May 8, 2022

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, May 8, 2022.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page or YouTube page.

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Sunday, May 8, 2022

Join us live on our Facebook or YouTube page beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Welcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Hymn: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above”
Words: Johann J. Schutz. Music: Bohemian Bretheren’s Kirchengesänge

Sing praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation,
the God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul He fills and every faithless murmur stills:
to God all praise and glory.

What God’s almighty pow’r hath made His gracious mercy keepeth.
By morning glow or evening shade His watchful eye ne’er sleepeth.
Within the kingdom of His might, Lo! all is just and all is right:
to God all praise and glory.

The Lord is never far away, but through all grief distressing,
an ever present help and stay, our peace and joy and blessing.
As with a mother’s tender hand, He leads His own, His chosen band:
to God all praise and glory.

Thus all my toilsome way along, I sing aloud His praises,
that men may hear the grateful song my voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart, both soul and body bear your part:
to God all praise and glory.

Hymn: “O Fount of Love”
Words and music by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa.

O fount of love divine that flows from my Savior’s bleeding side
Where sinners trade their filthy rags for His righteousness applied.
Mercy cleansing ev’ry stain, now rushing o’er us like a flood;
There the wretch and vilest ones stand adopted through His blood.

O mount of grace to Thee we cling, from the law hath set us free.
Once and for all on Calv’ry’s hill, love and justice shall agree.
Praise the Lord! The price is paid, the curse defeated by the Lamb.
We who once were slaves by birth, sons and daughters now we stand.

O well of joy is mine to drink, for my Lord has conquered death.,
Victorious forevermore, the ancient foe is laid to rest.
Hallelujah! Christ is King, alive and reigning on the throne;
Our tongues employed with hymns of praise: Glory be to God alone.

Hallelujah! Christ is King, alive and reigning on the throne;
Our tongues employed with hymns of praise: Glory be to God alone.

Song: “His Mercy Is More”
Words and music: Matt Papa and Matt Boswell

What love could remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all-knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore,
Our sins they are many; His mercy is more.

Praise the Lord, His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness, new every morn’.
Our sins, they are many; His mercy is more.

What patience would wait as we constantly roam?
What Father, so tender, is calling us home?
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor.
Our sins, they are many; His mercy is more.

Praise the Lord, His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness, new every morn’.
Our sins, they are many; His mercy is more.

What riches of kindness He lavished on us.
His blood was the payment; His life was the cost.
We stood ’neath a debt we could never afford.
Our sins, they are many; His mercy is more.

Praise the Lord, His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness, new every morn’.
Our sins, they are many; His mercy is more.

Time of Prayer

Sermon: “Who Shall Dwell on Your Holy Hill?”

Psalm 15 (ESV)

A Psalm of David.

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

Hymn: “There Is a Fountain”
Words by William Cowper, music: early American melody

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in His day;
and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away:
wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away;
and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die:
and shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue lies silent in the grave,
then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Your pow’r to save:
I’ll sing Your pow’r to save, I’ll sing Your pow’r to save;
then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Your pow’r to save.

Benediction

2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

The Lord Judges the Peoples (Psalm 7)

David was falsely accused of doing wrong. Swearing his innocence, he asked God to judge everyone–both him and his enemies. What if we were to do that? Would God, who tests our hearts and minds, find us innocent? Brian Watson preached this sermon on February 20, 2022.

Self-Control

A person without self-control is open to attacks from without and within. This is certainly true in the area of lust. Brian Watson preached this message on August 9, 2020.

Father, into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit (Luke 23:44-56)

Why did Jesus die? What is the meaning of his death? Find out by listening to his sermon, preached by Brian Watson on April 5, 2020.

Father, Forgive Them

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on March 29, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

For some people, this is a very tense time. To put it mildly, some people are freaking out. We may feel like we’re under pressure. We all have experienced other times of stress, times when we feel like we’re being squeezed. When we’re under pressure, what comes out of us? What comes out of you when you are put in the vise grips of life? I imagine that there are times when you’ve been under pressure and something ugly has come out of you. I can imagine that because it’s true of me. When I’ve been in stressful situations, some ugly things have poured out of me.

It’s during those moments that our true selves are revealed. So, what comes out of you when you’re stressed out and under pressure? What does that reveal about you?

Now let us think about what comes out of the greatest man who has ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, when he was under tremendous stress. This morning, we’ll see what comes out of him when he is pressured in ways that you and I will never be. When he has been betrayed, rejected, abandoned, mocked, tortured, and put to death, what comes out of him? And how do people respond to Jesus in this situation? Those are the questions we’ll consider as we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke this morning.

We’ll be looking at Luke 23:26–43. I would encourage you to look at the text if you can. You can find it easily through a Google search, or by visiting www.esv.org/luke+23.

To give us some quick context: this is the moment when Jesus is about to die. Jesus isn’t just a man, he’s the God-man, the Son of God who has existed forever, and who took on a human nature over two thousand years ago. He has spent two or three years teaching and performing miracles. In this last week of his pre-crucifixion life, he was in Jerusalem for the time of the Passover. A conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day increased throughout the week. These religious leaders did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, or the Christ (or Messiah), which is a reference to an anointed king, a descendant of King David, who would come and reign over Israel forever, defeating their enemies and bringing about perfect justice and peace. The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus, they wanted to maintain the status quo and their power, and they simply didn’t believe him. So, they arranged for Jesus to die. They told the Roman leader, Pontius Pilate, that Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire. Pilate didn’t believe that Jesus had done anything to deserve death, but because the mob demanded that Jesus die, Pilate gave in to their demands.

And now we come to Jesus’ crucifixion. Let’s begin by reading Luke 23:26–31:

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”[1]

Jesus was put on trial inside the walled city of Jerusalem. Law required that crucifixion take place outside the city. It was custom to have the condemned carry the cross beam to the place of crucifixion. But Jesus is probably too exhausted to carry his own cross. He has been awake for twenty-four hours. He probably hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in about twelve hours. He has been beaten and flogged, so that he probably has already lost a significant amount of blood.

So, the cross is given to a man named Simon, from Cyrene, which was in northern African, in what is now Libya. This man was probably in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. I don’t want to read too much into his carrying the cross, but perhaps this is an echo of Jesus’ earlier teaching, that all who want to be part of God’s kingdom must be willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). To have a right relationship with God, we must be willing to change, to deny our natural desires, to be willing to suffer along with Jesus.

As Jesus is making his way to the place where he will be crucified, some people mourn and lament for him. Jesus turns to the women and says that they shouldn’t weep for him. Instead, they should weep for themselves and their children. That’s strange, isn’t it? Jesus has already been tortured, and he is about to die, and yet he says that they shouldn’t be sad for him, but for themselves? Why? Because a time of suffering will come upon them. Jesus already taught that in the future, great suffering would occur in Jerusalem. Roughly forty years later, the Jewish people would rebel against the Roman Empire. Rome would respond by besieging the city, surrounding it, attacking it, and destroying it. The suffering would be great. Many Jewish people would die. This destruction was God’s judgment against Jerusalem for rejecting Jesus. Yet even though Jesus knows that God’s judgments are just, he is sorrowful about them. And he warns these women. If God’s judgment falls upon him, the only truly innocent person who has ever lived, what will happen to those who have rebelled against God?

The fact that Jesus is concerned more about these women and their future grief than his own suffering brings me to my first point. In all that is happening, Jesus is not primarily concerned with what is happening to him. He is concerned about others. This is what a perfect person looks like. First, that person is primarily concerned about God, because God is the greatest being there is. Second, that person loves others and cares for their welfare. Jesus puts us to shame in both ways. When we are doing well, we often don’t look to the needs of others first. But when we’re suffering, that’s the time we usually turn inward. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He looks outward. If you want to suffer well, do what Jesus does. But the fact that we don’t look outward when we suffer is proof that we’re not perfect. It’s proof that we need someone like Jesus.

Let’s move on now and read verses 32–38:

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Jesus is not crucified alone. There are two others with him. Luke says they’re criminals, but it’s wrong to call them thieves. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the state. It’s more likely that they we’re insurrectionists of some kind. We might call them terrorists today. At any rate, they arrive at the place of crucifixion, called “The Skull.” In Aramaic, it is called Golgotha, which means skull. Sometimes, we use the word “Calvary,” which is a good example of Christianese, a language that we Christians understand but others may not. Calvary is an anglicized version of a Latin word that means “skull.” It was probably called that because it was a bit of land that looked like a skull. It was there, outside that city walls, in view of passersby, that Jesus and these two criminals are executed.

Crucifixion involved attaching the condemned to a cross beam, either by rope or by nails. Jesus was nailed to the cross. At the least, nails would be driven through his wrists, and perhaps also his feet. The Gospels don’t get into the gory details, however. Crucifixion was a word that wasn’t used in polite society, because crucifixion was so gruesome. It’s enough to know that Jesus endured a terrible death.

And as he’s hanging on that cross, left to die a slow, agonizing, literally excruciating death, what does he do? What does he say? What comes out of him in that moment of pressure and pain? He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is amazing. Jesus prays to God the Father that these people who are putting him to death would be forgiven. Now, they should have known what they were doing. They should have known who Jesus is. But because of their unbelief, they thought they were putting a blasphemer to death. They were wrong. They were doing something tremendously evil. Yet Jesus wants them to be forgiven.

Now, I don’t think Jesus expects that they will be forgiven without their realizing what they have done. To have forgiveness, or at least to have forgiveness and reconciliation, there must be confession on the part of those who have done wrong. There must be remorse. There must be a desire to change and repentance. We don’t know how many people involved in Jesus’ death later repented and sought God’s forgiveness. But the important thing is to see that Jesus has a heart of forgiveness. He doesn’t want to hold their sin against them. He wants them to be reconciled to God.

The fact that these people have stripped Jesus and are casting lots for his clothes, and the fact these people are mocking Jesus, even after he has prayed for their forgiveness, highlights how unworthy they are to receive God’s forgiveness. But we’re not much different. Sure, we haven’t mocked the Son of God to his face, but we have often ignored him, acting as if he doesn’t exist, or acting as if he’s not King. No one is worthy to receive God’s forgiveness. That’s why his forgiveness is an act of grace. It’s a gift. And Jesus seeks that gift for others.

I want to point out two other things before we move on. One, what happens here fulfills a prophetic psalm. Psalm 22 is one of many Psalms written by David. It begins with the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Both Matthew and Mark report that Jesus cried out those words while he was on the cross. Psalm 22 also contains other words fulfilled by Jesus. Here are verses 6–8:

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

And then look at verses 14–18:

14  I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15  my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16  For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17  I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18  they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

These words illustrate the kind of pain and suffering that Jesus endured. He was surrounded by evildoers, who gloated over him and mocked him. “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him.” Jesus must have looked like a joke to those who mocked him. What kind of king is this, who is crucified? How can this man be the Son of God if he’s dying, and dying in such a shameful way?

Jesus could have saved himself. He could have come down from the cross. He could have accessed the divine power that was always at his command. He could have summoned legions of angels to crush his enemies. But he didn’t do that. He laid down his life for his enemies. Why? If Jesus saved himself, he couldn’t save others. Jesus came to earth not only to live the perfect life, but also to die in place of sinners. He came to take away the death penalty that we deserve. He came to receive God’s wrath, God’s just penalty against sin. This was God’s plan. It was the Son of God’s plan. Jesus can’t save himself and save others. So, he endures suffering in order that others can be forgiven. What comes out of Jesus in his suffering? Forgiveness and sacrifice. He focuses on God the Father and on those who will be reconciled to God through his selfless act of love.

Let’s move on to the last section of today’s passage. Here are verses 39–43:

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

When the people who were killing Jesus said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” they were mocking Jesus. They thought it was a joke. But one of the criminals who is being crucified alongside Jesus picks up this language. Luke says he “railed” against Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” He must have been desperate for a rescue.

But the other criminal rebukes him. It’s as if he’s saying, “Don’t you realize what’s happening here? We’re both guilty. We deserve condemnation. But this man is righteous. He’s done nothing wrong. If you realized who we are and who this man is, you wouldn’t talk to him that way. If you feared God, you wouldn’t talk to this man that way.”

This is something of a confession. This second criminal realizes he’s guilty. He makes no excuses. He doesn’t expect to be rescued from the punishment that he deserves. So, it’s a confession of his sin. But it also seems to be a confession of faith. Perhaps he doesn’t realize exactly who Jesus is. But he knows that Jesus is innocent. And he also knows that Jesus has the power to bring him into God’s kingdom. He realizes that Jesus is a king. Perhaps he realizes Jesus is the King of kings. That’s why he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

How did this criminal know this about Jesus? Perhaps he heard about Jesus before this day. Jesus had become well known. But Matthew, in his Gospel, says that those who were crucified “reviled” Jesus (Matt. 27:44). Matthew uses the plural to indicate that both men reviled Jesus. So, what could move this one criminal from disdaining Jesus to having faith in him? It must have been seeing how Jesus suffered, seeing that he didn’t hate those who hated him. He saw that Jesus didn’t curse those who cursed him. Instead, he asked for their forgiveness. What kind of man would do that? Perhaps, this criminal must have thought, Jesus’ claims are true.

