Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Faith and Skepticism Podcast


Last week I was a guest on the Faith and Skepticism podcast. The topic was the resurrection of Jesus. Though we didn't all agree on the resurrection, it was a good and friendly discussion.

You can listen to the podcast here.


Part 3 of The Road to Redemption, a series on Mark 14-16

Text: Mark 15:21-47

(Sorry, there is no audio for this sermon.)

So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (vv. 31-32).

Mocking the Crucified One

It’s one thing to be mocked, but it’s another thing to be mocked while you are suffering. During his trial, his scourging, and his crucifixion, Jesus was continually mocked. In most people’s eyes, Jesus was a pathetic fool who thought he was something that he really wasn’t.

In Mark 15, Jesus was mocked by four groups of people as he was scourged and crucified. (1) The Roman soldiers “mocked [Jesus]” (v. 20; cf. vv. 17-19). (2) “Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’” (vv. 29-30). (3) “The chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe’” (vv. 31-32). (4) “Those who were crucified with him [the “two robbers,” v. 27] also reviled him” (v. 33).

Since Jesus was mocked, it should come as no surprise that his followers are also mocked. (Sometimes Christians invite mockery because of sinful or foolish behavior.) How do you feel when you are mocked for your love for Jesus?

We must never be ashamed of the one who was crucified for our sins. 

In the minds of his enemies, Jesus’ crucifixion proved that he was not really who he had claimed to be. They believed that the words of Deuteronomy 21:23 applied to Jesus: “a man hanged is cursed by God.” The cry of Jesus from the cross seemed to support this belief: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 34).

Some of the bystanders thought that Jesus was calling Elijah (vv. 35-36). In Aramaic, “God” (Eloi) and “Elijah” (Eli) sound similar. In Jesus’ day, many Jews believed that Elijah had been taken bodily into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11) and that he would return in times of crisis to protect and rescue the righteous (James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, 476).

The mockers of Jesus “esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4). The mockers were partly correct. On the cross, Jesus was punished by the Father. But he was not punished for his own sin; he was punished for our sin. On Jesus was laid “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). This is why he was forsaken by the Father.

Not Ashamed

When our love for Jesus is mocked, we should remember three truths. 

1. The gospel will never be cool.

The apostle Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).

2. Some of the mockers will become believers. 

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus, but one soldier eventually believed in him. “When the centurion, who stood facing [Jesus], saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (v. 39).

The people who passed by the cross mocked Jesus, but one passerby might have eventually believed in him. “[The Roman soldiers] compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross” (v. 21). Mark’s readers knew Alexander and Rufus, which makes it probable that Simon’s sons were believers. Many scholars believe that Mark wrote to Christians in Rome, and a man named Rufus is mentioned in Romans 16:13.

The two robbers who were crucified with Jesus mocked him, but one robber eventually believed in him (Luke 24:39-43).

3. In the end, there will be vindication. 

When Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, he was quoting Psalm 22. The psalm begins with David in despair. God doesn’t seem to be with him (vv. 1-8) But David ends the psalm with confidence, knowing that he will eventually be vindicated (vv. 22-31). “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).

He Didn't Save Himself

The chief priests and scribes mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself” (v. 31). They would have spoke the truth if they had changed one word: “He saved others; he didn’t save himself.” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

Should we be ashamed of Jesus? Should we be ashamed to share the message of his death and resurrection?

Monday, April 7, 2014


Part 2 of The Road to Redemption, a series on Mark 14-16

You can listen to this sermon here.

Text: Mark 15:1-20

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified (v. 15). 

Chosen Suffering

In Mark 10:33-34, Jesus said to his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” This is exactly what happens in Mark 15.

Jesus chose to suffer and die in my place, so I should choose to live for him. 

Unimaginable Suffering

Even before his crucifixion, Jesus suffered indescribable pain and awful mockery.

