Biblical Messages

The Cost

On this, the feast of Holy Innocents, we are reminded of the cost that is exacted for following Jesus.  In this message, based on Matthew 2.13-23, we learn more about it:

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Biblical Messages

LOVE ONE ANOTHER: The Son of God Has Come!

In the concluding message of this series, based on 1 John 5.13-21, we learn that the real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate that God has come in the flesh.  This gives us certain assurances about faith and prayer and forgiveness of sin, about which you can learn if you listen here:

There is a section of the passage that deserved more attention than I could give it in this short message.  Verse 16 talks about “a sin that does not lead to death” and “a sin that leads to death”.  What is John talking about here?  In the message, I allude to Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of venial and mortal sins, but is that what is being referred to here?  And, in verse 18, John writes that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.  How does that square with reality?

The Old Testament knew of sins that were deliberate – open rebellion against God, and punishable by death – and sins that were inadvertent and could be atoned for.  (For example, look at Leviticus 4 or Numbers 15.22-29.)  Judaism in the time of the writing of 1 John will have retained this understanding, and perhaps it was thus delineated in John’s community of faith.  That would help us understand the notion of the sin that leads to death.  Trying to guess what that is, on the other hand, is a pointless and fruitless venture.  Mark 3.29 refers to the sin against the Holy Spirit; could that be the sin that leads to death?  Because John’s context is all about false teaching in this letter, it’s more likely that he is thinking of that:  leading people astray in their belief is an unforgivable sin.  And then, are we enjoined not to pray about those sins?  It’s not clear that John is discouraging praying under any circumstance, but it does seem clear that he thinks there is no hope in prayer for someone who has committed such a sin; such a person would be denying God’s mercy, and the only effective prayer for such a person is to call for repentance and conversion (so says the Expositor’s Bible Commentary).

As to not continuing in sin (v. 18), it has been John’s premise throughout the letter that those who truly are ‘in Christ’ are not going to fall victim to a sinful life.  Do we still sin, even though we belong to the Lord?  Yes.  John’s point is that followers of Jesus should not make sin a pattern, a lifestyle choice, since that would be incompatible with the life to which we have been called.

Hopefully, that will tie up some of the loose ends left by the message.  Merry Christmas!

Encouragement From The Word

God in the flesh

Christmas wasn’t always a given. The world marks it as a game-saving, end-of-year commercial venture. The church marks it as the celebration of God, having come in the flesh. But even in the first century, not everybody was willing to believe that God could possibly have come in the flesh.

I’ve been preaching through John’s first letter for the past nine weeks. It was intentional that I would conclude it at the end of the season of Advent, because the letter is all about emphasizing that God did take on human flesh; as the prophet foretold, Jesus came as Immanuel: God with us.

John had to emphasize the incarnation because there were people in the first century church he led who were trying to convince the believers that God couldn’t possibly have come in the flesh; they believed that God was 100% spiritual and 100% not physical. But John had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, lived with Jesus – he knew God had come in human form.

The church needs to celebrate this truth publicly and loudly! And the great irony of Christmas is that people who might not otherwise engage with anything theological, or have a conversation about Jesus, will gleefully sing excellent theology at this time of year. Consider the words of this ancient carol, which streamed over my computer while I was writing this:

Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King;


Peace on earth and mercy mild,


God and sinners reconciled!”


Joyful all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With the angelic host proclaim:


“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”


Hark! the herald angels sing,


“Glory to the newborn King.”

 

Christ, by highest heav’n adored;

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:


Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King.”



 

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!


Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!


Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings,

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.


Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King.”

 

These words of Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield (that’s another story!), proclaim the truth of Christmas, and the heart of the message of 1 John: God has come in the flesh. God! No less than the Creator of the world has broken into history to be one with us, born of a Virgin, laying aside his glory…for what reason? “Born that man no more may die,” said Wesley. Jesus came to break the cycle of sin and faithlessness, opening the door of heaven to all who will believe.

Jesus is God in the flesh – and even in the malls this is proclaimed for a twelfth of a year! Let’s rejoice – and pray that these words so much of humanity joins in singing will reach the hearts of all.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Rejoice!