If the people who killed Jesus, who mocked him, provide a negative example of how to respond to Jesus, this criminal provides a positive example. He knows he’s guilty and he knows Jesus is his only hope. And in response, Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise is a word that comes from the Persian language. It refers to an idyllic garden. Paradise is where God put the first human beings, Adam and Eve. When they rejected God, he removed them from paradise. And ever since, we have lived in a world marked by suffering and death. That’s why we have thing like viruses that kill people. It’s because of the first sin, and also because we continue to sin—all of us. Ever since mankind was kicked out of paradise, we have tried to get back in. We also desperately want to get back to the garden, to be with God, because that’s our real home. That’s what we were made for. We can’t find paradise in money or politics, in romantic relationships or careers, in convenience and entertainment. Paradise only comes with having a right relationship with God.

The one way back to paradise is Jesus. He is the only road that leads back to God. And to make it possible for rebels, enemies of God, to come back to the garden, someone must take their sin away from them. God is a perfect judge who must punish evil. He can’t let the crimes of our failure to love him and to love others go unpunished. If we received what we deserved, we would be like this criminal, condemned. But Jesus came to save his people from their sin. He seeks forgiveness. So, though he is perfectly righteous, he lays down his life, allowing himself to be arrested, tortured, and killed, so that we can go free. Jesus was numbered with the transgressors, and he takes away their sin.

In dying among criminals, Jesus fulfills another prophecy from the Old Testament. This is what Isaiah 53:11–12 says:

11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Righteous One makes others righteous. He bears their iniquities, their sins.

But Jesus doesn’t do this for everyone. He makes “many to be accounted righteous”—not all. He “bore the sin of many”—not all. He only takes away the sins of those who come to him in faith, those who realize who he is and who realize that he is their only hope.

What do we do with this passage? What does it have to do with us? Let us think of what we have already seen.

I want to speak first to Christians. Christians, we must look first to God and then the needs of others. We must love God and we must love others, just as Jesus did. Jesus is more than an example, but he’s not less than an example. We can follow him by caring more for what God wants of us than what we want for ourselves. We can follow Jesus by looking first to the needs of others instead of being so concerned about our own needs. Even in our suffering, we must not forget the needs of others.

In this time, there are people around us who have needs. Most of those needs will probably be very practical. People will need help getting groceries and other supplies. Many people will need financial help. Over three million people filed for unemployment just last week. We should check in on our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to see how they’re doing. We should be prepared to help as we are able.

One way to help is to give to our benevolence fund, also known as the deacons’ fund. That money is used to help people in need. If you want to give to that fund, you can simply mail a check to the church and put “benevolence” or “deacons’ fund” on the memo line. But you don’t need to go through the church to help others.

The greatest need that we all have is to be reconciled to God. And to do that, we need to know Jesus. So, Christians, use this time to help other people know about Jesus. Tell them what you believe. Share with them this video, or other resources we have online. Give them a book to read, or even a Bible.

Christians, we should also seek to forgive as we have been forgiven by God. We should never curse our enemies or respond to hate with hate. It’s not just Jesus who asked for the forgiveness of his enemies. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, did the same. As he was being stoned to death, he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). We should have that same gracious, forgiving spirit.

Now, to those who are not yet Christians: In this passage, we see two different ways to respond to Jesus. You can respond by laughing off the idea that God can become man and die in your place to take away your sins. Most of you won’t mock Jesus or the Christian faith, though of course there are some people who do that. You’re more likely to be apathetic or indifferent, to shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s a nice story, but I don’t believe it.” But that’s just another way to reject Jesus. Jesus is not someone you can shrug your shoulders at. He’s either God incarnate, or this is all a lie. If he’s the Son of God, then he demands a response like the one the criminal gave him, a confession of our sin and a humble request for help. If he’s not the Son of God, if this is all a myth, then you can feel free to reject Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible.

But in order to reject Jesus, you must first know about him. And most people have never taken the time to think deeply about the claims of Christ and of Christianity. I encourage you to do that today. You’ll find a lot of resources on our website that will help you. You can listen to other sermons on the Gospel of Luke[2] or you can check out a series of messages I gave about Jesus a few years ago.[3] Or you can simply read the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Learn about why the Bible is historically accurate. Consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. If you want to know more, you can personally contact me. You can find my contact information on our website or send a private message through our Facebook page.

Last week I said that one of the things that prevents people coming to Jesus is that we have an authority problem. We don’t want a king to reign over us. We don’t want someone telling us what to do, especially when that involves making hard changes. Another reason that keeps people from coming to Jesus is having to take a hard look at ourselves and see that we’re guilty of rejecting God, that we’ve done wrong. That rejection of authority and that failure to confess our wrongdoing both stem from pride. But pride is foolish. We don’t have the power to fix ourselves or to fix this broken world. The coronavirus is proof of that. And even if a foolproof vaccine is developed very quickly, something else will occur that will kill us. We will all die. And before we die, so many other things beyond our control will happen to us. And we’ll do so many things we regret doing. We’re not in control, and we are all guilty.

The good news is that there is one who is in perfect control, who desires the forgiveness of sinners. Jesus welcomes such people into his kingdom. But we must realize we can’t force our way or earn our way into God’s kingdom. The criminal on the cross realized there was nothing he could do to earn God’s favor. He simply asked Jesus for help. That’s all that you need to do. Admit you’re broken, and that you haven’t loved God or others the way that you should. Ask Jesus for forgiveness and help. All your sins can be erased. You can be forgiven of everything you’ve ever done wrong. And you can have the promise of living in paradise with God. You can have that promise today if you turn to Jesus in faith.

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. https://wbcommunity.org/luke.
  3. https://wbcommunity.org/jesus

 

Father, Forgive Them (Luke 23:26-43)

What comes out of us when we’re under pressure? Contrast that with what came out of Jesus when he was dying on the cross. Brian Watson preached this sermon, on Luke 23:26-43, on March 29, 2020.

He Went out and Wept Bitterly

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on February 23, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

Last week, I asked us how we respond when we are hurt or attacked. What comes out of us during those moments of great pressure reveal what is inside of us.

That’s a very important point. But there’s something else we should think about. What happens when we’re the ones who fail? What do we do when we do what is wrong? In other words, what do we do with our failure, our mistakes, our sins? When we do what is wrong, how can we move forward? Is there hope for us? Can we be forgiven of serious failures?

Well, Christianity says there is great hope for sinners. This is why we refer to the central message of Christianity as the gospel, which simply means good news. Though we fail, God is able and willing to forgive his children.

We will see this today as we continue to look at the Gospel of Luke. We’ll see what happens when Peter fails. Though this passage doesn’t give us the full story, we can look to other parts of the Bible to see what happened to Peter after he failed.

So, without further ado, let’s turn to Luke 22:54–62. While you’re turning there, I just want to remind us that this passage is among one of many that is set on the night before Jesus died, the night he was betrayed and arrested. Last week, we saw that Jesus was arrested. Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword, but Jesus told him not to do that. The disciples fled at Jesus’ arrest (Matt. 26:56). But Peter trailed behind Jesus and the Jewish leaders who arrested him, and Luke’s attention now turns to Peter.

Let’s now read Luke 22:54–62:

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.[1]

Peter follows Jesus and those who arrested him from the Garden of Gethsemane back into Jerusalem, to the high priest’s house. Why was Peter following Jesus? We’re not told. Did he think he could take his sword out again and free Jesus? Did he simply want to see what would happen? We don’t know. But it seems like Peter wanted to do the right thing. He didn’t simply run away from danger, from the Jewish leaders who were hostile to Jesus and who would surely be hostile to Jesus’ disciples. Peter could have done that, and that would have been the safest thing to do. Instead, Peter follows Jesus and his captors from a distance.

While waiting in the courtyard, Peter tries to blend with other people who are warming themselves by a fire. Then, he is noticed. A servant sees Peter, recognizes him, and says, “This man was also with him.” If Peter said, “You’ve got that right!” he might have been arrested and put on trial alongside Jesus. Peter must have recognized the danger. So, in that moment of pressure, he lies to save his own skin.

Shortly thereafter, another person recognizes Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples. Now, Peter could have told the truth at that point, and confessed that he lied earlier. But as is so often the case, once we tell lies, instead of admitting what we have done, we double down in our dishonesty. I remember when I was a kid there used to be a public service announcement that played among commercial breaks of cartoons. And that PSA said something like, “When you tell one lie, it leads to another. So, you tell two lies to cover each other. Then you tell three lies, then, oh brother, you’re up to your neck in lies.”

After that second lie, about an hour goes by. Now, you might think that Peter would come to his senses, realize that he has twice denied Jesus, and resolve to tell the truth, no matter the consequences. But he doesn’t do that. Again, he is recognized. This time, someone figures out that Peter is from Galilee, just like Jesus, and infers that Peter must be one of Jesus’ followers. Peter says quite strongly that he doesn’t know Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, it says, “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man’” (Matt. 26:74).

At that moment, a rooster crows, Jesus looks at Peter from a distance, and Peter remembers what Jesus had predicted. Earlier in this same chapter of Luke, Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him. This is what we read in Luke 22:31–34:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

And, sure enough, Jesus’ prediction comes to pass. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.

We don’t know what kind of look Jesus gave Peter. Was it a look of sadness, of sorrow that a friend would deny even knowing him? It probably wasn’t a look of “I told you so.” Whatever it was, Peter remembered what Jesus had said, and left, weeping bitterly.

I think this episode is important for a number of reasons, primarily for what it teaches us about failure. If you’re like me, in moments of pressure and even in moments of panic, you might have done the wrong thing. You might have had many moments of failing to do the right thing when you’ve felt under pressure. And you might feel a great sense of guilt and shame because of your failure. But there is hope, and I think that is why the Gospel writers tell us about Peter and his failure.

I want to make a number of observations about this passage and about other passages that discuss Peter. The first is one that I made a few weeks ago when we read about how Jesus predicted Peter’s failure. Jesus chose twelve men to be his disciples, his inner ring of followers who would become his apostles, his authorized messengers. (Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was later replaced by Matthias.) Jesus chose men who were not perfect. They were not the most righteous, the most religious, the richest and most powerful men. They weren’t stupid, but they were also not elite scholars. They were people that were a bit like you and me.

When Jesus called Peter to follow him, Peter at first thought he was unworthy. In Luke 5, Jesus tells Simon Peter to follow him. After Jesus performed a miracle to demonstrate his divine power, Peter told him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). What kind of sin did Peter have in his life? We don’t know. But if he is anything like you and me, there were some things he had done that bothered him, moral failures of which he was ashamed. He must have thought that the things he had done would disqualify him from serving someone like Jesus in any kind of official capacity.

But Jesus deliberately chose Peter. Jesus knew that Peter was a sinful man. And Jesus also knew that Peter would sin again. As we have already seen, Jesus knew that Peter would deny him. Yet Jesus chose this man to be the leader of this band of twelve brothers. And that is a picture of grace. God uses imperfect people as his servants. He uses people who have failed, people who have cracked under pressure. We might say God uses cracked and broken vessels to carry his perfect word to the world. God doesn’t have to do this. But God is merciful, not giving us over to what we deserve—at least not immediately. And for those who follow Jesus, putting their trust in him, God forgives all sin. And God doesn’t just wipe away that sin. He also gives his children good things that they don’t deserve.

So, the first thing to see is that Jesus chose this sinful man to be his servant, knowing his sin, past, present, and future.

The second thing to see is that what Peter did in this episode was truly wrong. It was no small thing to deny knowing Jesus. In Luke 12, Jesus said this:

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:8–9).

Peter denied Jesus before men. Jesus says the one who does that “will be denied before the angels of God,” which is a way of saying that God will say, “I don’t know that person” on judgment day (Matt. 7:23). It’s important that we understand that Jesus means that if one denies Jesus their whole life, they will be condemned. If one ends one’s life in a state of denying who Jesus is—Savior, Lord, Son of God—then that person will be condemned. But if it’s wrong to deny Jesus for one’s whole life, it seems like it’s wrong to deny Jesus at any point in one’s life. And that’s especially true of someone like Peter, who was no casual acquaintance of Jesus. Peter spent two or three years alongside Jesus. Peter was Jesus’ student, his brother, and friend. To deny knowing someone whom you actually know very well is a form of betrayal. Peter not only lied, but he separated himself from Jesus in order to protect himself from whatever harm the Jewish leaders might do to him. This was definitely a wrong thing to do.

We might wonder how someone like Peter, who had such privileged access to Jesus, who had seen Jesus’ many miracles, who was taught so much by Jesus, could do this. On one level, we could say that Peter panicked. He was scared in that moment. Instead of trusting Jesus, who had predicted what would happen to him, he was tempted to do the wrong thing in order to save himself. I know that I have sinned in moments of panic. There were times when I didn’t have a premeditated plan to sin, but when I was afraid and panicked, I did what was wrong. You might say that in those moments, we’re not thinking clearly. It Peter thought clearly, he would recall Jesus’ prophecies. He would have remembered Jesus’ power and promises. He would have thought, “No matter what these Jewish leaders might do to me, I’ll be okay.” But there’s something about sin that is irrational. It doesn’t always make sense.

