Sunday, May 19, 2019

I Can Only Imagine

(Mark 9:1-8, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, May 19, 2019)

[1] And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

[2] And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, [3] and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. [4] And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. [5] And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” [6] For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. [7] And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” [8] And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

The Promise

In Mark 8:38, we read of Jesus' promise that he would come again “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The very next verse (9:1) contains a smaller promise that is connected to the bigger one. “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

What was the meaning of this second promise? “Some” (not all) would “see” a glimpse of the larger whole of a glorious new world. In all three gospels that contain the transfiguration of Jesus, that astounding event immediately follows Christ's little promise that some of his disciples would see the kingdom of God in its glory and power before they died. Apparently we are supposed to see the verses that follow in each case as the fulfillment of what he told his friends.

The Power

What was the actual event of the Transfiguration like? Well, we can only imagine! It was the opening of a door between heaven and earth. Jesus set up this striking encounter with the world to come. He brought three people from earth (Peter, James, and John) and two from heaven (Elijah and Moses) to “a high mountain.”

Then “he (Jesus) was transfigured before them.” His clothes “became radiant, intensely white.” Peter, as the likely voice behind Mark's gospel, actually saw this take place, and it was not something of this world. Mark writes that Jesus' clothes had a brightness that “no one on earth” could achieve with the strongest bleach. The point is that this shining glory was not of this creation, but from heaven.

The next thing that we notice is that this experience was NOT overwhelming to the visitors from heaven, but it was deeply disorienting for the friends from the earth, except of course Jesus. Those who had heavenly experience were able to engage in a calm conversation—“they were talking with Jesus.” Peter, on the other hand, says something odd that is in its own way revealing: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter understood that Jesus and his friends from heaven were to be served, and that was the only thing he could think to say about why it was good that he and his companions from Galilee were there. Mark writes what we understand from just reading the account. Peter “did not know what to say.” Why? “They were terrified.”

The power of heaven had a central focus—not the man of the Law, Moses, nor the ancient prophet, Elijah, but only Jesus.

We think about what it would be like to have the wall between heaven and earth breached. We return to these words: “I can only imagine.” Have you heard the moving song with that title? It was written by a man who had a troubled relationship with an abusive dad. His father was eventually restored by the Lord. Some time after this dramatic change, the dad died of cancer, and the son wrote the song with these words:

I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk, by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by You glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine when that day comes
When I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine when all I would do is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by You glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine
The Transfiguration was a glimpse into what we can only imagine.

The Pronouncement

We're not done with the passage. “A cloud overshadowed them.” This was the same cloud that Moses knew in the wilderness as a pillar by day and a fire by night. It was the shining from within cloud of God's presence.

Mark 9:7 contains essential direction that comes out of that cloud for Peter, James, and John, the frightened men from the earth, and for us as well along with all those today who find themselves confused and in pain.

A voice within the cloud, which must be the Father himself, tells us the point for all who would hear: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Jesus has a Father. So do you.

What was the purpose of the Transfiguration of the Messiah? It was a divine witness to the heavenly status of Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father. It was also a call to all who would follow Jesus to listen to him. In this unusual experience that Peter and John wrote about again (See 2 Peter 1:16-18 and 1 John 1:1-4), Jesus gave his closest disciples a glimpse of the glory to come. The exaltation of Jesus was visible and clearly overwhelming. What did the Father say? “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

What does it mean to listen to Jesus? More than we can say now, but consider the Lord's Prayer: 1. There is a Creator/creature distinction. 2. We are to call out to God in worship, to seek the honor of his Name and the wonder of his kingdom, doing his will. 3. We need to trust him for every need, forgive others, and turn away from evil. 4. if you believe 9:1-8, believe also the bigger promise of 8:38. Jesus is coming again in glory.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 109 – An Object of Scorn

New Testament Reading—James 3:2-12 A Perfect Man

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Turning Point

The Christ and His Followers
(Mark 8:27-38, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, May 12, 2019)

[27] And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” [28] And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” [29] And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” [30] And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

[31] And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. [32] And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. [33] But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

[34] And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. [36] For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? [37] For what can a man give in return for his soul? [38] For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

You are the Christ.”

