søndag 19. april 2015

1 Timothy 1:18-2:7 Don’t shipwreck your faith!

1 Timothy 1:18-2:7

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. 19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. 20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.

Fight! Battle! Cling! Violated! Shipwrecked! Thrown to Satan! This is normal, everyday Christian life, Christian ministry. There wasn’t something weird or super spiritual going on down in Ephesus. Some guys were going around twisting the gospel for selfish gain. For money, basically. And Paul is urging Timothy not to fall into the same trap, but stay the true course. Fight the good fight! Stay the course. Don’t be swayed. Because this is a spiritual battle. This is life and death. This is heaven and hell.
This is what we’re going to look at this morning. First, we’ll see how false teachers twist the gospel into a false gospel by corrupting the law. Then we’ll look at what the law is really there for (it’s for showing us our sin). And then we’ll see what we should be doing then, if what the false teachers are telling (follow the law to earn your salvation) is wrong.

1. False teachers twist the gospel

Why would these teachers become false? Why would they, as v19 says “deliberately violate their conscience”?

Well, we find the answer a bit later on in the letter to Timothy. 6:5 These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy.
Money and power. Nothing new under the sun, is there. The same old temptations that can cause anyone to stumble. And men are particularly prone to the temptations of money and power. And those in leadership – oh even more so. It is not surprising, therefore, that 2:1 urges us to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

Day after day we read or hear stories of corruption, nepotism, favouritism – people using their power, their leadership positions, not for the good of the people but for their own selfish gain, and their family members’. And the church is not immune! We are a club for sinners, not a holy huddle.... J

We need to be wary of greed, particularly as ministers – and we need to be careful in listening to ministers whose lives seem to be dominated by money and love of money.

Because love of money leads to violating your conscience and corrupting the gospel.

Why? Because, annoyingly, the gospel is free! Christ came to save sinners, and he bore the cost. There is no way to earn money from the gospel, the true gospel. No-one ever got rich by following Christ! So you need to change the gospel, you need to corrupt the gospel so that people are not forgiven unless they come to you and pay you to dispense a blessing. You need a gospel of works, not a gospel of grace. So the first thing you need to do is bring back the law as a way of salvation. Follow the Law, and you will be saved. That has the extra advantage of putting you above everyone else, because, of course, you’re really good at keeping the law. And then, if you’re really smart, you’ll tell people that you can pray for them or bless them, for a small tax-deductible “donation” of course.

The irony is, that using the law like this, is using the law incorrectly! v8 For we know the law is good when used correctly (word there is lawfully). There is a lawful way of using the law. But these false teachers, trying so hard to keep the law to earn their salvation, well they are using the law unlawfully – using the law in a way that breaks the law! So ironic! Trying to keep the law to earn your salvation means that you automatically break the law – whoops!

So beware of the law-preachers. Beware of anyone who offers you blessing linked to money. Beware of anyone who says you need to do this or else you are cursed. Or you need to come through me or this organisation or do this ritual.

What does 2:5 say? 5 For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.

A mediator is someone who stands between us and God. He is the one who represents us – the one who can call on God to declare us righteous. Why would you want anyone or anything other than Christ to be your mediator? Don’t fall into the trap!

The Law is not our mediator. False teachers always want to turn you off Christ, and on to anything else, particularly the law.

So, if that understanding of the law is wrong, what is the Law for?

2. The Law shows us our sin

You see, the law shows us that we are sinners. 9 For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. 10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching 11 that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.

These false teachers were using the law wrongly – corrupting the gospel by corrupting the law. They were saying the law is for righteous people.
The translation here of v9 is a bit poor because “people who do what is right” can sound like following the law, being good – which is exactly what Paul is arguing against. He writes the law is not for the “dikaio” (righteous or just) but for the lawless, etc. It’s the same word in Romans 3:21 diakosune (the righteousness of God has been given). So v9 says the law is not for the righteous (we who have been made right by Jesus) but it is for the unrighteous.

In what way? Well, the law reveals our unrighteousness. It’s like a thermometer which measures if we have a fever. It diagnoses the problem. But the thermometer is not the cure. Imagine if the doctor said, oh yes, you have a fever – now go home and every day take your temperature with the thermometer. You’d think what an idiot! That can’t help me. I need medicine!

That is what we do when we turn to the law – the diagnostic instrument – and try to turn it into a cure.

