Good Friday Homily

We are here today to commemorate the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the kind of thing you say at a funeral, isn’t it?

There’s a strange relationship between life and death. They are opposites, like hot and cold, left and right, dark and light. But even though they’re opposites, they’re always close by, right near each other. You can’t live very long without encountering death.

Sometimes our encounters with death are weird and even kind of funny. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally ran over a squirrel with my car. It wasn’t my fault! He ran right out in front of me! I felt sick, literally nauseous, for the rest of the day. I think I even called my mom and cried.

Sometimes death has a unique way of making us thankful. I’ve experienced that when hunting, or even when shopping at the grocery store. It’s a strange truth that in order for us to live, something else must die.

One of the more common reactions to encountering death is feelings of guilt and regret. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought: Oh no, I should’ve stopped by to see them again! Why didn’t I call them one more time?… I don’t know why I seem to always feel that way. Guilt is such a strange reaction to encountering death, but it’s common.

I felt guilty when my grandmother died. What made it so bad was that I didn’t feel sad. She had Alzheimer’s and was on a downward slope for years. I felt more relief than anything, which in turn made me feel guilty for not feeling sad. I later realized that I didn’t need to feel guilty because I had already mourned her.

The longer we live, the more we see that life and death are always close to each other. They live right next door to each other and they wave daily as they go out to get the morning paper.

Like I said, encounters with death can sometimes make us thankful or even be kind of funny. But far more often they are confusing and disorienting. We instinctively know that death means something is wrong. We automatically recoil and flee. We often say things to each other like, “Thank God everyone was OK! I’m so glad it didn’t turn out worse.”

Death nearly always feels unjust, like something was unjustly stolen away from us. Because something was stolen away. Death is a thief that finds us all. Even Jesus.


The story of Jesus can be summarized like this: The God who made us, the one who gave us life, has entered into our space, our life, the whole human experience. He shrunk himself down, took on gills, and dove into our aquarium.

His primary goal in doing so was not to teach us how to be good fishes and do the right thing. Rather, he became one of us to face what we face, all the fears and challenges; to embrace our guilt and shame in the face of death; and to repair the rift between life and death, once and for all.

From the beginning, Jesus knew exactly where his life was headed. He predicted all of it: that he would be arrested and by whom; that he would be tried and convicted; that he would be executed on a cross and buried for three days. He told friends and followers about all those things beforehand, on several different occasions.

Given that he knew all of that, consider the readings from Matthew’s Gospel you’ve heard this evening (Matthew 26.36-27.56), and notice what Jesus did in the face of it all.  Facing all that he faced, Jesus chose to go anyway. The eternal Son of God somehow made himself vulnerable to human whips, chains, and even death. He knowingly walked into the tornado. He did not fight it; he embraced it.

Sure, he went into it all with fear and trembling. With all that was about to happen to him, how could he not? He prayed that if there was any other way, he could do that instead. Meanwhile he was sweating and even bleeding with fear. Yet he never wavered or changed course. He walked right into the tornado.

That’s something so different and unexpected. I mean, if you knew you were going to be arrested, would you have entered Jerusalem? If you were on trial, would say nothing? If you were being unjustly executed, would you be more concerned with God’s silence than the crowd’s mockery and condemnation?

Not one of us would choose to endure what he went through. We would do anything we could to avoid it. But he did the exact opposite of what anyone would have expected. He willingly embraced it all. He walked right into the tornado.


If you are not a Christian, I hope you’ll hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’s last days and think: this is something unusual. Who would choose this and why? I hope you’ll continue to investigate the person of Jesus Christ. Come back on Easter and hear how he addresses the uncomfortably close proximity between life and death.

If you are a Christian, then you’ve heard these stories before. It’s always a challenge to hear old things in new ways. I hope that in these next couple days, in the darkness before the dawn, you will consider how to translate Jesus’s last days into your own.

Because we are walking toward our last days too. Unlike Jesus, we can’t see exactly what lies ahead. But we’ve all lived long enough to know that our last days are likely to be challenging.

Last December, the well known writer and radio broadcaster, R. C. Sproul, died. He once wrote this:

I recently heard a young Christian remark, “I have no fear of dying.” When I heard this comment I thought to myself, “I wish I could say that.”

I am not afraid of death. I believe that death for the Christian is a glorious transition to heaven. I am not afraid of going to heaven. It’s the process that frightens me. I don’t know by what means I will die. It may be via a process of suffering, and that frightens me.

I know that even this shouldn’t frighten me. There are lots of things that frighten me that I shouldn’t let frighten me. The Scripture declares that perfect love casts out fear. But love is still imperfect, and fear hangs around.

I would guess that most of us feel similarly. But despite all fear, Jesus calls us to press forward. We are to follow him through both life and death, to embrace them as he did, and to see how he has forever altered their relationship.

Paul the Apostle called death the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15.26) and asked, who will deliver me from it? (Romans 7.24) Another quote from R. C. Sproul puts it well:

When we close our eyes in death, we do not cease to be alive; rather, we experience a continuation of personal consciousness. No person is more conscious, more aware, and more alert than when he passes through the veil from this world into the next. Far from falling asleep, we are awakened to glory in all of its significance.

For the believer, death does not have the last word. Death has surrendered to the conquering power of [Christ].


Reflections on the beginning of Lent

The season of Lent, which on the church calendar is celebrated the 40 days before Easter, begins today, on Ash Wednesday. Lent has been a part of Christian practice since the very earliest days after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
In some theological traditions, these 40 days focus on self-mortification: that is, struggling to make one’s self more worthy before God. But in the Reformed tradition, the focus is more on awareness and look honestly at the state of our own souls in the light of both the law and the cross. That is why fasting has been such a central part of the traditional celebration of Lent: those who fast seek to remove distractions so we can focus on the most important parts of our faith.

This morning, as Lent begins:

We ask God to speak to us
  • About our hidden sins, the things we rarely notice
  • About his grace—give us peace and confidence in the midst of the struggle


We ask Him to help us put away:
  • Our sins
  • Our distractions
  • Anything that is an idol, that takes the place of God in our lives


A prayer for Lent: Heavenly Father, we know that you must be first in our heart, but we also know that that is so rarely the case.  Instead of loving you with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, we have a long list of things that we love more than you.


But we also know that you are a God of grace.  Please forgive our foolish idolatry.  Renew our love for you.  Please make yourself the object of our delight.  Restore to us the joy of our salvation.


We know, Father, that you hear the prayers of your people.  Thank you; hear our prayers today.


During this season, spend time thinking about:
  • Who am I apart from the work of Christ?  In and of myself?  The really, honestly true me?
  • How do I see that part of me working its way out in my daily life?
  • And who has God promised to make me because of the work of Christ?
  • Where do I see that fruit growing in my life?
  • As I look to him in faith, what should I expect God to do to me in the coming years?


Remember as you consider the state of your own heart:
  • It is easy to become self-absorbed or morbidly introspective
  • Let your contemplation be focused more on God’s work than on your own shortcomings


Lent should be contemplative, but not morbid; it should lead us to awareness, not misery. We are trying to reflect on our salvation, not earn it. Most of all, remember that the end of Lent is the cross, and the end of the cross is the resurrection. This time of quiet will lead to a time of joyful shouting from the housetops!
Until then, let’s join together in reflection.

Introducing the Westminster Confession of Faith

Notes from a class introducing the Westminster Confession of Faith at All Saints (spring 2011):


I. Where did the Westminster Confession of Faith come from?


The Westminster Assembly: 1643-49


Produced the Directory for Publick Worship, Form of Presbyterian Church Government, Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Westminster Larger Catechism, and Westminster Shorter Catechism


Revoked as an official creed of the Church of England after the Restoration of 1660…


…but adopted in Scotland and thus central to the Presbyterian tradition

II. How does the WCF relate to what we do at All Saints?


It is the “Constitution” of the Presbyterian Church in America


– It is second only to Scripture in authority

– The official documents of the PCA state:


“The First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, meeting at the Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama, December 4-7, 1973, adopted the Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism as the doctrinal standards of the Church.”

– All candidates for office (pastor, elder, deacon) in the PCA must affirm the following:


“Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of the Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?”

III. How does the WCF relate to what I do as a Christian?


a. Why do we need creeds anyway?  Is it wise to have extra-biblical “standards” for our faith?


The duty of churches to have creeds:


The mission of churches: to proclaim the truth of the gospel as taught in the Word of God.  This can’t be done haphazardly!


– What is the gospel??

– Being on the same page, speaking with one voice

b. Is the idea of ascribing to a creed biblical?  Should we be “adding” to Scripture?


The first creeds of the church are recorded and commended in Scripture:


Deut 6.4, Matt 16.16, Matt 28.19, 1 Cor 8.6, 1 Cor 15. 3-7, Phil 2.6-11, 1 Tim 3.16

c. Why the WCF over other creeds?


Robert Shaw, 1845: “The first thing which must strike any thoughtful reader, after having carefully and studiously perused the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith, is the remarkable comprehensiveness and accuracy of its character, viewed as a systematic exhibition of divine truth, or what is termed a system of theology.”

d. I’m not a church officer, so I never took the oath above.  How does the WCF apply to me as a member of All Saints?

The part of Romans we don’t read quite as often

I’m excited about the current preaching series at All Saints. Brad Chaney, our senior pastor, thought Romans chapters 12-16 would be a good place to start the new year. These are the intensely practical chapters of Romans. After writing about the glories of the gospel in chapters 1-11, the Apostle Paul writes about how the gospel changes our lives in chapters 12-16.

When we read through Romans, and especially when we preach through this letter, we tend to get a bit bogged down by this point. There is so much glorious gospel theology to think about in the early chapters that we can become overwhelmed by chapter 12. Brad’s idea was to focus in on those chapters and learn how we can daily live out the gospel.
It’s been a great way to start 2014, and I have very blessed by the first three sermons:
1) I opened the series, preaching on Romans 12.1-2 on 29 Dec.
2) Brian Frey, the Reformed University Fellowship Campus Minister at Boise State University, preached on Romans 12.3-8 on 5 Jan. This is an absolutely fantastic sermon.
3) Brad preached on Romans 12.9-21 this morning. The audio recording isn’t on the web yet, but it and all recordings of future sermons will be posted here.
I’m think it’s going to be a great series and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

Romans 12.1-2: Conformed or Transformed?

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 29 December 2013.

This sermon is an introduction to the last four chapters of Romans. These four chapters are about how faith works itself out in our lives. it answers questions like these: How does our faith become practical? How does the gospel work itself out in love?

A friend of mine, who is a very funny guy and a great theologian, once told me that he’s pretty sure that about half of what he believes is heresy… The only problem is that he didn’t know which half.


That was his humorous way of pointing out that he — and all of us really — think things that are untrue. Even at our best, we all believe big things and little things about God, ourselves, and our world that are false, and worse yet we live and love and act on those falsehoods.


Where do these untrue thoughts come from? Should we be worried about this? If so, what can we do about it? Is this the kind of problem that can be “fixed”?


I hope you can see the problem: We all think things that aren’t true, we even love things that aren’t true, but our best efforts to fix that problem come from the same place. If we have minds and hearts that are broken, then how can we fix our minds and hearts?


That is what Rom 12.1-2 is about. But in order to see how this passage answers that question, we have to place it in its context, so let me summarize what comes earlier in the book of Romans. The book of Romans is basically one long answer to the question, how does God save his people?