The question that consumed the first half of Mark's gospel was simple: “Who is this man?” Jesus himself brought this matter to a conclusion by asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Their answer showed variety. John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. All of those suggestions had this in common: Jesus had come from the land of the departed. The people had to believe that this miracle worker was not merely a man from Nazareth.

Jesus probed with a more direct question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered. “You are the Christ.” What could this mean? Where had they picked up their understanding of a coming anointed one? Surely some of their thoughts came from the Hebrew Bible, but not all of them. One way to summarize their expectation is that they made errors of omission. They did not pay attention to all that God had revealed about the coming Messiah. They expected only the glory part that we associate with the second coming and not the suffering part that is so important to our salvation. (Psalm 22:1).

Perhaps for this reason, Jesus “strictly charged them to tell no one about him.” They had much to learn about “the Christ” before they could be his ambassadors.

The Son must suffer

Jesus immediately “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things.” This suffering would include rejection by the religious authorities, but would extend far beyond that. He would “be killed.” He went on to prophesy that just three days after his death he would “rise again.” Just as they did not understand the truth about “the Christ,” they also did not understand from the Hebrew Bible the hints that he would rise again after his death. See Psalm 16, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53.

All Peter heard was the suffering and death. He “took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him.” That did not last long. Jesus turned around, saw his disciples, and he publicly “rebuked Peter” in full view of the rest. This was not payback or unnecessary shaming. It was the teaching that the disciples needed to see: the great importance of the suffering of Jesus for the completion of his Messianic mission.

Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The impulse of Peter to dissuade our Lord from the cross was forever associated with Satan, the one who Jesus says in John 10:10 “comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.” The sufferings of Jesus are not for death, but for life. As Jesus said in the rest of John 10:10-11, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Peter and the disciples needed to learn that, or they would be agents of Satan and the anti-kingdom. Anyone attempting to making the life of Jesus completely painless would be working against the master and not for him.

Follow me

Not only that, disciples of Jesus throughout the ages needed to know that their lives would also not be painless. For this instruction, Jesus called the larger crowd to himself. Following Jesus would involve a “cross” for them as well. At this moment that would have been incomprehensible. The cross had not yet happened. But the Lord would lay the groundwork for later learning so that when he died and rise again, they would remember what he had said.

Again, it should seem obvious that those who did not understand that the Christ was called to suffer and die and did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead certainly could not have comprehended the challenging life that they were embarking on as followers of their king. They could not save their own lives by either protecting Jesus when he was in trouble or rejecting Jesus when faith seemed unpopular.

There was one more thing that they did not yet see: the gospel. This “good news” involved the connection between the one suffering and victorious Christ and ALL his suffering and victorious followers. See 2 Corinthians 5:21. They would soon have to potentially give up their own lives for their friend and leader Jesus, but also for his message—the gospel. Everything else of value in this fading world would be as nothing compared to the riches of this message for which they would very soon be ambassadors. They were to be entrusted with proclaiming soul-saving truths that would lead to a far greater victory for Jesus than they could ever have fathomed.

Jesus is the Messiah, but what does that actually mean? The Lord's disciples did not understand that the Christ had to suffer. Even more, the crowds that followed Jesus needed to learn that they too would face many trials if they lived as faithful worshipers. As it turns out, Christianity was never supposed to be painless, especially for Jesus.

The Church: How do we live today knowing that Jesus is Lord? (1 Cor. 16)

The kingdom is God's and we are his ambassadors. We must proclaim the whole gospel and acknowledge the whole church as the one body of Christ. We do not have the brilliance to decide on a new message. 1. Preach the gospel. 2. Reject self-righteousness.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 108 – With God

New Testament Reading—James 3:1 Teachers

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Another Touch from Jesus

He Saw Everything Clearly
(Mark 8:22-26, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, May 5, 2019)

[22] And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. [23] And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” [24] And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” [25] Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. [26] And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

Some people” and “a blind man”

Before we immediately begin with speculations about what this unusual passage means, which is not an easy question, we should look at what it actually says. Let's begin with the people involved. Verse 22 talks about two small groups and then focuses on Jesus and the blind man. The original Greek is mildly confusing: “And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought to him a blind man.” The first they is the disciples with Jesus. The second they is either some local people in Bethsaida or the disciples again. Either way, “they” bring the blind man to Jesus believing that he can help. The ESV and many other English bibles translate the second “they” with the words “some people.” That's fine.

It is important for us to to see the relative position of these two groups. The man and his friends and neighbors are desperate. They are unable. Jesus is able. That is why the group with the blind man comes begging. They wanted Jesus to touch him because they had some confidence that his touch the conduit that would transfer his ability to the target of the blind man's need.

The unusual details of the healing

Next let's explore some of the unusual details in this passage, found only in Mark's gospel. First, Jesus “led him out of the village.” Second, in addition to laying his hands on him, he first “spit on his eyes.” (The Greek word is “ptusas” which sounds like what it means.) Third, he inquired about the progress of the healing, saying, “Do you see anything?” Fourth, the report of the blind man does not sound like a complete success. “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” This is perhaps the most unusual detail. Fifth, “Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again.” Sixth, this time we receive the report that we might have expected with the first touch. “He opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” Seventh, Jesus tells the man to go home, specifically instructing him, “Do not even enter the village.”

Of course, all of these details are surprising to those who don't know Jesus. Five or six of the seven are not that shocking if you are familiar with the other healings in the New Testament. Number four is what makes this passage special. How is it that Jesus gives a first touch to the blind man, and the report of this needy person does not sound like a complete success? What are we to make of the Son of God doing a two-stage healing?

The resurrection kingdom—A work in progress

Now on to the more difficult question: What is the use of this passage for the church today? It would not surprise me to hear of an inquirer or a skeptic tripping up on any of the miracles of Jesus or the multiple accounts of his resurrection appearances. This unusual miracle might be a real stumbling block. If Jesus is who the Bible says he is—Jehovah God in the flesh, how could he fail to completely heal on his first try?

As believers we know that this apparent failure is not because of divine inability. The Son is every bit as divine as the Father and the Holy Spirit. The God of creation and providence, salvation, and the new heavens and earth does not need two tries to do anything. What then is his purpose in accomplishing something in more than one stage?

First we should observe that the answer we seek is not explicitly given to us in the Bible. We should therefore be modest in our theories.

Second, if we look for help in the immediate context we will not be disappointed. In the verses from last week you may remember our Lord's question to his disciples before and after his review of the math facts from the two bread multiplications: “Do you not yet understand?” Notice these specific words of Jesus from Mark 8:18, “Having eyes do you not see?” He was not talking about their inability to see bread with their physical eyes, but about their inability to “see” the spiritual reality of the Father's compassion and the gift of the Son as the bread of life. Now look also at the passage that follows in 8:27. It shows two implied stages in Peter's growth in seeing Jesus. First the apostle sees that Jesus is the Christ, yet he does not see what it all means. He has not had the sanctifying touch that would enable him to embrace the hidden Old Testament truth that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” That would require at least a second touch. Embracing the full mission to the Gentiles would take him years to understand. The truth is that the full resurrection-life, new Peter was a work in progress, and that should not surprise any of us.

Third, we can look at the larger context of the whole Bible to support what Mark (and Peter) is saying about spiritual vision by including this miracle. The Old Testament prepared God's people for the lifting of the veil that prevented them from seeing God. In the New Testament we see the love of God in the face of Jesus. Time prohibits a fuller exploration now, but when Jesus died, a veil was torn from top to bottom. Time to see.

Finally, far from stumbling over a two-stage healing, we rejoice in the obvious truth that each of us is a resurrection work in progress. Our bodies are regularly sending us messages that we need a second touch, but isn't this also true of our souls and of our relationships with each other? For the moment, we must admit with the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

In friendship, family, church, and in marriage, we trust that our “faith working through love” journey is a complex story of something that is partial now that will one day be complete. Now, back to the miracle in Mark 8 for an important point for all of us to see: The blind man was unable and Jesus was supremely able. That's why they brought him to Jesus. The sight of his eyes was a gift. So is the sight of our souls. We are unable to love as Christ loved in our own strength or in the wisdom of “the village” of a dying world. In the words of 1 Corinthians 12:31, love is a heavenly gift to be “earnestly desired.” Let's all be part of the “they” who feel the inability of our own blindness, and who bring one another to the heavenly husband who gives gifts to his bride.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 107 – Consider the steadfast love of the Lord

New Testament Reading—James 2:14-26 The evidence of living faith

Friday, April 26, 2019

A far better leaven...