The diagnosis is quite frighteningly broad, did you notice that? Our eyes probably fell on the sexual immorality bit – probably on the homosexuality since that’s so politically incorrect. Now it’s quite clear that homosexuality (that is, members of the same sex having sexual intercourse – a man pleasuring a man sexually or a woman pleasuring a woman sexually) that is a sin, is breaking the law, according to God, and since he made us, and He is the standard of moral goodness, we can have no argument against him. So if you disagree with that, then take it up with God, not with me – I’m just the messenger.
But notice, please, what the Word of God says. It does not say “homosexuality is wrong” and only that. It says homosexuality, slavery, lying, sexual immorality, and even breaking your promise is wrong! Oh, and anything else that is contrary to the gospel. Wow. That covers a lot.

So, let’s take sexual immorality – that covers things like watching pornography, one-night stands, bestiality, adultery, even cohabitation “samboer” – basically, God’s standard is this “Am I married to this person?” If yes, have sex with them, and have it often. If no, then don’t have sex with them – and that includes any kind of sexual intercourse!
If you’re living together, move out, propose, get married, and move back in – and while you’re living separately don’t have sex out of honour to God.
Then there are things that we need to be wary of, things like romance novels and films or sexually explicit novels or films – like 50 shades of grey, like Game of Thrones and True blood and other such programs, or even the English Patient or You’ve got mail. You need to decide what will keep your conscience clear, and where we draw the line will be different, since things affect us differently. But you must think about it, and ask God to show you.

What does it say about us and about our society that sex sells. We are sick. Actually, we’re literally sick. I read that 20 000 Norwegians each year are infected with Chlamydia (a sexually transmitted disease that if untreated can render a woman sterile!) – and of those 10 000 have a strain that is resistant to antibiotics. Sexual freedom? Sounds like sexual entrapment to me.

But sex is the big one Paul uses to get our attention. But there’s also lying. And promise-breaking. How many of us are guilty of that! The point is, we are all guilty! The liar, the practising homosexual, the adulterer, the promise-breaker. There we all stand, diagnosis: sick. Prognosis (result): fatal. We are all sinners and the sin will kill us. And guess who else stands with us? Oh yes, all those who have been KEEPING the law - those who have not lied, or broken a promise, or ever sinned sexually. If they exist, they are also condemned! Why? Because their trust is in their performance, in keeping the law – and that is to use the law wrongly, which in itself is breaking the law.

Praise God for the gospel! Praise God that the gospel isn’t “be good, really, really good” but “admit that you are bad, really, really, bad - and cry out to God for mercy”.

19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear.

And as we saw last week, God is able to take the worst of sinners – Paul – and turn him completely around! 15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”... 17 All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

The Law shows us our sin, but is not the way to salvation. The way to salvation is Christ. 2:6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. Freedom. Not enslavement to the law – and certainly not to make us dependent on some false teacher.

3. How should we then respond?

How do we avoid the big, easy error of earning our salvation and so shipwrecking our faith? How do we stop trying to manipulate God? How do we avoid twisting the gospel to give us power over people?

First, we must accept the fact that we are forgiven! 19 Cling to your faith in Christ. We cannot earn our salvation and we do not need to. Christ came to save sinners. At the right time Christ dies. And that wasn’t reluctant, something he didn’t want to do. 2:3 This is good and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

He wants all of us to come to him. He wants us to depend on him. It pleases him when we come to Him for salvation. That should give us great confidence indeed.

(By the way, if you’re anything like me, you may at this point be going “Hey, if God wants everyone to be saved, then why isn’t everyone saved? Isn’t he sovereign? Or is everyone going to be saved?” That’s the idea of universalism – in the end, no matter what, everyone is saved.
Unfortunately it is wrong, because a whole lot of Scripture contradicts it. You need to let Scripture interpret Scripture.
Why doesn’t God do it that way?
We don’t know.
Why did God allow sin? Why does God not just whip us off to heaven when we believe? Why did he choose to come and die? Why?
Ha. He says “trust me”. Do we have faith in Him? Haven’t we seen enough of his character, his love, his mercy? We see him on the cross, and we see a God of love and mercy. A God of justice and righteousness. Yes there are things we do not understand, and solutions which seem obvious and simple to us (“just save everyone”) are probably not, and so let us let God handle that, and trust him.
I remember a fellow student in a speech at University railing against the government angrily berating them for not simply printing more money to solve the problems of poverty. A simple solution – and completely wrong… no understanding of the complex reality that if you print more money, then the money you have becomes worthless, and you’re back where you started.)

So, how should we respond? Cling to Christ, that is “I am forgiven. I am a beloved child of God, no matter what I have done. Christ is enough”. And then we need to 19 keep our consciences clear. And I think that means confession and repentance – and that’s enough.

