Friday, December 24, 2010

A, Christmas Day - Titus 2:11-14 "Goodwill & Favour"

In these days many are having a wet or white Christmas. And with this comes separation from where they might want to be. In parts of the world you can bet there will be people who can’t be where they want to be, and with it comes sadness, frustration, and perhaps even anger. Even with climactic chaos, there will be folk who seek to blame someone else for their inability to be where they want to be.

Christmas exposes inner belief! Is it about the right to be with family, the demand to control the climate to satisfy the desires of the self, or the requirement to have things just the way we think they should be?

These things are close to what they should be but the motivation the wells up from with us moves us away from what God wants for us. Yes! We do have a right to be with family, we should desire a climate of peace and joy, and there is a necessity for things to be a certain way.

Saint Paul explains, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Every person on this earth has a right to desire the grace of God; but not because they have earned it. It’s not a case of being good because Santa’s coming to town. In fact, it’s nothing like it. Nevertheless, we can expect grace because God promises it, because the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Calling all into the family of God!

But what is this grace all people can expect? It’s God’s generosity, his loving kindness, his mercy, his gift to you and me, his goodwill and favour, his acceptance, and his pleasure despite what we do and think exposing us for who we really are.

So who are we? We are people who need salvation. We need a Saviour because in reality Santa’s never coming to town if it is on account of us. We need a Saviour because of sin – my sin and your sin; the sin of all people. Grace is offered to all people because all people need it to be saved from sin and death.

In these days do many of us seek out the appearance of grace? Do we seek the Saviour? We all seek a saviour but is it one in which we wait for our blessed hope, the appearing again of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ?

Just imagine if Jesus appeared in all his glory right now, and said enough is enough, it’s time to take you out of all this. Most of us would be stunned at the change of plans. Hang on, I hoped to go home and have lunch, or go on holidays, or unwrap a few presents. In these days many of us hope in anything but the appearance of our blessed hope, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

But yet he comes into the lawlessness of this world — your heart — and implants salvation. Every time you hear the Christmas story, every time you see a manger in the shop window, every time you hear the proclamation of salvation in the carols, and most of all when you hear the word of God.

This word of salvation which comes to humanity, to you and me by the power of the Holy Spirit, trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in this present age. And this word of salvation has to because we’re ungodly towards God, and seek favour and goodwill for ourselves at other’s expense. We are passionate for what’s in the world rather than he who has made it and seeks to redeem it for himself.

Nevertheless, God still seeks to purify for himself a people as his own possession, he seeks to save; to bless and keep, and let his face shine upon those who receive and abide in his graciousness. The Lord of love and grace wants nothing more than to look upon you with favour and goodwill, so you live in peace — purified — despite whatever worldly strife seeks to disrupt you.

As we wait, frequently repenting from our impurity, turning towards our blessed hope, imagine what it will be like when we see the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We have heard how the glory of God shone around the shepherds the first time when Jesus Christ dwelt with unclean, lawless, and ungodly people on earth. Picture what it will be like when he returns to purify those who believe they need a Saviour, to those who long and trust God to cleanse them of their sinful passions forever.

Unlike the shepherds who were unclean but privileged to see and hear the glory of God in the field and in the manger, we will be glorified, purified, having received the full measure of what our faith has hoped for. We will shine with Christ, greater than the angelic hosts of heaven. We will be glorified children of God for all eternity.

Do you want this? I want it! No more uncertainty that comes from my heart. No more conflict rising out of an over-abundance of my passion and from others misunderstanding it. No more pressures of time, there will be timeless eternity to be in awe of God and his glory. No more tiredness, no more pain, no more dishonesty, no more superficiality, everything will be real, everyone will be trustworthy. Do you want this? I want it, because here in this world I continually lose sight of the glorified child of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, have made and are continually making me to be.

The God of love; the true Father of Christmas, and his Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, want this eternal reality for you too. Amen.

Heavenly Father, lead us from the temptation to believe your kingdom is not coming to us. But move us to believe and receive the true gift of Christmas into our hearts, your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A, Advent 4 - Isaiah 7:10-16 "The Rejection of Immanuel"

There are many quotes out there about history. Perhaps you’ve heard some of them.

Such as the anonymous quote, “History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.

Or from Karl Marx, the father of socialism, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

And from last century the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.

These all hold certain elements of truth. When history repeats itself it demonstrates the foolishness of humanity, because we neither remember nor learn from what has happened in the past. When an event tragically repeats itself, so often we react in complete surprise at the occurrence unfolded before us.

Perhaps if we could hear and see those who’ve been before us we’d be laughed at and lamented over as a joke, for our inability to listen, our incapability to learn, and we’d be humiliated and embarrassed by our ridiculous repetitious behaviour.

Isaiah the prophet of the Lord is sent to Ahaz, the king of Judah, to encourage him to place his trust in the Lord, for the Lord was with them. In fact, recent history in Judah had been quite positive in reflecting God was indeed with them, in that the kings leading up to Ahaz had done mostly what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Since the death of Elisha, about one hundred years before, the southern kingdom of Judah had kings who upheld temple worship. Over the border in Israel (aka Ephraim), the northern kingdom was in complete disarray. Their kings had led the people further and further away from God.

The northern kingdom had separated itself from the southern kingdom, Jerusalem, and therefore the temple of the Lord. And so in Samaria, Israel’s capital, the north continually committed evil practices and worshipped other gods as a result of excommunicating themselves from God’s presence in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem the southern kingdom of Judah still had access to God in the temple. And although the kings did right in the eyes of the Lord, many of the Judeans were still applying themselves to pagan worship, at certain high places and spreading trees which the kings had not destroy. However, because the kings preserved the ways of God, Judah lived under God’s favour, despite the many bad practices of the people.