It begins by pointing out the problem, which should be obvious to us: God has made it obvious that he exists, that he is the king of everything, and that we are to worship and follow him. And yet all men everywhere have chosen to ignore these facts, to worship themselves, and to be their own kings.


Romans 1 says that everyone suppresses the truth about God. Romans 3 says that no one follows God: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.” Instead we seek ourselves, and we expect everyone around us to do the same.


The effects of this “I am my own king” attitude have been disastrous. The human race has been torn apart and the world has been filled with liars, thieves, killers, gluttons, tyrants, anger, envy, division, rivalry, abuse, broken marriages, broken homes, broken relationships, broken countries, broken people. We don’t have to look too far to see the effects of rebelling against God and trying to be our own kings because it is in the news and it is all around us.


And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that those effects are in us too. We all lie. We all try to beat the system when we think we can get away with it. We all know that we have been unfaithful and selfish in our relationships. We have all been filled with anger and bitterness.


We all know that these attitudes are not just a part-time reality in our lives, but instead they are a part of who we are. We might wish that our fallenness was a minor thing, and we sometimes tell ourselves that we can stop doing that whenever we want to. But the reality is that our brokenness has taken root deep in our soul; it’s a deeper part of who we are than the things we often use to describe ourselves, like our favorite activities or our sense of humor.


We like to think that any ugly, unpleasant, unseemly parts of our personalities are not who we are at the core; they’re a minor part of us, off on the periphery of our lives. We tend to think of ourselves like a football team: Maybe our third-string quarterback plays some ugly football, but he doesn’t make the field too much. You should see our starting QB! He looks much better!


Or to put it another way, we tend to think of ourselves like a photograph: Sure, maybe the photograph is blurry or distorted way over in the corner where no one would look, but isn’t it a nice photograph everywhere else?


But think for a moment of all the people who have known you well, the ones who have seen past your skin and know the real you. How many of them have you treated rudely? How many of them have you hurt with your words? How many of them have you needed to apologize to?


And these are the people who really know us, and we really know them. Usually they’re the people we love the most. If we can’t even treat the people we love the most well, then we have a real problem. Romans 3 tells us that we all fall short of God’s expectations for us, and deep down we know that our fallenness effects every part of our lives.


So what can we do about our fallenness? How can our brokenness be fixed? The answer to that question starts, appropriately, with what God has done about it. And according to Romans, what God did in response to our sin is very surprising.


What would you do to someone who do to someone who had wronged you in the ways that we have wronged God? What if someone stole your identity, your ideas, your possessions, your reputation, kidnapped your family, threw you out on the street, and effectively evicted you from your own life? That is something like how we have treated God. How would you react to that?


Well in God’s case, the first thing he does is to rather justly say that he won’t tolerate that for a moment. God pushes back and says, no, I will be the God of the universe and you won’t be. He rejects our rule over him and asserts his rule over us. He will be king, end of story!


Only that’s not the end of the story. If someone had wronged us as extensively as we have wronged God, we would not be happy unless that person was banished from our presence forever. We would never want to see them or even hear their name again. But God isn’t content with that. He doesn’t want the story to end there. He would rather take the people who hated him the most and make them the members of his own family.


That is what Romans tells us in chapters 3-11. We can have peace with God through faith. By placing our faith in Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, we can be so united to God and blessed by him that it can be said of us in Romans 8 that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us. Think about that! God’s reaction to those who have so horribly wronged him is that he wants to love them and bring them into his own family.


And so he does. After writing about God’s love for sinners like us in the previous 8 chapters of Romans, the Apostle Paul finishes chapter 11 with this exclamation of praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord; or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.”


And then immediately after writing that in chapter 11, St Paul begins chapter 12 with the well-known passage that is our focus this morning.


I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


There are three things we need to learn from this passage. The first is a warning: Do not be conformed to this world. Our culture — and by that I do not mean 21st Century American culture, but the culture of fallen humanity, at all times and in all places — our culture wants to conform us to something, and St Paul warns us: do not be conformed to this world!


Now right away we should clarify that the Apostle Paul does not mean that all culture is bad, and everything about our culture should be avoided. In some ways being conformed to our culture is a good thing; in fact, it’s the way God made us to work as human beings.


All the way back at the beginning, God said about Adam: “It is not good for him to be alone.” God created us to live in community with other people. He gave us families and friends and coworkers and co-worshipers. We draw so much of what we know and believe and do from the people around us, and more than anything else, God uses the people in our lives to shape us, to smooth our rough edges and make us more like Jesus.


So when the Apostle Paul warns us about being conformed to the world, he doesn’t mean for us to be a rock, a lonely island that decides its own fate in isolation. The very opposite in fact! He wants us to be shaped by the community of people God has given us — especially the church, which is a theme that will come out later as we continue reading through Romans.


No, rather than avoiding being influenced by others, the St Paul is calling us to be wise about the forces and ideas that are conforming us. How often do we think about this? How often do we genuinely reflect on how much something or someone is influencing us, and whether that is a good thing?


Yes, God made us to be influenced by the people and things around us, but as Christians we know that the world we live in is fallen, and that the people who surround us are as rebellious against God as we are. They want to be the kings of their own lives, so doesn’t it make sense that they would encourage us to do the same? Of course it does! Of course the majority of the encouragement we receive will be to live as rebels against God, to assert our own will over his and live for ourselves. That only makes sense given the fallen world in which we live.


And if we’re honest, the truth is that we like that kind of advice. Have you ever noticed how much more work it takes to keep your diet, for example, than it does to break it? We have to exert so much willpower to do the things we should, in whatever area of our lives, but often one little word of encouragement is all it takes to undo it all.


We like bad advice because it helps us feel justified when we do bad things. We love it when someone says to us: You were right to get angry and lose your temper at that co-worker! You were justified to cheat on your spouse after all the things they’ve done to you over the years! How can anyone expect you to react well to your kids after the way they’ve acted all day?


It’s easy to be conformed to the world. It’s what we naturally do. Until we renew our minds and begin seeing things as God does, the world’s way of doing things is what sounds natural and true and right to us. But where has that gotten us? What has living like we’re our own kings done to us?


As I said earlier, we all lie and steal and hate. We are all unfaithful and bitter and unloving. Apart from Jesus, we leave a wake of broken relationships and wasted opportunities, the worst of which is our broken relationship with the God who made us. That is where living like we are our own kings has gotten us.


We cannot expect our lives to change while we are still thinking in the same old ways. We need to stop living the kind of rebellious, destructive lives that come naturally to us. We need to stop being conformed to the world and start having a renewed mind before we can expect our lives to change.


That is the second thing we need to learn from this passage. The first was that we need to beware of being conformed to the world. The second is that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is a famous passage, but does it mean? What is the difference between an unrenewed mind and a renewed one?


Verse two gives us the answer: A transformed mind is able to test and discern the will of God, the things that are good and acceptable and perfect. And that is the difference: An unrenewed mind frankly doesn’t care about discerning the will of God.


A renewed mind wants to learn what is good and acceptable and perfect. But an unrenewed mind wants to decide what is good and acceptable and perfect. A renewed mind wants God to tell us what is his will. But an unrenewed mind wants to tell God what is my will.


I think we see this distinction most clearly when we pray. Sometimes we send God our wish list, and then we get mad when he doesn’t do what we’ve asked him to. Then he humbles us, and we learn to pray, not my will but yours be done.


What we’re really talking about here: the real distinction between a conformed mind and a transformed one is the difference between living selfishly versus living for God and others. In Matthew 22 Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are love God and love your neighbor. Living that way is very hard for us because in our untransformed minds the two greatest commandments go like this: 1) I am to love me, and 2) you are to love me too.


But think for a moment about what it would be like if our minds were transformed and renewed so that we could know God’s will and love him and our neighbor. What would our homes and workplaces look like if that was how we lived? How would our relationships with our spouses, children, and friends change?


It is obvious that a transformed, selfless, renewed mind creates more loving, joyful, peaceful lives than fallen, selfish minds that are conformed to the ways of our corrupt, broken world.


That leads us to the third and most important thing we need to learn from this passage, which is how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In verse 1, St Paul says this whole new way of life begins with worshiping God.


When we worship God, we are restoring the right order of things in our lives. All our lives we have been saying to God: you are not the king, I am! But when we worship, we say the opposite: I am not the king, you are. Always remember that being transformed and renewed and living a loving, joyful, peaceful life begins with worship.


That is why Sunday worship should be a priority in our lives. That is why we should dive into God’s Word and prayer every day. Not because they are some magic ritual that somehow makes us feel better or makes our day better, but because living a transformed and renewed life always begins with worshiping the one true God. Throw away your idols — starting with yourself — and worship him.


And in verse 1 that is exactly how the Apostle Paul says we are to worship God: by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Once we sacrifice ourselves to God as an act of worship, then we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds.


But wait a minute, you might be thinking. Wasn’t Jesus the sacrifice? Didn’t he die in our place, like the animals in the Old Testament? Isn’t Jesus the only acceptable sacrifice for sin?


That is true, but remember that there were different types of sacrifices in the Old Testament. The main sacrifice was the Sin Offering first mentioned in Lev 4. This is the animal that was killed in the place of the people as an image of how Jesus would die for our sins.


But there were other sacrifices too: the Burnt Offering of Lev 1, the Grain Offering of Lev 2, the Peace Offering of Lev 3, and others. These were all offered as a voluntary act of worship, to thank God for his goodness and provision. In the context of Romans, in which St Paul has already written about the work of Jesus on our behalf in the earlier chapters, I think it is clear that he is referring to these other sacrifices in this passage.


So Paul’s thinking goes like this: By the work of Jesus, God the Father has provided for our salvation and welcomed we who used to be rival kings into his own royal family. Now because of these mercies of God, offer yourselves as sacrifices to him. Give up your own will and seek to test and discern his will. Let go of your definitions of what is good and acceptable and perfect and live instead by his.


We must follow Jesus’s example and worship God by presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Notice how verse 1 mentions the body and verse 2 mentions the mind. God is asking you to give up all of yourself. It seems so counter-intuitive to us, so unnatural, to give up ourselves. But it’s exactly what Jesus said in Mark 8.34-37:


If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?


Let’s be clear about what this will mean. There will be many things we really want to do that we will not do. There will be just as many things that we don’t at all want to do that we will have to do. Offering our whole, entire selves as a living sacrifice is a difficult, life-long project.


To be perfectly honest, you are utterly incapable of doing it on your own. No matter how much you swim, you cannot grow gills and learn how to breathe underwater. But we have the God’s promise that he will be with us and that he will help us. And with God all things are possible — even growing gills.


In Philippians 2 Paul wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We are called to strive with fear and trembling, but God has promised to strive with us. We cannot be transformed and renewed without God’s help, but he has promised to help us.


And God has promised that it will be worth it. This passage is the apex, the mountain peak, of the Epistle to the Romans. If we look backward at the previous chapters, we see the glorious things that God has done to save us from ourselves. If we look forward at the coming chapters, we see the glorious things that God will do in us and through us as he teaches us to love him and our neighbors.


Let me finish with this: To some here today, the idea of self-sacrifice, the idea of giving up being king of my life and worshiping God, is downright nauseating. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “Who would want to live like that? I’m not done being the captain of my ship.”