  • The soldiers “scourged Jesus” (v. 15). The Gospel writers don’t sensationalize the scouring of Jesus, but we shouldn’t be unaware of its savagery. Scourging “was done with a whip made up of several leather straps to which were attached sharp, abrasive items, such as nails, glass, or rocks” (Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, 484). 
  • “They clothed him in a purple cloak” (v. 17). The Sanhedrin mocked Jesus’ claim of divine status (14:65); the soldiers mocked Jesus’ claim of royal status. 
  • “Twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him” (v. 17). 
  • “They began to salute him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (v. 18). 
  • “They were striking his head with a reed” (v. 19).
  • They were “spitting on him” (v. 19). 
  • They were “kneeling down in homage to him” (v. 19). 

Set Free

Who was Barabbas? Barabbas is mentioned in all four Gospels (Matt. 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:18-25; John 18:38b-40). According to Matthew, he was a “notorious prisoner” (Matt. 27:16). According to Mark, he had “committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7; cf. Acts 3:14). According to John, he was a “robber” (John 18:40).

In that day, there was a custom during the Passover of releasing a prisoner chosen by the people. Pilate gave the people a choice: Jesus or Barabbas. Sadly, the crowd chose Barabbas.

Imagine how Barabbas must have felt when the door of the prison was opened, and he was set free. We don't know what he did after his release. Perhaps he watched the crucifixion of Jesus. If he did, Barabbas would have thought, “I was supposed to be on that cross, but that man Jesus is dying in my place.”

It's interesting that the name “Barabbas” means “son of the father.” Like Barabbas, all of us are either sons or daughters of a father. You and I should see ourselves in Barabbas.

1. Barabbas was a lawbreaker. 

He was a man who had committed multiple crimes, including robbery, insurrection, and murder. The Bible says, “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). We have all broken God’s law. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas.

2. Barabbas deserved punishment. 

The punishment for his crimes was death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We deserve to be punished because of our sin. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas.

3. Barabbas was set free because Jesus died instead of him. 

Jesus was not a lawbreaker. Pilate said, “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38). Jesus did not deserve punishment. Yet Barabbas was set free, and Jesus was crucified. The Bible says that Jesus “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus suffered and died in our place. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. 

Second Corinthians 5:21 is one of the most important verses in the Bible: “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, Jesus became our substitute. He took our sin so that we could receive his righteousness through faith in him.


Amazement over the words and actions is a recurring theme in Mark’s Gospel (1:27; 2:12; 5:20, 42; 6:6, 51; 9:15; 10:24, 32; 15:5, 44). Pilate was “amazed” (v. 5) when Jesus didn’t defend himself against the accusations of chief priests.

We often talk about the vastness of the universe, but have you ever stopped to consider how vast the universe really is? In 1977, two unmanned space probes were launched, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. In 1987—after a 12-year, 4 billion mile journey—Voyager 1 passed the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, completing its mission. Voyager 1 is nearly the fastest vehicle ever made. It continues to travel through space at a speed of 11 miles every second. The closest star to the earth (other than the sun) is Proxima Centauri, a little over 4 light years away. At 11 miles per second, Voyager 1 wouldn’t reach Proxima Centauri until around the year 73,500. That’s amazing.

We often talk about the love of Jesus, but how often do you stop to think about the depth of Jesus’ love. 

The more we are amazed by the love of Jesus, the more our lives will glorify him.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Part 1 of The Road to Redemption, a series on Mark 14-16

Text: Mark 14:1-72

You can listen to this sermon here.

“One of you will betray me” (v. 18). 

“You will all fall away” (v. 27). 

“You will deny me three times” (v. 30). 

Betrayal of Jesus

When I say the word “traitor,” I’m guessing that for many of you, two people come to mind: Judas Iscariot and Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold was an American general who was appointed to run West Point, a key military position during the Revolutionary War. Arnold betrayed America by offering to sell plans of the fort to the British for an amount that would equal $3 million today. People like Judas Iscariot and Benedict Arnold are one of most despised kinds of people. You don’t want to be known as a traitor.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus made three shocking statements to his disciples: (1) “One of you will betray me” (v. 18); (2) “You will all fall away” (v. 27); (3) “You [Peter] will deny me three times” (v. 30).