The third thing we should see is Peter’s response to what happened. Though Peter didn’t come to his senses during that time when he denied Jesus three times, he did come to his senses immediately after, when the rooster crowed and when Jesus looked his way. At that moment, Peter knew exactly what he had done. And he wept bitterly. That is such a moving moment. And it’s something that I can relate to easily. When we sin, and then when we realize what we have done, there is a real bitterness to that realization. Sometimes, that bitterness is immediate. Other times, the bitter realization that we have failed comes later. There are times when it resurfaces again and again, whenever we think of the wrong things we have done.

I wonder if every once in a while, during the rest of his life, Peter thought about what he had done, and a moment of bitter realization reemerged. I also wonder if the apostle Paul had those moments. Even after Jesus rose from the grave, Paul opposed Jesus and his followers for a while. He arrested Christians so that they might be put to death for blasphemy. He approved of the first Christian martyr’s death (see Acts 8:1–3). Though Paul had been forgiven of all those sins when he came to see who Jesus really is and to put his trust in him, Paul still thought of himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). I wonder if Peter thought of himself in similar ways, and if every once in a while, whenever his mind thought again of these events, the bitter taste of that memory of his more failure came back into his mouth.

At any rate, sin leaves a bitter taste. At the moment, it feels good. But later, when we realize what we had done, we feel guilty. We’re ashamed. We can’t believe that we would do something like that. Peter knew what that was like.

Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Peter after this event. Specifically, Luke doesn’t give us information about whether Peter was forgiven. He just tells us that Peter ran to the empty tomb after Jesus died and rose from the grave. And in the sequel to his Gospel, the book of Acts, Luke depicts Peter as a leader of the apostles.

But John, in his Gospel, does tell us what happened. After Jesus rose from the grave, Jesus had a conversation with Peter. This is what we read in John 21:15–17:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him? Surely, his asking this question three times mirrors the three times that Peter denied Jesus. Now, Jesus asks Peter to affirm his love for him three times. And though John doesn’t specifically mention forgiveness or reconciliation, we understand that Jesus was forgiving Peter.

But we should also notice this: Jesus was reaffirming Peter’s position as an apostle. As we have already seen, when Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny him, he told Peter to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:32). And here, Jesus tells Peter to “feed his sheep,” which most likely means that Peter should “feed” Christians “the word of God,” which is their spiritual food.

The point is that though Peter had sinned in a very serious way, he was forgiven, and he retained his position as an apostle. We can easily imagine Jesus forgiving Peter, but saying, “Peter, I love you, and I forgive you for denying me, but you failed your apostle audition. We’re going to have to give your position to someone else.” But Jesus doesn’t just forgive Peter. He continues to use Peter as his servant. Peter didn’t deserve to be an apostle. He hadn’t earned that position. But God is gracious. He gives us gifts. He uses sinners. And that should give us hope. You may feel that you’ve done things that are so wrong that here is no way God can forgive you. Or, you may understand that you’re forgiven, but you still think your sin disqualifies you to serve God. You may think, “Who am I to tell other people about Jesus when I’ve denied Jesus by my behavior?” When that happens, think about Peter.

Another thing that we should think about as we think about Peter is that his life was changed. Though he was a sinful man, and though he certainly sinned in this episode, his grew in faith and obedience. The book of Acts makes that clear. And we know from sources outside of the Bible that Peter would eventually be killed for being a Christian. Roughly thirty-five years after this event, he would not deny Jesus in order to save his life. I’m sure he learned from his sin. I’m sure he was strengthened by the knowledge that though Jesus died, he rose from the grave. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit gave Peter strength that he didn’t possess on his own.

God loves us so much that when we are adopted into his family through faith in Jesus, his Son, he wants us to grow. He doesn’t want us to stay the same. He changes us from the inside out. And we need to turn away from our old sinful habits. We need to repent. We need to pursue a greater knowledge of God. We need to obey God’s commands. God expects that of his children.

But that doesn’t mean that Peter never sinned again. I’m sure he did. I’m sure he had moments where he harbored bad thoughts and desires. And we’re told elsewhere in the Bible that in another moment of pressure, Peter panicked once again and did the wrong thing.

In one of Paul’s letters, Galatians, he tells of an episode where he and Peter were in the city of Antioch, where there was a church that had both Jewish and Gentile Christians. It’s hard for us to understand how radical that was. There was a huge divide between Jews and Gentiles. Jewish people thought Gentiles were unclean. This wasn’t just some sort of ethnic or racial division. This was also a religious division. But one of the amazing things about Christianity is that people from all kinds of backgrounds become one when they are united to Jesus by faith. In Christ, there is no Jew and Gentile, or black or white, or male and female (to paraphrase Gal. 3:28).

Peter knew that. But when Jewish leaders came to Antioch, he felt pressured to distance himself from Gentiles. He had been eating with them, which was a thing Jewish people didn’t do. But when these Jewish leaders came, Peter was afraid of them, or at least of their opinions, and so he stopped eating with the Gentiles. In doing that, he was denying the Gospel. This is what Paul writes in Galatians 2:11–14:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Peter was acting like a hypocrite, like someone who never really understood the Gospel. And his behavior led another Christian, Barnabas, to act like a hypocrite, too. But Paul confronted Peter and told him he was wrong.

The point is that even after coming to Jesus, we still will fail. Those failures should be fewer in number and not as serious. But still, we wrestle with sin. And there are times when we fail.

Such is the power of sin. In our moments of weakness, when we are scared, when we are tired, when we have taken our eyes off of Jesus, we might panic and do the wrong thing. Sin promises us safety and security. It promises us pleasures. It promises us freedom. These are false promises, but when we’re not thinking clearly, we believe them. We fail to trust Jesus and we disobey him. And then we come to our senses once again and taste the bitterness of sin. And that is painful.

When I think about this tendency to fall back into sin, I think about different things. I think about songs. One of my favorite song writers is a man named Tom Waits. He has a beat-up voice and an odd sense of humor, but that’s part of what appeals to me. In one of his songs called “Walk Away,” he sings these words:

There are things I’ve done I can’t erase.
I want to look in the mirror and see another face.
I said, “never,” while I’m doing it again.
I wanna walk away, start over again.

I can relate to that. I can see the things that I’ve done wrong and desperately want to erase them. I want to be a different person. I wouldn’t mind looking at the mirror and seeing another face. I’ve told myself, “I’m never going to do that again.” And then I have.

There’s another song I think of, one that was sung by Johnny Cash towards the end of his career. (Though the song was written by Nick Lowe, not Cash.) It’s called “The Beast in Me.” It seems to describe that inner, sinful self that we try to suppress, but who escapes from his cage to do bad things. There’s something inside of us that is a like a beast. We try to keep it shut up in its cage. But there are times when it escapes and overcomes us, and we fail.

I also think about prayers. There’s a wonderful collection of prayers written by Puritans called The Valley of Vision. One prayer in that book is called “Yet I Sin.” Here is part of that prayer:

My faculties have been a weapon of revolt
against thee;
as a rebel I have misused my strength,
and served the foul adversary of thy kingdom.
Give me grace to bewail my insensate folly,
Grant me to know that the way of transgressors
is hard,
that evil paths are wretched paths,
that to depart from thee is to lose all good.

All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them
cry pardon.
Work in me more profound and abiding repentance;
Give me the fullness of a godly grief
that trembles and fears,
yet ever trusts and loves,
which is ever powerful, and ever confident;
Grant that through the tears of repentance
I may see more clearly the brightness
and glories of the saving cross.[2]

In that same collection of prayers, there’s another one called “The Dark Guest.” “The Dark Guest” is like “The Beast in Me.” It says, in part:

Destroy, O God, the dark guest within
whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.
Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;
The cross still stands and meets my needs
in the deepest straits of the soul. . . .
The memory of my great sins, my many
temptations, my falls,
bring afresh into my mind the remembrance
of thy great help, of thy support from heaven,
of the great grace that saved such a wretch
as I am.
There is no treasure so wonderful
as that continuous experience of thy grace
toward me which alone can subdue
the risings of sin within:
Give me more of it.[3]

These prayers confess to God that hellish nature of sin. They make no excuses for committing sin. Doing what is wrong is evil. We are without excuse. But these prayers cry out to God to bring about repentance. They ask God to destroy this beast within. And these prayers recall God’s remedy for sin. “The cross still stands and meets my needs in the deepest straits of the soul.” God the Father sent God the Son, who came willingly, to bear the penalty for sin. Jesus died on the cross, experiencing great physical and spiritual pain, in order to pay the penalty of sin for whoever would come to him in faith. This is the way that we are forgiven by God. Even the bitter memories of great sins “bring afresh into [our minds] the remembrance of [God’s] great help, . . . of the great help that saved such a wretch as I am.”

If you have felt the bitter taste of sin, if you know that you have done wrong, if you feel the guilt and shame that come along with doing wrong, I urge you to turn to Jesus. He stands ready to forgive us all our sins. All of them. We must trust that this is true. If you are not yet a Christian, turn to Jesus now.

Of course, we must also desire to be changed, to stop living the way we have always lived. But that doesn’t mean we will suddenly become perfect. We will continue to struggle with sin. Christians, if you struggle with sin, or if you struggle with the memory of your sin, turn to Jesus. There may be something in your past that you think of from time to time and think, “How could I do that? How could I do something that bad? How I could do something that I know is wrong? What was I thinking? How could I be that bad of a person?” When that happens, don’t just look back to your sins. Keep looking further back in the past. Look back to something that happened almost two thousand years ago, when the Son of God laid down his life to pay for your sins. Look to Jesus. Look to the cross. When those memories of sin come back, think of what Jesus has done for you. Experience once again God’s cleansing grace. And be thankful.

This is the best of news for failures and losers like you and me. Not long ago, I was reading through 1 Samuel again, and I came across a verse that I must have read several times. But this time, it really stood out. It was 1 Samuel 22:2, and it described the kind of people that started to follow David even before he was king. It says, “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.” Those in distress, those bitter in soul, found hope in David. How much more should people like that find their hope in the son of David, the true King of Israel, Jesus Christ. He beckons those who are crushed by the weight of sin to come to him and find rest. He will forgive you, cleanse you, restore you, and equip you to serve him.

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. The full prayer can be found here: https://banneroftruth.org/us/devotional/yet-i-sin.
  3. The full prayer can be found here: https://banneroftruth.org/us/devotional/the-dark-guest.

 

He Went out and Wept Bitterly (Luke 22:54-62)

What do we do with our failures, our mistakes, our sins? Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, denied knowing Jesus. Find out what we can learn from what happened to Peter, and how there is hope for the greatest of sinners. Brian Watson preached this sermon on February 23, 2020.

Numbered with the Transgressors

This sermon was preached on February 2, 2020 by Brian Watson.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon.

Last Sunday, news of a death shocked many people. We found out that Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA’s most successful players, died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people. The news of any death is shocking. But I think what shook people was the fact that Bryant was only 41. He had retired less than four years ago. He was healthy and wealthy and accomplished. People like him aren’t supposed to die this young. They are supposed to live long lives. We would expect him to go on to work on television or to coach and to die at an old age. But Bryant, like anyone else, was mortal.

Such news reminds us that life is fragile. We’re only one phone call, text message, email, letter, or police notification away from receiving devastating news, whether that’s a death or some other emergency, or having a relative or friend betray us in some way, or something lesser like being fired or finding out we’ve lost money. There’s no guarantee that things in this life are secure.

There are times when we will feel like we’re shaken. That feeling may come even when there’s not some apparent emergency. We may feel shaken when we’re depressed or anxious, overwhelmed, when the weight of the world is too much for us to bear. We may look back on our lives and have a great sense of regret and shame for what we’ve done, and we may feel like we’re coming undone. We may have great worries about how we’ll make it through another week, another month, or another year.

In short, there are times when we feel like we’re being attacked. The fact is that there are forces that we can’t see that are attacking us, forces of darkness and evil that are very real and that are stronger than we are. Yet there is still great hope. In the midst of all this uncertainty, in a world of tragedies, there is someone who can protect us from ultimate harm and failure.

Today, we’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Luke. We’re in the middle of chapter 22. It is the night before Jesus will die on the cross, nearly two thousand years ago. Jesus has taken one last Passover meal with his disciples. He has explained what his death will accomplish. He has warned them that one of them will betray him. He has told them not to strive for greatness in the world’s eyes, but to be humble and to serve one another. And now he gives one disciple another warning.

Let’s begin by reading Luke 22:31–34:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”[1]

Jesus speaks to Peter, the leader of the disciples, calling him by the name “Simon,” which is what he is called when Jesus first invited him and some others to follow him (Luke 5:1–11). Perhaps calling Peter by this name would remind him that Jesus chose him as one of his disciples. Jesus warns Simon Peter that Satan has demanded to “have you.” We can’t see this in English, but in the Greek, the “you” here is plural. It’s a reference not just to Peter, but to all the disciples. Satan wanted to “sift them like wheat,” to separate them from the chaff, to pull them away from Jesus. It’s like Satan, the devil, wanted to shake Jesus’ little group of ragtag followers to see which of them would fall away from Jesus.

A couple of weeks ago, we saw that Satan had managed to sift one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas. Satan decisively influenced Judas to betray Jesus. Now, we find out that Satan has attacked the other eleven disciples, too. Satan is a mysterious and shadowy figure in the Bible. There are few references to him in the Old Testament. From his appearance in the book of Job, we understand that he was a rebellious angel, or at least some kind of otherworldly being who was in heaven. In the book of Job, Satan tries to get a righteous man to renounce God by taking away his wealth, his family, and his health, all with God’s permission. Yet Satan failed in that attack. Satan is also known as being an accuser. In Zechariah 3, in a vision he accuses Joshua, the high priest, pointing out his sin. Yet God rebuked Satan, took away Joshua’s “filthy garments” (representing his sin) and clothed him in “pure vestments” (representing righteousness).

We learn more about Satan in the New Testament. Though we don’t know much about his origins, he’s called “a murderer” and “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). We find out that he is the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the “deceiver of the whole world,” and “the accuser” (Rev. 12:9, 11). Satan even tried to tempt Jesus, to get him to abandon his divine mission (Luke 4:1–13).

To summarize what the Bible says about the devil, we can say that he is real, that he is a preternatural or otherworldly force, that he delights to deceive and tempt people so that they turn away from God, that he then accuses those sinners of their sin, and that he tries to thwart God’s plans. But it’s important to know that Satan does not have God’s power and knowledge, and certainly not his wisdom, love, and holiness. And it’s also important to know that Jesus is stronger than Satan, he came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and that Satan will be defeated (Rev. 20:7–20).

Here, in Luke 22, Jesus warns Peter that Satan has attempted to separate him and the ten other disciples. (Satan already managed to separate the twelfth.) But Jesus has protected Peter. He has prayed for him. (Jesus then uses the singular form of “you” to refer specifically to Peter.) Jesus has prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail—at least not in the ultimate sense. That doesn’t mean Peter wouldn’t fail in smaller ways. In fact, he predicts that Peter will deny him.

What’s interesting is that Jesus first says that to Peter that after he has “turned again,” he should strengthen the other disciples. This implies that Peter will fail, not in the ultimate sense that Judas failed, proving himself faithless, but sinning in some significant way. Peter doesn’t seem to think he will do that, because he claims that he is ready to go to prison and to death with Jesus. Peter will eventually go to prison for being a Christian (Acts 12), and according to Christian tradition outside of the Bible, Peter would eventually be martyred in Rome. But those events would come much later. First, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus. We’ll see that in a few weeks.

I want to drop a little footnote here. Some people don’t believe that the Bible is the truth. They don’t believe that the Gospels and the other historical books of the Bible tell what really happened. They assume that people fabricated these stories, or that they’re some kind of myth. One of the reasons to believe they are true is that they report details that you wouldn’t make up if you were creating a story. Peter, along with Paul, is one of the two great leaders of the early church. If you were making up a story about him, you wouldn’t tell a story about his failures. But Peter’s faults are clearly displayed. He and the other disciples sometimes come across as foolish and thick-headed. Other great figures of the Bible, like Noah, Abraham, and David, are presented warts and all. Compare that with Islam. Islam presents Muhammad as a perfect man. The Qur’an tells stories about biblical figures. (Keep in mind that the Qur’an was written hundreds of years after the Bible was completed.) But in the Qur’an, “David does not . . . seduce Uriah’s wife; Lot does not sleep with his daughters” and acts of violence are expunged from the record.[2] If you’re making up a story, you don’t share embarrassing depictions of that story’s heroes. But if you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to hide.

Think about this for a moment. Jesus chose the twelve disciples. He did this after a long night of prayer to God the Father (Luke 6:12–16). This means that Jesus’ choice of these particular twelve men was God’s choice. This was all part of God’s plan. God knew that Judas would betray Jesus. He knew that Peter would deny him. Yet Jesus chose them still. And Jesus knows that Peter will deny him. Yet he tells Peter in advance that he will repent, that he will have a role in strengthening Christians.

What does this have to do with us? If you are a Christian, know that God chose you before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3–14). God didn’t just choose to create us. God chose to adopt us into his family, to save us from our sins and the condemnation that sinners deserve, through the sacrificial death of Jesus. (If you don’t understand what that means, hang on; I will soon explain what Jesus does to save us.) God did this knowing all the sins that we would ever commit. Jesus, in his divinity, knew what Peter would do. Yet Jesus chose him anyway. And Jesus protected Peter from Satan. He interceded for Peter. He prayed for him. He promised Peter that even though he would deny Jesus, which is a serious sin, Peter would still have a role to play as the leader of the disciples.

This is a picture of grace. Jesus gives things to Peter that Peter doesn’t deserve. On his own, Peter would not only deny Jesus, but he would come under Satan’s sway. He would believe lies. He would fail. But not with Jesus in his corner. The same is true of us. If it were not for Jesus, we would be lost. We would believe lies and fall away from God. But nothing can remove us from God and his love for us.

I’ll come back to this idea in a moment. But first let’s read the rest of today’s passage. Here are verses 35–38.

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on a mission to preach and to heal people (Luke 9:1–6). He told them not to take provisions with them. Later, he sent out a larger group of seventy-two people to preach (Luke 10:1–12). Again, he told them not to take provisions, but to trust that God would provide for them through the kindness of others. Now, Jesus tells them to take provisions. They should bring money and a bag. He also tells them they should have a sword.

At the least, Jesus is telling them that something is changing. Earlier, they were not met with much resistance. They preached and they had success. But now Jesus is warning them that times will be hard. In John’s Gospel, he tells them that the world will hate them because it first hated him (John 15:18–25). “The world” refers to the powers of the world that are opposed to God. The disciples will need to be prepared to face such adversity. Things will not be easy for them.

Still, it’s odd that Jesus tells them to buy a sword. Why does he do this? This command is debated. I have seen some people use this passage to justify carrying weapons, as if Jesus were telling the disciples something about the Second Amendment. I’m not opposed to the Second Amendment in principle, but I think it would be a mistake to justify carrying weapons for self-defense based on this passage. And this is why: Jesus tells them to buy a sword. They tell him they have two swords. Two swords would not be enough to defend twelve men. It won’t be enough to defend them from soldiers. Soon enough, they will come to arrest Jesus. Peter, ever the impetuous disciple, attempts to defend Jesus by swinging his sword at a servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear (Luke 22:50; John 18:10). But Jesus miraculously heals that man’s ear and says, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). We should also notice that in the book of Acts or in the rest of the New Testament, there is no account of the disciples brandishing weapons or defending themselves physically. So, if Jesus is telling them to literally carry swords wherever they go, then they didn’t obey him.

Also, in this passage, when the disciples tell Jesus they have two swords, he says, literally, “It is enough.” That could mean, “That number will suffice.” But it won’t be enough to defend themselves. Jesus could also mean something dismissive. He could have been referring to a sword in a figurative or metaphorical way, warning them about the danger and divisions that will come their way. When they show him their swords, Jesus could be saying, “Enough of that. You obviously don’t understand exactly what I mean.”

Just about every commentator believes that Jesus is referring to a sword in a figurative or metaphorical way. He does do that elsewhere, when he says that he came not to bring peace to the world, but to come with a sword, metaphorically separating his people from those who reject him (Matt. 10:34).

But perhaps he does want his disciples to have literal swords for another reason. Jesus gives us a reason for having swords in verse 37. He says, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” He’s quoting Isaiah 53:12, part of a passage that talks about God’s servant, who will suffer and be crushed for the sins of his people so that they could be healed. In fact, right after that portion of Isaiah 53:12, it says, “he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” We have already seen that Jesus intercedes for sinners, people like Peter. We will soon talk about his bearing the sins of many. But it’s important to see that Jesus is numbered with the transgressors. Perhaps part of the reason why the disciples need to have swords is so that they will appear to the unbelieving Jews and Romans as if they are treasonous. Jesus will be accused of being a threat to the Roman Empire, challenging the rule of Caesar (Luke 23:2; John 19:12). Similar charges will be made against the disciples (Acts 17:6–7).

Whatever the exact meaning of the sword is, it’s important to see that Jesus is regarded as a sinner. That, too, is part of God’s plan. Sin is a turning away from God. It his rejecting him. It’s a failure to love him, trust him, and obey him. It’s really a failure to embrace the purpose for which we were made. God made us to know him, to represent him, to reflect his glory, to love him, obey him, and serve him. But we don’t want that. We want to determine our own purpose in life. Instead of accepting God’s terms for our lives, we want to live life on our own terms. Sin is a great crime, one that deserves punishment. That punishment is just repaying evil. It’s also a form of protection, removing evil from God’s world so that it doesn’t further contaminate his creation. God would be right to remove all of us from his world.

But God is gracious. He has provided us a way to be forgiven. He doesn’t sweep our sin under the rug. No, sin must be punished. God is a perfect judge, one who sees all the evidence and must issue a sentence for the crime, which must be punished. But he takes the punishment that we deserve and puts it on his Son. As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And God the Son takes this punishment upon himself willingly. He lays down his life to save his people, all who trust I him.

To see all how Jesus sacrifices himself for his people and how he protects them from Satan, it’s worth looking at another passage of the Gospels. In John 10, Jesus is teaching about his identity and the role he plays in saving his people. He says that he is a good shepherd who protects his people, his sheep. There is a thief who comes to harm the sheep—this must be Satan. But Jesus protects his people from them. Here is what Jesus says in John 10:10–18:

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

Jesus protects his people and gives them abundant life. He’s not a hired hand who abandons the sheep when things get difficult. No, he risks life and limb to protect them. In fact, he lays down his life for them. There is one flock of God, both Jews and Gentiles, anyone who puts their trust in Jesus. They will listen to his voice, and no one can take them from him.

A few verses later, Jesus reinforces this idea. Look at verses 27–30:

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.

What does it mean to be a Christian? You follow Jesus. You hear his voice in the pages of the Bible and you follow him. This begins by trusting in Jesus and his ability to save you from sins and the attacks of the enemy. It starts with believing that he is the Son of God, the perfect God-man who lived a righteous life and died an atoning death. But such faith will lead to obedience, even the imperfect obedience of someone like Peter.

But the good news is that if you are a Christian, no one can take you out of God’s hand. Satan can try to deceive you and attack you, but he won’t succeed. Satan could decisively steer away Judas because he didn’t have real faith in Jesus. But Jesus protected Peter, and he protects all his other sheep.

There are other passages in the Bible that express this great truth. In the book of Romans, Paul gives his most systematic account of this good news message of Christianity. He discusses the universal problem of sin and how it brings condemnation, God’s righteous wrath. But he also tells us that God sent his Son to redeem sinners, and that those who trust in Jesus will experience no condemnation.

At the end of Romans 8, Paul writes these powerful words. Here are verses 31–39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you are a Christian, you have God on your side. If God is for you, no one can ultimately be against you. If God gave you his own Son, knowing all the sins that you have committed and will ever commit, will he not give you everything you need? He will. If God has covered your sins with the sacrifice of Jesus, can anyone bring charges against you to condemn you? No. Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave, showing that he paid the penalty in full. And he is now in heaven, interceding for all Christians, pleading his sacrifice to the Father, praying for us.

If you are a Christian, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing! Though Christians will experience trials and tribulations, distress and persecution, and even death, all of those things can’t separate them from God. Death can’t remove you from God. No emergency or crisis can remove you from God. Your own sin can’t remove you from God. Satan and demons can’t separate you from God and his love for you.

That is, if you’re a Christian. If you are not a Christian, you are not protected from these things. The fact is that you will die, and you will stand before Jesus one day. And if you have rejected him, he will not protect you on that day. He will judge you. He will condemn you. You will be removed from God’s creation and you will experience a literally hellish existence. The only protection from the trials of this life, from all kinds of emotional, psychological, and spiritual distress, from death, and from condemnation, is Jesus. The only protection from all our own failures is him. Turn to him now. If you don’t know who Jesus is and want to know more, I would love to talk to you. If you don’t know what it looks like to hear his voice and follow him, please talk to me.

Christians, this should be a great comfort to you. You may feel like your life is being shaken. You may be reflecting on your own sins. You may feel like you’re coming under attack. You may be overwhelmed by forces that are greater than you. You may be looking at many problems that you can’t solve, broken situations that you can’t fix. When that happens, look to Christ. He is praying for you. He is protecting you. He knows all your sins and yet he still died for you. He loves you and cares for you. And he will preserve your life, all the way to that day when you will receive a resurrected body and live in a perfect world with him forever.

I want to close this message with one more passage of Scripture. It’s a great commentary on this passage, just as it’s a great commentary on the book of Job. Not surprisingly, it’s written by Peter himself. This is 1 Peter 5:6–11:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. Timothy Winter, “Islam and the Problem of Evil,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil, ed. chad Meister and Paul K. Moser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 234.

 

 

Numbered with the Transgressors (Luke 22:31-38)

God knows all of our sins–past, present, and future. Amazingly, he saves some of us and uses us, even though we are sinners. Those who put their trust in Jesus belong to him, and no one can tear them away from him. That is because he was numbered with the transgressors, regarded as a sinner, so that sinners could go free. Brian Watson preached this message on Luke 21:31-38 on February 2, 2020.

