Matthew 28: 19
Jesus was dead. Jesus was risen. But they weren’t sure yet.
This encounter with Christ at the end of the gospel according to Matthew describes the encounter that believers and doubters had with the newly risen Christ. This rising up was evidence to them that Jesus had indeed conquered death, had fulfilled the prophesie, and had made the way for salvation.
That’s all fine and good. But what do we do here and now while we await the only sure thing in life; death? Here Jesus leaves no doubt or question. He instructs us to do three separate and distinct things:
In some ways we might very easily assume that because Jesus paid it all on the cross as soon as we accept him into our hearts our work is done. After all, didn’t our pastors say that if you take one step towards Jesus, he would take two towards you? That his yoke was easy and his burden light, and what could be lighter than taking it easy and not working anymore to curry favor in the eyes of the Lord?
This in some ways suggests to me that his will on earth as it is in heaven is not thornless roses and clouds. It’s work. Work that you want to do that comes with joy and no paycheck but with every need you ever had already fulfilled. The work of the saints according to this passage is for us to eschew a lazy Christian ethic and get up from or place of comacency and go. Go from the comfort of the pew. Go from the easy chair with the television evangelist on. Go from your place of comfort and choose to lean on faith. This is not comfortable. It never was intended to be. It was instead meant to be a promise that no matter where you go, he will be there with you as a rod and staff guiding and protecting you. But you must go.
That is understandable, but to teach. What are we to teach? It would be easy to become sidetracked into teaching the wrong things. Think of how we are when we know that we know that we know what is. You are certain that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll be able to retire and have a glorious golden age in the sunset of your life. Right? No? What happened to that knowledge? Nothing like that is assured. But we still teach it. Neither did Jesus promise us an easy life yet some still teach that. He taught us to love one another as he loves us. That is hard because the truth is, it’s easier to fight and struggle fuss and cause war than it is to love and stay our raised fist. Teach his love. Teach the basic ethic to love one another in every land.
Baptize. Baptism is not simply getting wet and it doesn’t save you. A baptism is an outward demonstration of the change that has already occurred in your heart. Evidence to all that you’ve entered into relationship with Christ. Baptism is an immersion into the water but it is also immersion of your spirit into one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is the great act we can make to show our unashamed willingness to love, to walk, and to proclaim the glory of God in our lives.
2 Timothy 1:9
This passage is shocking to the new Christian who may not realize that Jesus was here at the beginning. What beginning? The beginning before the world was formed. Before the stars were flung against the inky blue blackness of space and time. Before there was form in the void. Before you yourself were corporeal and walked.
In this passage I see God reveal to me the awesome truth of salvation. That we cannot do anything to earn his grace. We could work day in and day out to the glory of his kingdom without ceasing and without rest. We could raise the dead and converse with every being the universe has and share the gospel to all who have ears. We could live faultless from this day forward and cause no one to stumble. We could pastor the pastor and give peace to the troubled everywhere. And yet we still could not earn a place in his palace of many rooms where Jesus might go to prepare for us. Our works are insufficient in his sight. Yet he will welcome us in if we just accept his grace. But I thought he gave his grace to us 2000 years ago. Not before it all began.
Therein lies the shock.
What grace could Jesus have given us before the known universe even began? Timothy is saying that grace and purpose are not mutually exclusive. The purpose of God is not to set down commandment after commandment law after law and edict after edict by which he will judge us worthy or wanting. It seems to this uneducated deacon that Gods purpose is to reveal grace to us. Grace to be his representative on earth. Grace to receive his blessings here and now to his glory. Grace that we might do unto others as he has done unto us. Grace to receive the right hand of fellowship in his presence. Grace to enter thou in, as his good and faithful servant. Grace to receive the blood of Christ which we didn’t earn but he gave willingly for our sake. Grace to be in relationship with the eternal and living God. Grace to be ever ready to practice mercy on those who have done wrong and deserve justice, but instead receive…. grace.
And he planned it in the beginning when the holy trinity were as one in the beginning. Before.
1 John 4:9
The Christmas season is always hard on people for one reason or another. It may be because we are suffering in poverty. Or perhaps there’s someone you love who longs to see you but isn’t able to for any number of reasons. Or maybe there is someone that loved you, but is no longer of this world. Sometimes plans are made to see one another but circumstances prevent this from happening. Maybe it was a card, or gift that you expected that never came. Maybe someone gave their word to you that this Christmas they wouldn’t let you down… and then did.
But consider this: what if THE gift had never come? What if THE biggest gift of all was expected and never came? In 1 John 4:9 the Word of God talks of the reason we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it because of a promise God made in Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would bear a child and name him Immanuel. But that was years before the birth of Jesus. What would have happened if Gods promise of the coming Immanuel had never come to be? Or put another way: what if the promises of God were no more reliable than those of mortal man? 1 John speaks to me by saying that the promises of God are the only ones I can expect to happen.
But is the promise of God fulfilled because we deserve it?
Every Christmas we enter the holiday with visions of sugarplums dancing in our childish heads and hopes that a jolly fat guy will drop down our chimney with gifts we deserve because we were good this year. How do we know he’s coming? Because the commercial told me my deservedness should allow me to expect him to come. But if I really examine myself, I know I deserve nothing less than Gods judgement because every day I sin a little. It may be as simple as having negative thoughts of my neighbor who chose not to say good morning or as egregious as stealing supplies from my overseers stores. I may think in the natural I deserve a break today, but I don’t deserve anything of the sort; especially at Christmas.
But God made me…and God made you…and God made our neighbor. God is our Father and because I am His son he loves me too much to treat me like a stranger. 1 John says that I can expect the only son of God to come not because I deserve life, but because my sin deserved death. Oh, but His love… His love was manifest in the person of his son wrapped in human flesh and given as a living sacrifice so that I would not die but live through his grace. Honestly I cannot think of a better gift that I know I can expect. I expect man to make promises all the time. On his whim, circumstance, or choice he may decide to reprioritize and deny his promise to me. But not God and that is why Christmas matters to me. I urge you to think of the promises that God has kept. The promise made that He is there with us in the joy and the pain. He is there in the valley and on the hill. The promise he would never again destroy the world and signed it with a rainbow. The promise that if we choose Him, and reject walking alone, God will walk with us all the days of our life. This is Christmas.
I ask you to remember that no matter whom you meet or what you read that tells you otherwise, you are worth it. You are a child of the living God and deserve his judgement but instead you have been given a Christmas gift called grace. You are loved even when you don’t think you deserve it and even when you don’t feel it. If you weren’t loved, Jesus would never have come. He never would’ve been born and he never would’ve fulfilled his father’s promise. My brothers and sisters, I wish you a very blessed, expectant, and promised Christmas.
It is no surprise or mystery why Jesus came to dwell among us. He came to die so that when we reach our appointed time, we may have eternal life in him.
But why are we to die? What purpose is there in our dying? This passage seems to offer a glimpse into the answer which I feel is less why we die but more why we are to live.
Jesus died once for our sins and we are promised to see him again. He has conquered death and sin and will await us in the eternal with all power in his hands. So when we get there, what shall be our testimony? What should he know about us when we see him again? Again…. when did you last see Jesus? Was it in a selfless act of kindness? A babies laugh? A miracle in the hospital? In the helping hand of a friend? Did you see Jesus? If you haven’t yet seen him, I encourage you to seek him out. Jesus is there if you have eyes to see and a heart that is open to his love.
So when you see him again, what will be your report? This is the time of judgement (vs. 27) but this is not the end. While we yet live, this passage suggests that Jesus died bearing the sins of the world and will be seen again without that sin. Another passage teaches that the sins of the world are cast into the sea of forgetfulness. So what sins will we have? Only those we carry with us. It seems to me that means that it is not prescribed that we, born into sin, need be burdened by it as we transition into the eternal. If we repent and present ourselves to Jesus knowing we were in a sin sick world but not of that sin sick world, I believe that he will receive us as faithful stewards and will bid us enter in and join him in the place with many rooms which he prepared for us.
Reject sin, embrace love, seek him, and when the THE of judgement comes, the only one who was ever wholly without sin may yet receive you into his bosom.
Father, I ask you to purge me of evil report and make me more like your image. Make me into a disciple that is a light unto the world. This I pray. Amen.
I cannot think of a time in my life where I was guaranteed success. I am not able to recall a time when I knew that nothing I was about to do could fail. Oh, to be sure, I was not lacking in confidence but I was never quite assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not fail at something. My mother did her level best to assure me. My friend did his best to reassure me. I had many choir directors and creature comforts all in my corner promising that I could make it through whatever may come so long as I was prepared. But the simple truth I arrive at now is that nothing I did was successful because of any of them. Nothing I succeeded in was a result of my work alone. All success and failure, attempts and misses, hits and triumphs were because God was within me.
This letter Paul wrote to Ephesus was closed with that admonition that we recognize that when we consider our paths forward, first we must consider God. God is able to do not just all tings, but do them exceedingly. That is to say beyond our own limited expectations and abilities. His power is in us and that is such a concept that I’m afraid I cannot fully comprehend it. It seems that what Paul is saying is that God works his miracles and everyday actions though us. His power is infinite and beyond all measure. The same God who flung stars against the inky blackness of space and spun fire and dust into globes and upon those globes he placed life and life more abundantly. Now if God can do all that, what re can he do in our lives? He can do exceedingly in journal lives if we just allow his power to work in and through us. This is why Jesus said it is better that I leave you now so that I may be in you. Being in us is so much more powerful than him simply being with us. The Lord our God is all powerful and his word does not go out and return void. When he is at work within us, his will is sure to be done.
But the last part is that once we recognize the power God has within us, we are to offer glory to his son Jesus the Christ. But what is the church (vs. 21) he speaks of? A building? A temple? A holy place? Yes, but more. Church is the people of God. This was the early church and not known as Christian yet but rather The Way. We are the church. For many, the only church a person will see is sour works here as we live our daily lives. Paul wanted the church of Ephesus to understand that God is infinitely powerful, he is at work within us as his believers, his work will be done in greater ways than we can possibly imagine, and the power within is not in a building of stone but of flesh.