Good Religion
(Mark 8:1-21, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, April 28, 2019)

[1] In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, [2] “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. [3] And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” [4] And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” [5] And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” [6] And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. [7] And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. [8] And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. [9] And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. [10] And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

[11] The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. [12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” [13] And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

[14] Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. [15] And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” [16] And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. [17] And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? [18] Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? [19] When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” [20] “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” [21] And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

A Second Bread Miracle

When Peter preached about Jesus, and Mark reportedly translated his words and eventually wrote them down in what we have as Mark's gospel, the story of a bread miracle to feed crowds is told twice. While some of the details vary, the point seems to be the same, and Jesus indicates that his disciples should be able to understand it. In John 6 we have more of the explanation given to us—and it is very good religion.

Jesus is the bread of life who comes down from heaven to give life to the world.

It is not his intention that the church only feed people with physical bread, but that we should bring manna from heaven for the soul as we preach the word throughout the earth. All this comes from the creator, who brings new life to hungry souls. Jesus is the bread of life. He brings us a relationship with God that will never end.

Pharisees Still Seek a Sign

In contrast to the life that Jesus brings, there is much bad religion of many different varieties as mankind has always tried to glorify himself by building our own stairway to heaven.

One group among many that did this were the Pharisees. They had man-made traditions that they used to overthrow the commands of God and also to reject the grace of the Almighty through Jesus. They pursued righteousness as if it were by there own works rather than by the gift of Yahweh. Notice Paul's words on this from Romans 9:30-33:

[30] What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; [31] but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. [32] Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, [33] as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The Pharisees came and “began to argue” with him, that is they came to dispute with him, and the topic that they chose was that they were seeking “a sign from heaven” as a “test.” After all the Lord had done, this was an amazing demand. Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit” from the depth of his being regarding this provocation. His literal answer to them does not translate well for us: “If a sign will be given.” It sounds like something we might turn into a frustrated question, or perhaps words spoken under one's breath. In their culture it was a way of saying “no” as in “no sign will be given to this generation.”

The Miracle of Understanding Jesus

Jesus warned his disciples about the bad religion of the Pharisees, but he also spoke of another spreading “leaven,” the way of those following Herod. There was another group of Jews who were called the Herodians. We read about them in Mark 3:6 and Mark 12:13. We do not know for sure what this party was about, but we have to believe that their association with the Herod family indicated that they had their hope in their connection to the powers of this world. Pharisees: Man's laws, Herodians: Man's power.

Instead of understanding Jesus' warning to them, the disciples thought that Jesus was talking about bread, as if he had some problem with the lack of bread since they had forgotten to bring bread. Given the amazing miracles that our Lord had accomplished in supplying food for the hungry, it is surprising that they thought that he was concerned about the lack of bread.

Jesus reviews his recent miracles concerning the multiplication of bread. Before and after this recounting of the facts, he highlights this important question: “Do you not yet understand?”

What was the point of all the signs that Jesus did during his earthly ministry? What is the meaning of answered prayers in our midst today? Our Lord has life. This can be externally observed and also internally received and understood. As Christians it is our joy to experience the wonder of believing and following the Word of the Lord.

But what was it that they should have seen, heard, and remembered from the previous bread miracles in particular? We know the answer to that question because of John 6, where Jesus himself teaches the theology behind the bread. (See John 6:32-35, 48-51.)

A far better leaven than the Pharisees and Herodians could offer: True law, grace, and power:
1. Our Father Almighty has given his children the true bread from heaven.
2. Jesus is the bread of life and the source of the fullness of eternal life for his children.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 106 – Grace that is greater than all our sin

New Testament Reading—James 2:1-13 Mercy triumphs over judgment

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Meaning and Purpose for the 21st Century Church

Go Large, Go God, Go Resurrection!
(Matthew 28, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, April 21, 2019)

[1] Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. [2] And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. [3] His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. [4] And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. [5] But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. [6] He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. [7] Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” [8] So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. [9] And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. [10] Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

[11] While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. [12] And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers [13] and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ [14] And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” [15] So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

[16] Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. [17] And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. [18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go to Galilee? Why not Jerusalem? Why not Rome?

