The Book of Ruth – Part Two

This is Part Two of a five-part sermon series through the Old Testament book of Ruth preached on April 21, 2013. You can listen to the audio of the sermon here. You can also follow along with this outline: The Book of Ruth – Sermon 2 Outline.

The Classic Christmas: Expecting consolation and redemption

At Christmastime children are overwhelmed with expectation. The soundtrack for the childhood Christmases of many was the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas record. The Chipmunks hit was “Christmas don’t be late”. One of the lines in the song is, “we’ve been good, but we can’t last, hurry Christmas hurry fast” and another line is, “we can hardly stand the wait please Christmas don’t be late.” This song strikes a chord with every child as they see the pile of gifts grow under the tree and door after door open on the Advent calendar.

One of the elements of celebrating the classic Christmas, is enjoying the expectation that’s cultivated during this season. A major part of our celebrating is looking forward to what is to come at Christmastime. We look back on Jesus’ first coming which causes us to look forward to his second coming and both of these work change in our hearts now, today. Jesus is the one who was, who is, and who is to come and this is communicated at Christmastime. So as exciting as it is to create that atmosphere of expectation and anticipation in our observance of the holiday, that same attitude should infuse our faith all the time. If we aren’t filled with an expectation and an anticipation as we wait for the Lord to move in our lives and in this world, then we aren’t properly understanding the Scriptures.

When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray “your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven,” this was a lesson in expectation. Not only can God move in our midst, but he will. Not only can God establish his rule on earth fully and completely, but he will. Not only is he transforming our hearts and lives into people who will live forever, it’s a work he will complete resulting in eternal life. This expectation is seen in the Scriptures and in the Christmas story.

In Luke 2:22-24, Mary and Joseph were careful to obey they law in regards to this son that God had given them. The law required a lamb to be sacrificed when the first son came. There was a provision in Leviticus 5 that allowed the sacrifice of pigeons or turtle-doves if a family was too poor to have a lamb. As an aside, this is evidence that Mary and Joseph were of humble means. Jesus wasn’t only born in a stable because there was no room at the inn, they couldn’t afford anything more. But going back, verse 23 is a quotation from Exodus 13:2. Now, why would the exodus story be reference here? Exodus 12 is the story of the tenth plague and the Lord delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt by the blood of lambs. Exodus 13 begins the journey to the promised land where God says he will lead them and not leave them. And in Exodus 13, God says that as part of this redemption, any time the first male is born, whether to a mom and dad, or to livestock, that male is to be set apart for God. The firstborn male belongs to God, so this is the observance that Mary and Joseph were participating in. The fact that they take Jesus to the Temple for their “purification” as it says in verse 22, is a demonstration of their faith in God and that God delivers his people and leads his people. The firstborn belonged to God, so they had to take the firstborn to the Tabernacle in Exodus, or the Temple in Jesus’ case. Exodus 13 says that families had to pay a sacrifice to purchase their sons back from God. This new birth and purchasing back with a sacrificial lamb was to be a symbol of how God had redeemed Israel from slavery. Whenever a family had their first son, they would sacrifice a lamb. This was to point to God’s redemption of Israel from slavery. The firstborn animals were given to the temple, but the firstborn sons had a lamb substituted for them. The lamb was killed to purchase them back, just like what happened in Egypt.

This is the gospel in the Old Testament. Jesus is the firstborn son given as a sacrifice. He is the firstborn and the Lamb that redeems us from slavery. The firstborn is given by the Father so that we all might be redeemed from slavery and exile. So these couple of verses here in the middle of the Christmas story aren’t only to show that Mary and Joseph obeyed the Law. This points to who this firstborn son is. He is the one who will be given as a sacrifice to release us from slavery to sin and death.

This ceremony was observed by Mary and Joseph, and when they arrive in the Temple, there are people there worshiping. We see one of them in Luke 2:25-35. He was an old guy named Simeon. The defining statement about Simeon was that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. This idea of Consolation, carries the Exodus story forward again. Consolation can mean comfort, help, or encouragement depending on the context. In this time period many people were waiting for God’s Messiah to come and restore Israel as a political and military force. In Jewish thought, this Messiah was called by many names, but one was the Consolation of Israel. Israel had endured oppression and been ruled over for centuries and the expectation of the Messiah coming was growing and growing. This Messiah would be the one who would bring comfort in the midst of the oppression of this Exile and slavery under the Romans. During this time, many false-messiahs did come and attempted rebellion only to be crushed. So, for someone like Simeon to be expecting the Messiah in this time period, wasn’t the same as the people saying that the world is going to end on December 21st. It was different from that. This Messiah, or the one who would bring consolation to Israel, would restore Israel and overthrow the Romans. Consolation in this sense relates to what was lost or broken. Although Israel was a broken people, the Messiah would bring consolation and restore it.

This echoes back to the Exodus story on how God brought Israel out of Egypt as a great nation. The Messiah would make Israel even greater than before. Israel entered Egypt as a family but emerged as a nation. It was expected that the Messiah’s work would restore Israel in similar fashion. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. In his long life, it’s likely that he saw or heard about more than one false-messiah. He wasn’t promised that he would live to see the results the Messiah would bring for Israel, but he would see him. So he went to the Temple which would be the proper place to meet the true Messiah, and there he waited with faith and hope, and he expected to see the Messiah as the years and decades passed. But, God keeps his promise to Simeon.

We don’t know how he knew, but when he saw Jesus, he knew he was the Messiah. He didn’t need to see the water turned to wine, the healing, the triumph over demons, the betrayal, the crucifixion or the resurrection. He knew what God was going to do. God was going to bring Consolation to his people through the this baby. Verses 29-32 are a song of Blessing that Simeon sings. He sang a song about Jesus being Israel’s consolation. This baby he is holding is the conquering Messiah who will be the light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. He knew that God had brought light and Glory in this Baby. God had not abandoned his people in their suffering, but he brings consolation by joining with them in their suffering. He did it in Exodus bringing them out of Egypt and this Gospel is showing us he is doing it again in Jesus.

As this scene is unfolding in the Temple, a woman in her mid-80’s walks into the Temple just in time to see this. Her name was Anna and we read about her in Luke 2:36-38. She was a prophetess. Her life was devoted to worship in the Temple. She came to the Temple at the same time Simeon was holding Jesus and also realizes that this baby is the Long Expected Messiah. So, she begins to tell the other people in the Temple. It says she spoke of him to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” With Simeon, we talked about the Messiah bringing consolation and with Anna we see the Messiah is also going to bring redemption. Consolation relates to what is lost and broken. Jesus consoles by bringing restoration. Redemption relates to rescue from danger, release from slavery, or ransom from indebtedness. Again the story of the Exodus is echoed in Luke 2. People expected the Messiah to release Israel from Roman oppression and bring redemption. This baby will pay the ransom of Israel, Jesus will bring redemption to Israel. But it won’t just be for Israel, but as a light to the Gentiles as well. Jesus doesn’t free Israel from the Romans, but he frees humanity from sin’s oppression.  He brings a redemption that causes release from the captivity of death to eternal life. He pays the penalty that sin would have exacted from us and gives us resurrection instead. Because of Jesus, God offers us consolation for our past and redemption for our future. He forgives us of our past and he gives us freedom for our future. He pardons our sin and he seals our salvation.

Simeon and Anna lived in faith and hope for decades before seeing God fulfill the expectations that he placed within them by allowing them to see Jesus. Jesus the Messiah who is Israel’s consolation and redemption is also ours. Our attempts to find meaning and fulfillment in the pleasure, or power, or possessions of this world leave us empty and unsatisfied. They leave us longing for the consolation and redemption only found in Jesus. Our suffering, heartache, and brokenness fuel this same longing. When tragedy comes, we want it undone. We want it to come untrue. When the realization of that impossibility overwhelms us, we cry out wondering how God lets these things happen. Answer elude us all, but even if we had answers, it wouldn’t be enough. We want justice and restoration. And when we consider how even the best of lives eventually intersect with tragedy and death, we don’t know why God allows our world to operate this way.

What does all of this mean? Why do people go into theaters and schools and shoot people? It’s illogical, senseless, but most specifically, it is evil.

Where is God in all of this? He is infinitely strong so he will bring justice and he is infinitely good, so he has reasons which reason cannot comprehend. But most importantly, he has not abandoned us. One thing this does NOT mean is that God does not care. God identifies with those who suffer. He joins himself with Israel, with Mary and Joseph, with Simeon, with Anna, with people in Newtown, CT, and with us. He doesn’t merely watch us suffer, he steps into our suffering and he conquers it. He submits to death and then overwhelms it. God knows what it’s like to lose his son in a senseless act of violence, in a display of sinfulness and evil. And it is because of this that like Simeon and Anna, we await the Messiah who will bring us Consolation and redemption. His Kingdom will come and his will, will be done on earth as in heaven. He will reign in righteousness and justice, love will be his law, and we will be his people and he will be our God. Let today be the day you trust in Jesus for your consolation and redemption.