When we sin (not if!) we need to confess our sin, repent of our sin, and then nothing more. We do not need to try to make right with God – in Christ we are already made right. That’s the whole point.

Confess our sin: that is say sorry to God for our sin – name your sin “I am sorry that I lied on my insurance form because I was greedy and didn’t trust you to provide for me” or
“I am sorry Lord that I didn’t trust your word about sex and I had sex with my girlfriend” or “had sex with another man” or “had an affair” or “watched pornography” or
“I am sorry Heavenly Father for breaking my promise to my mom that I would help her” or
“I am sorry for being proud and independent and not considering church important and thinking that I’ll be okay without hearing from your word or meeting with your people.” or
“I am sorry for not witnessing about you but keeping silent because I am afraid” or
“I am sorry for being lead by my emotions: doing what I feel is right instead of what I know is right

Confession. It’s something that we must do – but it’s not for God, to tell him something he doesn’t know (ha! He’s already seen you do it, or not do it) – it’s for us. I need to remind myself that I am a sinner. I need to remind myself that I need Christ. I need to remember that I cannot save myself. Confession is good for the soul not because it does anything spiritually but because it stops me from following the lie of “I can earn my salvation”. Paul says “I am the worst of sinners” – he will not listen to the lie.

That’s why unconfessed sin does not send you to hell. God knows it already. God’s forgiven you in Christ. Thinking that unconfessed sin sends you to hell is again thinking that you following the law (confess your sin) will earn your salvation. Our salvation is not dependant on what we do, but on what Christ has done. Praise God!

And then when we have confessed, we repent. Repent is to deliberately turn away from our sin, and turn towards God. Stop doing the evil thing and start doing what is right. Stop having sex with your girlfriend and make plans to marry her, or work out, or have a cold shower, or whatever you need to do. Stop being a coward and start witnessing about Jesus. Stop lying, and tell the truth. And so on.

Why? Because you belong to Christ.

Is this hard? Yes. That’s why we need to pray for each other.

Pray for those in authority – because the temptations are many to abuse power. Pray for Erna and Siv. Pray for those in leadership in the church – the worldwide church and our little church –that we would not corrupt the gospel with law-keeping instead of the free grace of God.
Pray for each other – we are part of the “all people” of v1 - Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Let’s get better at praying for each other, asking God to help us in our struggles against sin, and give thanks for each other. Pray for fellow Christians in the other churches. And pray for our non-Christian friends and neighbours – intercede for them – beg the Lord to save them, to rescue them. Remind him that he wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth. Oh Lord, we beg you here in Notodden and over in Bø, hear our prayer for the lost!

Let us spend some time now in prayer, and in holy confession. Before we celebrate the great grace of the gospel. 5 For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

søndag 12. april 2015

1 Timothy 1: true spiritual pedigree

1 Timothy 1: 1-17

What is church?
What is church for?
Who should lead the church and what should they be doing?
How should we as church members behave? What does it mean to be part of the family of God?

Good questions. Important questions. Questions we need to know the answers to. And questions that 1 Timothy answers. It is a challenging, uplifting, uncomfortable and encouraging book! Its key verse is 3:15 I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, 15 so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

So this letter teaches us how we in the church should behave as members of God’s household, literally God’s family (wow!), and reminds us what church is: the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Kind of lifts up this little gathering doesn’t it? Household of God. Pillar of truth! This is important stuff. We have an important job.

It’s worth pausing for just a moment to think about what we’re reading. Because this isn’t Exodus – a book of theological history (that is history as it happened but showing us God’s role in the events) – this is a letter. Exodus was before Christ, looking forward to Christ, showing us great events that foreshadowed what Jesus would do. This letter is written after Christ – the mystery of how God would save the world – well now revealed: through His death and resurrection. Now everything’s changed. Christ came into this world to save sinners. A trustworthy saying!

We are reading a letter. It’s a personal letter, but one that is designed to be read publically. It’s from Paul, the Apostle, to Timothy who’s been given responsibility for the city of Ephesus.

This morning we’ll start by looking at who Timothy is and who Paul is, and then we’ll spend a bit of time looking at the false teachers’ false teaching. What they were getting wrong. We won’t have time to look in detail at verses 9-11 (the list of sins) this week, but I’ll probably cover it in next week’s sermon. So, come back next Sunday!

Right, let’s get into it, and let’s start by looking at who wrote the letter and who he wrote it to. Since it is a letter. And therefore probably a good idea to understand who they are....

