite, Gentile, and anyone else be urged to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and in order to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  These words were not just an encouragement, but a warning.  Peter begged and pleaded with the people to hear this message because it was a matter of life and death.

 

We have often discussed the dramatic transformation of the Apostle Peter and the other disciples from fearful and afraid to people of great faith who were bold and courageous, and one critical piece of this is that they considered the news about Jesus Christ to literally be a matter of life and death.  There was and incredible urgency to the truth.

 

 Lives could be saved only if the truth were known.

 

And so, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus, risk their lives to tell as many people as possible about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

But what about us?

 

Why is any of this important to us today?

 

And Peter explains that in his letter to the church in 1 Peter 1:17-23 where he says:

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.   23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

 

Peter reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is still a matter of life and death.  The life that we had before we chose to follow Jesus was empty and led only to death.  But Jesus rescued us from death invited us into his house and gave us an everlasting life.  Our lives were saved because we heard the truth and that means that our lives were not only saved, they were changed.  Peter says that we are different because of what we know.  We no longer “fit in” the way that we used to.  And so, rather than blending in and acting as if nothing ever happened, we live differently than everyone else.  Rather than living as if we belong here, and as if we will be a part of this nation, and a part of this world, forever, instead we live as foreigners who know that this country, and this world, is not our home.  We do not belong here, and one day we will return to our true home in the only nation that is truly just, good, and loving.

 

But until then, we are just like all those scientists in all those disaster movies.  We know how the story ends.  We know the disaster that awaits people who are unprepared. 
We know that…

 

…Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

And so, until it is our time to return to our eternal home, it is our job, just like the people in the movies, to rescue as many people as possible simply by spreading the Good News and sharing the truth with them.  Like the scientists in the movies, we know that not everyone is going to listen.  Not everyone will believe that there is an earthquake, or a volcano, or an alien invasion. Not everyone will believe that God’s judgement is coming.  But just like in the movies, the people who listen can be saved if the truth can be told. 

 

May we all have the courage to share the Good News, to tell the truth to everyone who will listen, and save as many lives as we can.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ziTDpzsrMSg


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Be Prepared

Be Prepared

December 01, 2019*

(First Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 2:1-5                Romans 13:11-14                   Matthew 24:36-44

 

Everyone knows that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”

As a scout, and as a scout leader, that phrase was often drilled into us not only as a motto, or as a cute saying that you would repeat from time to time, it was instilled in us as a lifestyle.  We were constantly encouraged to think about what was needed, what unexpected thing might happen, and to be prepared, in advance, so that we would be able to cope, adjust, and overcome no matter what happened.  As winter, or other foul weather approached, one of our scout leaders often said, “There is no bad weather in scouting, only scouts that are unprepared for the weather.”  But it went farther than that, our troops constantly emphasized the need, and the importance, of knowing things like knot tying, first aid, and CPR because you never knew when you might need them.  Knowing such things have often proven to make the difference between life and death for someone.  Many former scouts and scouters, decades after their time in scouting, still carry a pocketknife, or a can opener on their key ring, or a Leatherman.  You can almost bet that these are the people who carry jumper cables in their cars and have a first aid kit under the front seat.

But as wise as the advice to “Be Prepared” is to a scout or even to the general public, did you know that this is also the command of God as it relates to our spiritual lives?

As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which is known as the celebration of prophecy, we are reminded that there is a consistent message throughout scripture, that warns God’s people to be ready for the end of time and the day of Judgement.  We begin in Isaiah 2:1-5 where God’s prophet tells of the coming Messiah and a time when he will judge the nations.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah says that “in the last days” God’s temple would be built (or rebuilt) and all the nations of the earth will come to worship him.  And, in addition to declaring that all nations would come, Isaiah also says that many peoples, not many people, but many peoples would come.  Written in this way, the word “peoples” is understood to be an amplification of what was described as “all nations.”  “Many peoples,” can therefore be understood to not only mean the people representing many nations, but also the people from many races, tribes, ethnicities, and other groups who have been absorbed by larger nation states. 

Isaiah warns the people that there is a day coming when God will judge the nations and the people of the earth, and he concludes by saying, “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  Which is, I think, the same as saying…

Be Prepared.

But with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, his followers, who were familiar with the judgement described by Isaiah, wanted to know when that would happen.  But rather than tell them when, Jesus said that no one knows except God. (Matthew 24:36-44)

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus explains that the coming of the last days and the final judgement would be a surprise to everyone just as the destruction of Noah’s flood caught everyone (except Noah) unprepared.  Jesus said that it would be like two people working side by side and one was suddenly taken away without warning. 

Jesus explains the point of his own story by saying that because the judgement will be so unexpected, we should all keep watch just as the soldiers who guard the city stand watch all through the night.  Soldiers never knew when the enemy might come, and their job was to always be prepared for the day that an attack might happen.  Likewise, we must keep watch for the return of Jesus, for the end of days, and for the judgement of all humanity.  In other words…

Be Prepared.

And then, a few dozen years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the Spirit of God entered into his people at Pentecost, rumors would occasionally circulate that the end times had already begun.  Some people attempted to draw people away from the church to some “new” religion by preaching heresies that Christ had already returned.  And so, in that environment, Paul writes to the church in Rome about the end times, but as is often the case, Paul’s emphasis is to answer the “so what” question.  Paul wants the people of the church to know how our anticipation of God’s judgment should change the way that we live.  (Romans 13:11-14)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul’s message is that “the hour has already come.”  Meaning, it already time to quit coasting.  There is no time for us to procrastinate.  There is already less time now before the return of Jesus Christ than there was yesterday.  The return of Jesus Christ could happen at any minute.  The time for us to stop living in darkness is now.  The time for us to start living like children of the light and as the followers of Jesus Christ, is now.  The time for us to change the way that we live, is now.  Instead of living lives that are indecent, or are spent in wild parties, or illicit sex, or in arguing, or jealousy, now is the time for us to live the way that Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus taught.  Instead of living lives that revolve around satisfying our selfishness, excesses, passions, and lusts, we are called to live lives of restraint, decency, so that the world can see Jesus in all that we are, and in all that we do.

Paul wants the church to understand that people who are genuinely convinced that Jesus Christ might appear at any time, should live so that in the moment of Jesus’ return, he might find us busy doing Kingdom work.

In other words…

Be Prepared.

The call of the ancient prophets, and of Jesus, and of Paul is emphatic and consistent.  The end of time, and the Day of Judgement is coming.  That moment is nearer now than it was at the time of Jesus, or Paul, or at the day we chose to follow Jesus.  Jesus could return at any moment.  And so, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and we hear the voices of the prophets, of Jesus, of Paul, and all of scripture, we must also hear the question that is implied by every one of those voices.

Are you prepared?

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Guaranteed Reward. If…

Guaranteed Reward. If…

November 03, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18                Ephesians 1:11-23                 Luke 6:20-31

 

Do you know where you’re going?

I mean, do you know where your life is headed? 

While many of us have learned, the hard way, that our plans for life can often change unexpectedly, do you know, at least for now, what destination you have in mind for your life?

Many of us grew up watching the Depression era comedy, The Little Rascals.  In one episode, entitled, I think, “The Coaster Car”, the Our Gang built a big, unpowered, car in which a surprising number of them could ride.  At some point, using their donkey Algebra, they brought the car to the top of an impossibly long hill and, cut loose from their donkey, they began freewheeling, uncontrollably and with frightening speed, down the hill.  At one point in the dialog down the hill, Buckwheat famously exclaims, “I don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way!”

And, if we’re honest, that’s how many of us feel about our lives from time to time.  Our education, our careers, our children, and just about everything else can change so unexpectedly that our plans are often in a constant state of change.  We wake up in the morning and discover that while we have no idea where we’re going, we sure are getting there in a hurry.

But what about our spiritual lives?

Does being a follower of God and a follower of Jesus Christ give us any more stability than we often find in the chaos of our daily lives?  Well, it should.  Our spiritual lives come with a guarantee… if we do something simple.

But, before we get to the guarantee, let’s look at our destination.  We begin this morning in Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 as the prophet Daniel describes a dream that was sent to him by God that told him, and tells us, some important things about the future.

7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So, he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

While Daniel is clear that earthly kingdoms, like those with which everyone was familiar, even the superpowers of their day, rose and fell, and would continue to rise and fall, the followers of God, whom he calls “the holy people of the Most High,” will receive God’s kingdom and keep it, and presumably live in it, forever.  This is God’s promise to Daniel and to us, that we belong to God’s kingdom, that it is a real place, and that we will take ownership of it, and live in it, forever.

But how can we be sure?

After all, Daniel is a prophet of the Old Testament.  Wasn’t that a long time ago?  Didn’t the coming of Jesus change everything?  Is the promise contained in Daniel the same today as it was then?  And, the answer to all those questions is “yes.”  But, at the same time, the news is even better, because with the coming of Jesus we understand more clearly how and why that can happen.  In Ephesians 1:11-23, the Apostle Paul explains it this way:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that we were chosen as the followers of Jesus Christ as a part of God’s plan to accomplish his will.  We were chosen so that people might see us, and our faith, and the way that we live our lives, and give praise to God.  The moment that you believed, you were marked with a seal that guarantees your inheritance.  Paul says that the God that has the power to raise Christ from the dead, certainly has the power rule over the kings, princes, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and all the other kinds of power and authority that exist on the earth yesterday, today, and forever.  And that God has put Jesus Christ in charge everything on earth, and in all of creation, for all time.

So, not only do we have God’s promise that we belong to God’s kingdom and that we will live in it forever, we can have complete confidence that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords yesterday, today, and forever. 

But, even if we believe that all of that is true, and are willing to put our faith and confidence in the promises of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ, how does it happen?  What do we have to do to get there?  What does God expect of us?

And Jesus draws us all a picture in his sermon on the mount in what we often call the Beatitudes contained in Luke 6:20-31, where we hear these words:

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus starts with a list of blessings that we will receive in heaven when we live in God’s kingdom because the ancestors of the poor, the hungry, and people who wept, the people who were hated and insulted and rejected, treated the prophets with care, respect and love.  But many people will not be nearly so happy when that day comes.  For them, the coming of the kingdom of God will be far less pleasant because they, and their ancestors, the people who were rich, comfortable, well fed, and well liked, treated the prophets just like they treated Jesus, with disrespect, contempt, and violence.

Jesus says that if we are listening, we should do something about it.  If we want to be included in the first group, and not the second, if we want to be the people who receive the blessings of God, then we should love our enemies, do good to the people who hate us, bless the people who curse us, and pray for the people who mistreat us.  We must give to people who steal from us, be generous to everyone, and treat everyone, even those who don’t deserve it, the way that you would like others to treat you.

Today we celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this world into the next, we honor their lives, remember what they have meant to us, how they showed us the grace of God, how they taught us about Jesus, and how they modelled a life of faith for us.  Today, we celebrate because we know that in them, God has already fulfilled his promise and they are, already, at home with Jesus in God’s kingdom. 

But as we remember, we also look forward to the day when we will rejoin all of those who have gone there ahead of us.  But we also remember that in order to get there, we have been called to do something about it.  

We have been called to live as if we believe.

Our reward is guaranteed.

If we walk the walk.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Sin, Judgement, Rescue

“Sin, Judgement, Rescue”

March 05, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7               Matthew 4:1-11                      Romans 5:12-19

Have you ever done something that seemed like a good idea when you started, but turned out to be a really bad idea once you were finished?

There’s an old saying, “When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original plan was to drain the swamp.”  This sort of funny saying simply reminds us that when we’re in the middle of the mess we created, it’s hard to remember that we thought the original plan was a good idea.  But once we are through to the other side of the swamp, or at least far enough removed from the alligators to gain a little perspective, it is useful, and wise, to think about the thought processes and circumstances that led us into the swamp in the first place.

And so, along those lines, as we begin the season of Lent, a time that we set aside each year to consider our sinfulness and our need for repentance, it is useful to begin by remembering how sin came into our lives at the beginning of humanity’s story.  We begin at the beginning, in Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 

First, the enemy of God undermines God’s message in much the same way that he does today, by telling Eve that God was wrong, and that wonderful things will come to her if she disobeys God.  We hear that same message from our culture and from our enemy today. We’re told that sex isn’t wrong, gambling isn’t wrong, greed isn’t wrong, all these things are really good and you’ve just gotten confused about what God really meant.  But Eve considers what the serpent said, and thinks about how good the fruit looks, and how good it must taste, and how food, generally, is good for you, and she decides to disobey God and eat it.  Having done so, she offers it to Adam, who has surely noticed by now that Eve didn’t just fall over dead when she ate it, and so he tries it.  For what it’s worth, when I read that this week, I noticed that while Eve considers what the serpent said, and that food is good for you, and that she would learn the difference between good and evil, Adam not described that way.  The story we have about Adam is that he watches Eve try it, and then blindly follows her example and tries it for himself.  Either way, in both cases, with only a little encouragement from the serpent, both Adam and Eve make deliberate, conscious, decisions to disobey a specific and direct instruction from God for their own, personal, benefit.

 

And “boom,” sin enters the world.

 

For the first time in history, human beings, created by God, say “What I want is more important than what God wants.”  And that, by definition, is sin because in that moment, we set ourselves ahead of God and make gods of our own desires.

 

At that moment, humanity was infected with an almost irresistible desire to do as we please and to worship our own selfishness.  And that was the situation for thousands of years.  Until the arrival of Jesus Christ, who was the one human being who did what no other had ever been capable of doing before.  (Matthew 4:1-11)

 

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

First, Satan offers Jesus the easy way out.  To satisfy his desire and his hunger for food by transforming stones into bread.  Second, he tempts Jesus with ego and fame, because surely people would notice that Jesus had been rescued by God in such a public spectacle.  And third, Jesus is tempted by power as Satan offers to let him rule over all the nations of the earth.  But in each case, Jesus refuses Satan and replies by clearly stating what it is that God wants for humanity and in doing so emphasizes that this is more important than what Jesus might want for himself.  Throughout his entire life, even during the events leading up to his death, Jesus continued to choose what God wanted and continued to put the desires of God ahead of his own.

 

In doing so, Jesus did what no other human being in all of human history had ever done.  And because he did, Jesus was able to rescue all of humanity from the judgement that it had faced since the time of Adam.  In Romans 5:12-19, Paul explained it this way:

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

What Paul says is that Adam’s sin corrupted all of humanity and that even those people who lived in a time between Adam and Moses, a time in which the Law and the Commandments had not yet been written, even they suffered from the death brought about by sin.  Paul’s argument is that even though they could not be condemned under the law, they would still have been judged by God, who is the righteous judge, for their actions.  But the gift of Jesus Christ is different than the sin of Adam, even if it follows a similar pattern.  While the sin of Adam and Eve corrupted all of humanity, the sinless life and sacrificial death of Jesus allows the rescue of all who believe.  Since the time of Adam, every human being has been called into judgement, not for the sins of Adam, but for the selfishness and sinful acts that they themselves have committed.  But through the grace of God and the sinless obedience of Jesus Christ, we all have the opportunity to be made righteous before God.

 

A great many of the things that we do seemed like a good idea when we started, but in the end we realize just how selfish we’ve become and how far we’ve drifted from God’s plan for our lives.  Since the time of Adam and Eve we, and all of humanity, have been drawn to sin like a moth to a flame, and just as surely that temptation leads us to stand in judgement before God.  The good news is that Jesus was not like us.  He was, and is, the one human being in all of creation that was able to live an entirely sinless life and to do what God wanted instead of what he might have wanted for himself.  Because Jesus was able to do what no one else, before or since, was able to do, he is, through God’s grace, able to offer us the one thing we could never find for ourselves… rescue from sin and death.

 

We are all doomed because of our selfishness and sin.

 

We will all be judged by God for the things that we have done.

 

We have all sinned and the punishment for sin is death.

 

But we have the opportunity to be rescued from death simply by accepting the gift of life that is offered to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

And so, as we begin this season of Lent, let us prayerfully consider how we have fallen short of what God wants for us and how we can change for the better.

 

But let us also make sure that we have accepted the gift of indescribable value that Jesus has offered to us.

 

If you have not accepted that gift, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.  Today, before you leave this room, if possible.  And if you have already accepted his gift, and have accepted Jesus Christ as your rescuer and savior, give thanks for what he has done and, particularly during this season of Lent, recommit yourselves to living the life that God has called you to live.

 

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.