The first section of Matthew 28 gives us the facts of an angel visitation, an empty tomb, and a sudden meeting of the resurrected Christ himself.

Perhaps in the shock of the plain facts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because of our familiarity with what the Bible says about this important event, we might easily miss how understated this all is. Even the announcement of the birth of Christ to shepherds thirty years earlier was much more glorious. We certainly could have envisioned a far more spectacular beginning to the resurrection era. Lots of important people, a glorious crowd of angels and people from heaven, combined with great special effects, all in a very prominent and famous location could easily be imagined. Instead we have a few overwhelmed women, some guards that were there to prevent anything like this from ever happening, and a few disciples that will soon hear the news and doubt the report that will come to them.

Notice just one detail repeated twice here, first by the angels and then from Jesus. It is an instruction about the location of a future meeting. The angel said, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Then Jesus repeated this detail. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Why Galilee? Why not Jerusalem? Why not Rome? Why not all over the world at once like the second coming of the Lord? Instead Jesus sends his disciples back to their humble home region. All of this adds up to a clearly victorious but surprisingly small victory, at least at first. They are to be a part of this modest start. “Go home. That's where we are going to talk some more.” That's worth thinking about...

Small Minds and Big Lies

How to react? The second paragraph gives us the response of Jesus' enemies to the crisis of the events presented above. It sounds all too familiar. Damage control. The powers that be are convinced that this will all blow over and soon amount to nothing.

They met together to come up with a plan. It was not a very good one. The guards have to lie about sleeping when they were supposed to be doing their duty. Then they have to report on something that happened while they were sleeping. There was money added to the mix to keep everybody quiet who really knew better. It seems obvious that the assembly of religious leaders actually thought that this would work, and that in a few days the whole matter would be forgotten. If somehow the governor heard about anything, they promised to take care of it without any great difficulty. Sound OK?

Obviously this did not work. In a few days over 500 people would see Jesus at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). More than that, in just a few weeks, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on the first gathering of the church, and a centuries-long adventure would begin with very plain people who would go to very ordinary places and live out flawed lives of faith, hope, and love in the midst of ridicule and persecution. A few years later, Herod Agrippa would be very aware of Christianity (Acts 26:26), and the message of the gospel would have an empire-changing impact on Rome and all her territories (Acts 18:2) and the emperor Claudius would command “all the Jews to leave Rome.”

The Large Commission

All of this happened with an understated start on the part of heaven's forces and an assumption by the Lord's foes that they could wait out these reports of resurrection. With such a small and slow start, the commission that Jesus gives his disciples is shockingly large in four ways: 1. The Large Power and Authority of Jesus, 2. The Large Geography of the Divine Command, 3. The Large Life of Total Obedience, 4. The Large Presence of Immanuel – God with us.

God's plans for a new resurrection life are massive. Jesus has all power and authority in making and ruling a renewed, immortal world and in bringing us into that eternal kingdom. He looks for his ambassadors to make disciples from all nations, despite the hatred and resistance that may come from those who persecute the church. The Messiah's followers are instructed to stretch forward in their communal life of imitating our Savior in love and holiness. In the fulfillment of his glorious decrees, the resurrected Jesus extends to us the astounding assurance that he will be with us always, even “to the end of the age.”

The second paragraph of Matthew 28 is what the great celebrity institutions of this passing world offer people who are searching for a purpose for their lives. Keep your head down and your mouth shut, and here's some money for your troubles.

The final paragraph of Matthew's gospel is what God has for us. Identity. Meaning. An Eternal Purpose. All kinds of useful kingdom work for every imaginable type of person. And with all this the benediction of our Resurrection King. Thanks be to God!