Prayer for the Rineholt Family in the Dominican Republic

I wanted to ask that you be in prayer for our friends Shawn and Jen Rineholt as they minister in the Dominican Republic. They are enduring some significant difficulties today. Here are two messages Shawn posted on Facebook today”

Please pray for our city today as the water supply from San Rafael has been broken and one of the main purified water suppliers (Everest) uses this as the source of water. So purified water for the whole city of Barahona is very limited. Not sure but we may drive somewhere else to get water for the family.

I read this as I was in the library this afternoon. When I left the library, I stopped at the water fountain to get a quick sip. As the water swirled in my mouth before swallowing, I thought about the Rineholt’s. The next time you get a drink of water or wash your hands, please pray for them. Pray that the water supply would be restored very quickly.

A few hours later, this is the message he posted:

So now I am asking for prayer for us specifically. We just replaced the transmission last week in the van, and when Jen was leaving to take a neighbor to the hospital the engine through a rod and oil is leaking everywhere.

As you might imagine, having a van is very important for a family of seven. Also, it is a huge asset to their ministry. Please pray that they can get this fixed quickly and that it is affordable.

Please pray for these needs for the Rineholt family. But, most of all, pray that they would not be discouraged but would see the Spirit move in the midst of their trials. Pray that this difficulty would lead to fruitful ministry and that they would know God’s peace and provision in this time.

If you would like to give financially, go here.

 

 

Small Group Recap for the Week of 9.23.12

This week in Small Group Bible Study, we read and discussed 1 Thessalonians 3. Here are the major points which we discussed:

1 Thessalonians 3

(1) What does this passage teach about God?

  • If we cannot help someone in our presence, God has given us prayer to aid others (verse 10).
  • God will work in his church through prayer. There are other ways that God works in his church, but a primary and essential way is with and through the prayers of those in the church (verses 10-13).
  • God is the one who makes our love for one another increase (verse 12).
  • Jesus is coming again(verse 13).

(2) What does it teach about me?

  • Trials and suffering can cause us to be unsettled in our faith if we aren’t encouraged through them by other believers (verses 2-3).
  • We will face trials without a doubt because we follow Jesus (verse 3 “we were destined for them” (NIV)).
  • God can use my faith to encourage someone who is enduring trial, distress, and persecution (verse 7).

 3) How must I believe or obey to align my life with God’s Word?

  • Paul was facing persecution for preaching the Gospel, how does this give perspective to our trials? Do I endure suffering for a worldly gain that I will not endure to further the Gospel? Do I give time and energy to everything except the Lord’s work?
  • Is my life enhanced by my work to help other stand firm in the Lord? (verse 8)
  • Do we pray for other this way: to supply what is lacking in the other’s faith, to increase their love for others, so their hearts would be blameless in holiness? (verses 10-13)
  • Does our church have overflowing love for each other? (verse 12)
  • Am I praying for fellow believers? (verses 10-13) This is how God will grow the love for one another within our church. If I’m not experiencing the deep and authentic love within the church body, is it because I have neglected to pray for it?

 

What insights do you have into this passage that aren’t mentioned above?

Small Group Recap for the Week of 9.16.12

This week in Small Groups at SCC, we took a look at 1 Thessalonians 2. Take a moment to read it, and reflect on these questions:

1 Thessalonians 2

(1) What does this passage teach about God?

In verse 12 we learn that God calls us into his Kingdom and glory. If he calls us then we are welcomed! This is a wonderful truth; the King of heaven and earth wants us with him in his Kingdom. Then, in verse 13 we see that God’s Word is working in the lives of believers to change their lives.

(2) What does it teach about me?

In verse 2, the apostle Paul writes about the suffering that they experienced in the city of Philippi. Yet, that suffering did not hinder them from preaching the Gospel to the church of the Thessalonians. Suffering does not necessarily mean failure. In fact, it seems that in Paul’s mind the opposite may be the case. He suffered because of the Gospel and it produced greater boldness in his proclamation of the Gospel. When we endure suffering or hardship, it is important to let the Gospel define our perspective on our circumstances. In verses 4-12 Paul describes how the difficult circumstances were proof that his motives were pure. His desire was for God’s glory not his own, otherwise he would not have endured so much. In verse 4 he notes that God is the one who tests the heart and enduring such suffering was proof of having passed the test. In at least one sense, trials are ways for our motives to be purified. So when we endure them, we can rejoice because God is working genuine and authentic faith within us.

In verse 8, Paul rejoices not only in sharing the Gospel with this church, but in sharing life. Church isn’t only about sharing the Gospel together, but sharing life together. This is an example of how God creates an atmosphere of love when his people place one another first and proclaim the Gospel. Many churches are soured because individuals put themselves first and neglect to talk about and obey the Gospel. But, Paul speaks of being “affectionately desirous” of the people making up this church because of their love and faithfulness to the Gospel.

3) How must I believe or obey to align my life with God’s Word?

In verses 3 and 5 among other places, motives are discussed. Are my motives pure in the sense of being Gospel-focused rather than self-focused? At this point in America, we aren’t really in any danger of physical persecution, so in light of how the early Christians suffered (see verse 2), we must ask ourselves, “Am I sharing the Gospel in spite of opposition?”

God witnesses our motives for living as seen in verse 5, am I living to please people or God?

In verse 10 Paul speaks about his conduct. Is my life blameless or does it contradict the Gospel I preach? In verse 12 we are charged to live a life worthy of God. Am I living that way? If not, why not? It says we are called to his Kingdom and glory, so this ought to motivate us to live in a worthy way. In verse 13 he commends this church for receiving God’s word properly. Am I believing God’s word, or negotiating my obedience?

Small Group Recap for the week of 9.9.12

This week in Small Groups at SCC, we took a look at 1 Thessalonians 1. Take a moment to read it, and reflect on these questions. Feel free to discuss what your group talked about in the comment section.

Context: The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to a church in the Greek (Macedonian) city of Thessalonike. He proclaimed the Gospel there on his second missionary journey to take the Gospel all over the Roman world.

(1) What does this passage teach about God?

Verse 9 refers to God as the “living and true God”.  Verse 10 refers to Jesus as God’s Son who will come from heaven. God raised Jesus from the dead. And because of this Jesus rescues us from the wrath of God, which is the death that we all face as punishment because of sin. We often don’t like to think about God in terms of wrath. But, if God truly loves, then he will display his wrath against anything that threatens that love. Also, in verse 10, it is important to keep the “Jesus who delivers us” together with the “wrath to come”. Jesus has made a way for us to not suffer God’s wrath, but instead be welcomed as sons and daughters into his Kingdom. We look forward to when Jesus is going to come again because we await his rescue, not his wrath. The way we “wait” (verse 10) is with expectation and is motivation for living and ministering faithfully.

(2) What does it teach about me?

The general theme of verses 2-10 is Thanksgiving. Verse 2 begins with “We give thanks…” and then in the verses following we see what thanks is given “for”. As we look at the people God has placed in our lives, how might we give thanks for them?

Paul remembers how the members of this church turned from idols to follow the true God in verse 9. In Paul’s day, people worshipped physical, actual idols made from wood, stone, or metal. They believed these statues possessed powers that they could benefit from if they worshipped them. In some places in our world people still worship this kind of idol. What about in places where people don’t worship physical idols? The famous reformer Calvin wrote, “the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.” We have a natural propensity to substitute things for God.  Our minds naturally replace a proper worship of God for lesser things, for idols. We are quite creative when it comes to devising ways to avoid following God properly. Let us regularly remember this and make sure we are following the One True God and not any lesser thing.

 3) How must I believe or obey to align my life with God’s Word?

In verses 2 and 3, Paul mentions his constant prayers for this church. In this there is the implied command to pray for one another. In verse 4, he refers to these believers as “brothers loved by God”. This should remind us that because of Jesus, we are the family of God. We should care for one another like family. We are also loved by our Father. This is a truth we must never forget!

In verse 6 we see that following Jesus can lead to suffering. Is my love for comfort hindering my love for God? Also from verse 6, is the way we follow Jesus worth imitating? Verses 8 and 9 describe how the faith of these people causes life change that was noticed in their community. Is our faith known in such a way that it is obvious that we have turned from other things to follow God?

What truths or insights did you have regarding this passage?

Review and Reflect on Mark 4:35-41

Jesus has just finished teaching about responding to the Gospel in belief and repentance. He has taught how this response relates to those who are inside and outside the Kingdom of God. And lest we forget who this is who is saying these things, there is one final story in the context in Mark 4:35-41.

