Galatians 1:3-5, John 1:13-14, John 3

Thy Will be done!

In the book of Galatians, Paul enters into battle with the religious experts who try to force a legalistic life upon the new believers. Right from the first few verses of this letter Paul makes clear that our relationship with God the father is by God’s grace.  It is God’s grace that saves sinners. He writes in Chapter 1, verses 3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” It is a true gift as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “it is a gift of God. It’s not of yourself. It’s not of works lest any man should boast.” But like the Galatians it’s so easy to turn from Grace to Works again. It appeals to our human nature and seems to be the default setting for mankind. Commenting on the radical grace of God Bush and Due write in their commentary, “The gospel’s radical negation of ceaseless striving and hard work is unfathomable to us. Our thoughts can’t produce it; our will doesn’t originate it. It’s otherworldly, ‘according to the will of our God and Father’ (Gal 1:4). Christ suffered not because we are worthy, or because we moved him to act, but only because it was the will of God.” They quote Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:23 then, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Their conclusion is, “It’s hard to imagine a statement better calculated to oppose the intrusion of human will in salvation.”

Many will argue that it’s human will that initiates our salvation and it’s human will that maintains our salvation. Yet John chapter 1 argues a more secure perspective on it.  John 1:12-13, says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” When Jesus talked to Nicodemus about what he needed for salvation, Jesus said you must be “born again.” But he was talking about a spiritual birth of course. Jesus explained it all: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If it’s up to me and my weak will, i’m in a tenuous situation in my relationship with God. But since it’s not my will that saved me it’s not my will that will preserve me! I was a pretty rebellious teen at times and I often regret the things I said to my parents. But there was something truer than my feelings, desires, or attitudes that maintained my relationship with them. I could denounce them and say “I’m not your son.” I could even change my name if I wanted to and try to be somebody else. I could ignore my parents and live a life without any relationship with them. But none of the efforts of my will, attitudes of my mind, dispositions of my heart make me less my father’s son. There is a force greater than me that maintains the bond! That’s what it’s like for all those born of the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  The older I get, the more grateful I become for this fact!

Luke 17:11-19

Praise God, I’m Healed!

In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17, we read a story I’m sure most of us are familiar with. Jesus is making His way south from Galilee to Jerusalem for the last time. By now, people everywhere had heard countless stories of Jesus’ many miracles and without a doubt, those with incurable ailments and diseases paid the most attention. As He enters a village on the border between Galilee and Samaria, He sees ten lepers crying out to Him from a distance “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Leprosy was a highly contagious life-threatening skin disease that had plagued the region for centuries.

When He hears their cry, Jesus shouts back to them “Go show yourselves to the priests!” To have been noticed by Him and given an instruction to follow was all they could have hoped for, and besides, showing oneself to a priest was something a leper did to demonstrate he had been cured. No doubt these men felt a hope they had not felt in a very long time. They quickly started out toward Jerusalem for in order to see a priest, you had to go to the temple in Jerusalem. Unless you happen to be a Samaritan.

And it just so happens that one of these ten lepers was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were reviled by the Jews who would go to great lengths to avoid any contact with them. The descendants of Jews and foreigners, they were considered unclean, half-breed, heretics who had rejected the priesthood in Jerusalem and established their own priesthood on Mount Gerizim. I can’t imagine what terrifying and conflicting thoughts must have gripped this poor fellow as he and his companions headed south. Would he leave them to go to his temple at Gerizim while the other nine continued on to Jerusalem? Since Jesus himself was a Jew, did this instruction to see a priest mean that he had to see a Jewish priest? Would a Jewish priest even see him? Would he even be welcome in the city of Jerusalem? Definitely not. If he saw his priest on Gerizim, would that be enough or was he now doomed to be a leper forever? He wanted to obey. In fact, his very life depended on it. But what should he do?

However, the men had not made it far when they noticed their leprosy had disappeared! The nine who were confident in the knowledge of what they had to do, continued on their way. In fact, they were beginning to realize now, that one of their number was an undesirable. As lepers they were all brothers, each an outcast from his family and his people, crying out in unison “Have mercy on us!” Now that they had been healed, there was only one outcast in their midst. It would not go well for them to be seen in the company of a Samaritan in Jerusalem.

The Samaritan however, upon realizing he had just been healed of his disease, also experienced immediate relief from his inner conflict and anguish over what he was supposed to do. This even greater burden had also just been lifted off his shoulders. It’s one thing to live as a leper because that’s just your lot in life; it’s something else entirely to be stuck as a leper forever because you made the wrong choice, you went to the wrong priest. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the outcast comes running back to Jesus shouting “Praise God, I’m healed!”

Jesus, as he so often did, brings the point home with his questions, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Why does only this one outcast return to give glory to God?” It wasn’t the healing of their bodies through an act of obedience that moved them to respond in worship and gratitude, otherwise the other nine would have returned as well. It was the healing of a man who knew he couldn’t follow Jesus’ instruction that produced a veritable tidal wave of worship and thanksgiving.

I’ve studied the Bible for years and I still don’t understand many of Jesus’ instructions. Maybe a lot of you feel the same. Is it not the greatest miracle in the world that Jesus gives healing to all who ask him without requiring us to understand and follow His instructions? When I reflect on that, I experience a peace and comfort that can’t be found anywhere else. It is not even possible to hold back the shout from my heart, “Praise God, I’m healed!” As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, it doesn’t matter whether one travels to worship at Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. True worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth.

Ephesians 3:17-19, John 3:16

For the Love of God!

My mother would speak about “The Love of God” a lot. She’d say, “for the Love of God, be nice to your sister!” Or she’d say, “for the Love of God, stop picking on your little brother.” More than once I heard her say, “for the Love of God, please do your homework.” Yep, my mother thought that the love of God should have been a motivating force in my life for good. But honestly it didn’t really motivate me at all. I never was very nice to my sister. I never stopped picking on my little brother and seldom did I do my homework.

I always thought that the saying “For the Love of God” was addressing my love for God.  My mom’s exhortation was that I should be a better person because I loved God. The truth is, however, my love for God was never sufficient enough to cause behavior change.  My fear for God worked a lot better. If I didn’t love God, I sure did fear Him. The fear of punishment was a much better motivator in my growing up years. When we’re children the Law is the guardian of our behavior. We need all the do’s and don’ts to keep us in line and the fear of the switch (in my case) or the corner or some punishment had a greater impact on my choices than love ever did.  But we’ve all got to grow up someday.

I finally did and now I believe the true motivation for good living is not my fear of God or my love for God. It is God’s love for me. Once we fully comprehend God’s love for us our lives do change. This was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. He prayed that, “Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” I’ve become convinced that true life change is the product of understanding how deeply God loves us. He so “loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son so that anyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” 

 

Matthew 11:28-29

The “Yoke’s” on you!

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus invites us all who are weary and overburdened to come to Him so He can give us rest for our souls. In Jesus’ call to us who are overburdened, He speaks of taking His yoke upon us. Now we all know that a yoke in that agricultural society was a wooden press that bound two animals together who would then contribute equally to the pulling of the plow by putting their strength together. Some yokes were extremely heavy according to some commentators and some were lighter but all involved some kind of a burden. But the yoke that Jesus was referring to was the heavy burden that the religious leaders had placed around the necks of the people binding them to a law that was unbearable. That yoke, the Yoke of the Law, only drove us to the recognition of our true sinfulness. Jeremiah made this clear when he used the idea of a yoke in his lament. In Lamentations 1:14 we read “…My transgressions were bound into a yoke…they were set upon my neck.”

Many commentators suggest that Jesus’ yoke is still a yoke and still represents something we must bear up under but it’s slightly lighter or radically lighter than the yoke of the law. This is not possible! If Jesus is exchanging one yoke, the yoke of the law which condemns us of our sin, for His law, how can we fail to recognize that His yoke is much more severe than the yoke of the law that the religious leaders were strapping to the backs of the people. In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus says (my paraphrase) the law teaches that you must not kill, but I teach you that if you have hatred for someone you’ve already committed murder. He then added that the law teaches that you should not commit adultery but I teach you that if you harbor lust in your heart when looking at a woman you are already guilty of adultery. No, Jesus’ law was much more severe than the law of the Pharisees in my opinion.

Jesus’ yoke is not a yoke with a lighter burden. It’s a yoke with no burden at all. It’s a yoke with someone who has already plowed the ground. It’s to yoke with someone when the work is all over. We are called to yoke ourselves with Jesus after the work has already been done. One commentator rightly concluded, “What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and his burden light is that in Jesus’ own active obedience (i.e., his perfect fulfillment of the Law of God), He carried the burden that we were meant to carry. His perfect obedience is applied (imputed) to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the only thing that really gives me rest for my soul.

Matthew 11:27, Matthew 23:4

The Minimum Requirements

In 1962 I joined the Sloan Boxing Club that had a gym above a bar on 13th Street somewhere between Capital and Harney. I can’t remember exactly! I worked out there most nights and once in a while on Saturdays. I was 15 at the time turning 16 on January 15th of 1963. The City Golden Gloves Tournament was held on January 25-26. I just made the age cut off by 10 days. There were two requirements we had to meet. We had to be 16 years of age and we had to weigh at or below our weight class. I was a flyweight the lightest of all the classes which was the class of everything up to 112 pounds. I weighed in at 110 ¾ pounds. That was my sophomore year of High School. Now you know why I didn’t do well in football. I met the requirements! Interestingly enough I was the only 16 year old that weighed less than 112 pounds that year. I think I might be the only one, or one of a very few, that hold a Golden Glove Championship title without every throwing a punch or receiving a punch!

In Matthew 11:27 Jesus calls people to come to Him who have met two requirements. They must be “weary and heavy laden” (or overburdened). We don’t often think of those as requirements to Jesus’ call but it seems to me that Jesus didn’t come to heal the healthy. They don’t need Him. He came to heal the sick. Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. The righteous don’t need Him. He came for sinners.  In the Greek Text the word for “burdened” is a passive voice verb. That means it was something that had happened to you or that someone else had done to you. Jesus used the same word when addressing the religious leaders. In Matthew 23:4 Jesus described the religious leaders: “…they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them.”

I’m so glad that I meet those two requirements also. The burden of religious demands and expectations on me are impossible to bear. I am so tired of trying to live up to standards to which I’ll never be able to measure up. It doesn’t matter how hard I work at it. I always fail. It doesn’t matter how talented I am, I always fail. I’m overburdened and I’m weary. So I come to Jesus! He cleanses me of all my sin and applies to my account His very own righteousness! It’s not a righteousness that I must work for or demonstrate in myself. It’s a perfect righteousness transferred to my account without even having to throw a punch!

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