Luke 15:1-10 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17
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The Spirit-Filled Life is a Life of SEEKING THE LOST AND REJOICING IN THE FIND
Today our Lectionary brings us a beautiful combination of readings:
- 2 parts of a 3-part parable about being lost and found, and
- the Apostle Paul’s testimony of his own lost-and-found experience.
The context of the Jesus’ telling of the parable is this.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the ways He spoke and behaved tended to attract to Him people who were considered to be undesirables by the Religious Leaders of the day. The riff-raff. In this particular instance Jesus was teaching a large crowd of people about the cost of discipleship (See Luke 14) and in the large crowd listening to this teaching, there were a noticeable number of people identified in Luke 15:1 as “tax collectors” and “sinners”. To the Religious Leaders, these were two groups of clearly undesirable people.
- The “tax collectors” were undesirable because they were greedy, conniving and dishonest collaborators with the oppressive Roman Regime.
- The “sinners” were people regarded as immoral misfits. The word covered known prostitutes, adulterers and petty thieves.
What was noticeable to the Religious Leaders was that this was not an uncommon happening. Jesus attracted these people AND would always welcome this riff-raff and EVEN eat with them.
The word used in the accusation that Jesus “welcomes” sinners is a word used of a welcoming embrace normally reserved for family members. People still caught up in lives of corruption, criminality and sexual immorality received a loving embrace from Jesus.
AND, as if that wasn’t bad enough, in their culture to eat with someone was to show affirmation and even approval of the person.
Jesus was welcoming and building friendly relationships with known “sinners” and “undesirables”. No wonder the Religious Leaders were muttering and complaining. They felt Jesus was sending all the wrong messages.
Hearing their complaints is what moved Jesus to tell this parable. Which tells us that the main point of the parable is to call out the attitude of the Religious Leaders. Bear that in mind.
At first glance, it feels as though Luke 15 is three parables. But on closer inspection v.3 says: “Jesus told them this parable” (singular). It is actually one parable with three parts.
- the story of a lost sheep.
- the story of a lost coin.
- the story of a lost son
One parable in three parts … all about those who get lost and are then found again.
Part #1: The Priority of the Lost (v.4a and 8a)
The common denominators of the sheep and the coin in these stories is that they are very valuable and that they get lost.
The sheep was out in the fields with the shepherd who had brought it into the world, carried it as a lamb when it was too weary to follow the flock, checked it every night for parasites, slept in the fields with it, led it to safe pasture, and protected it daily from predators. The shepherd loved and valued each of his sheep almost as if they were his children. And then one day the sheep wandered off and got itself lost.
The coin did what coins do and obeyed gravity. In a poor home the silver coin was security against a rainy day. In village life, almost everything was bartered not bought … and coins were kept for when there was nothing left to barter. The woman had frugally stored up 10 silver cons for her family’s rainy day. Wherever it was being stored, it somehow dropped out of sight into a dusty corner of the woman’s peasant home.
The sheep and the coin were both incredibly valuable to the shepherd and the woman respectively, and they both got lost. And precisely because they were valuable and lost – they were a priority.
The 99 sheep and the 9 silver coins that were not lost were each just as valuable, but they were not lost. In the meaning of this parable … they represent the Religious Leaders. They were, in their opinion anyway, safely “at home” in the “will of God”. And the “lost” sheep and coin were those considered “sinners” and far away from the will of God.
The problem was that the Religious Leaders thought the “lost” were not only far away from the will of God but also far away from the heart of God … and that they should be avoided in case they should “contaminate” the “found”. And nothing could have been further from the truth.
Here they were … 99 sheep bleating and complaining that the shepherd was off looking for the lost one … when in fact they should have been cheering Him on.
The Shepherd’s priority was the lost. The Woman’s priority was the lost.
Here is the lesson of Part 1 for us today … as established followers of Jesus who know that we belong to the family of God … Those who are on the outside … the vulnerable … the displaced … the despised … the “sinners” and the “corrupt” are the priority of Jesus Christ. They should be our priority too if we are to be Christlike.
So let’s ask ourselves: What is our attitude towards those “out there”?
Let us repent of any un-Christlike attitude towards those who are lost … those who have wandered far from God. And certainly, let us make “the lost” our priority. Yes, it is vitally important for us to fellowship with each other and worship our Lord together … but it is also crucial for us to prioritise ministry to those on the outside of the faith.
So first: Think of someone today who you know is outside of the faith-family of God … someone lost in sin …or just lost because they have wandered far from God. Name them in your mind … because this sermon is about you … and them.
Part #2: The Passion of the Search (v.4b-5a and 8b-9a)
In these two stories another common denominator is the passion of the search.
The shepherd goes out into the wilderness. He loves that sheep so much that he risks the very same dangers that his sheep faces – the predators, the bandits, the sinkholes, the sudden cliffs of the Judean wilderness. He loves that sheep and he risks Himself to find it. He is passionate in his search.
Likewise the woman. She values that coin so highly. She searches for it “carefully” and with great urgency (the Greek word implies). She knows that the longer the coin is gone the less likely she is to uncover it in its dusty corner.
For both of them this was an urgent, passionate search.
Jesus is bringing home a strong message to his detractors. It is not just that He tolerates the lost; i.e. the despised tax collectors and “sinners” … it is that He is passionately and urgently seeking them out.
Here is the lesson of Part 2 for us today … established followers of Jesus who know that we belong to the family of God … Jesus Christ is passionately and urgently at work seeking out those who are outside of the family of God, and we need to adopt that same urgency.
We also need to adopt the same approach. What was Jesus’ approach to searching? In contrast to the Pharisees who were like 99 sheep standing safely in the kraal bleating ceaselessly about how dumb the lost sheep was to get lost … and how irresponsible the shepherd was to go off looking for it … bleating about how filthy those rotten sinners were … by contrast to them … Jesus went to where the lost people were … and He opened Himself up to loving and welcoming relationships with them. He welcomed the crowds of tax collectors and sinners and He embraced them and fellowshipped with them as a relational invitation to them to come home to the faith-family of God.
So the second question, in relation to the “lost” person you named earlier is: How will YOU reach out to them with warm and loving fellowship as a relational invitation to them to come home to the faith-family of God?
Part #3: The Party of the Find (v.6b-7 and 9b-10)
This is where the stories have been heading all along. Jesus brings them to their natural, happy ending. The sheep is found. The coin is found. In both cases neighbours and friends are summoned to come and rejoice with the Finder (the Shepherd and the Woman). A party is thrown in celebration.
Of course this is what would naturally happen.
And Jesus’ point is … this is Heaven’s reaction when one of God’s lost ones is found.
I think Jesus made His point. Yes, these sinners and tax collectors lost their way. Yes they were far from God … no arguments there. God hates adultery … God hates corruption … God hates theft and murder and violence. And people who do those things are LOST and separated from God by their sin.
BUT … Jesus Christ was passionately and urgently at work seeking out those who were on the outside … the “sinners” and the “corrupt”.
AND when these people were FOUND by Him then, unlike heaven, the Religious Leaders were like neighbours who refused to join the party. They would not rejoice. Instead they complained.
This parable was both:
- an indictment on their attitude and behaviour, and
- an invitation to them to stop muttering and join the party.
The question begs asking however: “It’s easy to know when a lost sheep is found … and its easy to see when a lost coin is found. But when is a lost sinner found?”
The Story of Saul/Paul
This is where the story of Paul in 1 Timothy 1 is really helpful. Because Paul, was a LOST man. In 1 Timothy 1:13 he describes himself like this: “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man.” If you know the early chapters of the book of Acts, Paul was on a mission to eradicate Christians. He was a self-declared enemy of Jesus! Lost never looked quite as lost as Paul was!
But when Paul was lost, Jesus was passionately SEARCHING. Paul himself said in 1 Timothy 1:15 that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” In a general sense Jesus came into the world to seek and save us all. But He also comes specifically to seek out every individual. We know from Acts 9 how the risen Jesus came to Paul on the Road to Damascus and met him in a voice from heaven and a blinding light. It was a dramatic moment of searching and of offering Paul a way back.
However Paul was not FOUND by Christ on the Damascus Road. Because even after that dramatic encounter, Paul still needed to make his own choice. And it was only 3 days later when Ananias came to Paul and laid hands on him that Paul appears to have fully entrusted his life to Jesus, and was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit and baptised.
But the key to understanding Paul’s moment of being found and of coming home to the faith-family … is that he says that he WAS once a blasphemer and persecutor … but Jesus saved him. Paul was FOUND … in the moment his new-found faith in Jesus caused him to REPENT. To turn away from his sin and to turn TO God by faith in Jesus.
In the Parable: Both in v.7 and v.10, Jesus clearly says that the party that is thrown in heaven is thrown because of “one sinner who REPENTS”.
While a sinner is unrepentant in their sin … there is nothing over which to rejoice. The search for that sinner has not yet ended. A sinner is only “found” in the metaphorical sense of this parable, when he or she has repented of their sin, and turned to God through faith in Jesus.
That bears repeating: A sinner is only “found” in the metaphorical sense of this parable, when he or she has repented of their sin, and turned to God through faith in Jesus.
While somebody is still unrepentant over their sinfulness and rebellion against God … there is no reason to celebrate … they are still lost.
This parable is not an invitation to say that sin does not matter to God. Sin matters. It matters because sin destroys our lives … but more importantly … and listen closely … sin matters because sin tarnishes our ability to bear the image of God. Sin is not only sin when someone gets hurt. Sin is sin because it misrepresents God to ourselves and to the world.
Committing adultery is not only sin because people get hurt when you get found out. It is sin because God is a faithful God … and humans are to bear His image … and adultery is unfaithfulness. Sin always matters (even when no-one gets hurt) because it is a misrepresentation of God.
Jesus was welcoming the crowds of tax collectors and sinners and He was embracing them and fellowshipping with them as a relational invitation to them … to repent … to turn away from their sin and turn TO God … and leave their lives of sin behind.
Another example and a conclusion
The woman caught in adultery and cast before Jesus in John 8 is a classic example of a lost one in the process of being sought. Lost in the sin of adultery and brought before Jesus by the Religious Leaders as a test of his theology: Jesus protected her. Jesus did not condemn her. Jesus spoke with her. Jesus protected her dignity. But Jesus said to her as He turned to leave: “Now leave your life of sin.” (i.e. REPENT).
In protecting her, Jesus was not implying that her adultery did not matter. His loving protection was part of an invitation to her to make her choice and leave her life of sin. We do not know if she was ever “found” in the sense of this parable. Because the John 8 story ends there.
This Parable holds out to us a way of living which we humans seem to always find incredibly difficult (I know I do). That way of living is:
- to live with an orientation TOWARDS those who are still on the outside of the family of God and still living in ways irreconcilable with the family of God; i.e. the person you named earlier; AND
- to live in an attitude of deliberately LOVING WELCOME AND WARM RELATIONSHIP with those still on the outside; i.e. the person you named earlier; AND somehow at the same time
- to not condone the sin but rather, in that same loving and warm relationship, to issue the invitation to the sinner to turn away from sin and turn to God.
If we are to be used by Christ in bringing lost sinners home to the family of God … the Jesus-way is not to stand at a distance and point and shout: “Sinner, sinner” like the Pharisees did. The way is to go close and build relationship and reveal the love of God in Christ … and in that position of loving fellowship to issue the invitation of God.
May the Lord give us grace to do this!
The text of testerday’s Sermon, preached at 9am, 10h30 and 6pm follows. The audio recording can be listened to on our Church Site HERE.
This week we are mourning the death of Ms Uyinene Mrwetyana, right here in Claremont. Raped and murdered in our Post Office. Our Post Office. The one where your Faith for Daily Living booklets are delivered. She caught an Uber from Roscommon Student Flats on Main Road. Our Main Road. The one just below Cavendish Square. Her blood was spilled on our soil … and the soil of our suburb cries out to God.
And tragically Uyinene is one of many, many thousands of women in our nation whose blood cries out from the earth. Blood spilled in assaults and sexual assaults and murder.
There are so many words that have been spoken …so many prayers have been offered … and we here at CMC will continue to offer those prayers … from our knees we will continue to rage against the encroaching darkness … and by our lives we will strive to continue to bear the light of Christ. But the darkness is deep … it is deep … it is from the very pit of hell.
Just this week we have also borne witness to the unspeakable violence against our fellow Africans. And note this … in the truly African mind, no African is ever a foreigner in Africa. Yet somehow our minds have been darkened. And yes I say our minds because somehow we all share this in one way or another. I do not believe any of us here have used violence against a fellow African this week. But to the extent that we have ever dehumanised a fellow African … maybe just for being a black fellow African or a white fellow African or a coloured fellow African or a Somalian fellow African or a Nigerian fellow African … we have shared this horror and have kept it alive.
