Well, last week the blog was just not happening. I had a sick child and other things to focus on, so I will try to provide some reflections and thoughts this week, maybe I might even shoot for three posts just to make-up some work. Oh…and how about them Eagles! Congrats to all the well-tested and long awaiting Eagles’s fans. Enjoy this one! (I hope Philly is still there…awaiting reports…)
In view of my sermon topic this Sunday, we looked at Romans 4 for those not present at GracePointe church this past Sunday, this passage in Hebrews 2 speaks to the same notions that Romans 3:21-31 and Romans 4 address. First, Jesus Christ is the solution to the sin problem that has enslaved humanity from the earliest time. Second, Jesus’ death is a special fulfillment of the biblical story and releases humanity from that curse of sin. Third, In the Hebrews passage there is great care in selecting the language to point us to the human-ness shared by Jesus; He was one of us, able to accomplish the victory over death by the power of God and providing hope that we too might “run the race with perseverance” and “gain the prize.”
Here is Hebrews 2 (NLT) for you consideration and reflection today:
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
I think about what it means to be a “descendent of Abraham” and how we read the story of the Old Testament as our story as New Testament Christians. As I have said before, the death of Jesus is hard to make sense of unless it is placed in the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel and their constant struggle of being an “unholy people in relationship with a holy God.”
The main points of this reflection from Hebrews 2 are (1) that Jesus Christ served as the “propitiation” for our sins, that is that he stood in the place of humanity’s sin and took the punishment upon himself. Jesus is our stand-in, our sacrificial lamb…behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Through Christ we are free from the exploitation of sin…but not the struggle, testing, and temptation of a world still waiting for the victory of God to come in full. Which then points us to verse 18, in which we (2) realize that Jesus Christ is not simply the Lamb that takes away sin, but the one who sympathizes and relates to the human struggle. In so doing, Jesus can help us in our times of struggle and testing. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” The Hebrews writer encourages us to enter that rest of Jesus Christ…to pursue it in the daily grind. Today, may we choose to enter the rest of Jesus, who paid our sin-debt and provides help to the weary. Amen.
There has been a lot written about Paul’s words to the church in Rome as he summarizes the history of the human race. While some thinkers see this scripture as pertaining solely to Gentile culture, others see it more broadly as the way all cultures have failed to recognize God, the creator of the world and the judge of all unrighteousness, and that is the position I find myself prone to take. The reason for a more broad approach is because I think a reader of the Old Testament can easily see that idolatry and dehumanization was just as prevalent in Israel as it was in the surrounding “pagan” kingdoms. In fact, Old Testament scholars point out that at any given time in the history of Israel, monotheistic loyalty to Yahweh was never fully established, and the chasing after other gods was a reality present throughout the history of the wilderness wanderings, the time of the Judges, and the monarchy…not to mention a cited reason for the fall of Israel and then Judah, Northern and Southern kingdoms, once divided.
So, Paul addresses the scene that has played out amongst all nations; and particularly, the downward spiral from the intended and godly purpose of humanity to what we have made of ourselves. Of particular interest to us today is the notion of natural and unnatural relationships cited in this text which leads us to a discussion of human sexuality, sexual freedom, and homosexuality. Here is the text of Romans from the NLT:
Romans 1:24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Needless to say, this text is extremely controversial and has been used to condemn homosexuals, to contrast the type of homosexuality practiced today from ancient practices, and to particularly condemn those who switch back and forth from heterosexual practices to homosexual practices. Yet, what we need to do when studying a text like this is to remember that Paul was addressing the particular situation in Rome, and after extracting the principles and lessons that he wanted to communicate there, we can properly move from the ancient world into ours in an effort to understand what this text means in our contemporary world.
An aspect of this text I want to point out is that Paul is not speaking of individual choices nor individual behaviors nor individual morality. Paul is speaking about a culture of idolatry in humanity at large. This is to say that Paul is not interested in case study or a small scale sample, he has seized on the human condition of worshipping the wrong things and being deceived to think that that worship of lesser beings would bring about the same ends as the worship of God.
For Paul, this worship of lesser things has resulted in a damaged relationship to God, each other, and the creation as a whole. Particularly, Paul cites the sexual practices that were currently happening in Roman pagan culture as a direct result of inaccurate worship. Humanity has “traded the truth of God for a lie” and in so doing they have treated each other’s bodies as objects to be explored and exploited. This argument is “that the existence of homosexual practice in a culture is a sign that that culture as a whole has been worshipping idols and that its God-given male-and-female order is being fractured as a result.” (NT Wright, Romans, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.435)
While it is evident that Paul regards homosexual practice as a dangerous distortion of God’s intentions for sex and sexuality, and while we might agree or disagree with Paul given what we have studied about human sexuality and psychology; what we cannot do is simply sidestep this passage when it comes to Christian ethics and what it says about culture and accepted practices of sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual to be inclusive, in any given culture. However, if we are going to take the citation of homosexuality seriously in the passage above, then we must also head the warning against innate moral superiority that is coming in the next section of scripture starting in Romans 2. That is to say, while some participate in dehumanizing behaviors through “shameful desires of the heart,” others stand aloof to these practices as if they are outside the widespread problem of sin…as if only “those” people sin and “we” do not. Paul finds this to be complete nonsense and a type of unrighteousness that is just as damaging to the human condition. (So, Paul would categorize any attempt to condemn and hurt a homosexual for being such alongside the very practice of homosexuality—“falling short of God’s glory”)
A phrase that gets special attention is at the end of verse 27, “They suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.” While some commentators will point to modern sexually transmitted diseases or even make mention of AIDS in this context, I don’t think Paul had any specific disease in mind. Paul is making reference to the fact that the end of sin is DEATH. I think that becomes clear in the following paragraph and even later in Romans where Paul would assert that sin pays you in death…(“the wages of sin is death” - Romans 6:23). I think it is also telling that Paul, along with other Jewish thinkers would see DEATH as a separation and isolation from God, from each other, and from creation (or the natural world) and less of an event at the end of a life. So, in the second paragraph of our text above, we see God hand them over yet again, showing a growing separation between God and humanity. We see examples of relationships being torn apart in the actions associated with… sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip…and even the “disobeying of parents.” Again, we see this as a result of idolatry, moving to dehumanizing behaviors that then play out in our relationships… As it pertains to the natural world and creation, Paul would argue that men were made to naturally fit with women and that women were designed by God to naturally fit with men. And therefore, what we have is, “DEATH” and the process of dying that started when humanity decided to not worship God or even give him thanks, and they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused…
I want to end with some questions for us to ponder:
Jesus is portrayed in the Bible as our older brother…that is the one who goes before us to show us the way home to the Father. Whenever we are described in the Bible as “children” we are the children of God and never the children of Jesus. Those of us who are not Jewish, and are in fact Gentiles, are described as adopted children, or chosen children, of God.