He Was Lost, and Is Found

This sermon was preached on July 7, 2019 by Brian Watson.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or see below).

Throughout the history of religion, there have been two topics that have been disputed: who God is and how we should respond to him. In fact, if you study different religions, you will see that while religions teach similar things about ethics, they say very different things about what God is like and how we can have a right relationship with him. And throughout the history of Christianity, most heresies, or wrong teachings, have involved who God is and how we can be reconciled to him.

Today, we’re going to look at a story that gives us a glimpse of God’s character and how we should respond to him rightly. This story will also give us a picture of two wrong and very common ways to respond to God.

One of the things I do here is talk a lot about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I teach the message of Christianity so that we understand it and can tell it to others. I encourage us all to share this news with others. And I encourage us all to live in light of the gospel. So, what I’m preaching here today isn’t going to be very new to you, unless you’re very new to church and to the Bible. But what matters most is not whether I teach something new, but whether I teach something that is true. And the fact is that whether you’re someone who is not yet a Christian, or you’re the most seasoned saint, we all need to hear the gospel, time and again, to learn it, remember it, and press it deeply into our minds and down into our hearts so that it affects the way we live. As Tim Keller has written, “The gospel is . . . not just the ABCs of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life.”[1] The gospel isn’t something we learn once and then leave behind for more important things. The gospel is the main event, not the undercard. It’s the headliner, not the opening act.

To experience the gospel once again, today we’re going to look at Luke 15. As we do that, we’re going to see a few important things. We’re going to see that there are two wrong ways to respond to God. We’re going to see that there is a right way to respond to God. We’ll see the heart of God. And we’ll see Jesus, his mission, and our mission.

Let’s begin by reading the first two verses of Luke 15:

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”[2]

It’s important to see that Jesus is speaking to two groups of people here. The first group are the tax collectors and “sinners.” Tax collectors had a bad reputation. They were Jews who collected taxes for the Roman Empire. As you may know, during the time of Jesus, Palestine was under Roman rule. This meant that Jewish tax collectors were viewed as something like traitors. Tax collectors also had a reputation for being dishonest, collecting more money than they should (Luke 3:13). So, tax collectors are often lumped together with “sinners.” In the Pharisees’ view, “sinners” were people who didn’t keep their standards of purity—standards added to God’s commandments. “Sinners” could also refer to people who rather obviously broke God’s commandments.

But these people came to hear Jesus. Jesus had a message that attracted people who had made a shipwreck of their lives. He gave them hope, and they wanted to hear more.

The other group of people Jesus is talking to are the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, or the scribes. They represent the religious leaders of Judaism. Up to this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has had a lot of conflict with these religious leaders. Jesus says they’re greedy hypocrites who care only about appearing religious while in reality their hearts are corrupt (Luke 11:37–52). They try to justify themselves before God by appealing to all their religious works (Luke 18:9–14). They adhere to the letter of the law while missing the heart of God’s commandments, which is simply to love God and to love other people.

We’re told that the Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling. That’s a loaded word in the Bible. It’s used of the Israelites when they complained about Moses after they were delivered out of slavery in Egypt.[3] So, Luke is showing that these people are aligned with those faithless, disobedient Israelites. They complained that Jesus hung out with “sinners” (Luke 5:30–32), and they were out to get him (Luke 11:53–54).

All of this is very important to understanding what Jesus teaches in this chapter. Jesus then tells this audience a parable. Notice that chapter 15 is one parable in three parts. I’m going to spend most of my time on the third part, but let’s first read verses 3–10:

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I think the point of these stories is clear: “sinners” are worth seeking. In both stories, something precious is lost, someone goes searching for what was lost, and when the lost is found, there is great rejoicing. Jesus says that’s the way it is when sinners, people who were separated from God, are found by God, when they turn away from their sin and turn back to God.

It seems like Jesus is telling the religious leaders that they should be searching for the lost, not grumbling when they come to God.

Then Jesus tells what is often called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” The parable might better be called, “The Parable of a Father and His Two Sons,” though that isn’t as catchy. But this parable is as much about the older son as it is the younger son. First, we’ll see what happens with the younger son. Let’s look at verses 11–16:

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

The younger son approaches his father and asks for his inheritance now. That’s shocking. What would you be doing if you asked your parents for your inheritance now? You’d be saying that you wished they were dead so you could take their money. He doesn’t want his father; he wants his father’s stuff. Amazingly, the father obliges. In Jewish law, the eldest son inherited a “double portion,” twice as much as the other sons. In this case, the younger son would have inherited one-third of all the father’s possessions.[4] The father gives this to the son, who then leaves for “a far country.” There, the son engages in “reckless living.” He lives it up and he squanders everything that his father has given him.

In this parable, the father obviously represents the Father, God. And the attitude this younger son has is one wrong response to God. We might call this licentiousness or law-breaking. If you want to know the story of the Bible and the story of humanity in a nutshell, you can find it in this story. God is a perfect Father who created the world and all that is in it. He made us in his image, to reflect his glory and to serve him, and he made us after his likeness, which he means he made us to be his children, to love him and obey him the way children should love and obey a perfect father. But from the beginning, people have said to God, “We don’t want a relationship with you. We want your stuff. Go away. We’ll call you if we need anything else.” The first humans didn’t trust that God was good, they wanted something other than what God had given them, and they were banished to a far country where they found famine and death. And that’s our story, too. We live in his world, we enjoy his blessings, but we don’t really want him. The heart of sin isn’t just breaking God’s commandments. The heart of sin is a rupture in our relationship with God. So, we, too, find ourselves in a distant country. We’re exiles. That’s why we often don’t feel at home in this world.

Now, back to the parable: When the son has spent everything, a famine occurs. He has no one to turn to. There’s no family around. So, he becomes a hired hand, working for a Gentile, feeding pigs. Things were so bad for him, he wished he could eat the pigs’ food. Pigs were unclean animals (Lev. 11:7; Deut. 14:8). He was unclean, lower than the pigs. This would indicate to a Jewish audience that this son could go no lower. He had reached bottom.

But then comes a change. We see this beginning in verse 17:

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

The son comes to his senses! Before, he wasn’t thinking rightly. He decided he could have a better life apart from his family. But once he hit bottom, he woke up to the truth. So, he prepares a little speech. He will tell his father that he sinned “against heaven”—this is another way of saying he sinned against God. And he sinned against his father. He realizes that because of this, he is not worthy to be called a son. He asks merely to be a hired hand.

This is the right response to God. We must realize that because of our sin, we are not worthy to be called God’s children. We must confess our sin and turn back to God, appealing only to his grace. This is what repentance looks like: coming to our senses. We had once exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and our thinking was futile (Rom. 1:18–25). But when we come to see who God is and who we are, we come to our senses and turn back to God.

When we turn to God, he welcomes us back home. In this story, we already saw that the father let the son go his way. Now we see him welcome his son back home. This represents the loving character of God. I’ll read verses 20–24:

20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The prodigal son returns home, and as he approaches, his father sees him. The father is filled with compassion and he can’t wait to be with his son, so he runs. He doesn’t care about how he looks or what anyone might think about him. The father embraces the son; he doesn’t wait for an apology or a confession. But the son does confess, repeating much of the speech he recited earlier.

Yet the father doesn’t say, “You’re right: you’ve sinned!” There is no penalty. There is only acceptance. The father asks his servants to put his best robe, a ring, and sandals on the son. These things illustrate that the son is received back into the family. His relationship with his father is restored. And this is celebrated. The father calls for a feast to be prepared. This would have been a very rare occasion, because a fattened calf was expensive. The whole village was probably invited to this feast. Why does the father celebrate? “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

When sinners turn from their sin and put their faith in Jesus, they become spiritually alive. We once were dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1), but now have been made alive with Christ (Eph. 2:5). We once were lost, but now we’re found. This is a great reason to celebrate.

The idea of a feast is fitting, because eternity with God is sometimes described as a feast. One day, Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, and all who have put their trust in Jesus will live with God forever in a new world, a world in which all evil is removed. The idea of a feast is far more than just eating a lot of good food. It’s being welcomed into God’s home, joining him at his table. It’s communing with God, sharing in his abundance. In fact, the Bible even says that when this great feast is served, it will never end. It won’t end because when the feast is served, death itself will be removed (Isa. 25:6–9).

Now, if we stopped here, it would be a nice story, but we would miss one of the major points of this parable. So, we must see how the elder son reacts. The elder brother shows us another false response to God. One way to reject God is to be like the younger brother, to break all the rules, to seek meaning in life through entertainment and pleasure, to squander everything in “reckless living.” But there’s another way to reject God, and this may come a little closer to home. Let’s look at verses 25–32:

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

When the older son hears that his brother his home, he doesn’t come running. Instead, he gets angry and he refuses to join the feast. Why is the brother angry? It’s possible that he thought he might lose part of his inheritance. Before, he was to receive two-thirds of his father’s estate. But his younger brother is now restored. That suggests that the younger son might get a third of the current estate. If that’s true, then the older brother just lost a third of his inheritance.

But perhaps the brother is simply jealous of his brother. Look at how he talks to his father. He says, “I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. But you’ve never celebrated that. You’ve never even given me a little goat.” It looks like he resents the attention his brother is getting. He calls his brother “this son of your yours,” and he says his brother wasted money on prostitutes. How did he know that? Was he speculating, or did he hear it through the grapevine? At any rate, he’s angry and resentful.

Perhaps the older brother thinks his father is playing favorites. At any rate, this doesn’t appear fair to him. Sometimes, people don’t think the gospel is fair, but they don’t understand that it would be fair for God to condemn all of us for our sin. But he doesn’t. That’s mercy. Sometimes, people don’t understand the point of grace: no one deserves salvation. That’s why it’s grace—it’s a gift.

Now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, the younger brother represents the tax collectors and the sinners, and the older brother represents the Pharisees and the scribes. The first group of people had sinned, but they were coming to Jesus. They were coming home. The second group was grumbling, like the older brother. You see, there is a very religious way to reject God. We might call this legalism. You can try to earn God’s favor. You can try to obey all the rules. You may even think God owes you something for all your work. But if you are merely trying to earn something from God, you don’t really want God. You don’t really love him. But God doesn’t just want our obedience. He wants our hearts. He wants a relationship with us. This older brother looks like he didn’t care about his relationship with his father. By not coming to the feast, he was dishonoring his father. He was so consumed with working to earn his inheritance that he rejects his father and his brother.

If we fail to see that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we will become like the older brother. If we believe we are Christians because we’re good people, because we’re moral, we may be in greater danger than the “sinners” around us. Christianity is not moralism. Christianity doesn’t say, “If you’re good enough, you can get to God.” That’s what a lot of other religions say. Christianity say something more shocking. It says “You’ll never be good enough to earn God’s favor. Your best deeds are polluted by selfish motives and your sin (Isa. 64:6). In fact, you’re so bad that God had to become man and die in your place.” But that’s the great thing: Jesus did that for us. The Father loves us so much he would send his Son, and the Son loves us so much that he would leave his home and go to a distant country to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

That’s brings me to Jesus. Of course, Jesus is telling this story. But the story hints at what Jesus himself does. You see, the first two parts of this story were about someone finding something precious. A shepherd goes to find a lost sheep. A woman searches for a lost coin. You would expect that in the third story, someone goes to find something. But that doesn’t happen.

If you think more about it, it seems that the older brother should have been the one to go find the younger brother. The father might have been too old, or too busy managing his property, to go and seek his youngest son. But the older brother knew that his brother was living a life of sin, and he didn’t seem concerned. Again, he was too busy trying to earn something from his father to leave and find his brother.

But perhaps the older brother of this story isn’t the true older brother. Perhaps Jesus doesn’t tell us about someone going to find the younger brother, because he wants us to see that he is the one who has come to find his younger brothers. Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes his own mission: “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

There’s another way to see that this story is about Jesus. The story doesn’t tell us the basis for salvation. But perhaps it hints at it. I said earlier that Jewish law states that the eldest brother gets a double share of the inheritance. That law is found in Deuteronomy 21:15–17. But I want us to look at what comes right after that passage. Deuteronomy 21:18–21 says a rebellious son deserves death:

18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

The younger son in Jesus’ story deserved to die, according to this law. And the older son, with his own rebellious heart and his refusal to come to the feast, deserved death, too. We’re all like those sons, stubborn and rebellious children who deserve the death penalty for our sin. But if you are a Christian, you have received eternal life. How is that possible? Look at the next two verses (Deut. 21:22–23):

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Now, if you don’t see Jesus there, don’t worry. It’s not immediately obvious, by any means. But the apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:13, quotes part of that passage to show how we are reconciled to God. He writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” When Jesus died on the “tree”—the cross—he died so we don’t have to receive God’s wrath. He paid for all our sins on the cross. He sought us and bought us with his precious blood. If we have faith in Jesus, he is our true elder brother.

You’ll notice that the parable ends without a response from the older brother. Jesus is pleading with the Pharisees and scribes to come to the feast, to surrender their pride and rely only on God’s grace.

And I’ll end by pleading with you. I don’t know if we have any younger brothers here today, because I don’t know you all personally, and I can’t see your hearts. If you’re seeking meaning in life by breaking all the rules, if you’re trying to be your own god, if you think you’re the ultimate authority in your life, I promise you that path will only lead to destruction. Running away from God may feel fun for a while, but this reckless living will leave you empty, and you’ll find yourself in the muck and mire, far from home, without comfort and hope. I urge you to come to your sense, to come home to God, to turn to Jesus.

I think it’s far more likely that there are older brothers here. If you’re an older brother, you may look down at other people. You may be bothered if a messy “sinner” comes to church on Sunday. You might think God owes you something for all your years of service. You may resent it when things don’t go your way. We should rejoice when sinful people show up at the church. My hope is that you’ll see more of those people here in the future.

If you’re neither a younger brother nor an older brother, but if you’re a true child of God, then consider how you can be like Jesus. He came to seek and save the lost. What are you doing—what are we doing—to seek and save the lost around us? Jesus’ brother, James, writes this at the end of his letter: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20; see also Gal. 6:1). We should go after people who have wandered from the truth. We should go after people who have never known the truth. Start with prayer. Ask God to bring people who need Jesus into your life. Think about the people around you who aren’t yet Christians and pray for their souls. Pray for opportunities to talk to them about Jesus. And, when the opportunity is right, plead lovingly with those around you to consider Jesus.

My hope is that this church would be one that sees younger brothers coming to their senses, but this can only happen if we aren’t older brothers. Start praying that people around you would come to your senses. Seek them out, love them, tell them the good news about Jesus, and invite them to the feast.

Notes

  1. Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008), 119.
  2. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  3. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Num. 14:2; 16:41.
  4. Deut. 21:15–17.

 

He Was Lost, and Is Found (Luke 15)

There are two wrong ways to respond to God: to run away from him and break all the rules, or to try to earn favor from him by obeying all the rules (and for selfish reasons). But there is a right way to respond to God, and when we turn to him, he is like a loving father who welcomes us back home. Brian Watson preached this message on Luke 15 on July 7, 2019.

Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus teaches us to do something unnatural: we are supposed to love our enemies and to give to those who cannot pay us back. Brian Watson preaches a sermon on Luke 6:27-36, recorded on October 7, 2018.

Who Can Forgive Sins But God Alone?

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on March 18, 2018.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (see also below)

Cleanliness is next to godliness. That’s apparently what the preacher John Wesley said in a 1778 sermon.

There’s some truth to that, though it’s easy to misunderstand. But we all know that cleanliness is important, and if things aren’t clean, there will eventually be trouble.

At the very end of last year, just after Christmas, the weather was extremely cold. And during that cold spell, our car started making some terribly loud noises when we started it. It was a low, loud groan, that kind of sounded like an angry cow. This went on for a few days, and one day when I had to drive somewhere early in the morning, it had a hard time steering, as if the power steering had gone out. So, I tried calling some mechanics and the local Honda dealership to see if I could get the car looked at. Because of the holidays, they had limited time slots, so they were booked solid. The best I could do was make an appointment for after the New Year.

So, I went online trying to figure out what might be wrong, to see how urgent this condition was. I saw some articles that suggest there might be a problem with the power steering. So, I followed the advice of one blog and took a turkey baster to suck up the old, dirty power steering fluid, and I replaced it with new fluid. It seemed to work pretty well. But then in February, I took the car to the dealership to get an oil change and to have them look at this situation. They told me there was a leak in the power steering fluid pump (the angry cow), and that I need to have that fixed, as well as get some other things done on the car. I’m not a car guy, but I like to get things taken care of on the car sooner rather than later, so that there aren’t bigger problems down the line. So, I had some preventive maintenance done.

I imagine that part of the reason why the powering steering pump wasn’t working well during the cold was because I was overdue for a power steering fluid flush and change. When the power steering fluid gets dirty, and when any water vapor gets in the lines, there can be problems during cold weather. So, dirty fluid led to problems. The same would be true if I never changed the oil. If you try to go 20,000 miles with dirty oil, your car is going to suffer.

The same can be true of our bodies. If our blood isn’t clean, or if our digestive tract isn’t clean, we can have problems. If you eat a terrible diet and never exercise, you’re going to have problems. It’s quite possible your arteries will get clogged with plaque, which could lead to serious and even fatal problems.

Now, while it’s important to take care of your vehicle, having a car that has clean fluids and runs well won’t get you closer to God. And though it’s important to take care of your body, being healthy doesn’t make you a godlier person. But there’s a different kind of health, one that is more important, and that is the health of your soul. And if we want to have an abundant life, a healthy life, a life that fulfills the purposes for which we are made, we have to be made clean. If we want to see God and live forever with him in paradise, we need to be spiritually clean.

The only one who can clean up our souls, who can provide forgiveness of sins, is Jesus. The only way to have true, lasting health—in our bodies, in our relationships, and in our souls—is through Jesus. Today, we’ll see that Jesus has the power and authority to clean people and forgive them. We’ll see this in Luke 5:12–26.

If you haven’t been with us recently, we’ve been studying the Gospel of Luke for over three months. Luke is one of the four biographies of Jesus found in the Bible. He begins his story of Jesus with the events leading up to—and including—Jesus’ birth. And after describing a brief episode of Jesus as a boy, Luke focuses on Jesus’ public ministry of teaching and performing miracles. We’ll see that continue today.

First, let’s read verses 12–16:

12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.[1]

Jesus is in one of the cities in Galilee, perhaps in Capernaum, where he was before. While there, he encounters a man who has leprosy. When we read about leprosy in the Bible, we may be confused, because it’s different from what is called leprosy today. What we know as leprosy today is also known as Hansen’s disease, which is named after the person who identified the microorganism that causes that skin disease. In the Bible, the term “leprosy” can describe a variety of skin conditions.

What’s most important to know is that this man’s skin disease has made him unclean. And that was his biggest problem. He doesn’t say, “Lord, if you will, you can heal me.” No, he says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

Now, to understand this issue, we have to know something about what the Bible says about diseases and being clean. And to understand this, we have to understand something about the nature of sin. Last week, I said that sin was a rebellion against God, a turning away from our Creator and turning to value the creation instead. We were made to know, love, and worship God but we have turned away from him. We don’t seek a relationship with him—at least not a right relationship with him. We don’t love him the way we ought to. We don’t worship him all the time. We don’t do what he wants us to do. In other words, we don’t live according to his design. And because of that turning away from God, we have a broken world. When we turn away from the God who ordered and arranged the world, we find disorder and chaos. When we turn away from the God who is love, we find hate and war. When we turn away from the giver of life, we find death. Part of the penalty of sin is a world full of disease and ultimately death.

So, the ultimate reason there are diseases like leprosy in the world is because of sin. That doesn’t mean there’s a direct connection between a person’s sin and an illness they have. It’s not that all people who have diseases have done some particularly awful sin. Some very healthy people are great sinners, and some very godly people have a lot of ailments. So, there’s no one-to-one connection between the amount of sin in a person’s life and their bodily health. But the reason anyone has a disease is because of the presence of sin in the world. And the fact is that all of us have sinned. There’s only person who never did, and that’s Jesus.

Now, in the Old Testament, we find that God calls a people, the Israelites, to himself. He rescued them out of slavery in Egypt and then he gave them his law, which taught them how to live. And when you read through that law, particularly the book of Leviticus, you find a lot of information about skin diseases (Leviticus 13 and 14), in particular. And sometimes it’s all a bit baffling to us. But the idea is that in order to be part of God’s people, you had to be clean. Now, on one level, this makes perfect sense. The Israelites didn’t have modern medicine and diseases are contagious. In order to protect the health of the people, those who had diseases had to be removed. They often were placed outside the camp until they became clean, or healthy. So, the idea of keeping the unclean people on the edge of the community made perfect sense.

But the law also addresses issues in a symbolic way. The idea that you get when you read the book of Leviticus is that in order for the Israelites to approach God in worship they needed to be pure. They needed to be cleansed of their sin. Anything that made the Israelites impure made them unfit to be in the presence of God. And since diseases are ultimately the result of sin, those who were diseased couldn’t be part of the community. They were ostracized. That was a visual picture of the contagious nature of sin. Sin needed to be removed from God’s people. Sin corrupts. Sin has a way of being contagious, spreading throughout one body and on to others.

Because this man had leprosy, he would have been shunned by others. He would have been considered untouchable, for to touch someone with leprosy would make that person unclean. A leper was treated like someone who was less than human. Just listen to these words, found in Leviticus 13:45–46:

45 The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

So, this leper that Jesus meets has a skin condition that causes him to be “alone” and “outside the camp.” I’m sure he wants to be healed, but what he really needs is to be made clean.

What’s amazing is that Jesus heals the man by touching him. He didn’t have to touch the man. Jesus has the power to heal just by saying a word. But he intentionally touches the man, showing him that he is indeed a human being worthy of love and care.

When Jesus heals and therefore cleanses the man, he tells him not to tell others, but to go to the priest and to bring an animal sacrifice. In the Old Testament law, priests were the ones who examined people to see if they were healed. And if the person was healed, then that person had to offer animal sacrifices. Those sacrifices made that person clean (see Lev. 14:1–32).

The idea that animal sacrifices could make someone clean is strange to us, but the idea is simple, and it goes back to that root problem of sin. Because we have sinned against a holy, perfect God who made us for himself, we deserve death. In part, that’s because our sin corrupts God’s good creation. God wants to cleanse the evil from his creation. And evil deserves punishment. But God is also merciful and gracious, so he provided a way for unclean sinners to be made clean. Instead of us dying for our own sin, a substitute death could take place. In the Old Testament law, the substitutes were animals. An animal’s life could be taken instead of a human’s life. And, like the rest of the law, this had a teaching element. It taught that sin is a serious crime that deserves the most serious punishment. But it also taught that the God could allow the punishment to be taken by another.

This healing shows that Jesus has the power to heal unclean people. No Old Testament priest or prophet could heal a leper with just a touch. But Jesus also is righteous, obeying the demands of the Old Testament law.

And when people start to hear of his healing powers, they gather around him. In Mark’s account of this story, “Jesus could not longer openly enter a town” because of these crowds. Therefore, he “was out in desolate places” (Mark 1:45). Here, we’re told that Jesus went to those desolate places to pray.

When Jesus came to earth over two thousand years ago, his job was not to heal every disease. The miraculous healings he performed were not a new form of healthcare for all of Israel. No, they were signs that were meant to point to his identity as the one who would heal people of the root cause of illness, which is sin. But people are people, and if there’s a way to be healed, they want that. So, they crowded around Jesus. But Jesus needed time to be alone. He needed time to rest, and time to pray. Jesus is the Son of God, which means he is divine and has perfect union with God the Father. But as a man, Jesus also needed to spend time praying to his Father, talking to him. So, he withdrew to spend time in prayer. Jesus often prayed before important moments in his life.[2]

Perhaps Jesus prayed at that time because he was getting ready for the conflicts that he would have with various Jewish religious leaders. We see the first of such conflicts in the next paragraph, Luke 5:17–26:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Jesus’ teaching and miracles attracted a crowd. They also attracted the attention of some Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees were one of four major groups of Judaism at that time.[3] They were lay leaders who took a particular interest in how to be faithful to the Old Testament law. To do that, they developed a system of applying those laws to many situations not explicitly described in Scripture. The teachers of the law, otherwise known as scribes, were those who could make judgments as to whether the law was being followed. Luke tells us that these religious leaders were coming from all over to see Jesus.

At this time, Jesus is teaching in a building, and it is crowded with people. When Mark reports this event, he said that Jesus “was preaching the word to them” (Mark 2:2). And while Jesus is preaching, a group of men carry another man on a stretcher. This man was paralyzed, and his friends bring him to Jesus to be healed. The problem is that they can’t get through the crowd to get to Jesus. So, they find another way. In those days, houses were simple structures. They had a flat roof that was accessible by an outside staircase. In hot weather, people could sleep on the roof. So, they bring the man up the stairs, and then dig through the roof so that they can lower their friend to Jesus. These are some motivated people! They must have been a bit desperate, but they knew that Jesus alone could heal their friend.

When these men get their friend to Jesus, Jesus can sense their faith. They trust that Jesus can heal their friend. But he does something unexpected. Instead of healing their friend, he simply says, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” That would be like going to your doctor, hoping to get medicine, and him reading some Scripture to you instead. You might say, “That’s nice, but I really was hoping you’d fix my body!”

We may not understand what’s happening here, but these Jewish leaders did. They thought to themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Why would these ask those questions? Think about this: who can forgive an offense? The person who has been offended. But we have no evidence that this paralyzed man had done anything to offend Jesus directly. We’re not told that he lied about Jesus, called him names, stole something from him, or anything like that. So, how can Jesus dare to forgive this man? It would be strange if you got into a fight with someone in your family and I came along and said, “You are forgiven.” I had nothing to do with that conflict. How could I forgive you?

Well, the answer is that Jesus isn’t just a man. Jesus is the God-man. He has always existed as the Son of God. The true, living God is triune. He is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God doesn’t have a body. He is spirit. His immaterial. And yet, over two thousand years ago, the Son of God also became a human being, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in a virgin’s womb. He was born as any baby would be, he grew as any child would, and he lived as a common—though sinless—Jewish man. But he is still God. And God has the power to forgive all sins.