After spending the day teaching, they set out on the Sea of Galilee to cross to the other side in the evening. As they are sailing across, a storm blows up suddenly, which happens in the Sea of Galilee, and it was so violent that it started filling the boat with water.There is a contrast in verse 37 to Jesus sleeping in verse 38 that is almost humorous if you think about the situation. So they wake Jesus up, and ask him a question that all of us will probably eventually ask God if we haven’t already: “Don’t you care?!” They say “don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Don’t you care that I can’t pay my bills? Don’t you care that I’m sick? Don’t you care that someone I love has died? God, Don’t you care about what I’m going through?! This is not a new question for God, so we have it recorded here in Scripture so we know we aren’t alone in asking it. This is an important question that we have to answer. Does he care or doesn’t he? This is where the depth of our theology intersects with human suffering. All of a sudden God isn’t just an abstract idea anymore but someone who can affect my circumstances if he wants to. Remember, Jesus’ message is that God’s kingdom has come. He can help me if he wants to, but if he doesn’t want to, why not? These are tough questions.

Does God care about our suffering? Let’s think about it. If God didn’t let bad things happen to people to he loves, then only good things would happen to people he loves. Then, since bad things happen to everyone this means God would love no one. This is where many people stop, so they reject God and believe that either there is no God, or if there is one he certainly doesn’t care about me, and if he does care about me, he’s mad at me. Bad things do happen to everyone, even the billionaire who invented Red Bull died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 89. Bad things happen to billionaires, bad thing to happen to people in poverty. We can either stop there, or we can keep going. I want to keep going.

By definition, what makes God, God, is that he is all-powerful among other things. If God is not all-powerful then he is not God. If he is all-powerful, he must be stronger than our circumstances. Since God is God, his love is expressed and enacted in ways that are greater and more profound than our understanding of why good or bad things happen to good or bad people. If you have a God to be mad at for causing your suffering or sorrow, then you also have a God who understands things that you possibly cannot and loves you more than you can possibly know. We can’t have it both ways. If God caused it, he is strong enough and loving enough to have his reasons. If he’s not strong enough or loving enough, then he couldn’t do anything about it, and this is not the God of Christianity, but a mere idol. We are either at the mercy of the storm, or in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God.

So our premise that God won’t let his people go through peril and suffering is wrong. It’s bad theology. Good theology understands that God can let bad things happen to people he loves because he is God and he has loving purposes that are greater than even our suffering. So in the midst of our suffering, no matter how horrible, we cannot doubt that God loves us and cares deeply for us. This is why the Bible says, “cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you”.

We may not understand our suffering, and we might even be angry at God for allowing it, but we cannot think that he doesn’t care for us in infinite ways that we will spend eternity with him learning. Those who reject belief in God, are forced to be victims of Nature. Nature is going to wear you down and destroy you, it doesn’t love you. We will all fall victim to tragedy, or illness, or the wearing down of the body in old age. Nature is violent, overwhelming and unmanageable. We can fight against it, but we cannot endure forever. Jesus also lets things happen to us we don’t understand. He allows or even causes Nature to exact a toll on us. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. There is a crucial difference though. Nature is indifferent to humanity, Jesus is filled with love for us. He is great enough to have reasons to make us endure tragedy and trial even if we don’t know those reasons. Of course this is not simply an exercise in reasoning, this truth of God’s love for us even in suffering must be believed and we must feel it within us, it’s not just a matter of being convinced.

(Tim Keller’s book “The King’s Cross” was instrumental in helping me think through these things in light of this passage, I highly recommend it.)

So the disciples ask him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” And Jesus responds. Jesus speaks to the storm like you speak to a belligerent child. He says, “Enough” or “Stop” or “Quiet”. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t perform an incantation. He simply speaks, and like a compliant child, the storm obeys, and everything is calm. Then he asks them a question, “have you still no faith?” or “do you still have no faith?” They hadn’t yet understood that this man preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God was the King himself. This is what his parables were about. When the one who created the wind and waves commanded them, they obeyed. A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus teaching about the Sabbath day and saw that as it relates to Sabbath, Jesus says, “I don’t just instruct you to rest, I am rest.”Here he says, “I don’t just display power, I am power”. They were afraid of the storm, but now they are terrified of Jesus. And the disciples respond by asking one another, “Who is this?”

And we are left with this question for ourselves as well. Who is this Jesus to us? To you? to me? Is Jesus really the King who is bringing his Kingdom and one day, perhaps soon, it will come in all of its fullness and completion.  Who is this Jesus? Is he the all-powerful, all-loving God who rules over our joy and our suffering? If not, who is he then? Don’t reject or accuse him, believe and follow him. We rest in his strength and in his love for both today and for the future. Will you follow him?