Then Ahaz came to power as king of Judah in the southern kingdom. In one sense he didn’t repeat the recent history of Judean kings; instead he committed evil in the eyes of God. In fact, he was repeating the immediate history of the north; their wayward brothers in Israel. His evil practices had not been seen amongst the kings of Judah since the time of Elisha the prophet, a century before.

King Ahaz grieved God and tested his patience. Worshipping Molech and Chemosh, whom demanded child sacrifice, Ahaz burned his son as an offering to these gods of Moab and Ammon. He also joined his subjects in making sacrifices on altars at high places, hill tops, and under spreading trees.

So when Israel joined forces with Syria to attack Judah, God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz after he and the people were shaken at the thought of being attacked. Isaiah tells him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands.” (Isaiah 7:4 ESV)

These two smouldering stumps were Syria and Ephraim (aka Israel), and Isaiah goes on to deliver God’s word to Ahaz, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” (Isaiah 7:7–9 ESV)

Through Isaiah, God was giving Ahaz and Judah, the history before it happened. And in doing so God was calling Ahaz and Judah to return to the faithfulness of those righteous kings before him. If they were not firm in faith, they would not be firm at all. Instead they would be shattered as Israel was soon to be!

But things in Judah continued to go from bad to worse. Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? (Isaiah 7:10–13 ESV)

The Lord promised to give a sign of his faithfulness to Ahaz, but Ahaz rejects it. And in claiming he didn’t want to test the Lord, in fact, put God to the test, grieved him of his glory, and treated God as impotent in dealing with the attacking Syrians and Israelites from the north.

We are told in second Kings Chapter sixteen Ahaz sought an alliance with the Assyrians rather than trust in God. When Israel and Syria had besieged Jerusalem, Ahaz sent word to the Assyrian king and placed himself in submission to him. He sent silver and gold from the temple as a gift to the Assyrian leader. And on receiving Ahaz’s plea and gift, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, marched on Syria’s capital, Damascus, and took it captive.

After the defeat of Damascus, the Syrian Israelite siege of Jerusalem disintegrated, and we can listen to what happens next from Second Kings…

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. (2 Kings 16:10–11 ESV)

After Ahaz arrived back in Jerusalem, he began to change the structure of the temple to accommodate the Assyrian worship he had observed while in Damascus. He placed the replica altar Uriah had built in the temple and moved the sanctioned bronze altar aside, as well as removed other sacred items placed in the temple at God’s command.

In doing these things Ahaz was rejecting God and years of sound worship in the place God had set aside through Moses, King David, and others faithful to the Law of God.

History was certainly repeating itself in Ahaz’s rebellion against God. He led the nation of Judah into the same sins as Israel; sins that had been absent from the king’s palace in Judah for over a century.

What was to happen to Judah, to King Ahaz, and the Judean-Assyrian alliance after the defeat of Israel and Syria? This is what Isaiah prophesied on behalf of the Lord…

The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim (Israel) departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures. In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also. (Isaiah 7:17–20 ESV)

God was going to give Ahaz what he sought – the king of Assyria. Judah would become the battle ground between the Assyrians and the Egyptians, who would swarm over every part of the land like bees and flies. And as a result Judah would be shaved and left as a bare wasteland.

If only Ahaz had returned to the Lord and not relied on Assyria. If only he had listened to God who promised to be with Judah. If only Ahaz was firm in faith and followed the Heavenly Father.

But Ahaz who had wearied his own people by his disregard for the sanctity of life in the death of his own son, was to also weary God by not holding fast to the sanctity of God’s promise in his word. A holy word that would be a sign as deep as the greatest depths of Sheol and even as high as heaven itself! A word from God through Isaiah who said…

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (Isaiah 7:14–16 ESV)

Not long after, the Assyrians not only defeated Syria and Damascus, they also overran Ephraim and carted the Israelites into exile. As God had promised, the two kings were overcome and their land was deserted.

Yet a greater Immanuel was still to come. Not just a child born with a name as a sign to Judah in the days of Isaiah; but rather a child who was indeed Immanuel – God with us! But first Judah went the way of Israel and they lost their land to the Babylonians and were taken into exile too.

We hear this recount from God’s word today as a constant appeal from God that he is our Immanuel; he is God with us! Every year history repeats itself in our remembrance of Christmas, so in faith we might grab hold of the true gift that Jesus Christ is our God with us!

We hear of the moment in history where Jesus was born to a virgin, to be your God with you. This is a piece of history well worth listening to, hearing, and absorbing. This is a piece of history that saw Jesus on the cross, which some see as a tragedy, and others see as a farce, but we see as our salvation from the very sin that sees history repeating itself.

We can also learn from the history of Ahaz, Judah and Israel’s constant repetition of sin against God, that we indeed are incapable of learning from experience, as George Bernard Shaw said last century. And therefore turn to God who is with us not only as Father, and Son, but as Holy Spirit too. And the Holy Spirit, coming to us from the Father and the Son, is faithfully more powerful at returning us to Christ and his forgiveness than our own human spirit.

In these days of struggle, let the Spirit return you to the Christ child; let Jesus daily save you, from yourself, from temptation, and from all evil. Let him be your daily bread so his will is your will, and you yearn not for this land but for the fruit of faith; peace, hope, joy, and love. Be firm in this faith and you will be firm forever! Amen.

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A, Advent 3 - Matthew 11:2-11; James 5:7-10 "What do you hear & see?"

Jesus says John the Baptist was the greatest prophet. A prophet amongst the Hebrews was a seer; one who was given the gift of discernment and revelation of what was to come. All the prophets looked forward to the coming of a messiah; an anointed one who would lead the Israelites as did King David, but even greater than him.