It could be said that all of the disciples betrayed Jesus. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “betray” can mean “to give information about (a person, group, country, etc.) to an enemy” or “to hurt (someone who trusts you, such as a friend or relative) by not giving help or by doing something morally wrong.” The betrayal of Judas fits the first definition. (The Greek word for “betray” means “to hand over.”) The betrayal of the other eleven disciples (especially Peter) fits the second definition. How can people like the twelve disciples turn their backs on Jesus?

Every Christian is potentially a traitor, so we must be careful to maintain our loyalty to Jesus.

There are two kinds of people who call themselves Christians: (1) people who appear to be Christians but who really aren’t (like Judas) and (2) people who really are Christians but struggle to maintain their loyalty to Jesus (like the other eleven disciples).

The possibility of betrayal is strongest when doing our will is more important than doing God’s will. The betrayals of the disciples didn’t happen instantly. Three times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus predicts his death (8:31; 9:31; 10:31-34). After the first prediction, Peter rebuked Jesus (8:32). After the second prediction, all of the twelve disciples “argued with one another about who was the greatest” (9:34). After the third prediction, James and John said to Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (10:37; cf. v. 41). They were most concerned about their wills getting done.

Sometimes our betrayal of Jesus manifests itself for all to see. Other times we (churchgoers) honor Jesus with our lips, but our hearts are far from him (Mark 7:6). Perhaps your love for Jesus and for others has grown cold.

Loyalty to Jesus 

For the Christian, nothing should be more important than loyalty to Jesus. If you’re a true Christian, you won’t be happy living a life of betrayal. And when a professing Christian is seen to be disloyal to Jesus, nonbelievers will scoff at their hypocrisy. How can we maintain our loyalty to Jesus?

1. We must admit that we’re not as strong as we sometimes think we are. 

(Many times before I go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, I’ll say to myself, “I’m only going to have a couple of plates of food, and the first one will be a salad. But then when I get there I find out I’m not as strong as I thought I was.) Peter thought he was stronger than he really was. He said, “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (v. 29). After Peter was told that he would deny Jesus three times, he emphatically declared, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (v. 31). Mark adds, “And they all said the same” (v. 31).

2. We must be alert and pray. 

In the garden, Jesus told Peter, James, and John, he asked them to “watch” while he prayed (v. 34). Three times he found them sleeping (vv. 37, 40, 41). On the second occasion, Jesus said to them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38). “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). When we are alert, we demonstrate that we are not overconfident. When we pray, we demonstrate that we are depending on God.

3. We must believe that no sacrifice is too great. 

“As [Jesus] was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head” (v. 3). “This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii” (v. 5). (A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer.) Jesus sacrificed his life for us. He is worthy of any sacrifice we make for him.

Shocking Forgiveness 

What is more shocking than the disciples’ betrayal is Jesus’ forgiveness. Forgiveness is not to be seen as an encouragement for more disloyalty to Jesus. Rather, forgiveness is the greatest motivation for total loyalty to Jesus.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Beginning of Grace

Part 9 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 3:20-24

You can listen to this sermon here.

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them (v. 21).

We Need Hope

Genesis 3 ends tragically. Adam and Eve have sinned. Suffering and death have entered the world. And they are being removed from the garden of Eden. As they made their sad departure out of Eden, they might have asked themselves, “Is there any hope for us?”

Imagine you have been shipwrecked on a deserted island. What’s the first thing you would try to do? If you’re ever in that kind of situation, it would be helpful to know the “Survival Rule of Threes.” According to this rule, in extreme survival situations you can’t survive more than three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, three weeks without food, and three months without hope.

We need hope. Hope is the expectation of something better (e.g., being rescued). Real hope is more than wishful thinking.

We probably won’t ever be shipwrecked on a deserted island, but we all face a more troubling situation. Remember what God said would happen to Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit: “You shall surely die” (2:17). And the apostle Paul writes, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12). “Death” probably means total death (physical and spiritual). We need to escape eternal separation from God (i.e., hell). Is there any hope for us? 

Without God's grace, there is no hope for us.

Grace is undeserved kindness. In Genesis 3, before there is an act of judgment (God removing Adam and Eve from Eden), there is an act of divine grace. What is this act of grace? It is God’s provision of garments of skins for Adam and Eve (3:21). They deserved only judgment, but God showed kindness to them by giving them clothing.

God Provides Hope

God’s provision of clothing for Adam and Eve might be classified as an act of common grace. Common grace is God’s grace that is common to all humans. God providing the materials to make clothing is an example of God’s common grace (though God does not personally make our clothing as he did for Adam and Eve). In God’s act of common grace there is a foreshadowing of his saving grace. If it were not for God’s saving grace, we would forever remain hopeless sinners separated from God.

1. All our attempts to cover our sin will fail. 

In an episode of The Cosby Show (“A Shirt Affair”) Theo Huxtable pays his sister to make him a copy of a Gordon Gartrelle designer shirt. Theo was not pleased with the finished product. Adam and Eve made themselves poor garments out of fig leaves (3:7). Their fig leaf garments picture the inadequate attempts of people to make themselves right with God. “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6). We must give up our attempts at making ourselves right with God and accept God’s provision.

2. Only the cross can rescue us from the consequences of our sin. 

The provision of the garments of skins required a sacrifice. An animal had to be killed. In order for our sins to be forgiven, Christ had give his life for us. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).

The garments of skins were reminders of their sinfulness. But they were also reminders of God’s grace. The cross confronts us with our sinfulness. (Jesus died for my sin.) But the cross also displays God’s grace.

As Adam and Eve accepted from God the garments of skins, we must accept God’s gift of salvation. We do this but putting our trust in Christ (i.e., acknowledging our sin and believing that his death is sufficient to rescue us from the consequences of our sin.)

Living with Hope

Imagine once again that you have been shipwrecked on a deserted island. Now imagine that on the fortieth day an airplane flies above the island and drops a package containing a note: “We will send someone to rescue you.” How would the rest of your days on the island change because you now had hope?

Because of God’s grace, we have hope.

Hope changes not only our future but also our present. 

Since we now live with hope, we obey God not because we have to but because we want to.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Beginning of the Curse

Part 8 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 3:14-19

You can listen to this sermon here.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (v. 15). 

The Curse of the Bambino 

“God saw everything he made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). Today, when we look at the world, we can’t say it’s very good. In many ways, the world that God made is very bad. What went wrong? Sin entered the world, and with sin came the curse. In Genesis 3:14-19, we discover how the curse affected the serpent (Satan), the woman, and the man.

I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox. In 1918, the Red Sox won the World Series. It was their fourth World Series victory in seven years. After the 1918 season, the owner of the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Babe Ruth had been a pitcher with Boston, but he went on to become one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball.

Fast forward to 2003. The Red Sox had not won another World Series since 1918, and the Yankees had won 26. In 2003, the Red Sox played the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. In the seventh and deciding game of the series, Boston was leading 5-2 in the eighth inning. It looked like the Red Sox would finally defeat the Yankees in a playoff series. But the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the eighth and won the game in extra innings. Red Sox fans were heartbroken. They were constantly reminded that it had been 85 years since their team had won the World Series. Some Red Sox fans began to believe in the “Curse of the Bambino.” (“The Bambino” was one of Babe Ruth’s nicknames.)

The next season the Red Sox and Yankees met again in the ALCS. The Yankees won the first three games of the best-of-seven series, and once again it looked like there would be a sad ending to another Red Sox’ season. No team had ever won a playoff series after being down three games to none. But against all odds, Boston won the next four games to become American League champions and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. After 86 years, the Curse of the Bambino had been broken. (Since 2004, the Red Sox also won the World Series in 2007 and 2013.)

The Curse of the Bambino wasn’t real. But sin’s curse is real, and because of it, life often doesn’t give us happy endings.

Life Stinks 

We struggle with the difficulty and the brevity of life.

  • We suffer physical pain. God said to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (3:16). 
  • We suffer relational conflict. God said to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). (This verse probably refers to the struggle for control within marriages. The same Hebrew word translated “desire” is found in 4:7: “[Sin’s] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”) 
  • We suffer occupational weariness. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field” (3:17-18). 
  • We suffer death. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14, NKJV). 

Life often causes us to groan. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly” (Rom. 8:22-23). “In this [body] we groan” (2 Cor. 5:2).

Reversing the Curse 

We try to reverse the curse of sin in many ways (anesthetics, marriage seminars, medicine). But we can never eradicate the curse.

Life causes us to groan, but God has planned a happy ending. 

To the serpent, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (3:15). This verse is often called the “Protoevangelium,” which means the “first gospel.” Eve’s first son (4:1) would bring her sorrow, but there would come one “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4, NKJV) who would bring hope to the world. His name is Jesus.

Once when I was raking my yard, I disturbed a snake. I hit the snake repeatedly with the rake until it was dead. But I broke the rake. (It was a borrowed rake.) In killing the snake, I broke the rake. In crushing the serpent's head, Jesus died. He “partook of [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14).

C. S. Lewis once said that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity). We long for something more because we were made for something more.

The Bible ends with a vision of this other world. The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Rev. 21:1-5). Later, John writes, “No longer will there be anything accursed” (22:3). Whether we realize it or not, this is the happy ending we desire. All who put their faith in Christ will experience this happy ending.

Happily Ever After 

One popular view of death is that it is simply a natural part of life that we must embrace. But no matter how we tell this to themselves, death never becomes easy for us to accept. Death is an unhappy ending to life, and we naturally crave happy endings.

When we are a fan of a baseball team, we long for a happy ending to the season. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we want the story’s main characters to live “happily ever after.” Years ago, instead of “happily ever after,” stories ended with the words “happily until they died,” which does not sound quite as happy. But it’s true that every life ends in death. And death is sad. It’s not a happy ending.

Thankfully, God did not accept death but sent Christ into the world to defeat it. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection began the countdown to when God would rid his creation of the curse. When “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more.”

In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Professor Dumbledore says, “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” For the Christian, this is true. Death is not really the end. Death begins something new—a new story, a sequel. A story free from disappointment, conflict, frustration, suffering, and death. A story filled with never-ending chapters of joy, peace, pleasure, and fulfillment.

For all those who experience this new life, it can truly be said, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Beginning of Judgment

Part 7 of The Beginning, as series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 3:8-13

You can listen to this sermon here.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said, “Where are you?” (vv. 8-9).

“I Was Afraid”

In Gen. 2:17, God gave to Adam and Eve one command: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” God also warned them what would happen if they disobeyed him: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Human sin would result in divine judgment.

After Adam sinned, he said to God, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid” (3:10). Is God’s judgment something we should fear? Many people would say no. They have one of two wrong beliefs about God’s judgment. First, many people reject the reality of God’s judgment. (“God isn’t real.” Or, “A loving God wouldn’t judge.”) They are like Adam and Eve when they believed the serpent’s lie: “You will not surely die” (3:4). Second, many people minimize the seriousness of their sin. (“My sin isn’t so bad.”) They are like Adam and Eve when they tried to excuse their sin. Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (3:12). Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (3:13). But, according to the Bible, God’s judgment is real, and we are all sinners who deserve God’s judgment.

God’s judgment against sin is something we should fear, but it’s also something we can avoid. 

“You Will Surely Die” 

Why is God’s judgment against sin something we should fear? 

1. Sin separates us from God. 

It might appear that the serpent was correct when he said to Eve, “You will not surely die” (3:4). According to Gen. 5:5, Adam lived until he was 930 years old! However, in the Bible, there are three kinds of death. First, there is physical death (separation of the spirit from the body). God said to Adam, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). Adam and Eve eventually died. Second, there is spiritual death (separation from God). (When a relationship ends badly, sometimes it’s said, “You’re dead to me.”). Third, if a person continues to be spiritually dead until his physical death, he will suffer eternal death (eternal separation from God in hell). When Adam and Eve sinned, they didn’t immediately suffer physical death, but they did suffer spiritual death.

Before they sinned, Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s presence in the garden (“they heard the sound of the LORD God walking,” 3:8). But after they sinned, they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God” (3:8), and they were removed by God from Eden (3:23-24). Adam and Eve had wanted to be “like” God (3:5), but their disobedience prevented them from being “with” God. The apostle Paul writes, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). As a result of Adam’s sin, we all are born into this world spiritually dead (estranged from God), destined for hell.

Why is God’s judgment against sin something we can avoid? 

2. Christ’s death bring us back to God. 

When Jesus died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51; cf. Heb. 10:19-20). Why was this important? The curtain restricted access to the Most Holy Place, the dwelling place of God. The only person allowed to enter the Most Holy Place was the high priest—and only once per year (Heb. 9:7). The curtain was a reminder to the people of Israel of the separation between them and God due to their sin.

In many ways, the garden of Eden was a model for the tabernacle/temple. First, God “put [Adam] in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (2:15). And the same two verbs (in the original Hebrew) are used to describe the work of the priests in the tabernacle (“minister,” “guard,” Num. 3:7-8). Second, Eden was a place where God walked and talked with Adam and Eve. To Israel, God said, “I will make my dwelling [tabernacle] among you…. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev. 26:11-12). Third, After sin entered the world, the entrance to Eden was guarded by cherubim (3:24). When God gave to Israel the instructions for the tabernacle, he said, “[The curtain] shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it” (Ex. 26:31).

The tearing of the curtain signified the removal of the separation between God and man. The author of Hebrews writes, “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20).

When the apostle John was given a vision of the heavenly city, he “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of how we we were separated from God and how he worked to bring us back to himself.

We can’t get back to God on our own. We must put our trust in Christ. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

“Where Are You?” 

The words “Where are you?” is not only words of judgment; they are primarily words of love. God is like the father of the prodigal son: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

God desires that all people be reconciled to him. “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Beginning of Sin

Part 6 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 3:1-7

You can listen to this sermon here.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (v. 6). 

Good Rules from a Good God

In Genesis 3:1-7, we read about the beginning of sin in the human race. What is sin? Sin is disobedience to God’s commands. (We are commanded to do what is good, and we are commanded to not do what is evil.) God gave to Adam and Eve only one command. He said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:16-17). But Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and sinned.

Back when I attended Bible college, I was in the school choir. At the end of each year we went on a choir tour. One year our choir tour was in Ontario, and we visited Niagara Falls—the most powerful waterfall in North America. While we were at Niagara Falls a few of the choir members and I went to an attraction called the Journey Behind the Falls.

The Journey Behind the Falls is a series of tunnels that go behind the falls. There are a few places in the tunnels where there are openings that allow you to see the water crashing down. At one of these spots, a male choir member—for reasons unknown—jumped over the fence. He took a couple of steps and then slipped on the wet floor. Fortunately, he’s still alive today. But if he would have slipped a little farther, he would have fallen off the edge of the opening and down the waterfall.

This week I watched a YouTube video of the Journey Behind the Falls to refresh my memory. I noticed in the video that two warning signs are posted at the entrance to the tunnels: (1) “Do not climb over railing. Stay within designated area.” (2) “CAUTION: Floor slippery when wet!” If that choir member were here today, I’m sure he’d say that it would be wise to do what the sign said: “Do not climb over the railing.”

God’s commands are always for our good, so we should always obey him. 

A child’s obedience to his parents would improve if he believed that his parents’ rules were for his well-being. Instead, children often say to their parents, “You don’t want me to have any fun!”

Foolish Disobedience

Have you ever wondered why God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Maybe the fruit itself was harmful to Adam and Eve. This is unlikely since Eve “saw that the tree was good for food” (v. 6). Maybe God’s command was a test of Adam and Eve’s obedience. That’s possible, but would it be right for God to make up an arbitrary rule if there was no good reason behind it? Maybe the fruit was good but was not intended to be eaten by Adam and Eve until later. Perhaps eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was like driving a car. Driving a car is not wrong, but it is wrong for a child to drive a car. A child has to wait until he is 16 before he can drive.

The serpent (identified as Satan in Rev. 12:9; 20:2) tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by telling her that God was withholding something good from her. He said to her, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5; cf. 3:22). Temptation makes disobedience to God’s commands seem reasonable, but sin is always foolish.

1. When we sin, we are acting as though we know better than God what is good for us. 

Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (v. 6). Think about the last six of the Ten Commandments (honor your father and mother; do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet). By sinning, we are saying that living according to God’s commands will make us less happy. But disobeying these commands will not make us (or those around us) more happy (at least in a lasting way).

2. When we sin, we are acting in ways that will be bad for us. 

When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes “were opened, and they knew they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (v. 7). So if we know that sin is bad for us, why do we continue to sin? We sin because, in that moment, we think it will make us happy.

God Didn't Give Up on Us 

God is like a parent who never gives up on a wayward child. Even though Adam and Eve sinned against God, he still was committed to their well-being (though there were consequences to their sin). An example of God’s continued goodness to Adam and Eve was his provision of clothing for them (3:21). (In order for God to give Adam and Eve “garments of skins,” an animal had to be killed. This might be a foreshadowing of the death of Christ.)

The cross is the proof that God is committed to our well-being. 

The apostle Paul writes, “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21). Our sin is great, but God’s grace is greater.

A child’s obedience will be best when he not only understands that his parents’ rules are for his good but also loves his parents and desires to obey them. This is how we should view God’s commands.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Beginning of Marriage

Part 5 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 2:18-25

You can listen to this sermon here.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18). 

Happily Ever After?

It could be said that Genesis 2:18-25 describes the first wedding ceremony (“[God] brought [the woman] to the man,” v. 22).

One of the mistakes that some couples make is that they spend so much time planning their wed-ding and not enough time planning their marriage. (In 2013, the average cost of a wedding in Canada was over $30,000.) 

There may be such a thing as a perfect wedding, but there are no perfect marriages. Only in fairy tales do the bride and groom “live happily ever after.” Marriage is not easy.

In confusion, people ask, “What is marriage is supposed to be?” (Marriage is being redefined.) In frustration, people ask, “How is it possible to have a successful marriage?” (Those of us who are married know how difficult marriage can be.)

Because God created marriage, we must understand and follow his design for marriage. 

God's Image in Our Marriages 

What is marriage supposed to be? The Trinity helps us understand what marriage is supposed to be. (In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us [the Trinity?] make man in our image, after our likeness.” Marriage allows us to resemble our triune God.) How?

First, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives are relational beings. “It [was] not good that the man should be alone” (2:18; cf. 1:31). When God brought the woman to the man, Adam was filled with joy: “This at least is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23).

Second, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives are equals. Both “male and female” were created in God’s image (1:27). That God made the woman by using a rib from Adam’s side, not a part from his foot (inferiority) or head (superiority), might also suggest equality.

Third, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives are one. In marriage, the two become one. Marriage is (1) a preeminent union (“A man shall leave his father and his mother,” 2:24); (2) a lifelong union (“and hold fast to his wife,” 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:6); (3) an intimate union (“and they shall become one flesh,” 2:24); (4) a sacred union (2:22; cf. Pr. 2:16-17).

Fourth, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives have different roles. The woman was made to be “a helper fit for [the man]” (2:18, 20). The Hebrew world for “helper” is often used to describe God. It is also used to describe military help (e.g., reinforcements, without which a battle would be lost). For a wife to “help” her husband is to make up for what is lacking in him. Kathy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage says that a wife is to be a strong helper and a husband is to be a servant leader.

The Gospel in Our Marriages 

How is it possible to have a successful marriage? (Because of the Fall, there is conflict in marriages.) The gospel helps us follow God’s design for marriage. How?

First, the gospel changes the hearts of husbands and wives. In Ephesians 5, before the apostle Paul writes about the God-given roles for husbands and wives (vv. 22-33), he says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). “The ramifications of being filled with the Spirit literally reverse the effects that the curse has on the relationship” (Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace Is in Place, 91). We are living in the time that God foretold in Jeremiah 31:33: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” Those who have been saved by God’s grace have the Holy Spirit living within them. He gives us the desire to obey God. We obey because we want to, not because we have to.

Second, the gospel provides a model for husbands and wives. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus is a servant leader (a model for husbands). “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Jesus is a strong helper (a model for wives). Kathy Keller writes, “In this passage we see taught both the essential equality of the First and Second Persons of the Godhead, and yet the voluntary submission of the Son to the Father to secure our salvation. Let me emphasize that Jesus’s willing acceptance of this role was wholly voluntary, a gift to his Father. I discov-ered here that my submission in marriage was a gift I offered, not a duty coerced from me. As I personally struggled with understanding gender equality within gender roles, it was this passage that entirely took the sting out of the subordinate role assigned to the female sex” (The Meaning of Marriage, 175).

Acting Like Jesus in Our Marriages 

“Have this mind [the attitude of Jesus] among yourselves” (Phil. 2:5). What does this attitude look like in our lives? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

This week, let Jesus be your model for how you interact with your spouse. (We can apply this to all of our relationships.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Beginning of Work

Part 4 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 2:1-17

You can listen to this sermon here.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (v. 15). 

Work Is Good

In Genesis 2, we read that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Many people think that one of the perks of paradise was the absence of work. However, if you read Genesis 2 carefully, you’ll discover that work was a part of God’s original “very good” creation.

If your job is getting you down, you might want to think about some of the messy, gross that some people do for a living: professional smeller ($39,000 a year), pet food taster ($40,000 a year), crime scene cleaner ($600 an hour), frog pickler, professional patient ($15 an hour), roadkill collector ($25,000 an hour). Many of us struggle with the difficulty or the dullness of our work. (I’ve had some jobs that I didn’t enjoy.) Someone has said, “I hate how Monday is so far away from Friday and Friday is so close to Monday.”

In Genesis 1-3, we find several truths about work. (These truths can be applied to both paid and unpaid work.)

  • Work was a part of God’s original plan for humanity. God “put [Adam] in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Work is also a part of God’s plan for the future (“they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” Isa. 2:4). 
  • Work brings personal fulfillment. We were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), and work gives us the opportunity to imitate God (e.g., by being creative, by enjoying the fruit of our labor, by doing good for others). 
  • Work became difficult after the Fall. After Adam sinned, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19). 
  • Work is not to be devalued by laziness or overvalued by workaholism. God’s seven days of creation show us the importance of both work and rest (Gen. 2:1-3; cf. Ex. 20:8-11). 

Worshiping as We Work

We should not view work as merely a means to an end (e.g., working for the weekend, providing for my family). Every type of work should be viewed as an act of worship. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Col. 3:17). All work is spiritual. (The English word “vocation” comes from a Latin word meaning “a calling.”)

God created us to work, and we are to work to glorify him.

We exist to glorify God (“whom I created for my glory,” Isa. 43:7). God deserves to be glorified because of his work on our behalf (creation, providence, redemption).

We are to work from our acceptance in Christ, not for our acceptance (see Eph. 2:8-10).

Glorifying God in Our Work 

When you show up at your job, you’re there for the glory of God. How can we glorify God in our work? There are at least three ways we can glorify God in our work.

1. We can glorify God by doing excellent work. 

God is not glorified when we don’t do our best (e.g., continually arriving late to work). The apostle Paul said to slaves (without condoning slavery), “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Paul himself was not afraid of hard work. He made tents to support himself (Acts 18:3) and said, “We work hard with our hands” (1 Cor. 4:12).

2. We can glorify God by doing ethical work. 

God is not glorified when we do dishonest work (e.g., stealing money from the company). Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (Eph. 4:28).

3. We can glorify God by doing evangelistic work. 

If we are not doing excellent and ethical work, effectively sharing the gospel with co-workers will be almost impossible. How we do our work is a part of evangelism.

Jesus the Laborer

It’s interesting to find out about the not-so-glamorous jobs of famous people. Bill Cosby shined shoes and worked as a stock boy at a supermarket. Beyonce Knowles swept up hair in her mother’s salon. Mick Jagger worked as an ice cream salesman and as a porter at a hospital. Warren Buffet worked at his father’s grocery store and at J. C. Penney. Jimmy Stewart painted lines on roads and spent two summers as a magician’s assistant. Brad Pitt dressed as a giant chicken to promote a restaurant.

Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was about 30 years old. What did he do all those years before he became a teacher? He was a carpenter (“Is this not the carpenter…?”, Mark 6:3). Jesus knew what it was like to do difficult work.

The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) was a carpenter. Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). In all of his work—whether it was his work as a carpenter, his work as a teacher, or his work as a Savior dying for the sins of the world—Jesus glorified the Father.

May we as Christ’s followers see that we were created by God to work. And may we glorify God in our work.