So, when Jesus says this man’s sins are forgiven, he is telling the truth. But these Jewish leaders don’t believe that Jesus is God. So, they question him. And Jesus knows the secret questions they have, so he answers them with another question: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” In one sense, saying either thing is equally easy. They’re just words. But the difference is that if Jesus just says, “Your sins are forgiven you,” there’s no clear evidence that anything has occurred. There’s no physical event that happens when you are forgiven. So, Jesus can say this man is forgiven, and no one could prove him wrong.

But it’s different if you say to a paralyzed man, “You’re healed. Get up and walk.” In that case, others could see whether that happened or not. That’s why Jesus says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” The man does just that. He gets up and goes, glorifying God. That miracle proves that Jesus has the authority and power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins. The people were amazed and they glorified God. But, as we’ll see, the Pharisees weren’t impressed. They can’t deny Jesus’ power, but they don’t trust him. So, they will later slander him and say that his power is demonic (Luke 11:14–15; John 10:19–20).

So, what do we learn from this passage? How does it affect our lives?

I think there are at least two major things we can learn from this passage. One is that while physical health is important, and we all want physical healing when we’re sick, there’s something more important. Ultimately, our spiritual health is the most important thing.

People can be very healthy in this life and be very far from God. You can devote all your time to diet and exercise, to preventative medicine, and have a long life. You may be fortunate to die at an old age, without having a heart attack or a stroke or cancer. Perhaps you’ll be one of those rare people who die peacefully in your sleep. But if you have that and you’re far from God, your physical health may last only for eighty, ninety, or even one hundred years.

But if diseases and handicaps afflict your body now, and your sins are forgiven because you trust in Jesus, your bad physical health will only remain for decades, whether those decades are few or many. You will die, just as all of us will die. And at that point, your spirit will be in heaven with Jesus. But that’s not the end of the story. All of God’s people will be resurrected. That means that their souls will be rejoined to their bodies. But those bodies will be transformed—we call this “glorified” in theology—so that they are perfect. Those bodies will be immortal. They will never die, let alone have any diseases.

So, if you focus only on physical health now, you won’t get it in the end. You’ll ultimately experience condemnation, a dreadful, eternal existence apart from God and anything good. But if you focus on spiritual health now, you’ll get physical health thrown in, and that physical health will last forever. That doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t focus on taking care of their bodies. We should. But there are more important issues.

Several years ago, I had surgery to heal a herniated disc in my back. I was a bit apprehensive about having surgery, particularly after one of my doctors explained all that could go wrong on the operating table. And he said, “There are worse things than dying.” I think he meant that I could be paralyzed or have some other outcome that would be worse than simply dying during surgery. But it’s true. There are worse things than facing physical death. The Bible describes final condemnation as a second death. All who reject Jesus will face a spiritual death, which is far worse than we can imagine.

Now, if you’re here today and you don’t know where you stand with Jesus, you may not understand why sin is such a problem. If that’s the case, I would urge you to listen to last week’s message, which you can find on our website or on our podcast channel.[4] In short, sin is a rebellion against God. The only reason anything exists is because God created it. God created this universe for his glory. He created this planet for his glory. He created life on this planet for that purpose. And he created human beings to know him, love him, worship him, represent what he is like, and rule the world by coming under his authoritative word. But we reject God. We may not think of our attitude toward God as rebellion or rejection, but if we’re not living our lives for God, thinking about him, his design for our lives, and his will, then we’re ignoring God. If we don’t truly love God simply for who he is, we’re rejecting him. And if we’re not following his design for our lives, thinking we know better than God, we’re rebels. That’s a serious problem, one that corrupts us just the way an infectious disease might destroy a healthy body.

If you don’t know Jesus truly, if you’re not relying on him to heal your soul, I urge you to put your trust in him.

If you do know Jesus, take the issue of cleansing from sin very seriously. We should prioritize healing of sins. We should be praying for the salvation of the lost more than we pray for someone’s physical condition. There are worse things than dying.

And we should take seriously the contagion of sin. I’ll talk about this after the service, but I’ll say this now: Sin that goes unchecked has a way of spreading. And just as a body can be damaged by a disease, the body of Christ, the church, can be damaged by sins. Yes, we’re all sinners, so we will fail, often in small ways. But there are larger sins, sins that are particularly egregious, that we must root out of the church. Any division, any slander, any fighting against one another, any rebellion against God-ordained authority, sexual sins, false doctrine—these things have to go. We don’t deal seriously with sin in order to beat up on other people, or to act “holier than Thou,” or to be judgmental. We take sin seriously because it’s bad for us. We should want spiritual health, both individually and within this church.

The second thing we should take away from this passage is that Jesus has the authority and power to heal. And he has the compassion to do so. Obviously, Jesus performs miraculous healings. Some of us may be skeptical about the possibility of miracles. If that is the case, you should know that science cannot disprove that miracles take place. In order to do that, scientists would have to observe and measure every single event that has ever taken place in history. If you stop and think about that, such observation would be impossible. And many credible witnesses throughout history have reported seeing miracles take place.

The Gospels are reliable historical documents, and they all agree that Jesus has the power to perform miracles. He can do so because he is the God-man.

He also has the power to forgive sins. Again, he can do that because he is God. But on what basis does Jesus forgive sins? In other words, how does Jesus forgive sins? Does he simply sweep them under the carpet and forget about them? Does he relativize them and say, “Oh, don’t worry, you’re not so bad. Sure, you made a mistake, but who doesn’t?” No. Jesus doesn’t take sin lightly. In fact, he goes so far as to say that no one is good but God (Luke 18:19) and that the world is evil (John 7:7). So, how can Jesus forgive sins if he doesn’t take them lightly or just set them aside?

The reason Jesus can forgive sins is because he would die to pay the penalty for them. Each Gospel depicts Jesus’ death. He didn’t die of natural causes. No, he was tortured and crucified, executed in a horribly painful manner. And he wasn’t executed because he had done anything wrong. Yes, people like the Pharisees hated him and wanted to get rid of him. But, ultimately, Jesus died because it was God’s plan to crush sin instead of crushing all sinners. When Jesus died, he didn’t just experience a physical death. He experienced a spiritual death, alienation from his Father. He endured hell on earth, suffering that goes far beyond mere physical pain. He did this so that he could take on the condemnation that sinners deserve. But his death only pays for the sins of those who put their trust in him, who come to him in faith knowing that he alone can heal, who come to him in love and humility knowing that he is King and God.

Jesus has the authority and power to heal. But he also has the love and compassion to do so. He touched a leper, an outcast. This would be like someone in the 1980s touching a person dying of AIDS. In those days, we didn’t know a lot of about HIV and AIDS, and there was a great fear. People who had that disease were rejected and feared. But Jesus isn’t afraid. He comes to people who have a far worse condition than AIDS—he comes to people who have the malignant, rapidly-spreading, defiling and contagious disease of sin—and he heals them. Let us come to Jesus for healing, so that he can forgive us of sin, cleanse us of sin, and transform us so that we become healthy.

Notes

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. Jesus prayed before the Holy Spirit descended on him, shortly before he was tempted in the wilderness (Luke 3:21). He prayed all night before he called his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12). He prayed before Peter’s confession and his first prediction about his death (Luke 9:18). He prayed at the time of his transfiguration (Luke 9:28–29). His prayer led to his disciples asking him how to pray (Luke 11:1). He prayed on the Mount of Olives before his arrest (Luke 22:39–44). And he prayed on the cross (Luke 23:34, 46).
  3. The others were the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots.
  4. https://wbcommunity.org/let-down-your-nets.

 

Who Can Forgive Sins But God Alone? (Luke 5:12-26)

How can we truly be healthy human beings? The only way to be made whole is to receive the healing, cleansing, and forgiveness that Jesus can give. Pastor Brian Watson preaches a sermon on Luke 5:12-26.

Slavery (Galatians 4:21-31)

On August 16, 2015, Pastor Brian Watson preached a sermon on Galatians 4:21-31. Find out why Christianity is different from other religions, such as Islam, that require someone to work for their own salvation. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides freedom, because it promises that someone is saved by grace, not adherence to the law.

Grace Alone (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Pastor Brian Watson preached a sermon on another principle of the Protestant Reformation: grace alone. Salvation is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:1-10 is explored to show how that works.

We Have an Advocate (1 John 2:1-6)

This sermon was preached on May 7, 2017 by Brian Watson.
Sermon recording
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There always have been, and there always will be (well, until Jesus returns), misunderstandings about Christianity. Some people think that Christianity is moralism. It’s all about toeing the line, obeying the rules, and generally having a miserable time. The writer and atheist H. L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”[1] Many people see Christians as dour, “holier than thou” killjoys who talk more about what they’re against than what they’re for. Perhaps atheists, agnostics, and generally irreligious people see Christianity as just another religion, one in which you’re supposed to follow the rules if you want to get to heaven.

Other people see Christianity in a different light. I once met a young man whose pastor was a father. This young man was not a Christian. He said he didn’t think it was fair that a good person, say, a doctor who dedicated his life to going to third-world countries where he would serve the poor, could go to hell because he didn’t follow Jesus. Other people, perhaps people who follow strict religions, think that the idea of grace is a ticket to sin. They don’t think it’s fair that a murderer could be forgiven. And they think that if we’re simply forgiven all our sins, then there’s nothing to keep us from continually sinning.

I suppose those misunderstandings about Christianity exist because of false teachers. There have been some people who have stressed obedience so much that they hardly mention God’s mercy and grace. They have falsely given the impression that Christianity is primarily about obeying a set of rules and striving to be a good person. And I suppose there are others who have falsely taught that God’s grace doesn’t place any demands on us, so we can sin abundantly so grace would abound abundantly. Today, it seems that the false teaching regarding Christianity leans toward universalism. Universalism is the belief that, in the end, everyone will be reconciled to God. In other words, universalism teaches that everyone will be saved, everyone will be with God forever.

The passage that we’re looking at today, 1 John 2:1–6, if misunderstood, could cause someone to think that Christianity is all about not sinning, or that everyone’s sins are paid for. But when rightly understood, this passage speaks against such things. John’s letter is so important because it gives us a fuller picture of what it means to be a Christian, and as we study this letter, we’ll discuss false versions of Christianity.

So, without further ado, let’s read the whole paragraph, and then I’ll explain it.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.[2]

John begins by telling his readers one of the reasons why he is writing to them. He calls them “little children” because he is an old man, and he probably feels a sense of fatherly love for these Christians. Because he loves them and cares for them, he says that he writes so that they may not sin. If that were all he wrote, it would be easy to misunderstand John’s message and think, “So, Christianity is all about not sinning!” Well, the truth is that Christians shouldn’t sin. They shouldn’t want to sin, but not for the reasons that some might think.

You see, John is concerned about three things in this letter. You may say he’s concerned about the head, the heart, and the hands. He wants his readers to truly know God. He wants them to have correct beliefs about Jesus. He also wants them to have a right love for God and for others. That love should reflect God’s love for us and it should motivate everything that we do. And he wants his readers to live rightly. So, rightly understood, not sinning isn’t about trying to earn something from God. It’s about trying to live the best life, the one God wants for us. When we sin, we’re going against God’s design for our lives. Not sinning doesn’t mean life will be easy or fun, but when we sin less, we’ll naturally experience more of God’s blessings. But our desire not to sin shouldn’t be motivated by a desire to earn something from God. It should be motivated by love for God and thanks for what God has done for us. We shouldn’t want to sin because it is harmful to us and it is displeasing to God.

We don’t want to miss the second half of verse 1. John says that is we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” John knows that we’re going to sin, even though our goal should be to sin less and less. Toward the end of chapter 1, he writes that if we say we don’t sin, we’re liars (1 John 1:8, 10). Though John’s statements about not sinning seem rather strict, I don’t think he expects that we’re going to reach a level of sinless perfection in this life. And the good news is that if we sin, we have an advocate, a defender. The Greek word is παράκλητος, which is used in John’s Gospel to refer to the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes translated “helper” or “comforter.” Jesus promised his disciples that “another Helper” would come to them, the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). The first Helper, our champion, defender, Lord, and Savior, is Jesus himself.

What does it mean for Jesus to be our advocate? A couple of other passages shed light on this issue. Here is Romans 8:33–34:

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

And here is Hebrews 7:23–27:

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

These passages state that no one can condemn God’s chosen people, true Christians, because Jesus makes intercession for them. He is a forever-priest, never failing to intercede for his people. Unlike the priests of the Old Testament Israel, he will never die, and he has no sins of his own to atone for.

To be our advocate, or to intercede for us, means that Jesus is pleading our case before God the Father. It’s as if he is saying to the Father, “Look, I died for them! I took the penalty that they deserve! And, look again, I’m the righteous one! My perfect, sinless life is credited to them. Father, when you consider them, look at what I’ve done.”

Jesus is also praying for us. Perhaps it’s best to consider a passage from the Gospels that shows what that looks like. While on earth, Jesus prayed for his disciples. When Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will betray Jesus, Jesus tells him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). Jesus prayed for Peter. He prayed that his faith wouldn’t fail, even though Satan wanted to sift him like wheat, or remove him from Jesus’ flock. What’s interesting is that the first “you”—“Satan demanded to have you”—is plural. Satan wanted the disciples, not just Peter. And Jesus says he prayed individually for Peter. According to Mark Jones, a pastor and theologian, “There is no Christian alive who has not had Christ mention his or her name to the Father.”[3]

Think about that: If you have real, abiding faith in Jesus, it is because the Father chose you from before the foundation of the world, and because Jesus died for your sins (Eph. 1:3–10). And Jesus is now—right now!—pleading your case before the Father. And he will always do that. That means if you fail—and you will—Jesus is always pleading your case. He will never give up on you. His sacrificial death on the cross is more than enough to pay for your sins. His righteous life is more than enough to present you acceptable and blameless in God’s eyes. That is great news.

Now, let’s move on to verse 2: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” That word, “propitiation,” is a big one, and it can be translated in different ways. Sometimes, it’s understood as “expiation,” which means extinguishing guilt, or making atonement. Propitiation includes that idea but goes further. It means to gain or regain favor, or to appease. The idea is that Jesus not only wipes away the guilt of the sinners who trust in him, but he also makes the Father favorable toward them. Robert Peterson puts it this way: “Propitiation is directed toward God and expiation is directed toward sin. Propitiation is the turning away of God’s wrath, and expiation is the putting away of sin.”[4]

The idea goes back to the Old Testament sacrifices for sin. Even before God gave Israel the law, it appears that some sacrifices made God favorable once again toward humanity. In the days of Noah, the people on earth were wicked, and God sent a flood to judge the world. He saved only Noah and his family. After the flood waters subsided, Noah offered up a sacrifice. We read this in Genesis 8:20–22:

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

It seems that the smell of the sacrifice pleased God and made him favorable towards humanity. He promised never to curse the ground again and destroy every living creature on earth. This sacrifice seems to have satisfied God’s righteous demand for sin to be punished.[5]

One other Old Testament passage sheds some light on Jesus’ sacrifice. In Leviticus 16, we read about the Day of Atonement. This was one day a year when the sins of Israel would be wiped away and paid for. The high priest first had to offer the sacrifice of a bull for his own sin (Lev. 16:6, 11–14). Then he took two goats. One goat would be killed and the other would be the “scapegoat.” The blood of the goat that was killed would purify the tabernacle and the altar of all the sins of Israel, which corrupted their worship of God (Lev. 16:15–19). The high priest would then place his hands on the live goat, symbolically transferring the sins of Israel to this goat, which would then be released into the wilderness. In Leviticus 16:21–22, we read these instructions concerning Aaron, Moses’s brother and the first high priest:

21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

In that way, all the sins of Israel were removed.

Of course, these actions didn’t actually accomplish anything. That’s why I said they were symbolic. Hebrews 10:4 says, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Animals can never be substitutes for human beings. We need a human being who can step in for us. We also need a human being who is a perfect sacrifice, one who is infinite, who can take on the sins of millions and even billions of people who come to him, one who will never change. There’s only one person who can fulfill that role, and that is Jesus. He takes away the sin of everyone who is united to him. And he makes God propitious, or favorable, toward us. Paul, borrowing the sacrificial language of the Old Testament, says, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus willingly died for us, and his sacrifice was pleasing to the Father. As 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

John then also says that Jesus makes propitiation for the whole world. This, again, is verse 2: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” I think this needs some explaining. This may be a verse that attracts universalists. They might say, “Ah, Jesus has taken care of the sin problem of everyone in the world! I don’t think that’s what John means at all. Let’s think through this a bit. First, we should note that in the Greek, it doesn’t say “for the sins of the whole world,” but only “for the whole world.” Now, maybe that doesn’t affect the meaning much, because “sins of” is implied.

But, second, we need to look carefully at how John uses “world” in this letter. One of the ways that we read the Bible well is by paying attention to how an author uses language. We may think we understand a sentence when we’re reading it because we’re reading it the way we would use that language. But what we’re trying to do is understand what John meant. So, look at 1 John 2:15–17:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

That first sentence seems quite absolute: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” So, love nothing physical, right? Wrong. Look at how John defines “world” in verse 16: “all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” But, wait a minute! Didn’t God create everything in the world? In 1 Timothy 4:4, Paul writes, “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” So, in this passage, John means that we shouldn’t love “worldly” things, things that take us away from God, things that cause us to covet and to be proud. He doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love each and every “thing” in the world.

Then look at 1 John 5:18–19:

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

John says that those who are “born of God” are protected and the evil one, Satan, cannot touch them. Then he says that “the whole world” lies in the power of Satan. Clearly, “the whole world” cannot include Christians, who are not touched by Satan. So, “the whole world” doesn’t mean everyone in the world, just as “all that is in the world” doesn’t mean every single thing and/or person in the world.

Third, we need to use some basic reasoning. If Jesus indeed was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, in the sense of “for every single person without exception in the world,” that would mean that everyone’s sins would be removed. God would be favorable toward every single human being. We might wish that were the case. Indeed, it would be nice to think that all human beings will be saved. But that’s not what the Bible says. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Ephesians 5:6 says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” God’s wrath will come upon those who reject Jesus. But if Jesus were the propitiation for all the sins of every single person in the world, no one would face God’s wrath.

So, what does John mean? I think he means that Jesus is the only savior. He is not just the savior for first-century Christians living near Ephesus. He is the world’s only savior. There is no one else who can make God favorable toward you and forgive you for ignoring him, rebelling against him, rejecting his word, and doing what is wrong. There is no one else who will plead your case before God. No pastor or priest on earth can do that. No politician can. No celebrity or teacher or professor or employer is qualified to do that. The only one God the Father will listen to without fail is his Son Jesus, the perfect, righteous, great high priest. And Jesus only prays for his disciples. In John 17:9, Jesus told the Father, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” In short, there is no other savior, and to be reconciled to God, you need to come to Jesus and have a right relationship with him. As much as we would love everyone to be saved, that is not going to happen. Many people simply don’t want to have a relationship with the true God. They want to have a god of their own design, a god they can create and manipulate and control.

But in the end, Jesus will save people of all kinds throughout the world. Revelation 5:9 says to Jesus, “you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Jesus died for the sins of his people. The free offer of the gospel should be made to all people, but not all will put their trust in Jesus and follow him.

Obviously, if this is true, then having a relationship with Jesus is of the utmost importance. How do we know that we are united to Jesus? How do we know that we are reconciled to the Father on the basis of Jesus’ works? Look at verses 3–6 again:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

One way that we can know that we know Jesus is if we keep his commandments. If we say we know Jesus but we don’t do what he says, we’re liars. But if we keep his word, we can know that we are “in Christ.” If we’re united to Jesus, we should live like he did.

To clarify things a bit, the commandments of Jesus are not only his “red-letter words,” but also the words he delivered through his apostles (see 2 Pet. 3:2). Jesus spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the apostles wrote Scripture in the power of that same Spirit, so we shouldn’t drive a wedge between the two. Paul’s commands are ultimately Jesus’ commands. So are John’s. Generally, we can say that all of these commands can be summed up in loving God and loving others, though we must be careful to pay attention to the specifics of the ethical principles that run through the whole Bible, in particular the commands found in the New Testament.

Does this mean that only those who obey all Jesus’ commands all the time belong to Jesus? Well, John has already told us that everyone has a sin issue, and he assumes that we will sin and therefore continue to need our advocate, Jesus. So, he can’t mean that we must perfectly obey Jesus’ commandments in order to be united to him. He didn’t write, “Little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. For if you sin just once, you will be kicked out of God’s family.”

What John must mean is that true Christians are generally becoming more and more obedient to Jesus. We can’t say we’re Christians and then ignore Jesus and his apostles. People do that, of course, but they’re liars. The truth is not in them. If we know Jesus, we will listen to his word and do what he says. We may not obey perfectly, all the time, but there will be evidence that we obey.

Some of Jesus’ own words, found in John’s Gospel, shed light on this reality. In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the “good shepherd,” and he calls his people his “sheep.” He says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). Then, later, he says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Those who belong to Jesus’ flock pay attention to what he says, and then they act.

Later, also in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that those who love him obey him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). What about the one who doesn’t keep Jesus’ words? “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24).

Those who are united to Jesus trust him, follow him, and love him, even if they do so imperfectly. There is no such thing, according to the Bible, as a person who is reconciled to God apart from Jesus. There is no such thing as a Christian who is not a follower of Jesus. There is no such thing as an obedient Christian who doesn’t love Jesus, or someone who loves Jesus but doesn’t obey him.

We do what Jesus says not because we’re trying to earn something from him. We obey because we love him. We trust our shepherd. We trust that his commandments are for our good. And so, we listen. We love Jesus because he first loved us and gave himself for us. We obey not only out of love, but also out of gratitude. In Christian ethics, motivation matters. Those who obey God trying to gain something from him don’t understand the gospel.

What this means is that true Christians continue to grow in obedience. We’ll never be perfect in this life, but we should more and more follow the example of Jesus’ obedience to the Father. Jesus knew Scripture, and so should we. Jesus prayed to the Father, and so should we. Jesus loved others and had compassion on those who were needy, and so should we. But, of course, Jesus is the God-man, completely perfect. We won’t be perfected until we’re with Jesus, living in a new creation. But we should aspire to grow.

John Newton, a former slave trader and the author of “Amazing Grace,” captured this well when he said, “I am not what I ought to be; but I am not what I once was. And it is by the grace of God that I am what I am.”[6] If we’re honest, we must admit that we’re not yet what we ought to be. But if we’re Christians, we should be able to look back at our lives and say, “By the grace of God, I am not what I once was.”

If you are a Christian, start following Jesus. Start with the basics. Read the Bible regularly. Pray regularly. Meet with Christians regularly. Be part of a local church where you serve and are served by others. As you read the Bible and grow in your understanding, live out what you read. Start ordering your home according to Scripture. Husbands, you are the head of your home and should love your wives. Wives, honor and respect your husbands. Parents, raise your children with discipline and instruct them in the things of the Lord. Children, obey and honor your parents. Employees, work hard as if you’re working for God. Be honest. Don’t steal. Don’t covet. Be faithful to your God and your spouse (if you have one). If you’re not married, don’t have sexual contact with others. Love other people. Pay attention to the poor and needy around you. Be generous. Be careful what comes into your eyes and ears. Be careful about what comes out of your mouth.

These are all very basic things, but they’re all important. And we should do these things because they are good for us, because they’re pleasing to God, and because we love him. If you’re a Christian, you need to obey Jesus.

Now, if you’re here today and you’re not following Jesus this way, what are you waiting for? I promise you that there is no ultimate hope outside of Jesus. There is no relationship with God outside of Jesus. There is no deliverance from death and despair outside of Jesus. He is our only hope. If you want to know more about what it means to follow Jesus, I would love to talk to you.

One last word: All that talk of God’s wrath, and of sacrifices, may seem odd to you. I understand. However, that shows that God is serious about justice. God cares more about justice than we do. And living our lives for anything other than God is injustice. Living our lives for something or someone else actually harms us and it destroys God’s world. So, God is right to care about justice.

I want to close with these wonderful words by a theologian named David Jackman:

[God’s] wrath is neither an emotion nor a petulant fit of temper, but the settled conviction of righteousness in action to destroy both sin and the sinner. The glory of the gospel is that we have an advocate who pleads for mercy on the ground of his own righteous action when he died the death that we deserve to die. Once the penalty has been paid, there cannot be any further demand for the sinner to be punished. God has himself met our debt. He came in person to do so. The cross is not the Father punishing an innocent third party, the Son, for our sins. It is God taking to himself, in the person of the Son, all the punishment that his wrath justly demands, quenching its sword, satisfying its penalty and thus atoning for our sins.[7]

 Notes

  1. H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy: His Own Selection of His Choicest Writings (New York: Vintage, 1982), 624.
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  3. Mark Jones, Knowing Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 179.
  4. Robert A. Peterson, Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 85. Propitiation is mentioned also in Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; and 1 John 4:10.
  5. See also Lev. 1:9; 2:1–2; 3:3, 5; 4:29, 31.
  6. Quoted in David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters: Living in the Love of God, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 43.
  7. David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters: Living in the Love of God, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 46–47.

 

We Ought to Support People Like These (3 John)

Pastor Brian Watson preaches a message on 3 John, which talks about the importance of supporting gospel ministry, particularly missionaries. Why is supporting this ministry good and hindering it evil? Because the gospel is the best news, a priceless treasure.

If Our Heart Does Not Condemn Us (1 John 3:19-24)

Pastor Brian Watson preaches a message on 1 John 3:19-24. How do we know we “of the truth”? How can we have confidence that we are God’s people and that God will hear our prayers? What if the desires and motivations of our hearts condemn us? What then? Listen to find out what John says about our hearts and about the God who is greater than our hearts.

A Clear Conscience (Acts 23:12-24:27)

Pastor Brian preaches a message titled, “A Clear Conscience.” The message is an exposition of Acts 23:12-24:27, in which Paul is on trial, falsely accused. Pastor Brian explores the gospel, accusations, hostility towards Christians, and how we can have a clear conscience.