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 105 – An Inheritance

New Testament Reading—1 Corinthians 15:58 Labors in the Lord Not in Vain

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Victory Eternal

The only workable offering for our guilt
(Isaiah 53:10-12, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, April 14, 2019)

[10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
[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 will of the Lord – The Father and the Son

We often give much attention to the will of an individual human being, and for good reason. The Lord has made us to be creatures that make important decisions and take significant actions that can have far-reaching consequences. Yet what about the will of the Lord who made us? What is the purpose of the Almighty? Should we not be interested in his plans, since God's will must be freer than any creature's?

Isaiah ends his ancient servant songs that speak so clearly about a suffering savior with a shocking revelation regarding the delight of the Lord. Verse 10 of our passage tells us several significant truths regarding God's plan for his son. 1. It was the desire of the Father to crush his beloved Son and put him to grief. Who can fathom this? 2. The underlying goal of such horrific sadness was that the life of the Son of God would be a guilt offering (Lev. 5:15-16), not for his own sin, but for the sin of others. 3. Having accomplished that payment through his death, God would “prolong his days” thus giving life again to his Son. 4. The Son would have “offspring” that he would “see.” 5. He would continue as an agent of the delight of God which would “prosper in his hand.”

Consider the breadth of these five statements. God intentionally gave his Son to die and then to live again, with the plan that Jesus would be our perfect eternal ruler.

The victory of the servant

These central truths are amplified in the verse that follows. Jesus' life was one of “anguish,” yet he would “see” the fruit of his suffering “and be satisfied.” He would make “many” to be “accounted righteous.” This would go far beyond the truth that “he shall bear their iniquities.” The hopelessly guilty would receive the blessings of the one amazingly holy substitute.

In short, on the cross, the one who is called by God “my servant,” would take our hell upon himself, and grant us title to his heaven. He would do all this without being utterly consumed by the awful enterprise. His victory would be so complete that he would wrestle death to the ground and throw it in the place of eternal destruction as a defeated adversary. In his resurrection he would give the church and the world proof that he had the “power of an indestructible life.” (Hebrews 7:16)

The benefit to many transgressors

Who would be considering and receiving all of this? The Father, who according to Psalm 22:1, would forsake the Son for us, but not forever. The Father, who together with the Son and the Spirit, has a perfect delight beyond the imperfect desires of humanity.

The Father would judge the work of Christ rightly, and would distribute the spoils of the war of wars among all those who would call upon Jesus as Lord and own him as the resurrection king. Christ was obedient, even to the point of the cross. He “poured out his soul to death.” He was numbered with us, “the transgressors,” so that he could carry away our guilt and shame as far as the east is from the west. Even to this day, “he makes intercession for the transgressors,” and he is heard. Through him we know God's love.

Application: The place for glimpses of glory as we wait for the perfect glory. Let's back up before the cross and the resurrection to Palm Sunday anticipated and enjoyed.
[Luke 13:31] At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” [32] And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. [33] Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ [34] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! [35] Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

[Luke 19:37] As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, [38] saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” [39] And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” [40] He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Jesus knew he was the suffering servant. He knew about the pain, and he knew about the victory. He knew about Jerusalem and her sin, and he knew the blessings his disciples would shout at him as he entered the city. It was a small taste of victory. Yet he also knew Isaiah 53, and he faced it with great courage, and with true knowledge of what he was doing and the much bigger ultimate victory. Imagine these words in his heart:
It is the will of my Father to crush Me; he will put me to grief; when my soul makes an offering for guilt, I shall see my offspring; he shall prolong my days; the will of my Father shall prosper in my hand. Out of the anguish of my soul I shall see and be satisfied; by my own knowledge, I, the righteous one, the servant, shall make many to be accounted righteous, and I shall bear their iniquities. Therefore my Father will divide my victory portion with the many, and I will divide the spoil with the strong, because I pour out my soul to death, and I am numbered with the transgressors; and I bear the sin of many, and will forever make intercession for the transgressors.”

The Lord had a costly plan for eternity. Jesus had that plan on his mind and so should we. When he was given a taste of glory he received it. He did not reject the praise of Palm Sunday, nor was he seduced by it into thinking that that great moment would change His Father's will for the coming Friday. He was living for the resurrection morning ahead and for the great coming age of glory that no man can ever take away.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 104 – Creation, providence, and the eternal kingdom

New Testament Reading—1 Corinthians 15:56-57 The victory