Thursday, January 30, 2014

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Typology is a form of biblical interpretation where we see God and His truth illustrated in individuals and events in the Bible.  We then say they are a "type" of Christ, salvation, etc.  Joseph (the coat with many colors) is an Old Testament type of Jesus.  One person listed where Joseph is like Jesus in 99 different ways!  From both being betrayed to both having tragedy turned into triumph, the many similarities are striking!  Both are certainly great examples of forgiveness.
Joseph is impressive in his faith in God despite multiple challenges.  He was rejected, sold into slavery, tempted, falsely accused, imprisoned and forgotten – yet continued to honor God!  What a lesson for us to worship and follow our Lord even in our bad times.  HE has promised NEVER to leave us or forsake us.
Joseph had been hatefully sold by his brothers into slavery and taken away from his homeland.  God's grace carried him through years of difficulty and he ultimately ended up as the #2 ruler of Egypt.  His brothers came after many years seeking food there because of famine.  They did not recognize Joseph but he knew them immediately.  Some question that if he truly forgave them,   why did he put them through weeks or months of testing before revealing his identity and God's purpose in turning their evil treatment into good i.e., by Joseph being able to rescue them from the famine and preserve the "chosen seed".
Bible teachers generally agree that Joseph was truly forgiving and was not seeking revenge.  It seems to have been a matter of establishing that his brothers were truly sorry and had changed.  We can appreciate that because even when we are forgiving there is often still a period of consequences for wrong behavior and/or a probationary time to prove repentance or change.
Comparing Joseph and Jesus can help us gain a fuller understanding of forgiveness.
See you Sunday!

1.  Who is the famous Joseph of the New Testament?  Matthew 1:18

2.  In our sermon passage how many times does Joseph (O.T.) acknowledge God and His purpose?

3.  Can you think of times when you honored the Lord even when things went terribly wrong?  Acts 16:22-25

4.  Amazingly, God's purpose to save His people takes place despite evil!  Mark 14:21

5.  Google comparisons of Joseph and Jesus.
6.  What special Bible list does Joseph make?  Hebrews 11:22

7.  How thankful we should be that the forgiveness of Jesus is IMMEDIATE!  Read Luke 23:39-43

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Seeing God's Face

Esau was one of the "bad boys" of the Bible, yet he and his younger twin, Jacob, teach us a lot about forgiveness.  Jacob had used deceit and betrayal to steal Esau's firstborn blessing.  Esau threatened to kill him and Jacob fled to a distant land.  After 20 years they have a touching reunion.  This reunion teaches us...
Jacob hungered for forgiveness and reconciliation.  He risked himself, his family and wealth to obtain it.  He displayed a penitent attitude to his brother, sent him gifts and, most importantly, prayed that God would turn away Esau's anger.
Esau, for his part, tried to refuse the gifts and welcomed his brother with hugs and tears.  Why?  We are not sure, but the following possibilities are to be considered:  1) He had become a more spiritual man; 2) Blood is thicker than water...after all, this was his twin brother; 3) Time, experience and values had lessened or eliminated the bitterness of the past; and 4) God had softened his heart in answer to prayer and in keeping of HIS covenant with Jacob.
Jacob made an awesome statement about forgiveness when he encountered it through his brother.  He said it was like seeing the face of God (some translate it as being in the presence of God).  Jacob had just experienced a powerful encounter with God "face to face” in Genesis 32, so to describe forgiveness in this way was stirring!
As we study these brothers we can learn about seeking and sharing forgiveness and the beauty and blessing that come when it happens!
See you Sunday.
1.  Read Genesis 27.  Describe your reaction if you were in Esau's sandals.
2.  How does Jacob display a humbled attitude toward his brother? Genesis 33:3
3.  Read Genesis 32:20.  Gift giving was a form of seeking forgiveness in ancient times and still is.  Can you think of a modern day example?
4.  Note Jacob's prayer request in Genesis 32:11.  Prayer is also key to seeking God's forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and forgiving others (Matthew 5:44; 6:12).
5.  I love the phrase in Genesis 33:4  - "And they wept".  There is such relief in forgiveness!  Read Psalm 51:1-13 and list some of the ways David is relieved and renewed by God's forgiveness of some devastating wrongs!
6.  Time for a theological teaser.  Compare Exodus 33:20 with Genesis 32:28-30.  Also compare those verses with John 1:18a and 4:24.  Perhaps John 1:18b and 14:9 hold the key.  Also, what is meant by a Theophany or Christophany  when studying the Bible?
7.  A good starting point for the believer in this matter of forgiveness in Colossians 3:13.
              Turn your eyes upon Jesus
              Look full in His wonderful face
              And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
              In the light of His glory and grace
                                   - Helen H. Lemmel

