Tag Archives: Grace

Who Is It You Are Looking For?

 

    

Easter

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Colossians 3:1-4

John 20:1-18

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Humans are searchers. From birth, we want to know what is out there. At first, it is trying to figure out what those moving blobs are that sometimes pick us up and sometimes feed us. We move on to other things that wander into our ever-sharpening vision, always seeking to know, and understand. Each year our universe expands until we see stars that existed millions of years ago.

Even then we search.

It is all good. We are better for understanding how the world and the universe works. But we also need God. Many of us are searching for God in all the wrong places; we do not even realize that it is God we seek.

In the Gospel reading, we see Mary standing at the empty tomb, weeping tears of sadness. She was thinking, ‘he died, now he is missing.’ Mary was looking in the wrong place. More to the point, she did not know what she was looking for.

Of course, if you go back to the start of the chapter, Peter and (likely) John were also clueless. They went away.

But Mary stayed, at least to be close to where Jesus had last been seen.

It was then that a stranger spoke to her. She was looking directly at Jesus, but did not recognize him. He was not the same Jesus she had walked and talked with. “Who is it you are looking for?” NIV

That is the question for us. Who am I looking for? Will I know him when I see him?

Jeremiah tells us that God said, I love you with an everlasting love;
this is why in my grace I draw you to me
CJB In the end, God finds us.

Jesus simply said, “Mary,” and she recognized him. Jesus found her.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Grace Alone

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Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Acts:  Jesus standing at the right hand of God

Psalm:  My rock of refuge

Peter:  Jesus is the stone

John:  I am the way

Augustine’s (410 AD) commentary on Psalm 31 sets the tone of this lesson.  There is a justice that belongs to God but becomes ours as well when it is given to us.  It is called God’s justice to ensure that humans do not imagine that they have any justice as from themselves….  [Pharisees], on the contrary, assumed that they were able to achieve perfect justice by their own efforts, and in consequence they tripped over the stumbling stone, the rock of scandal, and failed to recognize the grace of Christ….  The reason why they did not recognize God’s grace was that they did not want to be saved gratis.  For who is saved gratis?  Everyone in whom the Savior has found nothing to crown but only what he must condemn, one in whom he has found nothing that deserves rewards but only what merits torments.

Grace is especially difficult for most Americans because of our tradition of pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps; of Gary Cooper in High Noon.  Americans have adopted the Seabees’ unofficial motto, the difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a bit longer.

The Apostles had trouble with Grace as well.  It was at the root of their lack of understanding.  Jesus taught them everything they needed to know, yet they did not understand.  I am the way and the truth and the life.  God gave us the gift of his Grace through his Son.

We too often make the mistake of believing that the Grace has only been given to Christians since the resurrection of Jesus.  We forget that the Grace of God existed before creation.  We forget that the Son of God existed before creation.  And we forget that the Son of God can extend that Grace to any undeserving human He chooses.  We forget that He extends it to all humans who will accept it.  The Good News is not for Jews alone, not for Christians alone; it is for all humans everywhere for all of time.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Romans 2-6

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Monday, April 14 Romans 2

Proverbs 14:34 sets the tone for this first section.  Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.  Paul wants the Jews in Rome to realize they cannot judge because they do the same things, in the sense of Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

This whole passage is built around Leviticus 19:18.  Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.  Or if you prefer, Matthew 22:36-40.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jewish teaching has always been that hearing the Word of God does noting.  Doing the Word of God justifies us before God.  Paul warns his fellow Jews not to assume God’s Grace is only for them.  Exodus 34:6-7a, And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Paul uses the idea in Isaiah 42:14a, For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.  And Isaiah 64:12, After all this, O LORD, will you hold yourself back?  God promises to punish the wicked, but he tempers that with Mercy.  Because of his kindness to us, we are expected to repent and return to Him.

We should strive to live our lives to benefit others, not ourselves.

In verses 9 and 10, the phrase, for the Jew first, refers to their greater knowledge of God, not to any special treatment.  Paul is actually saying they will receive punishment first because they should know better.  Christians join them, we should know better.

Never having heard the Word of God does not excuse anyone from sin.  Ignorance of the law is not a defense in God’ court either.

Paul uses Jeremiah 31:33, This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  And Ezekiel 37:26, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.  I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.  God gives his commands to all of us, Christian, Jew, heathen.

Starting at verse 17 we should read Christian for Jew.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Paul wrote to the Philippians 4:9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  Much the same message as Rabbi Nehorai, Fit thyself to study Torah for it is not a thing that comes unto thee as an inheritance.  We cannot be baptized and be done with it.  Being a follower of Jesus is a life long growing process.

Verse 19 uses the common Biblical theme of light verses darkness.  God is light and created light.  Light shines on the darkness of sin and shows it for what is truly is.  If I am to guide anyone, I must first walk in the light.  But it is also true that the blind can lead each other into the light.  We cannot shirk leadership of those deeper in darkness than we are.

Rather than literally robbing temples (where wealth was stored) Paul probably is speaking of our tendency to use money and possessions for ourselves when they should have been given to God.

For Paul, to mistreat a non-Christian is to violate the Torah and dishonor God.

Rabbi Ze’era said there are four uncircumcisions of humans, the heart, the lips, the ear, and the flesh.  The first three are given in Jeremiah 6:10, Exodus 6:12, and Deuteronomy 10:16.  The physical circumcision is only an outward sigh of the inner circumcision, the cutting away of anything preventing us from hearing and doing God’s Word.

Tuesday, April 15 chapter 3

Paul opens with a strong defense of Jews and the special covenant with God. That covenantal  relationship has not been nullified by God.  Jews are still His Chosen People.

His appeal to Psalm 51:4 raises another issue, that of sinning so God can show his Mercy.  He has already rejected that argument in Chapter 2.  Paul stresses that we will be punished for our evil deeds.  Paul is punished for his sins, we are not any better.

Verse 8 makes it clear that Paul has been accused of preaching that we should sin to encourage God’s Mercy.  He rejects that idea again.

Starting in verse 10 Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 4:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 57:7-8, and Psalm 36:1 all to prove that everyone sins, Jew, Gentile and Christian.

The Law tells us what is sinful.  The Pharisees believed they could obey every law.  Jesus told them they failed.  Do not commit murder by thinking bad thoughts about…anyone.

The only way is to repent as John preached and to repent as Jesus preached and to accept the free gift of the removal of the sins by Jesus’s death, the death we deserve.  We still have to be judged by God.  When that day arrives, Jesus will be our attorney and he will testify to God about our faithfullness to his Way of Life.

Paul makes use of Jeremiah 23:6-8 in describing the Messiah.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. So then, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer say, As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt, but they will say, As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them. Then they will live in their own land.

In verse 23 we fall short because we do not follow the Messiah described in Jeremiah 23:5. The days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up to David righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  We have trouble doing what is just and right.

The word redemption was used for the purchase price of a slave to become free.  Paul urges us to give up our slavery to sin and be redeemed for a life of slavery to the Messiah.

Paul’s closing is saying that all are redeemed by Mercy, not by doing good deeds.  We are called to do good deeds because we love God and Jesus and want to do what is right and just.

Wednesday, April 16 chapter 4

Jeremiah 9:23-24.  This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.

Abraham responded to God, that is his and our only boast.

In verses 4-12 Paul develops the idea that Abraham received the righteousness of God without being circumcised.  Therefore, anyone can do the same by believing in God and in the Son of God.  If we depend on good works to  receive the blessing of God, we will fail.  We do good work because God has blessed us; we do them out of our love for God.

For you who are born as Jews, you have no special status with God until you follow Abraham and believe.  Righteousness is the reward for being faithful.  Punishment is the reward for trying to earn a place in heaven; we cannot do enough good for that.  Jesus was not raised from the dead because he healed, fed, and comforted, but only because he did God’s will every day in every way; he believed.

Abraham is our example because he looked at his 100 year old body and Sarah’s 90 year old body and still believed God’s promise to give them a son.  God does the impossible.

The last verse says it all.

Thursday, April 17 chapter 5

Peace comes only with justification, only when our faith is in God alone.  Offerings were made every day at the Temple until its destruction in 70 AD.  Peace offerings were among them.  The purpose of every offering was to atone for sin and to reestablish a correct relationship with God.  But the offerings had to be given daily because people sinned daily.  Jesus ended that process by  becoming the sacrificial lamb once and for all.  Since sin results in death and Jesus defeated death, we who believe in that miracle will follow him into Heaven.

The veil in the Temple that separates us from God can be bypassed if we hold fast to Jesus.

Christians who expect life to be easy are often disappointed.  We suffer in this world just like everyone else.  But God is with us in that suffering; if we persevere we will end up with hope.  Jeremiah 17:10.  I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.

Remaining faithful in affliction is what it is about.  Being faithful in good times is easy.

Paul uses the words: helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies interchangeably.

Paul  in verse 6 builds on Isaiah 61:1-3.  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

When you read verse 7 think of the most disgusting person you know.  Would you die for that person?  Jesus did.

There is a lengthy story about the Red Heifer that underlies all that Paul is saying in this long section about dying to sin and living to God.  The entire Red Heifer was burned on the Mount of Olives with both cedar and hyssop wood.  Cedar resist decay and hyssop was used to paint the blood on the doorposts at Passover.  The combined ash was then mixed with water and used to purify anyone who came in contact with the dead.  That week long cleansing turned a “dead” person back into the living.  The connections between Jesus and the Red Heifer are so numerous it is a wonder we Christians do not use it more often.

Verses 9-11 Paul uses to list several related ideas on hope, love atoning blood, and reconciliation.

In 12 Paul begins to discuss death entering the world through Adam’s sin, but does digress before he completes the thoughts.  Do notice that God did not create death; there was only a tree of life in the Garden.  Humans were expelled from the Garden before we could eat from that tree and be forced to live for eternity in a state of sin.  Also note that the word “sin” is not used until Genesis 4:9 after Cain kills his brother.

The following is from Romans by Joseph A. Fitzmyer.  Perhaps it will help clear up Paul’s muddled section of 12-14.

But the comparison is not smoothly worked out, for Paul also wants to clarify the dissimilarity and the superabundance of Christ’s grace that now reigns instead of sin and death, which had been in control since Adam.

Just as sin came into the world through Adam (and with it death, which affects all human beings), so through Christ came uprightness (and with it life eternal).

So the Comparison should run, but Paul felt the need to explain his novel teaching about Adam and broke into the parallelism to assert emphatically that it was Adam’s sin that has affected all human beings (5:12c-d, 13-14), making them not just mortal, but even sinners.  Because of this insertion, anacoluthon [inconsistent syntax] appears at the end of 5:14, and Paul’s real conclusion of the comparison is expressed only indirectly (when he asserts that Adam was the type of the one who was to come).

Verse 15 sums up nicely.  The sin of Adam affects us all, but the Grace of God in the free gift of his own Son overwhelms that sin.  Jesus justifies the condemned.

Paul Tillich, in a sermon titled, You Are Accepted, wrote I should like to suggest another word to you, not as a substitute for the word “sin”, but as a useful clue in the interpretation of the word “sin”:  “separation”.  Separation is an aspect of the experience of everyone.  Perhaps the word “sin” has the same root as the word “asunder”.  In any case, sin is separation.  And separation is threefold:  there is separation among individual lives, separation of a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being….  We know that the fate of separation is not merely a natural event like a flash of sudden lightning, but that it is an experience in which we actively participate, in which our whole personality is involved, and that, as fate, it is also guilt….

Grace is just as difficult to describe as sin.  For some people, grace is the willingness of a divine king and father to forgive over and again the foolishness and weakness of his subjects and children.  We must reject such a concept of grace; for it is a merely childish destruction of a human dignity….  But grace is more than gifts.  In grace something is overcome; grace occurs “in spite of” something; grace occurs in spite of separation and estrangement.  Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself.  Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected.

Friday, April 18 chapter 6

We must not sin because we have given up sin to follow the Son of God.

To be baptized is to be so fully immersed that we take on the color of the dye in the water.  The word comes from the process of dyeing cloth.  Once we have taken on the color of Jesus we will not want to sin.

Paul in verse 4 states a stronger argument: only be entering the grave of death can we have life.  This is one of the great paradoxes of the Bible and of Jesus; only by giving up this life can we truly have life.  It is like a scene from the Matrix where we have to give up reject that which seems real so that we can have what is truly real.

Isaiah 53:5, But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 

 

While we are on this earth we have to take up our cross every day and die to sin.  Sin is a constant state in this life so we have to keep after it, like pulling weeds from the garden, there is always one more.

Paul writing to the church at Corinth gave us these powerful words.  Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this chapter with a nice summary and the classic verse 23.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence