The Family, the Church, and the Kingdom: What Comes First?

Text: Luke 14:25-33

What if I told you that Jesus asks you to give up your family? What if I said he bids your family to come and die? Well, that’s exactly what he did say: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). And he didn’t talk like this just once. No, he seems to have poked people’s sensitivities on this point a few times. For example:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matt. 10:34-37)

What does Jesus mean by talking like this, and what are we to make of it for our own families today? How does this teaching instruct us to go about making our priorities in life, and what does it mean for the church? Do we always need to put the family first, or are there other considerations?

Hate Your Family?

Hate your family? Those sharp words are meant to grab your attention in order to teach a deep spiritual truth. Jesus doesn’t mean that you have to dislike your family. You don’t have to have especially hostile feelings towards them. You don’t even have to try to do things which will show displeasure towards them. The point is that you have to be willing to put your faith ahead of all of your earthly possessions, commitments, and relationships, even your family. You must “hate” your family in the same way that you must “hate” your own life. Jesus means that you must be willing to sacrifice them if that’s what it takes to follow Him. Continue reading

How Do We Make New Families?

Sermon text: 1 Cor. 6:12-20

I first heard about the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye when a girl who I was trying to get to go out with me used it as a pious way to say no. “There’s this book you should really read…” I remember her saying. And that was it. I had no chance. Well, I didn’t exactly rush out to get it. The fact that she was dating another guy in a just a few months didn’t make things any better!

Since then, I have read a lot of material on what is called “biblical courtship” or “biblical dating.” I’ve seen strong defenses and harsh criticisms. I’ve met people with every opinion on the matter. My wife and I even “courted,” and it looks like the results were all positive. But people continue to have lots of questions. Is there a biblical way to date? Is there more than one way to do it? How weird is this going to make me, and how much is it going to cost? Those are just the most common ones.

This morning I’d like to talk about this topic of dating and courtship, and I’d also like to talk about how we talk about it. You see, there’s actually not a biblical passage specifically aimed at the question. It might surprise you to hear that, given how popular the topic is. But no, there is no one place in Scripture that singles out courtship and gives direct commands. Instead, what the Bible gives us are moral laws concerning sexual behavior, categories of people-groups and authority, and principles of wisdom. Continue reading

What is Woman For?

Text: 1 Cor. 11:2-12

Ok, so yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What a weird passage. Why on earth did he pick this one? Well, to quote the 42nd President of the United States: “I feel your pain.” I understand that this is a difficult topic, and I find these verses to be quite challenging myself. They present a good occasion to remind ourselves that the word comes from God, by His perfect inspiration for our teaching. This not some personal opinion of men, nor is it my own special interest. These verses are important precisely because of their discomfort, since they show how our current assumptions about what is obvious and what makes sense are not neutral but themselves come from historical and cultural conditions.

Now, I am not going to talk about the specific question of headcoverings. I have preached on that topic in the past, and if anyone does want to hear more about it, feel free to ask me afterwards. Instead, I want to look at what Paul teaches us about men and women and the logical rationale he uses to find practical application. What we see in this passage of scripture is that, when answering a specific question of how men and women are to dress in worship, Paul moves back to the original creation of Adam and Eve to illustrate the nature of men and women and their original orientation towards God and one another. He explains what men and women are. The big idea is this: As a general rule, women fulfill God’s calling in their lives primarily by being wives to and for their husbands. Continue reading

The Baptism of Christ

Text: Mark 1:4-11

Today we are discussing the baptism of Jesus. We’ll set the scene, explaining what lead up to this event as well as the baptism itself. After that, we’ll explain what Christ’s baptism means—what it meant for Him, what it meant for those around Him at the time, and what it means for us today. And lastly we will discuss our own baptisms and what we learn about them from Christ’s baptism.

The Scene

“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” (Mark 1:4-8)

Continue reading

The Search for a King

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Do you remember why, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch is constantly on the lookout for humans? If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you remember that she is actually afraid and has an order for any of the creatures of Narnia to immediately alert her if any humans show up. The reason is because she knows that their arrival signals the end of her reign. According to ancient prophecy, they would take over the rule of Narnia, and so she has to put a stop to that. Nearly the same thing is going on with King Herod when Jesus was born. Whether he knew to be on the look out for the birth of the messiah beforehand, once the Wise Men showed up from the East, he was on high alert. As we learn from our text today, their visit signaled the birth of the King of the Jews, and this was a direct threat to Herod. It was something he had to fight against with all his might.

While Herod may have misunderstood a great many things about Jesus, he was not wrong about the basic fact that Jesus was a king. The Wise Men were looking for an earthly king, and Herod, after consorting with the priests and scribes, believed that the messiah was this king, someone who would put him out of business. And while there is much to say about this topic, the bottom line is that both the Wise Men and Herod were correct. Jesus was a king, and he had come to bring a kingdom.

The Wise Men

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (vs. 1). Matthew’s text does not tell us a great deal about these men, but the word he uses is Magi, a term which referred to court-astrologers, men who watched the stars and advised the king. The text also simply says “the East,” but given what we know of world history at this time, the most likely candidates are Babylon or Persia.

The thing that stands out about the Wise Men’s interpretation of this star is that it signified the birth of a king. When they got to Herod they said, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (vs. 2). The fact that they came to worship Jesus may have meant nothing more than the Persian custom of worshiping an earthly king. But they may have also had an understanding of Jesus’ divine presence. When they do find Jesus, they offer him “treasures… gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (vs. 11). This was an act of tribute-paying. They wanted to honor the new king and to show their fealty towards him. Continue reading

The Bittersweet Song of Simeon

Text: Luke 2:22-35

This morning we will be looking at the narrative of Simeon and his recognition of the young Jesus as the messiah. This text should sound familiar, or at least part of it should, because we sing “the Song of Simeon” at the end of our service each week. In the original context, it was about the end of Simeon’s life. He was giving a sort of doxology and thanksgiving to God for being able to see the messiah before he died. Christian tradition has used modified it just slightly for the liturgy, singing it at the conclusion of the worship service, and that is our practice. This morning, however, we will look at the original context, learning who Simeon was, what he said, and what he predicted about the future of Jesus and His work.

Simeon

Simeon is an interesting character in large part because we know so little about him. He seems to come out of nowhere, and he does not reappear anywhere else but here. All we know is that he was an old man who had received a promise from God that he would see the messiah before he died. In a sense, he only existed to point to Christ, and that is just what he does. But we can also see that he is not alone. Just a few verses after Simeon, we read about Anna, a prophetess who was also waiting for the messiah. And so we can conclude from this pairing that there were several, even if still only a small minority, who were expecting the messiah to show up in Israel just at this time, and they were eagerly keeping watch in the temple for signs of his arrival. Continue reading

The Meaning of the Magnificat

Text: Luke 1:39-56

There are not many times when evangelical pulpits will devote sermons to Mary. This is typically due to reactions against Roman Catholicism, but it also comes from the simple fact that Mary does not actually occupy much space in the New Testament. However, there is a time where she does factor in a big way, and it is in the beginning of the gospels and the birth of Jesus. The opening chapters of Luke’s gospel tell us the most about her, and her famous song, The Magnificat, teaches us something about how she understood God to work. This morning we will look over Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth and her reaction to the fact that already her son-to-be was recognized as the Lord Himself. We will see how she is blessed by this and how she reflects that blessing back to God to magnify the Lord.

Mary and Elizabeth

The story of Mary and Elizabeth meeting together is primarily meant to show us that Jesus’ special identity was known already, even if in part. He isn’t even born yet. He is just recently conceived, alive in Mary’s womb, but already His spiritual significance can be detected. This teaches us something about prenatal life as well: both John and Jesus already have clear and irreducible identities, and John is portrayed as having a sort of awareness. Indeed, he is able to identify Jesus as he leaps in the womb. Continue reading

Wilderness Baptism and the End of the World

Text: Mark 1:1-8

The gospels begin in a time of anticipation. Things are not quite as they should be, and we are told that something big is on the way. In Mark’s gospel, this point is made through the strange imagery of a new sort of wilderness prophet. John the Baptist calls Israel to repentance for their sins, but he also says that his ministry is not the main attraction. The baptism for repentance is not the last word. Something else is coming, something bigger. In fact, someone else was coming. That person, the messiah, would bring in the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. He would reverse the way things were, straightening what was crooked and raising up what was low, and he would finally reveal the glory of God on earth.

Wilderness

We shouldn’t miss the fact that John the Baptist is in the wilderness. Mark 1:4 says that “John came baptizing in the wilderness,” and in Matthew’s gospel we are told, “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1). This is especially significant when we remember that John’s parents were temple servants who lived in a city in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:39). That means that John chose to go to the wilderness. It was a conscious decision for his special ministry of prophecy. Continue reading

The Law of Faith

Text: Romans 3:27-28

We come to the conclusion of our survey of justification in Romans 3. We’ve talked about the guilt of the law and the propitiation found in Christ, and now we come to the conclusion of it all, that “a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” But what we need to notice is that this conclusion is itself supported by the observation that boasting is excluded. That means Paul’s argument runs like this: No one can boast because everyone’s guilt was atoned for in the same way and by the same person, by the death of Jesus the messiah. That can only then mean that we are justified by faith alone. In short, penal substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone are two sides of the same coin. They both imply the other, and they both mean that we must be humble and dependent upon God. The shorthand which Paul comes up with to explain this relationship is what he calls “the law of faith.”

The Law of Faith is Established

Now this expression, “the law of faith,” is a sort of play on words. Paul is using it to trump the other law, the law of works. He’s basically saying, “If you want a law, here’s one for you, the law of faith.” This is the same “law” that he says is “established” in vs. 31. So there are two laws, a law of works and a low of faith, and the law of faith overrules and disproves the law of works. And the law of faith excludes, it prohibits, boasting on the part of any human. So, the law of faith is “Thou shalt not boast.” Continue reading

God Demonstrates His Righteousness

Text: Romans 3:21-26

We’ve been discussing justification by faith these last few weeks, with a special emphasis on Romans chapter 3. Last week we set up the “problem” with a discussion of sin and the role of the law in revealing sin. This week we move to the next component, which is really the central component, the justice of God. As we will see, the righteousness of God which is revealed in justification is both His righteousness and the righteousness by which we are declared righteous. The two are the same in Christ so that God may be righteous in declaring His people righteous, the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Our justification is also God’s justification, as in it He demonstrates His righteousness.

Righteousness(es)

This word righteousness is very important in the book of Romans, and right in the first chapter we read that “in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17). But as obviously important and central as this word “righteousness” is, its meaning has been the source of considerable controversy. To begin, you should know that the English words “righteous” and “justice” are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek. Furthermore, the term “justification” shares this same root, and so “justification” can also be translated “vindication” or “rectification.” While each of these terms has slightly different connotations and emphases, they all come together in the biblical word for righteousness. Continue reading