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Keys of the Kingdom

It’s an expression that finds itself in a wide array of applications.  It’s used to express the deepest human emotion.  You find it in literature.  You find it in song lyrics.  When you want to speak of touching a person in the core of their being you say, “It was enough to make a grown man cry.”

One of my first memories of seeing a man cry was in my teenage years.  The man had returned from a six-month Naval exercise in the Mediterranean, and he was standing before the church in a Sunday evening service.  At first, everyone thought he was there to thank the congregation for their prayers or to give a testimony to the Lord’s sustaining power.  But once he opened his mouth we all knew it went far deeper than that.  By the third sentence he was speaking from the depth of his soul.  He said something like this: “When I was away I did something that I could never have imagined doing.  At our last port of call I met a woman in a club and before the night was over we had gone to bed together.”  And as he laid out the details he sobbed.  But what struck me was not that he was crying.  What seized my attention was that nearly every man in the place was weeping – even the minister.  By the time he finished confessing his sin he was surrounded by his wife, his closest friends, and the minister – who through tears said to the church, “This is revival!” 

Though I didn’t know the depths of those words then, with many more years under my belt and a lot more opportunities for grace, I do now.  The word revival comes from the Latin word vita or “life”.  When that clergyman said, “This is revival,” he meant that new life had come not only to the man who was confessing his sin, but to those who heard it and loved him in the midst of it. 

We all know stories just like this.  In the recently released movie, “Saving Mr. Banks”, the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, is vivified by the persistence and the compassion of Walt Disney.  (Last week I received a tip from a couple at Hebron to go see it, because it makes good fodder for the Forgiveness Series.  I saw it and thoroughly agree.  Keep the tips coming, I love them!)  Stories that illustrate the power of forgiveness to bring light out of darkness, freedom out of bondage, abound.  They are right before our eyes if we’re able to see them. 

Have you ever thought about why the act of forgiveness creates new life?  Have you ever analyzed why it is that forgiving someone not only frees the forgiven but also the forgiver?  Those are the questions we seek to answer this week as we turn to Matthew 16 and the first human acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity. 

For two weeks we have examined the foundation for forgiveness – the human heart (Mark 7) and the heart of God (Genesis 15).  In simplest terms – we need it and God necessarily gives it.  But what we will see this week is that God’s ability to forgive is extended to any believer.  Indeed, that is exactly what Jesus is talking about on the heels of Peter’s confession.  He says it this way, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of God.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

It’s the first Greek verb every student of Greek must learn – luo – “to loose”.  How appropriate, for the first name given by the angel for the God-man is Jesus – Savior – “for He will save (loose) His people from their sins.”  In other words, He comes to wield the keys of the kingdom.  He will forgive, and in doing so, set the captive free.  And what’s amazing about Matthew 16 is that He gives to us, His church, that same mission and same power. 

In preparation for Sunday’s message and communion, you may wish to consider the following: 

  1. Why does Jesus wait until Matthew 16 to “pop” the question?
  2. Why does He do it in Caesarea Philippi?
  3. Why do “the people” believe Jesus to be John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah?
  4. What points of commonality run between those three men?
  5. What does Jesus mean when He renames Simon to Peter?
  6. In what way does Jesus found His church upon the rock?
  7. Do you think there’s a correlation between the gates of hell and the keys of the kingdom?
  8. What does Jesus mean when He declares that He will give the keys of the kingdom? And to whom does He give them?
  9. Can you find any other Scriptures that relate to what Jesus is doing here?  (Think identity and mission.)
  10. Does this text give you any clearer insight into why He forgave you? 

See you Sunday as we feast on His Word and gather around His table.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Between Two Altars

In 1986, in a large city in the far west, rumors spread that a certain Roman Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus.  The reports reached the archbishop and he decided to check her out, for there’s always a fine line between a true encounter with God and the lunatic fringe.
“Is this true, Madam?” the archbishop asked.  “Do you have visions of Jesus?”  The woman replied, “Yes.”  “Well, the next time you have one,” the archbishop said, “I want you to do me a favor.  I want you to ask Jesus to reveal to you the sins I confessed in my last confession.”

The woman was stunned.  “Did I hear you right, Archbishop?  You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me your sins of the past?”  “That’s right,” said the cleric.  “Please call me if anything happens on this.” With that, the archbishop turned and walked away with a knowing smile.
Ten days later the woman notified her priest that she had another apparition and that he should call for the archbishop to come.  Within an hour the archbishop arrived and was sitting face-to-face with the woman.  “You have just asked your priest to contact me and I’ve come as quickly as I could.”  The archbishop said, “Now tell me, did you have another vision of Jesus?”  The woman nodded and said, “Yes, Father.”  And the cleric asked, “Did you ask Him what I had told you to ask Him?”  “Yes Father, I asked Jesus to tell me all of the sins you confessed in your last confession.”
The archbishop leaned forward, his eyes narrowing slightly, and he asked quietly, “What did He say?”  With that she took his hand and gazed into his eyes and said, “O Father, these are His exact words:  ‘I CAN’T REMEMBER.’”
Someone has said, “A sad Christian is a phony Christian, and a guilty Christian is no Christian at all.”  And yet, every one of us is sad and guilty at times.  But our countenance and conscience are no barometers of our true standing with God.  Indeed, His “forgetfulness” is an objective reality that requires no joy or freedom on our part.  It is what it is.  It’s independent of our own feelings or actions.  And this is critical in our understanding and practice of forgiveness.

As we noted last week, the heart of the matter – forgiveness – is inexorably linked to our heart.  The reason we need forgiveness is because our hearts are corrupt, and yet, it is out of our heart that true, to-the-bone forgiveness comes.  That’s what Jesus is saying in Mark 7 to the religionists who believe (what every natural man or woman believes) that what defiles us comes from the outside, rather than the inside.  But Jesus disagrees.  His words are a radical message to us.  “It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of the heart.”  Think of that.  According to Jesus, our hearts are so corrupt that they not only need forgiveness through the death of Christ, they need replacement through the work of Christ.  And that’s exactly what Christ does at the cross.  He fulfills the prophetic word of God in Ezekiel 36 at the cross: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…”

But much more happens at the cross than all of that.  What the cross reveals is not only the depths of our heart, but the depths of God’s heart.  Indeed, it is this other revelation, the nature of God’s heart, that is so critical to our ability to forgive.  And this week we will examine God’s heart in, inarguably, the greatest portrait of God’s heart that we find in the entire Bible – Genesis 15.  Here, in Abram’s encounter with God, we find the bedrock of true forgiveness – the unparalleled majesty of the heart of God.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