1. A letter from Paul to Timothy

Who is Timothy?

Timothy probably heard the gospel during Paul’s first missionary journey in Lystra and became a believer. You can read about that in Acts 14. Because two years later, during Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy is mentioned by name in Acts 16:1–3. He had matured so well as a Christian that Paul asked him to come with him - an apprentice to the great apostle! He became one of Paul’s most trusted helpers, so that the apostle could write, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). So a godly man, who loved the Lord Jesus and loved His people. A great example for us!

It seems that he struggled with ill health, and he certainly had quite a task leading the church at Ephesus! But as Paul writes in v12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. Our strength to serve comes from God.

Timothy was a faithful man, who honoured the Lord with his life, and loved the people under his care. Timothy is the kind of church leader we want to have and want to be ourselves! He did not twist the truth for personal gain, but preached the gospel, taught the Scriptures, the Holy Bible without compromise. Oh that the Lord would grant us many more such leaders!

So that was Timothy. Paul, however, had quite a different background.

Who is Paul? Paul is one of the apostles – the twelve chosen by Jesus plus Paul as one “abnormally born” commissioned as an apostle by Jesus on the road to Damascus. You see, Paul used to be a Pharisee, an expert in the Jewish religious law (or so he thought). He had, like the people in v4 “spiritual pedigree”. He was zealous for God – his whole life was dominated by obeying the law. He loved the law. He thought he loved God. And so when Christianity came along he hated it! How dare they blaspheme God! How could they worship this Jesus instead of God Almighty?

And so he made it his mission to stamp out this horrible lie that was spreading out from Jerusalem. When Stephen was stoned to death, Paul was there, holding the coats of those hurling the stones, approving his death. He went from house to house “breathing murderous threats” the Bible tells us, seeking out Christians to arrest and to terrorise. Paul was like Islamic State is today, going from house to house to wipe out “corruption”.

And then Jesus met him.

Turn to Acts 9. Meanwhile, Saul (who was later renamed Paul) was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way (as the Christians were called in those days) he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. 3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus.
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” 21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?” 22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Paul’s story should give us hope that no-one is beyond God’s mercy: not Islamic State, not al-Shabab (who attacked the Kenyan university), not Janjaweed, not the Nazis, not the Klan, not even our neighbours – and not even you and me. God’s mercy is greater than our sinfulness!

You can see why Paul calls himself the “worst of sinners”. Can you imagine attacking and abusing Christians, even murdering them – and then meeting Christ?
What a turnaround! As Jesus said “Saul, why are you persecuting ME”. To attack those who belong to Christ is to attack Christ himself.

And yet what Paul found was not condemnation and judgement, but mercy. Mercy! The opposite of how HE had been treating people. God gives us what we don’t deserve. Not surprising, then, in v12-17 he says 12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, 13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. 15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Don’t you just love the gospel? This Good News that we have. It is the only news that can turn a life completely around. I have seen countless people transformed by this Good News. As Romans 1:16 says – it’s the first thing you read on our website, and is a driving purpose for this church - For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.

That’s why it can transform, change even a man like Paul. From violence and power to humility and mercy. Because it is the power of God. It is God’s message. God’s power. And we have the privilege of being the messengers, bringing Good News of hope and a bright future.

So why mess it up? Why pollute it? Why make it into the Bad News with rules and law and “you better be good otherwise God won’t like you”. It is dangerous it is wicked and sends people to Hell.
It matters what kind of gospel we preach.

2. The false teachers’ false pedigree and false gospel

The gospel of Jesus Christ can be summed up in one word “done”. It is finished. That’s what Jesus said on the cross. He had met all the requirements of righteousness. He had fulfilled the law. And as he died his body bore the weight of our sin and he became our sin offering – our perfect sacrifice paying for our sins so that we can go free. It is finished It is done. Our salvation, and our continued salvation – rests on the completed work of Jesus the Christ (Messiah).

But man-made religion always says “do”. Why? Because we want to earn our salvation because if we earn our salvation then God will owe us our salvation and then we have power over God. It’s the same old lie, every time. I want to be God. I am my own ruler. I am King. I am the boss. And so on. And we do not want God – the true God – stepping in. Why do Christians so often get rejected by their families? Or killed? Why is the history of Christianity marked with martyrdom (dying for your faith) – and even today thousands are murdered each year simply for professing Christ – in our modern, progressive world.
People hate Jesus, and so they hate us. How annoying it is when the real God shows up. You have to give up your throne!

And that way of thinking keeps creeping back in. Into our thinking, and into the church. And so Timothy has stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. Shut up!

Why? Because, v4 they were wasting their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees.

The word pedigree there is genealogy (slektstavle). A dog has a pedigree – Eowyn, our dog, is a pedigree dog. Her father is a dog show champion, even won Crofts in England earlier this year. Her mother likewise – and they both have a lineage that can be traced back many many steps.

And that’s what these guys were doing. Oh, I’m better than you because I’m descended from so and so. Oh, everyone in my family are believers. Oh, I follow so-and-so because his family are descended from….

That kind of nonsense. Oh, but we do it too. My grandfather was a Christian, I grew up in a Christian home. I follow so-and-so because he has the “anointing”. I’ve been to Israel.
And all of – ALL OF IT – is simply to say “I’m better than yo-ooou”.

But even worse, they were v6-7 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.

They were using the law as a way to promote themselves. To add to their pedigree. They were DOING and were teaching that their DOING made them more acceptable to God. More acceptable than the perfect work of the Son of God? There is only one trustworthy saying, and it’s not “God helps those who help themselves”, or lies like that, Satanic lies. That’s not in the Bible. The Bible says God helps those who are dead in their sins! Christ came into this world to save sinners – now there’s a trustworthy saying!

You see, what was their teaching leading to? Well, v5 shows us what true gospel teaching leads to: love, a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. Why? Because we know we are loved, and so we can pour out love on others. We have a new heart – the heart of Christ. Something has changed within us. We have a clear conscience because when we sin we know our sins are dealt with – not by us doing rituals – but by the finished work of Christ. Amen? Our consciences are clear. We do not fear. And so our faith is genuine –Christ’s joy and love pours out of us and we long to serve him all day long.
What does false teaching lead to? The opposite of v5. Bitterness (because you’ve failed) or pride (because you’re better than everyone else. But never love. People who are good at being religious never love. Certainly not their enemies. There is no new heart – just an angry heart trying to manipulate God. There is no clear conscience – no assurance – because you’re never sure if you’ve worked hard enough to cover your sins. And your faith – well it’s in the wrong place. It’s in you and your efforts – and that’s the road to Hell.

Martin Luther said that as a monk he hated God, hated him. And the more he read the Bible and saw the impossible demands God made of him - he did not love, but hated him. “How could you make this so hard?” He cried. He was terrified of Hell, terrified of God’s anger – and rightly so. Until one day as he was reading Romans he suddenly understood: God’s righteousness is a gift! Not something to be earned. It is given. And that changed his life, and reformed the church.

This is the great gospel we have.

Now Paul – well he used to be just like these guys, didn’t he? Working hard to justify himself before God, instead of, as now, working hard for love because he is already justified by the free gift of grace.

But there’s one big difference between Paul and these false teachers. Did you spot it in v 13? But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief.

It’s an unusual statement, and just by itself, could lead us into all sorts of weird theories and mistakes. But what Paul is doing is warning these guys. You see Paul had no idea about the gospel, no idea what he was doing. But these guys do. They know the gospel, the true gospel – and they are deliberately distorting it for their own gain. It is immensely wicked, and very, very dangerous. At the end of the chapter Paul talks of two of these guys who have been “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme”. Now that probably means that they’ve been taken out of leadership and put out of the church for a while until they repent – but it is serious words because this is a serious matter.

See v9 For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful

The law is not there for Christians to follow trying to justify themselves before God. The law is there to show us our need for forgiveness. To show us our sin. The law is a powerful searchlight revealing our wickedness. It’s like the bright light in the operating theatre showing the tumors, the disease, that needs to be cut out. But these guys – oh man these guys are using the law like floodlights on a stage. Look at me, look how good I am.
Any good we do is just because of the mercy of God – how dare we take God’s glory and steal it for ourselves. That’s like dancing on the operating theatre table saying “look how healthy I am” instead of letting the doctors cut out the cancer within.

Praise God for the gospel we have! Christ came into this world to save sinners.

O Lord, please let us grasp hold of this trustworthy saying, and never let go. Let us repent of false teaching that creeps in. Examine our hearts Lord, examine our lives and show us where we are preaching, sharing a gospel of do, do, do (wagging finger) and not done (come, come as you are (warm embrace)).
The spirit of the false teachers lives within each one of us – let us repent Lord. Because we want people to see in us and hear from us the gospel which can save Islamic State, Nazis, and even modern, wealthy, secular Norwegians – a gospel which can turn the worst of sinners like Paul around. From Saul the persecutor and blasphemer to Paul the Apostle. From Daniel the arrogant sinner to Daniel the forgiven beloved son of God. Praise God for his mercy! Praise the Lord!

søndag 5. april 2015

Easter Sunday 2015

We all have a sense of the divine. Of their being something more than just what we see or hear or touch. We can feel a greater purpose, a greater meaning behind life. This life is not all there is. There is more to our lives than just what we see.