Listen to the words of Romans 8:
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Again, hear the words of 1 Corinthians 15 which show the relationship between the work of Jesus the Son and the ultimate victory of God the Father:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
I think the Bible displays Jesus as a peer, one of us…even being from God and being a part of God…but God is so high and holy and other that it is difficult to view God as the one who has chosen to be among us. Interestingly enough, whether it is God or Jesus who is among us, both have consequences. When God is among us, the holy one in our midst, then sin must be dealt with and we must be worthy to receive such a presence. When Jesus walked among us, we have a decision to make in regard to his presence—namely, is he the one sent form God like he claimed to be?
To be in God’s family is to make God your Father and to make Jesus your elder brother who shows you an example by which to live and die. To live the life of Jesus is to live in the family of God, to be connected to the church, and to participate in the divine mission empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is portrayed as Lord and Messiah, the Christ, and the one who ultimately brings the world back to God…but it is the Father who stands alone, the one Jesus serves, and in the end it is God the Father who fulfills promises and brings the family home.
I wasn’t around at the time of the Revolutionary War, but I have read about it in the history books and its effects can be experienced to this day in my life. There is a freedom I have because of what happened so long ago. Today, I will gather my family and go visit friends and watch fireworks tonight to celebrate Independence Day. It will be a good time and a needed rest for my family in the middle of the crazy summer months.
As I think about my faith, I must also understand a different meaning of “independence day” that also has much bearing on my life. I wasn’t present on that day either, but I have read about it both as a matter of pure history and in the gospel accounts in the Bible. I was reminded last week during our Vacation Bible School that Jesus was a soldier against our greatest enemies - sin, death, and Satan…and there was a day he won that battle. Most of us think that it was when he when to the cross, but in going to the cross, Jesus surrendered to the world of sin, death, and Satan to be willingly defeated. But by the power of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead and it is in this event that the world was changed…it was made free. It was this “independence day” that freed us from the shackles of sin, death, and Satan.
Paul writes regarding the resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says, “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
I can’t wait for the beauty of this display by our Lord, but until that day comes, I will gather my family and take them to see the fireworks, enjoy the food, and thank my country for the freedom I experience as an American and thank my God for the freedom I experience as a Christian, which I must admit transcends nation and people and position. This freedom we have in Christ, Paul would write later in the same chapter, motivates our lives… “58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” AMEN! Happy Independence Day to you…Come, Lord Jesus!
If you grew up in an evangelistic church, or have a natural tendency to be extraverted and somewhat loud about your faith, then this verse below might come as a challenge to you and to the evangelistic movement as a whole. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 4:11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
The first line of this passage is interesting because in the original language it reads make it your ambition, or zealous pursuit, to live a life of silence or tranquility. Most of us, whether our natural tendency is to be extra- or introverted, would be comfortable talking zealously about the things that peak our passions and we use these things to create a niche for ourselves or some sort of career for ourselves or at least a fan page or group on Facebook! But for Paul, there was something to be emulated in the life of peace, one that allowed someone to “mind their own business” and “do their own work” contributing to the life of the community.
Interestingly enough, this life of quiet confidence leads to the same result that many who stand on the street corners with a bull-horn so desperately want to see; that people take notice, the text reads, “people who are nonbelievers will respect the way you live…” maybe they will begin to ask us questions, or wonder why we are not panicking like those around us and want to know more about what gives us hope.
Now, I’m not against those who have a calling to be evangelistic and more “in your face.” There are some who have chosen to believe in Jesus because their life was interrupted, or they were confronted with the message of Jesus. However, I would also like to assert that for every person who this works for, there are many others who are negatively impacted by the same tactics. Many of the people I know who are believers, either had someone they really respected lead them to Jesus, or there was some sort of relationship that then led into faith conversations.
Another thing about this teaching from Paul to the church is very important; everyone can do this. You don’t have to be a certain type of person, have a particular set of skills, or you don’t have to feel guilty because you just can’t do what others so seemingly easily can do. All of us are asked to be an example of Christ to those who don’t believe, and the question is not a matter of if we do that, but usually it boils down to how we go about doing it. So, make it your goal to live a peaceful life with those around you through the Spirit of God, especially among your neighbors in your community. Do the work of loving your neighbors with your hands and not so much with your mouths, don’t just talk politics, service, and Jesus…but in your actions towards them live your politics, carry out your service, and be Jesus in situations you face. They will respect you, and they will respect that your happiness and peace doesn’t depend on others, or come at the expense of others.
God, help us make a lasting impact on those who have yet to believe in your son Jesus. As Francis of Assisi prayed, may we preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.