  1. After what things – verse 1?
  2. What is the nature of Abram’s fear?
  3. The end of verse 1 can be translated several ways, but what does God mean when He talks about being Abram’s shield and reward?
  4. How does God prove that He is Abram’s shield and reward in verse 17?
  5. How long has it been since God first made the promise of a descendent to Abram?
  6. What is the nature of Abram’s belief in verse 6?
  7. How do dust and stars pale in comparison to a smoking pot and a fiery torch?
  8. How does God exhibit His heart to Abram in His words and deeds in Chapter 15?
  9. What correlation can you draw between Genesis 15 and Mark 15?
  10. Why would R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, and others say that this chapter is the most significant chapter in the Old Testament and the single chapter they would pick if given only one chapter of the Bible on which to live and to die?
See you Sunday.  It promises to be a GREAT ONE!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bad to the Bone

Rodney King died 18 months ago at age 47.  But it wasn’t his death that brought him national prominence – it was his brutal beating by the Los Angeles police 22 years earlier.  You may remember it.  In March of 1991, while on parole for robbery, 26-year-old Rodney King was involved in a high-speed car chase.  At the time, King, a construction worker, was driving in south-central Los Angeles when a police siren prompted him to “punch it”.  Miles later, when several police units apprehended him, five officers were caught on videotape beating him mercilessly.

Within hours the videotape went viral and the police officers were charged with police brutality.  However, a month later, four of the officers were acquitted.  A few months later the fifth was acquitted by a hung jury and widespread riots were the result with 53 people killed and over two thousand were injured. 

It was during these LA riots that Rodney King appeared on national television and offered a question that would become his trademark in life and in death – “Why can’t we all just get along?”  At the time no one could successfully answer that question.  Indeed, I don’t remember any attempts to answer it.  So what’s your answer to Rodney’s plea?  Selfishness?  Short-sightedness?  Immorality?  Interestingly, Jesus would offer none of those suggestions, instead He’d point to the human heart.

Have you ever noticed how frequently and how stridently Jesus speaks of forgiveness?  To Jesus, forgiveness isn’t a casual sidebar, it’s central to His teaching.  In fact, it’s at the heart of all Jesus came to teach and to live.

Now why do you suppose Jesus placed such a premium on forgiveness?  Do you think it’s because He, like Rodney, wants everyone to be nice?  Do you think it’s because He doesn’t really care about justice?  Or is it because He’s na├»ve to the extent of human evil?  Not on your life!  No.  Forgiveness is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching because He knows that without profound, “to the bone” forgiveness, there’s no getting along with God, ourselves, or anyone else.  Without forgiveness there is no freedom.  Without forgiveness there is no healing.  Without  forgiveness there is no peace.  Without forgiveness there is no release from pain, guilt, or anger.  Without forgiveness there is no antidote to the root of bitterness that grows as a spiritual cancer in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike.  The truth is that Jesus, more than any other person who ever walked this planet, understood that forgiveness is the key to everything important in life.

That’s why, this week, we are beginning a 13-week look into the matter of forgiveness in a series entitled, “The Heart of the Matter: Forgiveness.”  And this week we begin where Jesus begins - with the human heart.  We will be in Mark, Chapter 7 where, in answer to His critics, Jesus lets us in on the foundational truth of forgiveness.  It is a truth that, over the years, I have repeatedly discovered is missed and lies at the heart of one’s inability to forgive.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Bad to the Bone,” you may wish to consider the following:
1.      Our companion text – Ezekiel 36:26-29.

2.      How often does the word “forgiveness” appear in the Scriptures?

3.      What’s the definition of forgiveness?

4.      In Mark 7 the Bible tells of Pharisees and Scribes coming to challenge Jesus.  But this is not the first time they’ve come to challenge Jesus.  Can you find the previous examples?

5.      What’s at the heart of their problem with Jesus?

6.      Why do they come at Him through His disciples?

7.      What’s interesting about Jesus’ use of Isaiah 29:13?

8.      In what way do the critics fail to go deep enough?

9.      What’s the greatest failure of religion?

10.  What’s the answer to our deepest problem?

See you Sunday!