If that is your response to this passage, let me warn you as Paul did: You are in grave danger! Being conformed to the world’s pattern of self-worship can only end in brokenness. In the end you will destroy everything around you. Don’t do it; turn away from self-worship and worship God.


Others here today might receive this passage with joy, but they wonder how all this works in real life. How can I live selflessly, worship God, and love my neighbor? As I said at the beginning, we will spend the next couple months answering that very question. As we look at Romans chs 12-16, it will become clearer how the faith that St Paul wrote about in Romans chs 1-11 expresses itself in love.


Everything that comes later will be built on the three ideas we read about today: 1) do not be conformed to the world, 2) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you can test and discern the will of God. And 3) all of that begins with worshiping him by offering ourselves as living sacrifices.

Mark 3.7-19: The kind of disciples Jesus called

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 21 July 2013.

This is our ninth week looking at the Gospel of Mark. Let’s read from chapter 3 together:


7 Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, 8 and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him.

Notice how Mark repeats the size of the crowd: the great multitude in v. 7, the great number of people in v. 8. Repetition in the Bible is always important. In a culture in which they didn’t use underlining, they didn’t have highlighters, and stories were more spoken than written down anyway, they repeated things to emphasize them.


So Mark repeats it — he wants his reader to know that this was not just a big crowd, it was a big-big crowd! And they came from everywhere — he lists cities all around the region.

9 And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; 10 for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him.


Jesus was very popular, and it’s understandable why he was! Here is a man who could heal any illness and was even driving demons from the countryside — of course he was popular!


Several times the gospels record Jesus using a boat to escape the crowds, especially following a major conflict with the religious and political leaders. Why did Jesus pull away like that? One writer says he did this because the time for the decisive, head-on confrontation with the Pharisees or the Romans had not yet arrived. Thus he pulls away after major conflicts in order to wait until it’s time for the big battle he knows is ahead: the cross.


However, there might have been an even more simple and practical reason for him to withdraw from the crowd. It was physically, mentally, emotionally demanding! If you’ve ever been in a big crowd, a big-big one — maybe after BSU game or a concert or some such event — you quickly realize how powerless you are. You’re swept along by just the sheer force of it, and there have been times before when I very seriously realized just how easy it would be to get trampled in a large crowd.


Now imagine that you’re not only in the crowd, but you’re the focal point of it! Everyone there is trying to touch you, to get you to stop walking and talk to them, or to keep walking and come with them. Tugged in every direction, every desperate person vying for your attention The whole thing must have been exhausting.


And so in a very human moment, Jesus had a boat kept ready for him in case he wanted it. One writer called it an “intensely practical precaution against future danger.” Notice that here is an example of how Jesus knows what it is like to be a human being living in the difficulties and dangers of this world.


In addition, something Brad spoke about a few weeks ago comes to mind: Jesus was famous, and this enormous, sometimes maybe even dangerous, crowd was following him, all because of his healings and exorcisms. However, it was not his goal to be a healer and exorcist. He only did those things to authenticate, to validate the one thing he really did want to do: preach about the kingdom of God.


Yes, Jesus was a physical and spiritual healer, but more than that, he was a preacher, a prophet, proclaiming the day of the Lord to his people. And he was unlike any other preacher they had ever heard. He spoke with authority and identified himself as God. Notice how this is the very thing the demons say about him:

11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” 12 And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was.


Now this is very interesting. This is a very strange feature of certain parts of the gospels, especially in Mark: Jesus often seems to be covering up his identity and telling people not to let anyone else know who he was. Some writers have have called this the “messianic secret.”


In this story, why did Jesus tell the demons to keep silent about his identity? Didn’t he want people to know he was God? Why wouldn’t he tell all the demons, That’s right! And make sure you keep telling everyone who I am! Wasn’t that the whole point?


Well, writers have suggested at least four different reasons why Jesus would do this. The first suggestion is that the demons were not worthy to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the long-awaited savior of Israel. That is, the person and work of the Messiah are so holy and exalted that it was not fitting to allow filthy, corrupt demons to proclaim them.


A second suggestion is that the Jesus’ enemies were telling people that Jesus & the demons were allies — Mark mentions this later in this chapter (3.22). Therefore, permitting the demons to testify about him would be to confirm their allegations and poison people’s understanding of Jesus.


Third, most people in Jesus’ day had a flawed understanding of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. They usually thought of the Messiah as a national warrior-hero who would fight off the Romans and return Israel to the glory days of kings David and Solomon. But that was not what Jesus was trying to do at all. He knew that the Messiah was supposed to suffer & die for the sins of his people, not overthrow the Romans. So he told the demons to be silent so that he would have time redefine for the people who the Messiah was and what he would do.


And fourth, although the demons were telling the truth about Jesus’ identity, their intent was evil. They were not telling people who Jesus was so that everyone would rejoice and follow him. They were divulging his true identity in an attempt to thwart his ministry, not support it. Jesus told the demons to be quiet so he could make himself known on his own terms and in his own time.


Those are four different theories or suggestions about why Jesus would tell the demons to be quiet when they were telling the truth. Which one explains it? It seems to me like they all fit together and help explain this story, so I think the best explanation is probably a combination of the four reasons.

13 And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. 14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons.


This is a very natural transition point in Jesus’ ministry. The crowds were large, Jesus was exhausted, and there was a lot of work to be done! And so Jesus appoints the twelve apostles. Note that these twelve men were specifically chosen for this role by Jesus: (v. 13) “those whom He Himself wanted.” We will come back to that later, but I want you to notice it now.


The New Testament uses the word apostle a lot, but what is an apostle? What does that word mean? An apostle is at least three things: First, an apostle is someone who is sent, who goes on behalf of someone else. A messenger.


Second, an apostle is someone who speaks with the authority of the person sending them. They don’t speak their own ideas and with their own authority, but with the ideas and authority of the person who sent them. Think of an ambassador.


Third, an apostle is someone who is an eyewitness to who Jesus is, what he taught, and the things he did. They are especially eyewitnesses to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Think of it this way: the apostles were participants with him in his earthly ministry, all the way to the end, and then they were the ones Jesus sent out to speak for him to all the world.


Note also that there were twelve apostles chosen. This is important because the number 12 was a very symbolic number to the people Jesus was with and it would have had obvious significance to them. To any Israelite, the number 12 would have brought to mind the 12 tribes that were the beginning of Israel.


Now, it’s very important to realize that in Jesus’ day, there was no such thing as the 12 tribes anymore. Centuries before, ten of the tribes had been captured by Assyria and dragged away to foreign lands as slaves. They all intermarried or died off, and those ten tribes disappeared from the earth. Further, even the two tribes that were still around had intermarried with other nations and the lineage back to the original founders of the nation of Israel was mixed and tainted.


No one in Jesus’ day would have missed what he was doing when he chose exactly 12 apostles. Everyone would have understood what he was saying: I am here to re-start Israel, to found the nation anew after centuries of demise. If you lived in Jesus’ day and seen him choose 12 apostles, you would have been very excited, maybe your heart would have lept, maybe you would have even shed a tear of joy.


Even so, the crowds misunderstood what Jesus really meant by this. They thought he was promising to fight off the Romans and regain Israel’s independence, but it is better understood this way: in choosing the 12 apostles, Jesus was founding a new Israel that is, as one writer put it, “composed of those who accepted Jesus as Messiah.”


So here Jesus chooses 12 men, 12 apostles, to help him start the new Israel. What does he do with them? V. 14 says they were to be with him — following him, watching him, hearing him, learning from him in a time of preparation.


V. 14 also says they were to be with him so that he might send them out. He sent them out, from the beginning of their work as apostles, before they really understood everything he was teaching and doing. He sent them out to do three primary tasks: to preach, to heal, and to cast out demons.


That is, they were healing people spiritually and physically to demonstrate that their preaching was true. What were they preaching? The same thing Jesus was in Mark 1.15: The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the gospel.

16 And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.


We look at this list and see mighty men because we have some awareness of what they did in the years following this. But that was not how it would have looked to you if you had been there when Jesus picked them!


If we had been in the crowd that day, we would’ve thought, What? These are the guys Jesus wants? He picked a handful of fishermen, a tax collector, and an assortment of other regular, average guys. There’s nothing special about them. They’re not famous or influential people, they don’t have public speaking experience or a top-notch education. They’re just average joes! How is he going to re-start Israel with a bunch of average joes?


In addition, when we read the rest of the gospels, we see how often these apostles Jesus chose just didn’t get it. They messed up and said the wrong things and did the wrong things so often! And then they eventually abandoned Jesus when he needed them the most. If we had watched the disciples during those three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, starting with this story, I think we would have been surprised by the whole thing. How is he going to re-start Israel and change the world with those guys?


We will come back to that idea in a minute, but that is the story as Mark tells it. That is how Jesus’ early ministry grew from one man to thirteen. And it’s been growing ever since!


There are three things that Christians should learn from this story and one thing that Christians and non-Christians both should learn. They are all pretty straight to the point.


The first thing Christians should learn is, from the very beginning of his earthly work, Jesus’ desire was for his ministry to be replicated. This is not something that is tacked on to the end. The disciples didn’t decide one day, Hey, how are we going to keep this thing going? How can we make a movement out of this?


Rather, it was an integral part of Jesus’ vision for his ministry. From the first, he wanted what he said and did to be replicated. He wanted to train up apostles, who would train up other people, who would train up other people, and so on. And after all, that’s how we heard about Jesus, isn’t it? I heard from my parents, who heard from my aunt, who heard from a hippie pastor, and so on. The chain goes all the way back to the apostles themselves!


I think it’s important for Christians to see that this was a part of Jesus’ plan from the beginning. Replication is not something someone added on later. And because it was an integral part of Jesus’ plan for his kingdom, it’s something we who have been entrusted with his kingdom should be still doing now.


A second thing Christians can learn from this story is related to the first: Jesus did not invest equally in everyone. Rather, he was strategic in his investment. Remember that these 12 apostles were specifically chosen for this role by Jesus: (v. 13) “those whom He Himself wanted.” He could’ve chosen different people for the role. He could’ve chosen a different number of apostles.


But he deliberately chose to invest himself in these specific men, and he wanted them in turn to invest themselves in other people. If we are following his example here, we will be deliberate in choosing people to invest in for the Kingdom. Not that we will ignore everyone else, because Jesus certainly did not do that. But we will be strategic in our investment.


If we combine these first two things we should learn, Christians need to ask themselves these questions: How can I follow Jesus’ example in strategic replication? Into whom am I investing this treasure I have been given? In what way am I investing it?
The third thing Christians should learn from this story will help us answer those questions. Notice this: Jesus’ choice of apostles to strategically invest in was done with the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of man. As we noted earlier, these men were not the stars of their culture. Jesus did not choose the people we would have chosen. There were no rich & famous & influential people on the list.


Instead it’s a list of average joes. And if you know many of the stories in the rest of the four gospels, you know that they didn’t really get what Jesus was teaching and doing. They disappointed him all the time. Why would he choose these guys?


Think of it this way: If Jesus had chosen remarkable people to represent him, then they would get the credit when they did remarkable things. But by choosing unremarkable people to represent him, Jesus gets the credit when they did remarkable things. Jesus chose weak, inadequate people to do great things so that it would be clear that he was at work in them and through them.