John was the greatest of the prophets because the one he prophesied about had arrived. John not only received the spoken word of prophecy from God, he saw with his very own eyes the one whom all prophets spoke, the Word made Flesh, baptised by his very hand, to fulfil all righteousness of God.

John was the greatest prophet, the greatest seer! Yet in prison he sent word to Jesus through his disciples and asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 ESV) Not even the greatest of the seers saw or understood how Jesus was to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) And so although John was the greatest, he was the least in the kingdom of heaven.

Why is this so? Who then is greater in the kingdom? The one who sees and looks for no other than the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The one who is least, who knows their weakness, and allows the Lamb of God to take away their sin, is greater in the kingdom of heaven!

The question for us this Advent is the question Jesus asks the people after John’s disciples leave. The question is this: What do you hear and see? What do you look for?

What do you look for in the church? What do you seek in this congregation of people? What do you hear now that Christ has come into the world, and put righteousness right through his death and resurrection, and sends the Holy Spirit to continually draw all to him through the light of his Word? What do you look for in those sent to point you back to Christ and his Word?

It’s obvious that what most look for in the church these days is not what Christ would have us look for.

Some seek a social club. Where everyone seems nice; well, superficially anyway! A place for a weekly chat, as long as no one talks about “Jesus”! Oh, except the pastor of course! We’ll put up with him speaking about “Jesus”, as long as it’s not too long or too confronting!

Some seek a place of entertainment; and if their fancies aren’t tickled, they lose interest in coming.

Some seek to do the right thing; out of duty and responsibility they hear and learn not out of joy and love for the Lord but because they think they have to, to be a good Christian.

Some come looking for cheap grace; a get out of jail free card, as it were. They want the salvation but they don’t want the Saviour doing anything in them or through them, which might make life a bit uncomfortable.

Some come with expectations in everyone else, rather than in Jesus Christ and what he can do. They come expecting Jesus fix others, but not them.

Some even look to the pastor to fix everything. “The pastor, he’ll magically turn up with his family and all the other families will return. He’ll fix all the faults with everyone else. He’ll be able to do it because he’s meant to.”

But on his family’s arrival, hopes are dashed because he has just as many faults and foibles as everyone else. And he keeps banging on about the love of God, letting God be God within, faith, endurance, sin and the forgiveness of it, fellowship and the family of God. “Being” as opposed to “doing”, and so on! Some are disappointed and even offended hearing the same old, same old!

When we seek something other than what God wants to give us, coming to church suddenly seems to lose importance and relevance in our lives. Not hearing and seeing what we want, other things soon seem to find their way to the top of the list.

Family, fun, the farm, future success, and one’s financial situation become so important that time for God plummets in value. God without worth gives way to neglect for his Word, and the preaching of it, as people lose sight of what it is they could be receiving if they only would gladly hear and learn his Word.

For sure there are great pressures on our lives today. No one will argue with that. But the sickness of our western society, which floods the hearts of those in God’s church, is leading more and more away from God and his kingdom in search of short-lived appeasement. And in the process the problem which existed and caused the falling away from God in the first place is only exacerbated.

The sign of this is a fractured community sad and sorry for itself. Each person for themselves spiralling down in despair! Sadder is seeing such things happen in the church. The community of God finds it harder and harder to exist, as hearts turn away from faith in God towards this “every man for himself” attitude.

Right here today no one wants to serve each other out of love for Christ. Some do only because no else will, but it’s done out of duty and drudgery, and not out of overwhelming joy at the eternal inheritance and victory we have in Jesus Christ. No, Jesus and eternal joy don’t have relevance for those seeking satisfaction in themselves today!

But then the excuses come! Times are tough! It’s too wet, it’s too dry, and it’s too much of a commitment! Time! There’s never enough time — time for others, or time for God. One wonders when things really begin to get rough, what the excuse will be. They’ve all been used up today! People are excommunicating themselves from God’s Word over such trivial things, what will happen when we’re truly persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Will you only then allow Christ to shine his light from you?

What do you hear, what do you look for? God looks for a change of heart within you! To repent and lay your sin at the foot of the cross! There will be tougher times yet. Without a continual, daily change of heart, that comes from allowing Christ to work his salvation in you, there’s not a chance any one will be there enduring till the end.

When we look to Christ, and hear the mystery of our salvation, we allow the light of God to ember within us. The Holy Spirit flourishes faith from these embers of God’s Word, and it helps us just as Jesus helped many as he walking to the cross.

We are weak. The strongest amongst us in our church and local communities might be seen the most parading their ability, but they are the weakest of all. But those of us who are ready to admit to our weaknesses, can stand in the strength and joy of the Lord. In weakness you can be strong in Jesus Christ. You who are the least in the kingdom of God are the greatest in Jesus Christ.

What is your weakness? Are you blind? Are you lame? Are you a leper? Are you deaf? Are you poor? Or are you just straight out dead? If you can hear and see that you are, there is hope for you? If you can’t, pray to God that he shows you who you are!

Jesus wills you to hear and see that in him… the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:5–6 ESV)

What do you see and hear? I pray you are blessed by Jesus’ word and not offended.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:7–10 ESV)

Like the last prophet, John the Baptist, be a seer, be greater than John. See the Christ child in you; hear his promises in the Word, and hear of his faithfulness towards you! Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Be patient and endure in you weakness, continually turning to and trusting Jesus, and allow all glory be his.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)

Go and tell what you hear and see! Amen.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A, Advent 2 - Isaiah 11:1-5, Matthew 3:4-12 "The Black Stump"

There’s an old black stump. Where it is, nobody’s sure! Are you this side of the black stump, or is there a place where we pass it by and go way out past the black stump? There’s an old black stump that’s hard to find, so how does one know when they’re on the right side of the black stump?

