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

Lent and the Sacrifices of God

Text: Psalm 51:15-17

Today marks the first Sunday in Lent, and many Christians who did not grow up practicing the liturgical calendar are now becoming very interested in it. Some are madly in love with all things liturgical, seeing Lent as one way to rediscover lost roots. Others are critical of it as faddishness, a sort of picking and choosing of one’s piety according to whatever seems interesting. And then there’s always the perpetual fear of subtle Romanizing. Lent can be abused in a legalistic way. I would be more than happy to talk about each of those concerns at another time, but it is my belief that each of those conversations actually distract us from the real point of what Lent is supposed to be. Like all forms of liturgy, Lent is meant to be an aid in worship, a way of assisting our thoughts and devotions in focusing on God’s majesty, our sinfulness, and the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

What would you think if you saw a man staring at his own glasses? He might be adjusting them or fixing something that had broken. That would make sense. But what if he never seemed to finish? What if he just kept staring and commenting on his glasses, asking other folks to admire his glasses, but never got around to actually wearing them? You’d think he probably didn’t know what glasses were for in the first place or that he had some other serious disorder. You certainly wouldn’t be inspired by wonderful blessing of cured vision! Liturgy works the same way as a pair of glasses. You are not supposed to look at it. Instead you are supposed to look through it to see something else, namely Jesus. Lent is a waste of time and spiritual failure unless it points us to Jesus. How should it do that? During Lent, we ought to remember the significance of our sin, the guilt which we bear before God, and the great price paid by Jesus on our behalf. We have no thought of atoning for own sins at this time. That would be insane, an impossibility that would only leave us in perpetual despair. No, instead we remember the death of Christ, the curse which he bore for us, and, in response to that saving act, we put to death the remaining sin within us in order to show our gratitude towards Jesus.

Psalm 51 is particularly fitting in this light. 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

Remembering the Covenant of David

Text: Psalm 89

Have you ever been disappointed by God? Have you ever asked Him for something and not gotten it? Are you ever let down by His providence? We probably feel like we’re not allowed to admit to these kinds of feelings, even though we have them from time to time. But what if I told you that the people of God had these very feelings, and that, in fact, there is a whole psalm devoted to this feeling? That’s what Psalm 89 is. It is a song, meant for use in corporate worship, where God’s people lament the fact that it looks like He has not kept His promise to send them a faithful king.

The Covenant With David

Psalm 89 begins by praising God’s covenant. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations” (vs. 1) This is not just any covenant, but the specific covenant made with the house of David:

I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
Your seed I will establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.” (vs. 3-4)

Continue reading

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Advent

Text: Isaiah 64:1-4

My wife hates it when folks play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. And so you can imagine how it has been to learn that people here in Central Florida begin celebrating Christmas on the second week of November. Lights are up and trees and wreaths are hung all over town well before Thanksgiving. And the really remarkable thing is that nobody feels at all bad about it. You people are totally unapologetic in your Christmas creep. And you know what, I’m kind of ok with that. That’s right, I’ll come out into the open with my secret. I’ve been quietly singing Christmas carols to myself for weeks now. One of my favorites is “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” You know how it goes:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Take a look in the five and ten, glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, toys in every store. But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.

The song goes on to mention “A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots” as well as “Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk.” It concludes by saying “Soon the bells will start, and the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.” That imagery reflects the classic Americana Christmas. It’s all about shopping, sweets, and feeling that warm spirit down in your heart. And I don’t mind this sort of American Christmas too much. It’s a lot of fun, and it reminds me of my childhood. But you know, none of those things have much to do with the Biblical picture of Christmas. Now, I’m not talking about the problem of consumerism or greed. I’m sure we could talk about those things some other time. I’m just talking about the general picture. What I’m talking about is Advent. Continue reading

Mary, Martha, and Enjoying God Forever

Text: Luke 10:38-42

You all know the famous 1st question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s such a great answer, mostly because of that unexpected verb “enjoy.” But I’d like to put the focus on the question for a moment. What is a chief end? The word “end” there means goal or purpose, and so the “chief end” is the ultimate or final purpose. A chief end is the most important goal, and so man’s chief end ought to be the thing that he pursues above all else. Everything else in his life should work to support that goal and bring him closer to it. Anything which distracts him from it or pulls him further away from it is working against that goal. The religious term for something like that would be sin. Everything that we do should cause us to glorify God and enjoy Him more and more. And that is what our text is about this morning. Continue reading

He is not here but is risen

320px-Matthias_Grünewald_-_The_Resurrection_(detail)_-_WGA10756Luke’s account of the resurrection is unique in several ways. He emphasizes the role of the women at the empty tomb more than any of the other gospels. He also tells us that there were a great many women, more than just a few. Luke’s gospel is the only gospel that doesn’t mention Jesus appearing to the women before they relayed the story to the disciples. In fact, Luke’s gospel seems to emphasize doubt, on the part of the disciples but even on the part of the women.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 24:55-56)

Who were these women? Continue reading

And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment

It is well known that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered by women. We know that these women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome. But Luke’s gospel, unique among the canonical gospels, tells us that there was a large group of women at the tomb, and it also tells us that this group of women had been following Jesus for some while. “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him” (Luke 23:27). After Jesus died, Luke says, “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49). These women– the ones who had followed Jesus to the cross, the ones who watched to see where he was buried, and the ones who rushed to his tomb on Easter– did one other thing as well. They waited.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56)

Can you imagine having to keep this Sabbath? After seeing Jesus die, after mourning him throughout the day, and after watching him be taken away to be buried, these women had to go back to their homes, and they had to rest. They could not mourn properly. They could not stay at the grave (which we know they would have liked to have done). They could not even complete the burial preparations, since we see them bringing extra spices on the Easter morning. Their funeral was cut short for the Sabbath. This is Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is about waiting. It is the final Old Covenant Sabbath. From the human point of view, nothing is happening. It is a test of faith. Did it work? Is Jesus victorious? What will happen? Can we keep the faith?

But invisibly, something else is going on. Jesus is in Hades proclaiming His victory. He is preaching to the spirits below, binding the Strong Man, and taking captivity captive. Jesus is standing on the neck of Death even now.

This is Holy Saturday.

And yet here, lonely and sorrowful, we wait. We pray. We keep the Sabbath.

We look for tomorrow.

What further testimony do we need?

One of the chief ways Biblical Christianity is unlike other philosophies and world religions is that it does not merely teach us how to be free of “the bad guy.” It tells us that we are the bad guy. This isn’t simply because of our limited natures, our lack of knowledge, or our being at the mercy of some other bigger bad guy. No, this is because we have chosen to like ourselves more than God. The Apostle Paul writes, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). And this is especially true of Good Friday. The religious leaders of Israel were not simply upset with Jesus for who he claimed to be. It was not as if they simply didn’t believe him. No, they actually recognized who Jesus was. They knew, deep within themselves, that he was the messiah. And they hated him for it.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying,  “If You are the Christ, tell us.”

But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you,you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”

So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”

And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”

(Luke 22:66-71)

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“He found them sleeping from sorrow”

One of the most prevalent misconceptions that people have about the gospels is that the disciples of Jesus were dummies. They’re always misunderstanding things, coming to the wrong conclusions, and even showing moral failure. But this isn’t true at all. When the disciples misunderstand things, it isn’t because they are dummies. It is because the situation was mysterious and the teaching of Jesus was challenging. When the disciples exhibit moral failure, it is because the situation was difficult and nearly-overwhelming. The disciples were fallible men, to be sure, but they were men who had been trained by Jesus and walked with him for three years. They would have been impressive to us. And we need to remember this when we read about them falling asleep in Gethsemane:

When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Lk. 22:45-46)

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