And note well, I am repeating this over and over … a fellow African. Because it matters not what the colour of my skin is … or what the inflection of my accent is:
Ndingumntwana waseAfrika. I am a child of Africa. Ek is ‘n Afrika-kind. I probably don’t look like it to Donald Trump KODWA NDINGUMNTWANA WASE AFRIKA. BUT I AM child of Africa.
Re bana ba Afrika. We are children of Africa. Ons is kinders van Afrika.
Afrika ndio mama yetu. Africa is our mother. Africa mai vedu. I-Afrika ngumama wethu. L’Afrique est notre mère. Afrika is ons moeder.
The tragedy playing out all around us, brothers and sisters, has many origins … this raging river of violence (be it against women or children or citizens of other African countries) springs up from many sources. But one major one is also a central issue in the letter of Philemon; viz. the dehumanising of others. Seeing others as somehow less than human or less of a human.
Therefore, we cannot come to the letter of Philemon today without first grounding ourselves in this reality that we live in … and with which we are currently so desperately grappling. People are dehumanising other people. And as Alexander Solzhenitsyn very wisely wrote: …. (and no, I won’t try it in Russian)
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”
This is not a problem you and I can ever assign to someone else. I cannot ensure that anyone else will not treat another human being as less than human. But I MUST begin to recognise that the danger lurks within my own heart and mind. And you, dear sister, dear brother, MUST recognise the same.
The Story of Philemon
Philemon was a good man. He was a follower of Jesus Christ. He had been born again into the family of Abba Father through faith in Jesus Christ, under the ministry of Apostle Paul, probably in Ephesus … because he lived in the neighbouring city of Colossae … and he was a wealthy person. Amazingly … having come to faith he therefore opened his home for the weekly Lord’s Day gatherings of the Christians of Colossae … to whom Paul wrote the letter we call (surprise, surprise) Colossians.
When Paul wrote to the Colossians, and was about to send the letter to them with his friends and co-workers Tychicus and Onesimus … Apostle Paul also wrote a personal letter to the man in whose home they were meeting … Philemon. And that is the letter we heard Cliff read to us today.
But use your spiritual imagination … your sanctified imagination … to come inside the Scriptures with me … imagine the scene. The followers of Jesus are seated around, probably in the open courtyard in the home of the wealthy Philemon. Somewhere close to Philemon himself are his believing wife Apphia and his believing son, Archippus. The guest of honour that morning was Tychicus … someone whom Apostle Paul considered to be a dear brother, a faithful minister and a fellow-servant in the Lord. He had arrived recently with two letters from Paul which were to be read to the church.
As the first letter was read out to the church by Tychicus, their hearts must have swelled with joy. The great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul himself, had written to Philemon … greeting him as a dear friend and fellow-worker … greeting Apphia as a sister … and Archippus their son as a fellow worker in the Lord.
Apostle Paul told how he prayed for Philemon. And wonderfully he shares that when he prays for Philemon, he mostly just gives thanks. He thanks God because he has heard (probably through Epaphras, who travelled from Colossae to see Paul in Rome) … Paul has heard that Philemon has great faith in the Lord Jesus and great love for all his fellow believers. Paul has been so encouraged and is overjoyed because he has heard that Philemon’s love towards the other believers has refreshed their hearts by his acts of showing them great kindness.
I don’t believe Paul is flattering Philemon here. Some cynics would say so … but I don’t believe that. I believe Paul is sincere. He is grateful. He is the apostle to the Gentiles. Unknowingly he is engaging in writing what will become part of Holy Scripture for the global church of all centuries. And if he says this is what he is praying … then this is what he is praying.
Philemon is a great guy … and an upstanding example of a follower of Jesus whose heart has been transformed by the Holy Spirit.
I think we could safely say that if anyone was safe from the temptation to dehumanise another human being … it must surely be Philemon … this man of faith … of love … of kindness … this man filled with the Holy Spirit … right?
But what we haven’t yet done in our sanctified imaginations is to look deeper into the shadows … there just outside the courtyard … out of the glare of the bright Colossian sun … shuffling anxiously from foot to foot in a small group of raggedly-clothed beggars … stands a man.
Why is he waiting there? Why is he anxious?
His name is Onesimus. He’s Tychicus’ fellow traveller … fellow emissary from Apostle Paul in Rome. But he’s not inside yet. He’s out there. Because this used to be his home too. Only … not really his home … because Onesimus was a slave … and Philemon was his master … only not only his master … Philemon was his owner … and Onesimus was Philemon’s property. It was not uncommon … everyone did it. At one point slavery was such an institution in the Roman Empire that between 35 and 40% of the population were slaves. At the time of Christ it is estimated that there were approximately 60 million slaves in the Empire. Slaves were known as ‘animated tools’, which could be bought and sold at their owner’s discretion. The master had complete rights over the slave, including the right to sell him or her, the right to use him or her however he pleased (including for sexual activity) and even the right to inflict physical punishment or even death … without any fear of justice because the slave had zero rights. They were actually not seen as human anymore … just a piece of property.
The most likely way Philemon had acquired Onesimus was that Onesimus or his parents had somehow fallen into debt … and to get out of it Onesimus was exchanged for a sum of money. The debt was paid to the creditor … the family was debt-free … and Onesimus became the slave of Philemon. It’s likely that he was renamed by his new master (who I like to think had not yet met Christ) … and he is dubbed “Useful” … that’s what Onesimus means … it means profitable.
- Sy naam is NUTTIG.
- Igama lakhe ngu Luncedo
- Lebitso la hae ke Sebetsa
- Son nom est Utile
USEFUL … The name also means “Profitable”. Like any self-respecting slave owner, Philemon hoped to make a profit out of this deal … to get more days of labour from his slave than the value of the price he had paid. Profitable … useful.
But one day, despite the money that had been paid for him, “Useful … Profitable” abandoned ship. He ran away. He fled to the great metropolis of Rome … to the safety of the sea of humanity in that great City. The sum of money Philemon had paid was gone … his profit was gone … and so too was the property he had bought … his slave.
Now, if ever Philemon got his hands on Onesimus … that USELESS PIECE OF … he had the right to do to him whatever he pleased … even put him to death. It was the law. But more than that, it was expected by other slave owners who would want a strong message sent to their own slaves that it doesn’t pay to run away.
So what on earth was Onesimus doing outside Philemon’s home. Well … he had met Christ. His master’s Master had now become his Master too. By the grace of God, while in Rome, Onesimus had ended up in prison … probably for stealing some food … and in that prison he had met Apostle Paul … and been led to faith in Christ. He had been born again into the family of Abba Father through faith in Jesus Christ.
But as he and Paul spoke, the truth came out. And lo and behold Paul’s own co-worker for Christ in Colossae was Onesimus’ owner. To cut long story short … in time … Onesimus came to the conclusion that to truly follow Jesus he needed to go back h0me. He needed to face up to the consequences of what he had done … and look his human master in the eye.
As the time drew near for Paul’s co-worker Tychicus to travel to Colossae with Paul’s letter to the church there … Onesimus and Paul came to an agreement. With great courage, and with Paul’s blessing and support, Onesimus would return to Colossae in company with Tychicus … bearing with them a personal letter from Paul to Philemon and also to the church that met in his home.
Now … come back inside the courtyard with me in your sanctified imagination … and look deep inside Philemon’s heart. Right down the centre of his heart there runs a line … the line between good and evil.
On each side of the line there stands a man.
On THE DARK SIDE of the line stands a useless, thieving, traitor of a slave … a piece of property … no, a piece of trash who only ever existed to serve my desires and my needs and my commands … a nothing … a nobody … a rubbish … and then to top it all off he ran away and stole himself from me! USEFUL??!! HA … UseLESS! On that side of the line through Philemon’s heart, Philemon’s reaction would be to grab Onesimus and thrash the living daylights out of him. Beat him and kick him and leave him fighting for his life in the dirt .. in the gutter with the dogs and beggars.
Paul’s letter is a plea … it is a plea to Philemon to look to the other side of the line. For on the LIGHT side of the line stands a brother in Christ … a human … a man whom Paul describes as his very own son in the Lord … his very own heart … who is useful to Paul in his ministry … a man of God … as v.16 says, “no longer a slave … but … a dear brother” for Philemon to receive. No longer a piece of property but a fellow human and a child in the household of God. On that side of the line through Philemon’s heart the reaction to Onesimus is a warm and (says v.14) spontaneous embrace of love and forgiveness and acceptance. In fact, the same kind of embrace which a certain father gave to his runaway child in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The same kind of welcoming embrace (says Apostle Paul in v.17) which Philemon would give to Paul himself.
The letter to Philemon is a plea to the man to make the right decision about which side of the line through his heart will rule. It is a plea to decide NOT to be ruled by the dark side of the line … the side of SELFISH HATRED. It is a plea, says Paul in v.9, to make his decision on the basis of LOVE … to see Onesimus with the eyes of love!
Now the hardest part of all. You and I need to apply this.
I don’t know what is in your heart … but I know the shadows in my own. The light of the Spirit of God shines in my heart … but in the shadows there lurks my SELFISH PRIDE.
You and I may very well one day be faced with the temptation to see another human being as less than human. I know, growing up in Apartheid South Africa we were programmed that way, by the power of the society around us, that classified people essentially as subhuman. I am so, so sorry to have to say this and please know that I do not want to cause pain to anyone by saying this … but I feel I have to say it today: We white people were different … we were better … more civilised … more educated … more valuable. And we were programmed by our society to believe … that far beneath us … were black people … in fact they weren’t even really called “black people” … just “blacks.” Coloureds and Indians were higher up … but still lower than us whites, you know. I am so sorry to say this today. And I’m so sorry if my saying it brings up painful memories for you.
I am so sorry that I grew up being taught this in word and deed by my surrounding community. The narrative of our world was incredibly powerful. Now, I have come to deeply reject that narrative – the one that says white people are superior … I have come to deeply regret the effect it has had on my mind and my heart. But I am not stupid enough to think it has no hold on any corner of my mind or heart. Like virtually every 40-something year-old white South African I had the seed of racism planted in me … deeply. But I am a recovering racist by the grace of God … helped along by the love of my sisters and brothers who do not share the colour of my skin.
We may not even realise how we were programmed to see the world and others in this way … but it happened.
Why am I saying all of this? Because I desperately want us to acknowledge that thhe propensity for evil lurks even inside US. I desperately do not want us to think that this message is for someone OUT THERE who is beating up on so-called foreigners or abusing women. It’s for us ALL.
I do not want to believe that any of us men here today would see a woman as less than human and therefore ours to do with whatever we like. I do not want to believe that there are men here today who would be violent with their wives or romantic partners … or men here who would pass lewd comments to women … or reach out to touch them inappropriately … Oh God, I do not want to believe that there are any men here who would rape a woman or abuse a child … but I must warn us men … each and every one of us … that the line between good and evil runs right through our hearts and we are in danger … every single one of us because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And to the believers, James says, that each of us sins when we are drawn away by our own evil desires and enticed. (James 1:14) By the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us … we must make the decisions daily to choose the Jesus way … to choose the way of love … to choose the way of honouring every woman we meet … and to see her as she is … a daughter of the Most High God!
And for heaven’s sake let us train ourselves to see women this way.
That right there is the danger of pornography. Something the world has decided in its idiotic moron-ism is quite okay. Any man who views pornography is not programming his mind to see women as beloved daughters of God … he is programming his mind to see them as pieces of flesh to be used for perverted pleasure. Let me say this straight: Pornography is a disgrace … it is filthy … it is disgusting … it is totally and utterly unacceptable. It is EVIL!!!! It fuels the lust of men … and it programmes them to see women from the dark side of their hearts and minds. And if you are using porn or are addicted to porn … we love you … we want to help you … but you NEED to get free … you NEED to turn your back on it in the power of the Holy Spirit and let HIM burn it out of your life by the fire of God!
I do not want to believe that any of us here today would ever attack a fellow human being … for whatever reason … but especially not because they are of another nationality or race group. But the line between good and evil does not run between township and suburb. And so we must take heed and take warning. The only heart we can ever co-operate in allowing the Spirit of God to cure … is our own. And I am desperate for us ALL to see that ALL of our hearts need curing. Until we are genuinely able to look at every other human being as a person created in the image of God and of absolutely priceless value … we are in danger … of falling … in a moment of madness … into xenophobia … or violence towards women … or violence towards anyone else for that matter … be it physical or verbal or emotional or psychological violence.
But Family, our hope is in the Lord.
Our hope is in the power of the Holy Spirit – to utterly transform human hearts.
We have the same hope which led Apostle Paul to write to slave-owning Philemon: “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask”
Because with Christ in us, all things are possible.
May God have mercy on our nation and deliver us from the evil that is ravaging us. May our Saviour Jesus have mercy on our own hearts and minds and save us from the darkness within. God have mercy on us. God have mercy on Africa and all her children.
In a Post yesterday, Stephen McAlpine asked the pertinent question: “Is your church frantic or focussed?” And although, being a small church, the programme of CMC is far from frantic, I still felt it an important question to reflect on. After all, when we start feeling the desire to grow a church, one of the first, knee-jerk reactions is to add more stuff to the programme.
So I heartily recommend that we read and reflect prayerfully on Stephen’s post, which you can read on his site by clicking HEREand then feel free to come back to THIS blog post and leave any thoughts you may have in the Comments section.
Coming from a more refrmed perspective, this article is deeply meaningful for us too.
Hebrews 13:1-6, 15-16
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Today’s service is almost entirely given over as an act of thanksgiving to God. We have chosen this “Spring Day” in Cape Town on which to thank God for the incredible way in which He has answered our prayers for rain. By the time the City was less than a month away from Day Zero, and the rain clouds appeared to have dried up for good, God’s people had already been crying out to Him for rain on a virtually daily basis. And here at CMC one Biblical verse which became a cornerstone of our prayers for rain (at prayer meeting, at Open House and in our prayer calendar) was Jesus’ profound statement in Matthew 5:45 – “Your Father in heaven makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” We cried out to God in prayer, recognising that as a City steeped in wickedness and injustice, our hope was not that God would be fair to us and send rain … but rather that God would be merciful and send rain.
And God has indeed been merciful, as we have already acknowledged through the video footage of our dams, and in our prayers of thanksgiving. The rains have come, spread over two consecutive winters, and the dams have filled to excellent levels.
You would think that moments like these would lead naturally to thanksgiving. But, truth be told, we humans seem to be an ever-ungrateful and dissatisfied bunch. We often forget to thank God when God sends goodness into our lives… and we are swift to complain and lament when not everything is as we would like it to be in the world.
So our central verse for today is very appropriate: Hebrews 13:15 “By Jesus, let continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God; that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name.”
In the 2019 Season of Pentecost we are asking each week what the Scriptures teach us about a Spirit-filled Life; and today we discover that the Spirit-Filled Life is a Life of Thankful Praise.
By virtue of the format of today’s service this is a shortened Message. So let us simply unpack that verse and hear the Word of the Lord to us through it.
That’s a loaded phrase if ever there was one. This is where it all begins. The author of Hebrews is harking back to his teaching in Hebrews 10; i.e. The one who has been born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ now has immediate access to Almighty God’s throne of grace, through Jesus. He said there that we can enter the Most Holy Place of God’s immediate presence through our relationship with Jesus.
Never forget that this is the ground and foundation of our life. We have been made right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By Jesus we have a living relationship with the Living God … and every split second of our lives is now lived in fellowship with Him … whether that split second brings good or bad.
Also, very importantly in this current series, is the truth that BY JESUS we have now received the indwelling Holy Spirit. So it is not just that we enter into the Most Holy Place BY JESUS … but that we ourselves are now, BY JESUS, portable “most holy places” where God Almighty dwells by His Spirit.
And so now the Scripture commands: “By Jesus” … that is … through our relationship with Jesus … through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit living within us … let us … do what? Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God!
The Continual Sacrifice of Praise
The letter of Hebrews is written to Jews who have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. It is written to people who grew up experiencing the sacrifice of animals as an act of worship. But now it has taught them that these animal sacrifices are no longer necessary … because Jesus has made the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins.
The sacrifice that should now be brought is the sacrifice of praise.
I can’t use that phrase without thinking of a very old worship song:
“We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord;
we bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord;
and we offer up to Him, the sacrifices of thanksgiving
and we offer up to Him, the sacrifices of joy.”
The sacrifice to take away our sins has been completed … so our worship of God now consists of
- praising God for Who He is
- thanking God for what He has done
- rejoicing in Him
It is a response to God’s awesome goodness. It is a reaction to God’s awesome character.
But there are two vital words here: “Continually” and “Sacrifice”!
These words offer us a stark acknowledgment that life is not always going to feel good. Really, really bad and disturbing things are going to happen in this still-broken world in which we live. We have not been raptured away to a perfect world. We are children of God living in a sin-ravaged world.
Therefore we will experience:
- Hatred and discord in families and communities;
- Physical sickness and suffering in our bodies and those of our loved ones,
- Emotional depression;
- Mental disorders and disease;
- Anxiety and stress;
- Violence, robbery and murder;
- Failure and frustration
And yet the call of Scripture is to continual praise!
Life in the Spirit is a life of praise to God in all circumstances … because in all circumstances, God is still God!!
When good things have happened … and the dams are filled with rain … and the disease of our bodies has been healed … it is thankful praise – praising God with a thankful heart for the good in our lives and for His goodness and greatness!
But when bad things happen it is sacrificial praise. It is declaring the greatness and goodness of God despite the brokenness of our experience of this world … despite our feelings of despair or depression or anxiety or frustration or disappointment or failure. God is still good and God is still great and by an act of our will and as a sacrifice of our emotional state … we choose to praise God!
The Fruit of our Lips giving Thanks
This final phrase reminds us that this sacrifice is not the fruit of our fields, like the ancient Israelites would have brought to the Temple. It is the fruit of our lips. It is the outcome of a conscious decision to sing or shout or speak the praise of God out loud!
The sacrifice of praise is not a silent sacrifice brought to God in the closet of prayer. It is an audible sound coming out of our mouths declaring to anyone who can hear us:
- who we know God to be and
- what we know God to have done!
And there may also be a “sacrificial” element there too. If we declare our praise to God out loud it may entail a sacrifice of our coolness or acceptability or popularity. But really, that is very little to sacrifice in the greater scheme of God’s incredible goodness to us. It’s no sacrifice at all!
All me please to end with a quote from a recent article by J.D. Grear that I read on Core Christianity, under the heading of Worship is not a Reflection of What you Feel:
“Worshipping God is not a reflection of how we feel; it’s a reflection of what we know to be true and what God has promised in His Word. It’s a declaration of what God is worthy of.
Worship despite our feelings is a fight. But it’s a godly fight. When we suffer it is very easy to allow our circumstances to define us and to become our identity: ‘I’m a kid without a dad.’ ‘I’m terminally ill’. ‘I’m a divorcee’.
In those moments, worship is a declaration that while suffering may be a part of our story, it’s not the whole story. And it’s not the end of our story. Worship re-centres our identity on who we are in Christ and defiantly declares the victory we have in Him. It re-narrates our lives in the better, truer narrative God provides.”
The latest instalment in our “Life in the Spirit” Series was preached on Sunday past by Martin Mostert, based on Hebrews 11:29 – 12:3. The statement for the week was that Life in the Spirit is a life of Faith.
All we have available to post are his outline notes, but we gladly commend them to you as very useful in getting the gist of the message.
Faith in the Old Testament
- OT/NT two different Gods?
- Hebrews Author – interprets the OT for us in the light of Jesus
- And faith
Faith: Weapon of Mass Destruction?
- Red Sea
- The secret of harnessing the Power of God?
Faith: Choosing the Right Side?
- A way to escape God’s anger?
Faith= Superhuman Capacity? (11:32-34)
Faith= Miraculous Powers
- 35a Resurrected menfolk
Faith = Power, Security & Miracles (35b)
Faith: Torture & Violent Death (11:35b – 37a)
- All through the OT
- Something more important than my life
Faith: Abject Poverty & Misery (v37b-38)
- All through the OT
- Something more important than my comfort
Faith = Misery & Endurance?
- “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” 11:39
Faith: God’s Plan & Promise
- God promises something
- God plans something
- It involves gathering and establishing a “complete” people of God
Faith = Recognising God’s Plan to Make a Complete People?
Faith = Running the Race?
- Run for the crowd
- Disentangle yourself
- Keep to your lane
- Focusing on Jesus
Faith: Jesus the Author & Finisher
- Looked forward to joy
- Endured the cross
- Scorned its shame
- Achieved his goal – closeness to God
Do YOU have this “faith”
- Run for the crowd
- Disentangle yourself
- Keep to your lane
- Focusing on Jesus
Would you like to?