Throughout history many have come claiming a revelation from God or a revelation about the spiritual or our greater purpose. Nitsche, Russel, the unknown founders of Hinduism and Shinto, Muhammad, Bhudda Guatama, Zoroast, and so on, to the modern TV evangelist who sees in your future that you will give money to him for his new jet....

But 2000 years ago a man came on the scene who did not claim a revelation about God or a revelation from God – he claimed to BE the revelation of God. To know him was to know God. Repent and believe he said, for the Kingdom of God is here. That’s how he started his ministry! What a ridiculous claim! God’s Kingdom is here. Ha. You? The King of the Kingdom? Ha.
But there was power – this man, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth – he had power. Power to heal, power over evil spirits. Power over even creation. Be still he says to a storm – and it was still. Have you tried that? He walked on water, he produced food out of thin air. This was no magic trick, some illusion that fooled the simple backwater peoples – no. The best brains from Jerusalem came down to find him out. Those who could sniff out a faulty argument or a false teaching – those who could spot a law breakers and a blasphemer from a mile away – keen minds, sharpened by years of religious inquisition… and they were stumped, nonplussed, amazed, confused. How can this be? They could not deny his power, but they could not agree with his claims- he saves sinners! He claims to forgive sins! He hangs out with the scum: law-.breakers and sinners, not good people like us. So they decided to kill him.

But that was expected. Jesus said so. Told his disciples that is why he came:- it was planned by the decree of God, as revealed to his prophets hundreds of years before: by his stripes we are healed.

And so he willingly went to his death – this man of power who merely spoke his name and the soldiers fell over, who had power to tall the ground to open up and swallow them – Jesus went willingly to his death. And he died

And it was all over.

The disciples, his followers, were all depressed. They thought he was the Messiah, the rescuer, but he clearly wasn’t. He was dead. Oh, he had said he’d rise again, but who believed that?

And then he rose from the dead. And that changed everything.

He had power... over death! He suddenly was not just a man, but clearly the Living God – the one from outside who had control over what happens here on earth. He had power over creation because he was the Creator. And the amazing message he came with was not that he had come to destroy us, but that he had come to forgive us. He had come to bridge the gap between us and him. He had come to make himself known so that we could KNOW God. And not only know him, but live with him as our God. The resurrection changes everything.

In 1 John 1:1 the Apostle John (apostle means a close friend and follower of Jesus), writes We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He [Jesus] is the Word of life.

But surely it was just a myth? It can’t actually be true. Can it?

Well, let’s examine some of the common objections to the resurrection.

Myth no. 1 “It was made up by Emperor Constantine in 325 at the Council of Nicaea, the first Church Council”. This is very popular – Dan Brown used it in his novels, and if you type it into Google you’ll get a massive amount of websites claiming this to be the SECRET TRUTH NOW REVEALED. The fact that they’re all wrong doesn’t stop them. It makes a great story – but doesn’t fit the facts. This theory was popularised in the early 1900’s and gained some ground because we didn’t have any documents from before the Council of Nicaea. So it could be possible, however unlikely, that Constantine managed to change the beliefs of 318 bishops plus all the Christians of the time who up until that moment had been willing to die for their beliefs (and over 800 000 had already died for their faith – the first 300 years of Christianity was martyrdom and persecution) but these people who had stood strong suddenly caved into the Emperor, claim those who like this theory. So, not very likely. Do you think Obama could call all the Christians in the US together and say “we’re changing Christianity”. How well do you think that would work?
And, anyway, in the last 100 years or so we’ve discovered nearly 100 manuscripts from before 325. And these manuscripts had exactly the same text as the manuscripts after 325, and indeed the same as our Bibles today. Oh dear.

So the theory that Constantine just made Jesus up to unite Rome is just wrong. The evidence points the other way. It is not possible for him to have made it up.

Myth no. 2 “The disciples made it up.”
Okay. Why?

