Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Biblical Example...

... of obedience to God's will, from Numbers 9:15-23 (ESV):
On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.
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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Colossians 07: Let No One Disqualify You

Scripture Text: Colossians 2:16-23


Today is the second Sunday in Easter, and it is important to remember that the Easter season continues this week. We live as a resurrection people, as men and women who believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and we acknowledge him as Lord of everything in the universe, including our own lives, how we use all of the resources God has given to us, including our time and our money. Everything flows from this reality that Jesus is the risen King.

When we last examined Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we saw how Paul has shown them, and us, that God had put our sin-debt to death by nailing it to the Cross of Christ (Col. 2:14). If you acknowledge Jesus as Lord by faith, then the totality of your sin-debt is wiped out. It doesn’t exist anymore. In putting sin to death, Jesus disarmed all of the demonic rulers and principalities who would love to use that sin-debt as an occasion to accuse you, in order cause you shame and guilt in an attempt to persuade you that you might not be forgiven. Instead, Paul tells the Colossians, and us, that Jesus has “disarmed the rules and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15).

You would think that the stupendous payment God made for our sin through Jesus’ death on the Cross, followed by His vindication and victory of the resurrection, would be sufficient for everyone in the church who believes in Jesus by faith. How can you “achieve” any spiritual “fullness” greater than the full and complete pardon for sin granted graciously by a loving and merciful God? You can’t! Yet, beginning in the early church and continuing to this day, there are those for whom the idea of God’s gracious forgiveness is never enough. There has to be something more, some kind of ecstatic personal experience or insider knowledge of the divine that goes beyond the totally and complete victory Jesus won for us. And so there have been some, who usually appear in the church, who would employee “plausible arguments” (Col. 2:4) to persuade Christians into thinking there are ways to achieve spiritual fullness and enhanced spiritual knowledge apart from the fullness that is found only in Jesus, “in whom are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).

The Text – No Judgment, No Disqualification for Those in Christ

This week, Paul uses language that gets to the crux of what was going on in Colossae. It’s impossible to know with certainty, based on this letter, the exact details of the false teaching, but the details aren’t important. What is important is that there is, in the church, a suggestion that the completed work of Christ isn’t sufficient for the Christians, and that “spiritual advancement” could take place apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

When people appear in the church claiming to have a superior way of experiencing the fullness of Christ, we ought to be greatly suspicious. Such claims inevitably lead to unhelpful and even lethal divisions in the church. In Colossae, there were those who insisted that real spiritual fullness and advancement could only be achieved through the observance of certain rules and regulations, including engaging in spiritual practices of asceticism (self-denial).

Paul has just said that Jesus has “disarmed all the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him,” If Christ has won the victory of all demonic powers and has through His word granted forgiveness of sins, and if you, Colossian Christians, and you, Jackson Christians, believe this by faith, what more do you need? Do you need the approval of others who claim a great knowledge of spiritual techniques and refinements? To this Paul says, No!
[16] Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. [17] These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
One thing we can deduce from this is that it seems there were elements that were part of some kind of syncretism, a melding of religious systems, that a certain individual or individuals were trying to persuade the Colossians to follow. The allusions to festivals, new moons, and Sabbath seem to be a clearly Jewish in origin. And what Paul says about these is that they are “shadows” of the things to come.

The reason these “judgments” of others are invalid is that the old order has given way to a new kingdom reality in Christ. So, for example, what a person eats or drinks is not longer of concern. Romans 14:17, Paul states:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
What Paul is saying here is that righteousness comes from Christ and by faith in Him alone. And when by faith you know that the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to you, you can have peace and joy because you know that you will not ultimately be condemned in the judgment to come. The suggestion by some false teachers that non-observance of these regulations might impede spiritual growth is shown to be foolishness, mere shadows of an old order that has been decisively defeated by Jesus.

Just as there is no judgment for those who believe in Christ, no one who is in Christ will be disqualified by refusing to engage in other speculative, nonsensical spiritual practices of the world:
[18] Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
Here we get a sense of what these spiritual practices are really about, they are about appearing puffed up, of being more advanced in spiritual exercises that produce salvation in God. Today, this kind of thing surfaces with the increasingly popular melding of, say, Yoga and Christian meditation. But there is a fatal flaw in these practices, they are not rooted in Christ, but are instead of the world. So these false teachers are not, as Paul says, “holding fast to the Head” (verse 19). The Head is Jesus Christ, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” Spiritual growth and maturity in the church comes exclusively from God in the person of Jesus Christ. And such nourishment is for “the whole body,” not just for those who engage in various superfluous spiritual exercises.

Paul’s criticism in verse 19 is very devastating, because it clearly suggests the false teachers in Colossae were not attached to the head. Their practices had no substances, were mere shadows, and the “fulfillment” achieved by these false teachers was empty.

Paul reminds the Colossians that once you’re in Christ, you die to the old ways of the world and you die to the slavery that the demonic powers had over your life:
[20] If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—[21] “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” [22] (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?
If you have been so liberated from sin, Paul says, why on earth would you continue to obey worldly regulations about things that don’t even last, but perish “as they are used” Isn’t it nonsensical to give up your Christian liberty from sin in this way, by taking on rules and regulations that have no value whatsoever?

Now, at this point, you may be in total agreement with Paul. Why yes, you might say, I understand that if I’m in Christ and worship him alone, the old life is dead and gone and I have a new, joy filled eternal existence in Jesus. What would persuade me that Jesus isn’t enough in my life?

Why would anyone be tempted to go back to the worldly ways and under the slavery of the elemental spirits of the world? Paul reveals the answer to this question in the last verse of today’s reading:
[23] These [false teachings] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
All of these things, including asceticism (self-denial) and “severity to the body” (which may have included self-mutilation practices) are “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” In fact, what I think Paul is saying here is that they are totally about the indulgence of the flesh. These practices may seem to be very spiritual and pious, says Paul, but they are, in fact, rooted in our innate, sinful desire to justify ourselves by actions and practices we can undertake in order to be favorably received by God. These worldly exercises are about our sinful pride.

To all of that Paul says, forget it! Why, if you have received Christ through the Word of truth, the gospel, and have been graciously transferred into God’s Kingdom and have the assurance of eternal life with him, would you ever try to go it your own way? Why would you adopt the old ways of the world in an attempt to look better in the new world into which you have been transferred? All of the worldly ways lead to death! Why would you adopt ideas and practices that lead to death when you are already a recipient of eternal life in the Kingdom of God in Christ?


It is easy to stand here and, with you, say that we would never buy into this kind of thing, but in fact Christians do all the time. We live in a culture that thrives on self-exaltation and self-promotion, and I deeply worry that we are easy marks for spiritual teachings that make much of us and what we do at the expense of making much of Jesus and what he has already done.

Christians are constantly tempted to shift their focus away from Jesus and onto themselves. But, as Tullian Tchvidjian wisely notes, “To focus on how I’m doing more than on what Christ has done is Christian narcissism."1

These spiritual practices of the false teachers in Colossae were designed to make much of the self. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion” Paul writes. We always want salvation on our own terms, because then we can maintain some control. We can affect other’s perceptions of us though the power of positive thinking, we believe, even through others perceptions are infinitely less important to us than God’s perception of us in Christ. We are, by nature, a people who cannot stand the idea that Jesus should have had to die for our sins, especially if we like the sins in question, so we adopt practices and interpretations of Holy Scripture that suit us, even if they are false. We see this today in the contemporary debates over human sexuality and other hot-button topics. Humans have an almost unparalleled ability to find ways to avoid the saving purposes of God in their lives when there are parts of their lives they would prefer not be put to death. The reason they don’t want them to die is that have bought the lie that joy in God will someone be an insufficient replacement.

Is this the case for you? Is there some sin in your life that you think you cannot part with because it brings you such pleasure? Is there some kind of spiritual discipline or practice you believe is necessary to use in order to get God to do your bidding? Has the bible or the cross become a kind of talisman or good luck charm to you, to be used to provide a desired spiritual result that doesn’t depend first of all upon faith in the completed work of Christ?

Our text today says there ought to be none of that in the church because we are not the head of the body. Christ is, and Jesus will nourish us with his Word and Sacrament, as he always does. The end of our spiritual quest for fulfillment is a person, Jesus Christ. He is the Head. He leads the way. He feeds us the spiritual food He knows we need. He is our Lord. He is our Savior. He is our Rock and Fortress when the world itself shakes. He is the Alpha and Omega of all creation. He is the Lord of all life, including yours and mine. In Him, we are new people. We are resurrection people. Rest in that knowledge whenever your feeling disoriented and lost and let down by the elemental spirits of this age. Amen.

1From the following Twitter posting: http://twitter.com/#!/PastorTullian/status/63277008897060864

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
May 1, 2011
Second Sunday in Eastertide
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew
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The Wonderful Interruption

Scripture Text: Matthew 28:1-10


We are gathered here today to celebrate something we celebrate ever single Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Notice that I used the word, ‘dead.’ Our tendency is to imagine lots and lots of scenarios where Jesus wasn’t really quite totally dead. In fact, however, the Resurrection only has meaning for us if Jesus was totally, completely dead. He was as dead as you and I will be one day. As dead as those loved ones we pay visits to in the cemetery on Memorial Day. The Apostle’s Creed, which will we declare together during the baptism that follows this sermon, contains this phrase:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.
We cannot rush to the resurrection without seeing this first, because it is in the stark reality of death that our greatest hopes are realized – that God is, in fact, the sovereign Lord of all Creation, of all life and death, including all of our forthcoming deaths and burials.


One of the things that I love about the resurrection accounts in the scriptures is that you get a sense, in reading them, of just how confounding, confusing, the resurrection was. Nobody had seen anything like this. In this reading from Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other, mysteriously unspecified Mary, make their way in the twilight hours to the tomb where the corpse of Jesus has been placed. They were going there to care for the body on a Sunday morning. They couldn’t perform this work on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, because God commanded rest on that day. So they left for the tomb in the morning. I imagine they are like most people leaving for work on the first workday of the week. If we were around then, we’d probably conclude that the two Marys had a bad case of the Sundays, made devastatingly worse because of this grave duty they were to perform.

Normalcy comes to an end, however, in verse two. There is an earthquake caused by the arrival of an angel, resulting in the stone that sealed the tomb off to roll away. Verse 3 reads, “His [the angel’s] appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” Something huge has already happened, something altogether unexpected. Tombs and graves tend to creep us out, don’t they? So how would you react when, while visiting a much-beloved family member’s grave at the riverside cemetery, something like this happened? What would your response be? My guess is that it would be not much different from that of the guards, who were likely battle-hardened and unafraid of just about anything. But in the presence of the angel they collapsed like dead men in fear. Which is pretty ironic when you think about it. Jesus is supposed to be inside the tomb, dead, but, as we will soon see, is not in the tomb and is alive, while the guards, in confronted by the appearance of the angel, end up like dead men.

And in the middle of this shock and confusion, here’s this angel, this beautiful, glorious angel, shining with the blinding light of a bolt of lightening. And the angel is sitting on the recently removed stone. I can imagine the angel sitting there, dangling his legs over the edge of the stone, perhaps even smiling, because he already knows the best news in the entire universe. I like to think he could barely hold it in.

He sees that the women, like the guards, are filled with fear. And so the angel tells the women this, “[5] Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. [6] He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. [7] Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” There is so much here to unpack.

First, the women are told not to be afraid. Fear blinds us to the truth. And the message the women will carry needs to be heard in all its fullness. And so the first thing the angel does is allay their fear, so that they will be able to hear and see the truth. We need to hear this message every week, and yet many, many people are fearful, fearful of life and fearful of the future. If you’re like that, this news from the angel is exactly what you need to hear, because the resurrection puts death, and therefore fear, to death.

Second, the angel already knows why the women are there, to do work with a corpse. Having told them not to be afraid, the angel then shares with them the greatest news in the universe. “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” The corpse you’re here tend isn’t there. The reason is this: That corpse no longer a corpse. It is the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The past-tense verb translated “he has risen” means that Jesus is already on the move. If you want to be with Jesus, you need to go where he is.

Third, the God appointed the women to know the truth using their physical senses, so the angel directs them to go and see, use their eyes, to see that Jesus is no longer entombed. We are granted the grace to see Jesus through the eyes of faith, illuminated by Word and Sacrament. If the Holy Spirit comes upon you right now, you will see Jesus by faith.

Fourth, the women are then charged with sharing the best news in the universe with the disciples. No dilly dallying for them! And notice what the angel says about Jesus, “…he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” This is the Christ of the past, present, and future. Again, the angel instructs them to look. “Behold,” “you will see him,” “See, I have told you.” The Jesus we praise has been seen in glory, and sends those who call Him Lord into the world to share the news of God’s kingdom to every nation on the planet.

The women are instructed to leave quickly, and so they do leave quickly. Can you imagine what they might be feeling at this point? Matthew says in verse 8 that they were filled with “fear and joy” at the same time. That seems to be a very odd combination, doesn’t it? Most of us would conclude that fear and joy cancel each other out. In my preparations for this Resurrection Sunday, I was reading a commentary by Dale Bruner about this very verse. In it he relates the story about being at a pastor’s conference where this very question was raised. “How can fear and joy exist at the same time?” During the discussion period, one pastor rose up and declared: “Fear and joy can co-exist; I know, I just got married.”1 In fact, encountering a mighty work of God will cause both fear and joy.