And this leads us to the fourth thing we should learn from this story. This is the most amazing, and it’s the one that both Christians and non-Christians should learn. Think about the kind of disciples Jesus called:


Jesus’ choice of apostles included men he knew would fail & desert him. From what we can tell from the four gospels, 11 of the 12 men on this list utterly and completely failed & deserted Jesus in his hour of greatest need. It seems like only John stayed with him during his trial and execution.


But from this we learn that Jesus’ love for his disciples, and his desire to use them  for his kingdom, does not depend on whether or not they deserve it. (repeat) And that includes you.


Whether or not you’re a Christian, that’s hard for us to believe. We are just so set in our belief that God’s love for us depends on our worthiness. We think God can only be happy with us if we’re doing a good job. But think about the apostles: they were not just unworthy, they were incredibly unworthy. They completely failed and deserted Jesus. And yet these are the disciples he called.


If someone completely failed and deserted you — for many of us in this room, specific people come to mind when I say that — if someone completely failed and deserted you, would you be able to trust them again? Would you be able to love them again? And here is the real contrast: would you be willing to die for them?


That’s an impossible stretch for us. Given enough time, maybe I could get over the hurt and move on. Maybe eventually I wouldn’t feel any animosity toward someone who utterly & completely failed me. But to die for that person, I can’t even imagine doing that.


But that’s exactly what Jesus did. And he didn’t just die for disciples who failed him, he continues to pour out his love on them. And he doesn’t just pour out his love on them, he makes them an integral part of his kingdom. No one deserved to be apostles less than the apostles! And no one deserves Jesus’ love less than you & me.


And yet he loves us. And he died for us. And he uses us. If that’s the case, there is hope for anyone! If Jesus can use me, he can use anyone! It’s about Jesus’ goodness and accomplishments and worthiness, and it’s not about mine. 1 Cor 1.26-31 says it well:


There are not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble here at All Saints. Just sinners who far too often don’t get it and say and do the wrong things.


But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and God has chosen the base things of the world and the despised, the things that are not, to nullify the things that are.


Therefore no one at All Saints may boast before God. By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written,  “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

1 John 5.6-13: Testimony to the Son

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 27 January 2013.


Father: You have brought us here today for your own purposes. Work in us today.
Son: You have entered into our world to show us your love. Show us yourself today.
Spirit: We can know nothing unless you reveal it to us. Open our eyes so that we may see.


1 John was written by the apostle John, who was one of the twelve men who followed Jesus around to learn from him and participate in his ministry.
In this letter, the apostle John is deeply, deeply concerned that you know that the things he is telling you about Jesus are true. He does not want you to wonder or fear or guess, he wants his reader to know about Jesus. He begins his letter in chapter 1 with an explanation of why we should believe what he has written:
He says that he is writing about the things that he himself had heard, seen with his own eyes, and touched with his hands. John was there with Jesus. He saw it all. According to the gospels, for example, John was the only one of the twelve disciples who was there at the cross when Jesus died. Everyone else had fled, but John stayed and saw it all.
And the first thing John wants us to know in this letter is that what he is telling us about is first-hand observation, things he himself heard Jesus say—not someone else’s opinion or something he heard about from another person.
Now if you are here, if you’ve come to church on a Sunday morning, I think you must have come for one of two reasons. The first is that you love Jesus and have come to worship him. The second is that you want to find out more about Jesus and so you’ve come to see and hear for yourself what this is about. I suppose there might be other reasons why someone might come here this morning, but I think those would be the main two.
In either case, John’s letter should be important to you. Here is a writer saying to you, Listen to what I am saying because I saw it all. I can tell you what happened because I was there.
Another thing we should notice about the letter of 1 John: If you read it straight through (instead of in small pieces as we have done over the past couple months), something else about it would catch your attention. In only 5 short chapters, he tells us why he is writing at least 7 different times. He says:
1 John 1.4: I am writing so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 2.1: I am writing these things so that you may not sin.
1 John 2.12: I am writing … because your sins are forgiven.
1 John 2.13: I am writing … because you know him who is from the beginning.
1 John 2.13 again: I am writing … because you have overcome the evil one.
1 John 2.26: I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.
And from our passage this morning, 1 John 5.13: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
What’s interesting about these reasons for writing, what might catch your attention, is that the reason he gives for writing this letter is different each time. Seven times, seven different reasons.
But what they all have in common is the idea of victory, overcoming difficulty with joy and forgiveness in the knowledge of Jesus. And all those themes are exactly what we will see in 1 John chapter 5 this morning.
In 1 John 5.1-5, which Brad preached on last Sunday, John describes the victorious faith of a Christian. He says in vv. 4-5, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” In other words, the Christian is victorious in life because of his faith in Jesus.
But that automatically raises some questions for us: Is this really true? It doesn’t seem like I am victorious or overcoming anything at all. I hate my job, my marriage is struggling, I wonder if I’m a failure as a parent, I can’t overcome my bad habits or get rid of the addictions and sins in my life. How can I be called victorious?
In these verses that we will read today, John offers some evidence that Jesus really was the Son of God, that Christians are victorious, and that this whole business is more than just myths or wishful thinking.
Verses 6-8 tells us that God has provided three things that testify about Jesus: “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”
This sounds mysterious: water and blood and the Spirit testify that we should believe that Jesus is the Son of God who helps us overcome the world. The Spirit part is a little bit more straightforward, and we will look at that a bit later, but what about the water and the blood? They are supposed to be testimony to who Jesus is and what he did, but it’s unclear: What water and blood does he mean?
Commentators on this passage have written about several different options:
– The first option: The water and the blood represent the beginning and the end of Jesus’ ministry. The water is the baptism that marks the beginning of his ministry on earth, and the blood is the death that marks the end of his ministry.
In ancient writing, pointing to the beginning and the end of something was a common way of summarizing the entire thing. This was a literary technique we today call a merism. So in this case the water and the blood would be a poetic way of describing everything Jesus did when he was on the earth, and John would be saying everything Jesus did testifies that he is the Son of God and that he makes us victorious.
– The second option: The water and blood together point to his death, when he poured himself out on the cross for his people. John is the only gospel writer who records that when Jesus was dead, the soldiers punctured his side with a spear and water and blood poured out of him onto the ground (19.31-37).
Many writers over the centuries since have described the water as Jesus’ purifying his people and the blood as his purchasing them with his own life. In this case, the water and blood would signify the incredible extent to which Jesus went to save his people, and John would be pointing to this great sacrifice as evidence that Jesus is the Son of God and that he makes us victorious.
– The third option: The water and the blood are describing the two ways in which Christians publicly identify with Jesus—that is, the two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In this case, John would be saying that these public actions—these sacred rituals, by which we publicly declare our faith and in which God spiritually feeds our souls—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper provide us with testimony that Jesus is the Son of God and that the spiritual truths they symbolize testifies that we are victorious in him.
So there are three options concerning the water and the blood. Which one is it? What did John mean when he wrote this?
I don’t know, actually. But the interesting thing is that in some sense they all three agree. Jesus’ public ministry (the first option) does testify repeatedly and convincingly that he is the Son of God and that he has made his people victorious.
And Jesus’ public ministry finds its surprising, horrible, and wonderful climax at the cross, where he took the punishment for our guilt and gave us the love of God that he had earned. Jesus’ death does most powerfully testify that he is the Son of God and has made his people victorious.
And in the sacraments the life and death of Jesus is publicly stamped on every Christian, and God uses them to minister to our souls in a way that testifies that Jesus is the Son of God and he has made his people victorious.
So maybe it’s not an either-or; maybe it’s a both-and. John is kind of notorious for that in his writings actually—he often wrote something that was intentionally ambiguous because he meant for his reader to understand it in multiple ways.
To the witnesses of water and blood John adds a third, the Spirit. Like the water and the blood, there are a few things John could be referring to:
– Does he mean the work of the Spirit of God throughout all of human history as he has prepared the way for Jesus?
– Does he mean the way in which the Spirit of God inspired the writers of Scripture, even John himself, so that we can learn about Jesus from their writings?
– Does he mean the way in which the Spirit of God works in Christians so that we can see and hear and understand spiritual truth?
And again, it seems like John’s reference to the Spirit is meant to communicate all these things. In fact, Jesus himself said that everything the Spirit testifies is about the Son:
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16.12-14).
So in these three verses, 1 John 5.6-8, John tells us about three things that confirm that what John is writing about Jesus is true. He is the Son of God; he really does make his people victorious. These three testify and agree, as John writes in verse 8, that they are true.
There are, of course, other explanations about who Jesus is and what he has done. There are an incredible number of opinions on this topic.
Some say Jesus was a wonderful moral example. Others identify him as a revolutionary hero for the oppressed. Others describe him as one of the worst things that has ever happened because they say Christianity has had a horrible impact on human history.
Many people question the biblical idea of Jesus. Was he really God? Is the virgin birth really true? Did he really perform miracles, or is that just superstition? And coming back to life after he was dead—that can’t have really happened.
John knows that there are other explanations of who Jesus is and what he did, and he answers them in verse 9: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for that is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.”
There might be conflicting or alternative explanations of Jesus, but John says that the testimony of God is greater. The water, the blood, and the Spirit have a supernatural power that is greater than anything that is merely human. The ministry of Jesus, his death & resurrection, the sacraments, the testimony of the Spirit of God—these have a power that outweighs anything else we know of.
In other words, there is something going on with this Jesus that simply cannot be replicated or falsified or ignored by human beings. Everyone who hears about him is faced with a choice: Which one are we going to believe about Jesus, the testimony of men or the testimony of God?
Here is how John presents this decision in vv. 10-13:
“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever had the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Everyone who hears about Jesus is faced with a choice: Should I believe in the testimony of God about his Son? Back to the two kinds of people who are here today that I mentioned at the beginning:
If you are here because you want to find out more about Jesus, then John’s words are very straightforward for you. Ask God to show you the testimony of the water and the blood and the Spirit. Read what is written about Jesus. Read this letter or John’s gospel. Then ask yourself: Do I believe the testimony of God about his Son? John says in verse 13 that he has written these things that you may believe and know about Jesus, the Son of God.
If you are here today because you love Jesus and you have come to worship him, you might feel like you are past what John wrote about in this passage. You have already heard the testimony of the water, the blood, and the Spirit, and you have believed. You have been baptized and you have partaken of the Lord’s Supper. You have already chosen to believe in the testimony of God about his Son.
But it is vital that we not look at this as a past-tense decision. Trusting in the Son of God is not a choice that we make once and leave behind. It is a choice we have to make every day, in every circumstance, every moment of every day.
Let me put it this way: How often do we live as if we were not victorious, as if the testimony of God is not true? How many times do we believe in our circumstances—our own failures, our sins, our bank balance, our family struggles, our job struggles, our relationship struggles—more than we believe in the promises of God?
Every moment of every day presents us with a choice:
Do we believe the testimony that God has given us about his Son?
Do we believe that God is working all things for our good, even the things that others mean for evil?
Do we believe that he who began a good work in us is faithful and will complete it, even when it doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere?
Do we believe that he will never leave us or forsake us, even when we feel like we’ve never been more alone?
Do we believe that God calls us his own sons and daughters and loves us more than anything else in the world, as John wrote about in chapter 3?
Christian, where is your confidence? John says that he wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (13). And, as we will read next week, so that we will have confidence in Jesus.