This Sunday marks the third Sunday of Advent, a day traditionally marked with rejoicing. You might wonder why there is a single Sunday set aside for rejoicing in a season that is supposed to be filled with rejoicing! But, as with so many things, there is a story behind it.

Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Advent is actually the newest. And, like Lent, for the longest time, it was a season of penitence: that’s right, the church spent the weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in reflection and repentance. Holy celebrations like Christmas and Easter were prepared for by examining ourselves and ridding ourselves of sin so that we would be fully ready for the birth, or resurrection, of the Saviour.

That’s why the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent were traditionally set aside as Sundays for rejoicing amid our penitence. And the traditional colour of rejoicing is pink, which is why the Advent wreath has a pink candle that is lit on the third Sunday.

Because the season of Advent particularly has lost its penitential nature, we have lost the special significance of this upcoming Sunday of rejoicing. We look at the whole season as one of rejoicing! And that’s not all bad, to be sure: we should revel in celebrating Jesus’ birth.

But maybe it’s not a bad idea, too, to remember the history of the season, and examine ourselves. After all, the best way to be ready for Jesus’ coming – and coming again! – is by confessing our sins and accepting the good news of our forgiveness, which comes through that coming Saviour.

Think of it this way; forgive the odd nature of the illustration, but I think you’ll find it will work. Besides getting popcorn and a drink, what’s the one thing you do before you go into the theatre to watch a movie? Come on, admit it: you go to the bathroom. You don’t want to have to miss any part of the movie, so you do your business beforehand so you won’t have to get up in the middle, right?

Think of the penitential aspect of Advent in the same way. We don’t want to be blinded to any part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth by sin. We don’t want our unrighteousness to block our rejoicing in the Righteous One. So take some time in these crazy weeks to void yourself of whatever keeps you from a full-out love relationship with the Lord whose birth we celebrate.

But this Sunday, make sure you rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-7, NIV).

 

Biblical Messages

LOVE ONE ANOTHER: God is love

Last week, we talked about how to tell the difference between what is of the Spirit of God and what is not.  It might’ve seemed a bit black-and-white – and to be fair, some aspects of our faith truly are.  But even that need not stop us from loving others, because God is love.  In this message, we consider that because God is love, we are able to experience new life in Christ, love one another, not live in fear, and not hate others.  Based on 1 John 4.7-21, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

Get the job done

As is quite common with newly-elected politicians, the new mayor of the city of Toronto, John Tory, has come out of the gates bucking to get the job done. Yesterday, he announced that traffic gridlock in that city will be a top priority. Indeed, he said that even if he had to drive a tow truck himself, he would do everything he could to ensure that traffic begins to flow more smoothly within the city as soon as possible.

Whether or not you appreciate his politics, you have to admire Mr. Tory’s gumption. He wants something to happen, and he’s prepared to roll up his sleeves and make it happen. Now, he may have been speaking somewhat rhetorically, but if he is serious about his own participation in solving the problem, that’s impressive.

How often are we, as God’s people, quick to point out a problem? If we’re honest, most of us can think of more occasions than we can number when we’ve been willing to highlight a problem. And how often have we, as God’s people, been just as quick to jump in and help solve the problem?

Hopefully, almost as many times as we have pointed out problems, we have helped find solutions. But that’s not always the case. The most helpful and effective people are those who will not only show us what’s wrong, but will help us make it right.

Jesus was like that, wasn’t he? More often than not, in his case, the Pharisees would point out the problem, and he would create the solution. But one example of Jesus acting on his own came when he cleared the temple of the money changers and buyers and sellers of animals for sacrifice (cf. Matthew 21.12-13). He saw the problem, and he solved the problem – in a more practical way than some people were (and are) comfortable with!

The hands-on Jesus might seem a little less “meek and mild” than the teacher Jesus. But there is only one Jesus. And he, too, is bucking to get the job done. Are you?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him” (1 John 4.16b-17, NIV, emphasis added).