There’s nothing in it for them. They gain nothing by it. All of them were persecuted, tortured, rejected for it. They gained no power, no wealth. In the gospel narratives – which they are supposed to have made up – they look like complete idiots! Would you do that? I’m going to make up a story to give me power, but in the story I will look like an absolute fool, get everything wrong and even abandon my God.
This myth “they just made it up” has no plausibility. There is no motive for the disciples, no upside, no gain.

The other problem is that in their supposedly made up story everything happens publically. Their main character Jesus: his death happens in a major city - Jerusalem – not some deserted cave. And so does his resurrection! What’s more, they claim multiple people seeing Jesus after his resurrection – around 500 at one time! All it takes is going to speak to one of these people and asking “is it true” “no it was made up” -. And the whole thing comes crashing down

“Oh the disciples made it up” sounds good, but as soon as you start to examine it just falls apart. It fails the test of plausibility – where’s their motivation? It fails the literature test – because people didn’t write historical fiction like we do today. That style of writing has developed over hundreds of years – the gospel writers doing it would be astounding – in literary terms like discovering the atom 2000 years ago.
And if they were so clever they would have made it more convincing for their audience: they had huge cultural problems, like women being the eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection – women weren’t even considered reliable witnesses in a court of law at the time – so why would you have them as your first eye-witnesses in a story you’re making up – unless, embarrassingly so, it was the truth. I could go on – there are many such details in the gospel narratives that make it highly unlikely that the disciples made it up. They really did see Jesus die, and they really did see Jesus risen from the grave. As I read from John’s letter “We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands”.

Ummm, but maybe they hallucinated, or really, really wanted it to be true that they forced themselves to believe it. Or maybe Jesus just swooned on the cross, not actually died, and then reappeared to them….

Do any of those sound convincing? Sounds like someone desperately looking for a reason to reject Jesus other than the real reason: I want to be God in my life, and so I don’t like it when the real God makes himself known. So I block my ears and make up stories...

Mass hallucinations? Maybe once, for 11 guys in a room, maybe smoking some weed. Yeah, man, I see Jesus…. But Peter’s out fishing and Jesus calls to him. Peter’s given up, you see, as a failure – he betrayed Jesus before his death. So he thinks even if Jesus is risen from the dead, he won’t have me. He wasn’t wanting to see Jesus! So he goes fishing. And then a figure calls to him from the beach. “Peter!” And Peter rows the boat closer. It’s Jesus. And they talk, and have breakfast together. Later 500 people see Jesus. And later still they are all gathered together and Jesus rises up into the sky after telling them to make disciples. For forty days Jesus appeared to different people at different times – once on the road to Emmaus, a village a few hours walk from Jerusalem, and then immediately after that, to the disciples in a home in Jerusalem. How’d he get there so fast?

And his appearances weren’t like a man in the shadows speaking in a muffled voice saying “hey, I’m Jesus”. No, he was amongst them saying touch me, feel the scars in my hands and feet, he was with them in daylight on the beach eating breakfast, and he was with them on the mountaintop in Galilee when he rose up to heaven before their very eyes. He was not a ghost because they could touch him, touch his hands and feet. He was not a twin or some other weird trick – he really had died on the cross because here was the wound in his side where the spear had pierced him. Here were the scars from the nails driven through his hands. It was Jesus. The same Jesus who had died.

But, but maybe Jesus swooned (fainted) on the cross. Yes, and the Roman soldiers didn’t know the difference between a man who has fainted and a man who is dead? Oh, and they stabbed him in the side with a spear to make sure. And then they wrapped him in a burial shroud. So this theory means that you believe that a man beaten to a pulp, crucified, then stabbed and bleeding, regained consciousness two days later in a cold dark tomb, fought his way out of the burial cloths, rolled away the huge stone, overpowered the guards, then broken, bleeding, half dead, appeared to his disciples... and they responded “my Lord and my God”.
Then you must have great faith indeed. And if you then say oh, the disciples made it grander then the question is why? Again, they have no good motivation to tell this story unless it is the truth. The only plausible rational reasonable explanation is that this man Jesus truly was who he said he was: God Himself. Come from the outside to us to reveal God to us and to open the way so that we could know him.

In the gospel of Luke, Luke writes to his sponsor, Theophilus “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honourable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.”

Any other questions?

What’s your objection? Because you do have one. You must have one to explain it way because otherwise you are forced to consider the truth. That Jesus really is the revelation of the living God. That he made you. That you belong to him. And that the only rational, logical thing to do it to serve him.

You know when a building is demolished, there’s the moment when the demolitions guy presses the button and you hear whooom and see a bit of smoke – and then nothing happens. There’s a pause. The building’s foundation has been blown away but it’s still standing, just for a moment. And then WHOOOOOMFFF it collapses in a huge pile of rubble and dust.

Well, the cross was that explosion on the foundation of this world. Jesus’ death and resurrection blew out any ideas we might have that there is no God. And we live now in the pause, the pause before the fall – before Jesus returns, this time not as Saviour, but as Judge. We live in the pause before the fall. And in this pause, we have an opportunity to be rescued. To know God, and to serve him living a life of great meaning and purpose.

Two implications, two results of Jesus’ death and resurrection being true:

1. We can know God!

I started off by saying that we all have a sense of the divine – of there being something or someone out there. Something more to life. Well, Jesus confirms that. “Here I am” he says. “You cannot reach me – so I have reached down to you.” And through his death and his resurrection we can know God – personally. Each of us.

Because the reason we can’t know God is because we have sinned against him. Like a barrier between us and God, my rebellion, my sin, my pretending to be God and ignoring the real God, means I cannot know him. I am cut off from him. I cannot reach him. Even if I try to be really really good, the Bible says it is no use. He is perfect. I am not. He is holy, I am unholy. Religion is a waste of time. Being good is useless. We cannot know God

Praise God that he then did what we could not. He bridged the gap, broke open the barrier, so that we could know him.

Every other religion or worldview says do! You must do this or do that to achieve a higher consciousness or be a better person or please God or the gods. Christianity does not say “do” it says “done”. Christ said on the cross “It is finished” it is done – and then proved it by rising from the dead.

Because of what Christ has done, we can know God! He has wiped away our sins, covered over our filth (like the donkey on Friday, remember?), paid the penalty for our rebellion of God and our ignoring Him. It is done. We don’t have to do anything to try to win God’s favour – it is done. He did it. It is His gift to us.

We can know God. You can know God.

2. Our life has great meaning and purpose

The fact that there is a God means that our lives are not just lived out here, on this stage, and we die to be eaten by worms and eventually forgotten. Jesus reveals that our lives are lived before Almighty God: before Him. He is raised up, seated on the throne in Heaven. Everything we do reflects back on our relationship – or lack of relationship – with him. We are eternal creatures, created with a spark of the divine – we are created, made to be with God. And so what we do here matters. In the movie Gladiator the main character Maximus utters a great line just before they ride into battle “What we do in life echoes in eternity”
“What we do in life echoes in eternity”
It’s true. What is your life echoing into eternity? Are you bringing glory to God? Is every moment of your life consumed with Him, honouring him, bringing him glory, doing what you were created to do?

Or are you in rebellion against him? Ignoring him? Bringing glory to you and your petty and small ambitions?

Because everything is done. The way to know God is open. But just like getting married or having kids - or even getting a dog - changes your life, knowing God changes things completely. You now live life in a different reality. The reality of heaven and hell. Ter reality of eternity.

Be warned, dear friends. Heaven and hell are real. The resurrection shows that. Jesus went through the pain of death – to rescue us from HELL. He believed in Hell. He knows it. Where is your life leading you? What is your echo in eternity? Heaven? Or Hell? Are you trusting and obeying Christ? Or yourself?

And are we telling others this? This is real, this is urgent! People around us are dying and going to hell! Jesus came to DIE in order to rescue people from Hell and we claim to be his followers yet can’t be bothered to even tell people. Risk inviting our neighbours to church because ooo they might think I’m weird. On that Final Day when we see them condemned to Hell will we still be worried about what they think of us? I say this to myself, to increase the pressure on myself to not be so apathetic, so lazy, to get myself to do what I know I should. This is reality. God forgive us for our laziness and disobedience! Praise Jesus that he came to die for sinners like us, that even our failures are taken care of – but that should drive us to proclaim all the louder!

I heard a story recently of a woman who’d just become a Christian. Overjoyed she said “does this mean I’m forgiven. Completely forgiven?” “yes, Jesus has taken your guilt and shame”. Overjoyed she just was bursting to tell people, and so opened her phone book and starting ringing systematically, every single person in her phone book to tell the joyous news: Jesus is alive, and he has forgiven me, and he can accept you too!

This Easter, let us be gripped by the joy of the good news: Christ really DID rise from the dead, and so we can know God, and live a life filled with meaning and purpose – a life lived in the reality of eternity, a life lived with heaven and hell in mind. Friends, as we go out this door, may God grant that we see this world, see our friends, neighbours work colleagues and family through his eyes – eyes that saw people heading to hell to eternal death – and so he came Himself to die, to rise again, to rescue us. Amen.