Their journey will be interrupted, however, in a wonderful way. As they are scurrying to the disciples, “Behold, Jesus met them.” Behold! Look! See! Jesus is not some kind of unreal, ghost-like figure. He can be seen an observed with the senses. He says to them “Greetings!”. But Bruner notes, very helpfully, that the Greek word here is actually a friendly greeting. It’s not the formal greeting we read in most English translations. There is familiarity in the greeting. Jesus is saying, in essence, “Hi! It’s so good to see you again.” I like being able to say that at Easter time. Jesus is again happy to see you here in worship.

What is the response of the women? They “came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” They took hold of him. They took hold of his body, loved ones. The resurrection body has substance to it, just like your arm has substance if you touch it with your hand. And as they grabbed his feet, they worshipped him. What is huge in this passage is that Jesus doesn’t attempt to dissuade them from worship at all. Jews only worshipped the one true God. The law prohibited worship of anything or any creature apart from God. So what Matthew is saying here is very, very important – Matthew is testifying that Jesus himself the fullness of God incarnate, a God who can be reached out and touched. The God of glory can be touched and seen and experience in Jesus Christ. Your God can be known, loved ones, because Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus gets the last word inn our reading, as he does everywhere in His kingdom. Notice that he gives the women almost the same instructions as the angel, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Jesus puts them back on the move. He does that when he calls someone to follow him. You don’t come to Jesus and then sit around. He calls you to go. “Salvation is for service” says Bruner, and I think that’s right. You cannot be a Christian if you do not believe that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And you are likely not a Christian if your life shows no evidence in action that you believe in him by faith by living for him every day.

There is one more thing to notice in Jesus’ instruction. Do you remember what the angel told the Marys to do? He instructed the women to “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead” (v. 7). But Jesus says to them, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.” The disciples of the Master are now more than that to Jesus, they are his brothers. Mary and Mary are to tell them to go meet with Jesus in Galilee. Which means that the disciples will have to hear and believe the women and then to go Galilee by faith in order to see Jesus. It is the same way today. If you want to see Jesus, you must follow Him in faith. If you follow Him by faith, you become his brothers. Romans 8:14-17
[14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

So that concludes the account of the discovery of the resurrection and the best news ever given or received in the universe. Why is this the best news? Here are the biggest reasons:

By payment of Jesus’ precious blood, your sin-debt was totally paid. Colossians 2:13-14, Paul writes, “[13] And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” So the first answer to the question, “Why is the resurrection the best news?” is this: It is proof positive that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for your sin and my sin was totally sufficient. It show that Jesus was telling the absolutely truth when he said on Good Friday, “It is finished.” In the resurrection, God displays his glory most fully by saving his people for the purposes of glorying Himself eternally.

Second, the resurrection is the best news in the universe because it is a declaration that death itself has been conquered. Death entered the world through humanity’s sin. Right now, the resurrection means that death’s stinger has been removed, and that death itself will be obliterated when Jesus comes again. Everyone sitting in this room will be resurrected on the last day. Acts 24:15, Paul states “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” (See also Revelation 20:11-15). This means that there will be those who will be resurrected unto judgment. But for those who are in Christ, the resurrection brings with it the sure and certain hope of eternal life with the Father, because by faith in Christ all of your sins are forgiven, and you will be spared from the judgment to come in order to become join heirs with Christ and even judges the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).

Beloved, it is so good to see you here today. I want to encourage you to live as the resurrection-people you are. Because of Jesus’ finished work, you have inherited everything that Jesus has inherited. You lack for nothing, even though you may think otherwise. Our afflicted lives are no longer pitiable. You have no need to be afraid of anything, because you are destined for eternal life and glory with the Father. If he has called you by name, do what your instructed to do and go into the world proclaiming his fame everywhere, in word and deed. If he is calling you now to faith in Himself, do not delay. Run to him! Run to him and live forever for him and for his glory of his resurrection power! I cannot promise you that there will not be pain or suffering if you follow Him. Jesus told us we would suffer. But I can promise you that you will know His joy, the only real joy there is, the kind that knows it will live forever. Amen.

1Bruner, Frederick. Matthew : A Commentary – The Christbook: Matthew 13-28. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
April 24, 2011
Resurrection of the Lord
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew