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).