This stump blackened from fiery assault, stands as a marker, remembered in the hearts of those whose travels are tiring and sometimes treacherous. The stump appears to be lifeless, yet from within its darkened timbers a shoot has emerged, promising life, a gift of shade to weary travellers, towering up as it did once before, higher and more majestic than even the cedars of Lebanon.

Against its blackened surrounds this green shoot is life, sooty darkness and choking dust cannot darken its freshness and all who pass by live in hope of one day dwelling in its promising shade.

However, there are other trees nearby. They too are sooty and dark, standing proud in the wake of the stump’s fiery trials. They have suckered from the stump; parasites seeking to suck the life out of their host, but appearing as if they have their own roots in a river of life.

They produce fruit, it looks pleasing to the eye, but below the skin it’s rancid and rotten to the core.

Nevertheless, the old black stump sustains the green shoot. It grows out of the stump into a beautiful tree. All who pass by seek rest and shelter under its branches. And the parasite trees don’t like it one bit. No amount of acidic rotten pesticide spat from the parasite trees can kill the shoot which has grown up out of the root.

Someone enquired as to why the black stump, became a stump in the first place. Such a large stump would have been a big majestic tree in ages past! But the reply came; it was cut down because it became rotten. It no longer sought the sap from its root source, and began to die.

Those travelling by cut it down because it was feared it would fall to its death and kill others around it. So it got the axe and what was useful was carted away and the rotten section was burned in the fire.

A reminder of its former glory stands as a blackened stump, but the reality of its diseased former limbs now lives in its blackened state and in the parasite trees scattered nearby.

Although the stump’s former foliage was fraught with failure, the green shoot shows no sign of sickness. It’s strong and healthy, there’s no wilt in its leaves, and its greenness is greater than a verdant vibrant spring.

It’s seems such a shame this beautiful new shoot which has grown into a magnificent tree is to be cut down yet again. Why this had to be done is sad, but it’s completely necessary that one tree falls in the forest for the sake of the rest.

For the sapling on the back stump had to suck up the sap that caused the former tree to start dying! The black stump is saving the parasites; it has become the succour for the suckers, it is helping those who hope to hurt it.

The tree was cut down, but its timber still gives life. Now others outside the forest are grafted into the black stump, growing into trees that give glory to the old black stump, drawing others into its shade offering a place where they too might be grafted in. These are the precious fruit the stump now produces in those who have been grafted in.

This black stump is also known as the tree of righteousness, the tree of faithfulness. This family tree is written down forever, bearing the fruit of peace, joy, and love. And even now those being grafted in live in faith and look forward in hope when peace, joy, and love will be the norm. This black stump is the tree of life.

There’s an old black stump! One mightn’t be able to say where one can go to physically look at it, but all know when they’ve been brought to the black stump, in which they receive righteousness, faithfulness, and life.

Do you trust in the life of righteousness and faithfulness you're receiving from the shoot which has shot up from black stump? Do you allow yourself to be daily grafted into the stump that gives life, producing the fruits in keeping with repentance? Or are you a sucker seeking to save yourself?

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:4–10 ESV)

Just as Jesus came to the Jordan, he is coming again. Still today the axe is at the root of the trees. Are you allowing the root of evil to be chopped out of you, so it can be immersed in the fire of the cross? Or will you be one who is completely cut down and thrown into the fire on the last day?

John the Baptist tells those who only seek to be parasites, “I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11–12 ESV)

You see the chaff in us has been burnt with unquenchable fire, when we allow ourselves to remain grafted into the black stump of righteousness, and faithfulness. This black stump is the place of endurance and encouragement, and the life giving sap is the Word of God. And in the Word we receive the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was baptised by John, he was the green shoot growing out of the stump of righteousness and faithfulness, but this green shoot of life grew knowing he was to be cut down, lifted up, and nailed to a tree, to the cross.

Jesus Christ is our shoot from the black stump of whom Isaiah prophesied, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isaiah 11:1–5 ESV)

Therefore, full of the Holy Spirit, he faithfully underwent a baptism of fire and death, descending into hell with our load of parasitic sins, and they were burnt in the fire. But only when we allow the Holy Spirit to keep us buried in Christ, through baptism. We are now grafted into the Black Stump of Righteousness and Faithfulness, so the Spirit can raise us up and grow in us the fruits of repentance. We now live, not with the fire of wrath hanging over our heads, but with the fire of Pentecostal faith and hope.

This faith and hope allows Christ who has been raised in power over death to daily clean out the chaff that clutters our lives so we might one day be gathered around the eternal tree of life.

On this matter Paul says in Romans 11 …if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:16b–22 ESV)

So let us stand as one, enduring and encouraging one another with the Word of Life through whom we are grafted into the one Black Stump. He is pruning off the old sinful nature, saving us from the eternal fire, and growing us into eternal life. Amen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A, Advent 1 - Romans 13:11-14 "The Armour of Light"

Light and darkness, there is arguably no greater extreme. When one speaks of these opposites, one might be speaking of the realms of good and evil, spiritual differences. Or practically speaking, one might consider physical light and darkness too. Either way, there’s nothing darker than darkness, or brighter than light.

One thing for sure, our eyes can’t deal with a sudden change between these extremes. Picture miners coming out of the mine after a period of time being trapped in darkness! Their eyes are covered, because they’ve become intolerant to the light.

Or perhaps you’ve had a light shone in your face, a torch, or the oncoming high beam of a car or truck blinds you, making it difficult to see the source of the light or where you’re going.

Although, when the light is gone it’s still hard to see. The intensity of the beam’s element for only a moment has burnt itself into your retinas. So all you see is hazy glow where the light’s element once hit your eye. But in your eye’s confusion from the sudden flash of light, now what was hard to see in the dark is completely hidden from your eye seeing it. The light has left you blinded in the night.

Without light there is darkness, when light appears darkness disappears. When we’re in our home or familiar surroundings we might be able to walk in the dark. Why? Because despite the darkness, our mind and senses see for us, and enable us to move around what we know!

But we all know what it’s like moving around in the dark in an unfamiliar place. Like when you’re on holidays or staying with someone and nature calls in the middle of the night. You grope around the place in the dark; arms outstretch, feeling for obstacles, hoping you don’t knock something over or break it or one of your toes on the furniture!

Light and darkness are extremes we humans don’t handle well. Turning on the light and opening the blinds makes one retreat into the darkness under the doona like a worm exposed in the earth. Alternatively, the sudden loss of light exposes us to danger and causes us to seek a light source so we can see again, like a moth flying towards the light.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans we hear …you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11–14 ESV)

Here Paul calls the hearer to “walk properly as in the daytime”. For the Romans and for us there’s no difference; we all walk in darkness, we’re all walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But as we walk in this darkness, we’re called to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light!

Now it might be easy to walk when it’s light, but to walk in the darkness as if it were light calls for confidence. But confidence in what?

The darkness in which we walk today is one that hides the truth. This truth is good and bad, the truth of good and evil. Knowing this truth is one which impacts us eternally. And so when Paul calls us to put on the armour of light, it not just armour to stop our toes being stubbed and it’s not just a torch to show us the way to the toilet in the wee early hours of the morning.

So how do we have confidence in this age where truth seems to be whatever one wants to believe? Well we’re called to pull back the doonas of doubt and see that the darkness is passing and the rays of righteousness are just over the horizon. Our confidence is not a confidence in ourselves but rather we’re called to see with the eyes of faith, with the armour of light.

But being so use to the darkness we don’t want to see or be seen in the reveal all light of righteousness.

Rather, some of us would rather it remain dark so we might illuminate our own torches of righteousness. We seek to stand out from those in the darkness with our own illuminating works, clarifying our own understanding of truth and salvation, and enlightening ourselves with euphoric emotional events.

Or if we’re not illuminating our own way, the other human reaction is to try and withdraw into the darkness so the light can’t shine on us. When one is overcome with the reality of their own darkness within, the thought of light on the subject seems to drive the person further away from the light of reality.

But the reality is, when the person who is hiding in the darkness has the light of Christ, the armour of light put on, the darkness that debilitates and deceives is dispelled by light.

When we bump around in the dark knowing we are hurting ourselves and making a mess, a light being switched on in the darkness of our lives shows us the way removing the fear of the future.

The deception of darkness is that the revelation of light, especially the light of the Gospel, will only create more darkness, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!

When we come out of the darkness into the light, it reveals what needs to be cleaned up. The very thing the darkness hides. Therefore, being led further and further into the light of Christ, calls for the daily drowning of sin; washing in repentance and forgiveness of sin.

As God leads us further in to the light of his presence, sure we see clearer and clearer the dirtiness of who we are, but the light of forgiveness continues to shine brighter and brighter too. And furthermore, we’re led to know and trust the armour of light more and more, in which God is continually clothing us. So even though we are still standing in the dark we can walk properly as if it were day.

On the other hand, those who have sought their own righteousness through creating and being their own light, are called to see their own light as nothing; perhaps even a deception of darkness away from the only true source of eternal light.

English theologian Charles Spurgeon in his writings Lectures to my Students makes this powerful observation regarding the light of faith…

Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. … Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. (Spurgeon, “Lectures to my Students” p.265ff)

This Advent the Lord encourages you to see not only the arrival of a new day, week, Christmas, and the New Year. But to see with the eyes of faith, in these days of darkness! Where many are choosing to turn back to the deeds of death, God calls you to put on the Armour of Light, to put on Christ Jesus.

In these days when there seems to be no foreseeable happenings in your lives do not cast away your confidence, your Armour of Light! The rewards are hidden but they are promised by God himself for those who trust him.

Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who does not forsake his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. (ibid. p. 265ff)

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, your flesh, to gratify its desires. Put on the Armour of Light. Amen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

C, Last Sunday of the Church Year Proper 29 - Colossians 1:11-20, Psalm 46 "Stop in the Name of Love"

There’s no doubt we live in busy times. Many of us have our days filled even before they begin. Some are so busy that on going to bed they can’t sleep from thinking about what needs to be done tomorrow. Does tomorrow ever come?

At the beginning of the day some of us rise early to meet the storms which await us. These are people who busy themselves with the attitude when the going gets tough the tough get going. And they definitely get going without a moment’s delay! They grab the bull by the horns busily brawling with their beast.

If you’re a person like this every minute of your day is filled. “Where does the time go?” So focused on the tasks at hand there never seems to be a time to relax, sit down, and take the load off the feet.

Or alternatively, one might busy themselves in the tasks of relaxation. To an outsider watching this person’s tiring efforts relaxing might raise thought, “if this is how they relax I’d hate to see them work!” These people often seem superior or second to none in their work ethic. So dedicated, so focused, it might seem these people are supreme super humans!

Busy as a bee, people like this seem to get busy living, or are they in fact busy dying? Like a busy bee, life flies past in a flash, regardless their life’s length; toilsome duty seems to rush them through life to death. However, on their death beds, do they lament over not having busied themselves more? Did they ever stop to smell the roses?

Another type of person who always busies themselves is not as obvious as the person who can’t sit still. Rather this person seems to be relaxed; maybe just a little too relaxed at first sight. But on the inside boils a nervousness which makes the person so insecure they end up doing nothing. Well so it seems, to those around them! However, these people too are very busy; the storm clouds aren’t out there. No! They’re in here, in the heart.

Imminent and eminent, or looming and well-known, are these storms to those who see them towering on the horizon of their hearts. To those who observe this type of person they might think they’re not up to much. But really they are frozen with fear! They’re so consumed by worry and doubt their lives appear inactive yet they are anything but inactive on the inside as their troubles tower overhead.

And so we have two types of people. Those who can’t sit still because they are so busy, and then there are those who do sit still but are completely oblivious to what’s going on around them because their hearts are busy buried in worry and doubt.

In Psalm 46 God calls you to… “Be still and know that I am Lord”. It’s such a simple sentence, so why does it sentence us to so much strife? Is there any of us that can truly “stop” and let the Lord be the Lord?

Those who have hectic lives struggle to stop moving because they believe if they do, they might miss out, they might look slack, they might not be doing the right thing, or they might begin to see their need to be busy is actually their weakness. And in being still and seeing their limitations they might begin to know they need a Saviour.

On the other hand, those who seem still but are shaking with constant doubt and worry within — here the call to stop, to be still and know God — are forced into deeper and deeper worry and doubt. If they stop and rest from their worry and doubt, they might notice this Lord they are meant to be still before, and he will see their hearts and be the storm of all storms raging over their lives of fear and confusion.

So both the movers and the shakers of this world have great trouble in being truly still and knowing that God is Lord. Which are you? A mover or a shaker? Or perhaps a bit of both?

Whoever you are your Heavenly Father seeks peace for you; he wants to provide and sustain you. Jesus Christ, God the Son, has a gracious desire to rescue you and carry you home. And God the Holy Spirit want to be your mover and the shaker willing you to Christ and in him find rest.

And so God calls you to stop and be still in Jesus Christ. He sends the Holy Spirit to move those shaking in fear and to shake those moving towards death. God calls you to be still in he who is above all things and through all things. Hear about Jesus in whom you’re called to be still…

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15–18 ESV)

To be preeminent means Jesus is supreme, the highest of the high, and second to none. Yet we might ask how is Jesus supreme, and we find his supremacy in his stillness on the cross, where he bowed his head, gave up his spirit, and where all was finished and stopped for us whose spirits busy themselves in the storms of life which come and go.

In Psalm 46 we hear… the nations rage, the kingdoms totter, and God can utter his voice and the earth melts (v. 6). But even so with the Lord, the God of Jacob with us, he is our strength and refuge; he is our help in trouble. With God we have nothing to fear. He has the power to stops all conflicts in us, upon us, and surrounding us.

Together the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit — our Triune God — is the mover and shaker of everything. In the Father we find refuge, Jesus is our only true strength, and our helper is the Holy Spirit. He teaches us to give up our spirit, letting Christ begin it and finish it for us at the cross. Then in Christ the Holy Spirit can begin to move us and conform us in accordance with the Spirit of God.

But what is the power of this Spirit? It is the power of love in whom God has his being. Jesus bore this Spirit and therefore the power of love, because he is God… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19–20 ESV)

Years ago there was a song sung by a group of three, who ironically have the name, The Supremes. They sang a song called, Stop in the name of Love. But we have a Supreme Three-in-One, Triune God who also calls you and me to “Stop in the name of Love”, or to be still and know that I am God. Through Jesus’ blood spilt on the cross you know that God is love, and his love is transferred to those who stop and allow that love to be powerfully transmitted into us and through us by the Holy Spirit.

The fact of the matter is God knows you and he knows best. He knows his children need him to take us into his rest, into Christ’s rest on our cross and in the tomb. Why? Because left to ourselves and our own righteousness we are busily, blindly, toughing it out towards eternal turmoil. Those who rely on self motivation and continue refusing God are toiling toward eternal separation from God; drowning in worry and doubt not knowing true love.

If you’re one who is bound by busyness, running here and there never getting done what you believe needs to be done. If you’re one whose mind is busy with worry and doubt; or if you’re somewhere in between — God calls you to stop and be still, in the name of Love. Stop and know God; stop and know his love. Be still and know that the Lord is your Righteousness; he has finished ALL righteousness out of love for you.

Let he who is Preeminent, he who is Supreme, execute justice and righteousness for you, in you, at your cross — in your baptism. Pray for the Holy Spirit to remain in you and continue to give you faith as you hear his Word. Amen.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen. (Colossians 1:11–14 ESV)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

C, Pentecost 25 Proper 28 - Luke 21:5-19 "Eternal Endurance"

In the gospel reading before us today, Jesus speaks of the temple in Jerusalem and its desolation. But not only its demise through destruction but also the collapse of creation in future events of chaos!

When what we know and have depended upon for everyday life disintegrates, the restless hearts of humanity will boil over with fear and horrors that history hasn’t even experienced. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple—a place where heaven met earth and God dwelt with man—all those years ago in 70 AD, stands as a reminder and warning to us that the collapse of creation is coming.

And rightly so, the hearts of those who have elevated their created surroundings into their hope will be overcome with unquenchable anguish. Those who have lifted up this life as their heavenly paradise are heading for devastation just like the temple.

In stark contrast to these terminal times is the enduring name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the new temple. Through him, heaven meets earth. He is created like you and me, but he is also eternally begotten. Not only did he have a human beginning, conceived in the womb of a woman, God the Son has always been there eternally enduring with our Heavenly Father, even when the world was created and before.

Like the temple in Jerusalem, we find a place with God in Jesus’ person. No longer do we need to have our sin atoned for in the sacrifice at the temple with the spilling of animal’s blood, but we’ve had his blood spilt for us. The temple of his body was bludgeoned, beaten, and bled; left like temple rubble was Jesus dead on the cross.

We know the temple in Jerusalem has never been rebuilt, and will never be re-erected. Nevertheless, Jesus has been resurrected and lives and rules eternally at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Yet, we also know now that Jesus lives and rules eternally in the hearts of those who allow the Holy Spirit to create life-giving faith.

As the walls of Jerusalem’s temple crumbled and Jesus’ days on earth were chaotically brought to an end, we can expect the same thing to happen to us. As creation shows its signs of coming down, those living in Christ will increasingly be handed over to torturous times. Humanity’s darkness and chaos within will begin spilling out in spasms of spiritual and physical acts of hostility.

But this hostility will be a cover for the fear humanity has when it sees the things it adorns as beautiful, and the things to which humanity makes sacrificial offerings, beginning to perish.

In fact, in these times people will be looking more and more for answers, they will be more and more spiritual, and they will seek these things more and more in all the wrong places. The temples we have come to love and trust will come tumbling down.

This includes Christian people too. Many calling themselves Christian, who in fact have Christ temple-ing inside them, will rather trust the frame of his temple, their human frame, and be deceived; caught up chasing myths due to the spiritual and physical hostilities taking place in and around them. Some of the greatest attacks against the one true Christian church gathered around Jesus Christ, and individuals within it, will come from within the ranks of the church.

There will be those who will act towards faithful Christians as did Judas Iscariot towards Jesus Christ; seemingly with Christ one minute and against him and believers the next. There will be those who worship Jesus with us one day and then the next turn on us and hand us over to all types of torture, just as Jesus was worshiped on Palm Sunday and then handed over to death on Good Friday. Some will also be martyred for standing firm in Christ, just as has happened in the past, and is even happening in parts of the world today.

As the true church allows itself to be God’s mouthpiece, calling people out of darkness, being God’s agents of light in the world, the church is not going to win any favours from the those whose eyes have been blinded by darkness, and who refuse to have their darkness removed. Therefore, when the world is shaken, and you begin to witness horrors happening around you, know the end of suffering, or the realisation and revelation of eternal joy, is drawing near.

Jesus tells us not to be afraid, not to go after those who come seeking to stand in Christ’s place, or who seek to lead you by placing dread and fear on you that the end is coming. Jesus calls you and all who believe to stand firm in what our help really is. And our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Confess your sins and call on the name of the Lord, and he will forgive the guilt of your sin. In fact, you will only endure in him, his Word, his flesh, enabled by the Holy Spirit, who will fire faith within. He will enable you to endure whatever is shaken around you and within you.

One might wonder how we might survive these horrific days, if they are to come in our time! But in reality these times have been coming ever since Christ was raised into heaven, ever since the Holy Spirit was sent ten days later at Pentecost, and ever since the temple was sacked in Jerusalem forty odd years later in 70 AD.

However, these times of chaos and destruction come to all of us individually in our death. One day they will come as a wholesale event on earth but all of us are faced with the destruction of our mortal frame, just as the temple was destroyed and so too was Christ, momentarily on the cross.

Those who live in the one true church adorn Jesus Christ with their faith, showing and reflecting him in all his nobility and beauty. Just like one who loves living in the light continues in the upkeep of the candle or the wick, those who decorate Jesus Christ as their Saviour, will endure in faith, hope, and love towards him.

True believers will want to be in Jesus’ presence face to face in the warmth of his love, so they allow the enduring fuel of faith to burn within. For them it’s no longer the temple of the human frame that’s most important, but he who lives within making it a holy temple of the Lord.

So it won’t be a surprise when others hate us for not upholding the righteousness they believe to be beneficial in this world. They won’t like hearing about the truth of our darkness as we confess it to the Lord, because in our confession and subsequently being found blameless in God’s presence, others will know they too are judged guilty but will churn because they won’t want to rid themselves of their righteousness and therefore be at blame before God.

Then in their blame they will turn on you. Those dwelling in Christ, and he in them, will be persecuted. In refusing to align with humanity’s righteousness won’t win true Christians any honour in this wretched life.

If you’re wondering if you’re one within the ranks of Christ, know you are when you allow the Holy Spirit to lead you to repentance, returning you to Jesus’ righteousness, being in the peaceful presence of the Father; not to escape death out of fearful expectation of the worst, but because in you are love and joy just being with him.

Despite the threat against us, in spite of our reputation as “good people” amongst the world’s righteous being lost, and notwithstanding the trouble we will face this side of death because of our politically incorrect trust that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, Jesus calls us to not only trust him but to stand in him and boldly speak his name.

He promises, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:13–19 ESV)

Do you see what’s happening here? Some may be put to death, but not a hair of the head will perish! Our endurance will gain life. In our faithfulness to death we will gain life! Just as Jesus endured in his Father, enduring and knowing full well he would die, we too can endure in the Father, knowing full well we too will die. But death will have no hold over us, our death rather will be a restoration to whom we were always meant to be, not one hair of the head will perish.

In fact, even today as God allows the idols and temples of your heart to be destroyed he is calling you to endure in the joy and love of having your sinful self daily drowned in repentance, having all your righteousness die, so Christ might fulfil all righteousness within you.

As you notice the kingdoms and nations raging, the earth shaking, and the hatred of those against Christ in you, know that death has already been dealt its death in you, because having been buried with him in baptism …you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12 ESV)

In other words, what can truly now harm you? Nothing, when you allow him to daily raise you through repentance in faith! And in this faith which God gives, he will faithfully fill you with peace, joy, and love. By allowing Jesus Christ to endure in you as your Saviour, you will endure in him and be his light of love in a world of darkness and sin.

But those who reject his Word, who refuse his gift of grace, who stop God from being God within by blocking the Holy Spirit and the faith he seeks to give, (which is the new enduring eternal nature he want humanity to have in Christ), they sin against him and will be doomed.

But when all these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28 ESV) God is work in you enduring in you in order that you gain your eternal life in him. Amen.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

C, Pentecost 24 Proper 27 - 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 13b-17 "Standing Firm In Christ"

Over the next three weeks we will hear much about “end times” when Christ will return and the things hidden at the moment will be revealed for what they are – both things holy and evil! And in this context we hear much about “making judgments” and “judgment day”. Then as we move into Advent and Christmas our focus moves from the second coming and judgment day to Christ’s first coming in the wake of humanity’s habitual sin since Adam and Eve, and God’s subsequent judgement that we need a Saviour.

We humans feel very uncomfortable when speaking and dwelling on the subject of judgment, especially in this age of so-called “equality” or “political correctness”. Putting judgment on the table is countercultural, because it deals with absolutes in reality and truth, in a time where it’s proclaimed that there are no such absolutes. But judgment ultimately deals with death and its cause, and it’s this uncontrollable reality and finality that makes us very uneasy.

So therefore, a modern mantra is this: “We must not judge! Do not judge!” But in fact these very words are a judgment in themselves by individuals, who, in reality, live in fear of judgment – the reality of judgment and death, judgment day, condemnation over our righteous acts as justification, and ultimately the unmovable holiness of God the Father Almighty, our eternal judge. “Do not judge!” is not just a modern mantra; it’s a modern-day deception, misinterpretation, and mistaken belief!

Rightly or wrongly the reality is: judgment is here with us to stay. Although some might argue that the bible says, “Do not judge”. In fact, Jesus says these very words in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, if we isolate these three words from their proper context in Scripture, we end up condemning God’s word and placing him under judgment.

In Luke the complete text says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)

And in parallel, Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

But Jesus also says, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:59) Then in John 7:24 he says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” And again in John 8: 15-16 he says, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.

Paul seems just as contradictory when he speaks on judgment. In Romans he says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”(Rom 12:3) And then, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Rom 14:13)

And in his letters to the Corinthians he says, “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment” (1 Cor 2:15) “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” (1 Cor 6:2) “I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Cor 10:15) “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them, and they cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14) And to the Thessalonians he says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thes 5:21)

John calls us to test or judge things too, saying in 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” In fact the Scriptures connect making judgments and discernments with wisdom and purity. The teacher in Proverbs says, “My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight.” (Prov 3:21) And again, “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.” (Prov 10:13)

And Paul says to the Philippians, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

So should we judge or shouldn’t we judge? Well it all depends on our motives and the means we use as the motives of our judgments and discernments! As Jesus himself said, Judge and you will be judged, the measure used will be used against you too! And in Romans Paul says, “When you …pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (Romans 2:3) So when we judge we must ultimately stand under the same judgment before God too!

This is no surprise; in fact, Jesus leads the way as our example, although the only reason he does is so he might pour out mercy upon us! He made judgments over us sinners, and as a result he mercifully stood condemned under the very same judgments. As Almighty God the Son, he could have lorded eternal judgment and condemnation over us, but instead he received our full measure of wrath on himself, and we are receiving the Son of God’s full measure of mercy unto eternity.

We receive this mercy only when we allow the Holy Spirit to give us faith, so we believe Christ and receive him in the way he prescribes in his word. And that is to hear his word of the Gospel, to repent, to hear and receive the forgiveness of sins for life and salvation. And in these things we continue to receive the Holy Spirit, and therefore faith, so we might go on enduring in Christ, despite the three things that are always ready to deceive us. The first and main one being: our own deceptively sinful nature; the second: the many deceptions out there in the world; and finally: the focused attacks of the evil one, the devil!

So when judgment is motivated by these things we end up enforcing and exalting our own authority, self-justification, and self-glorification, we lord judgment over others, and do the opposite of Christ. When judgement is made with these sinister motives we seek God-status suppressing others and proclaiming ourselves. When we are deceived into doing this we move against God, and become anti, or against Christ!

Perhaps this is why Jesus says, “Do not judge!” But then in the next breath he also says, “Forgive”, which in contradiction needs mercy centred judgment to see the sin, which requires repentance and forgiveness in the first place!

We hear in James 2:13, “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” So our motive for judgment must always be grounded in mercy, for ourselves and others. We judge others as we too are judged by God so that together we might live as equals, judged as sinners, but mercifully sentenced to eternal life because of Christ’s death on the cross.

And further to this, a discerning and wise person will always test everything with the measure and means of Scripture. This goes without saying for spiritual people who place themselves under the judgment of God in the face of their mortality, and are enduring and living in the comforting arms of Christ without hindering the Holy Spirit who always guides us to Christ through his word. For the word of God is the only source of truth over-against the questionable motives of humanity’s standards, which are governed by the sinful nature played out in our confused thoughts, fickle feelings, and deceptive deeds!

After all Hebrews 4:12 tells it how it is, “…the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

So in these days of uncertainty God calls us to stand firm. We are neither to sit on our laurels thinking “she’ll be right”. Nor are we to move from where we’re called to take our stand! If we do we will surly move away from the means of merciful judgment and make judgment with human standards, compromised by our sinful nature, the world and men of lawlessness, or Satan himself. When we don’t stand firm in Christ and his word, we oppose God the Father, we become anti towards Christ, and participate in the lawlessness against his Spirit of holiness. Yes! All of us have the ability to be antichrists - men and women of lawlessness!

Therefore Paul’s message to the Thessalonians is also God’s message to us…

3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day (the day of Christ’s return) will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

13b But …from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.


16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 13b-17)