Pentecost Sunday

Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-47; Romans 8:1-39

Bringing Us Back into His Fold

In the Old Testament is an account that goes back to ancient times – way back.  It is the building of the Tower of Babel, that event in which men tried to make a monument to their collective selves.  They thought they could make it reach all the way to heaven.  God came down and judged the arrogance of men by confusing their language and thus scattering them over all the earth.  It was really a sad occasion.  The flood had only occurred a century or more before, and already man was up to no good.  But God expected as much, for after the flood, God said, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21, emphasis added).  So man was only acting according to his nature – his sinful nature.  So they (that is, we) were scattered abroad over all the earth – separated, isolated, alienated from God and one another.

The rest of the Old Testament is the story of how God was bringing us back into fellowship with Him, and back into fellowship with one another.  It involves promises made to Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets.  They were finally fulfilled in the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It was his sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrifices, that reconciled God to us and made us acceptable before Him.

But there was one more step.  The third person in the Trinity was now to begin his work, a work we partially described on Ascension Day.  Acts 2 describes his coming, fulfilling the promise that Luke records from the Prophet Joel.  The Holy Spirit fell upon those disciples (about 120 of them, Acts 1:15) and they suddenly began speaking languages they previously did not know.  Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the “world” heard these Galileans speaking their own languages.  What did it all mean?

It meant that the event that happened at the Tower so many millennia earlier had been reversed.  Instead of speaking different languages and not being understood, now we were speaking different languages and understanding one another.  Instead of be scattered, we were now being gathered – gathered into one family again – the family of God.  The plan of redemption was fulfilled as the Holy Spirit came to work saving faith in the hearts of men so that they would believe in Jesus.  The Book of Revelation showed us what we now wait for.  The gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is our guarantee or down payment, our foretaste of that for which we wait.  He binds us together in love, sanctifies us, and makes us ready for our heavenly dwelling.  Our God has conquered Babel through the Spirit.  Hallelujah!

Afterword

The celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost closes the Easter Season.  From this point forward in the Book of Acts, the disciples (learners) become apostles (sent ones) who go out and preach the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.  Let it be the same for us.  May we now take the message of salvation to our neighborhoods, knowing that the Holy Spirit goes before us.  I doubt that Peter thought three thousand people would come to saving faith in Christ Jesus on that one day.  Perhaps God will do great things through us as well.

Of course, Easter Season is never over.  Every Sunday is Easter Sunday.  Every Sunday is the opportunity we have to worship our risen Lord and Savior.  And we are Easter people – people whose lives have been forever changed because of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.  So although the Church provides “seasons” for us to observe these holy days and times for our instruction and edification, we should allow the work of these seasons to follow us all year long as we meditate on the majesty and mystery of the work of God in our salvation.

Praise be to the Father who sent His Son for our salvation; praise be to the Son who reconciled us to the Father; and praise be to the Holy Spirit who leads us to the Son that we may be reborn and adopted as children of the Father.  May the God of peace be with us and grant us to draw ever closer to Him through Christ Jesus our Lord and thereby closer to one another.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

Saturday in the Seventh Week of Easter

3 John 1-15

More on Hospitality

Third John is written to one named Gaius, apparently a leader in the church to which John was writing.  He writes to commend Gaius for his hospitality in receiving “the brothers.”  We spoke yesterday about how traveling evangelists often went from church to church in missionary activity.  In his second letter, John warned the church not to entertain anyone who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh.  In this letter, however, he affirms Gaius for receiving true preachers of the gospel.  All of this, of course, calls for discernment on behalf of pastors and churches.  Churches need to exercise caution in opening their pulpits to just any traveling preacher, indeed, perhaps even to someone of their own denomination.  The pulpit is not for just anyone who would like to stand up and say something.  It is a sacred piece of furniture, the primary purpose of which is to be the station where the gospel of Jesus Christ is carefully proclaimed.  Specifically, the pastor acts as gate-keeper for the church as he is especially entrusted to guard the flock from wayward teaching.  But the church as a whole must also guard the sacred deposit of the faith that has been entrusted to her by the hands of her Master.  Each member must be a devout listener and faithful student of the word, not accepting anything less than the straightforward preaching of the word in all of its fullness and glory.

Then John brings up one named Diotrephes.  He is someone in the church who apparently likes to have control.  He “puts himself first,” acknowledges not the apostolic authority, and likes to talk about other people.  Furthermore, he refuses to welcome the brothers, that is, the true preachers of the word.  And just in case there is a question about this, John reminds them that those who do good are from God and those who don’t aren’t.  Our Lord said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20).  That’s how you can tell a Diotrephes from, say, a Demetrius, whom everyone knows is a good fellow.

So let the church welcome the pure and sincere preaching of the word, and rejoice in the truth.  For our Lord has “no greater joy than to hear that [his] children are walking in the truth.”

Friday in the Seventh Week of Easter

2 John 1-13

Fellowship with One Another and the Commandments

We are almost at the end of the Easter Season, but we will take up Second and Third John before we close.  These are the two shortest “books” of the New Testament, and therefore do not say as much as others.  But we must remember that they are still God’s word to us, and the Church has ever found strength and sustenance in them.

The letter is written to the “elect lady,” probably a way of referring to the church to which John is writing.  John calls himself “the elder,” referring to his pastoral role as an apostle.  The theme of the letter seems to be “truth.”  John rejoices that the some of the children of the “elect lady” are walking in the truth.  It is this truth that abides with us and will be with us forever.  Although he does not express exactly what that truth is, it appears doubtless that what he says in verse seven gives us a clue, along with what he wrote in his first letter, namely, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who came in the flesh.  This is the truth that the Church of Jesus Christ must abide in at all times if she will abide in Him.

But there is a further “truth” that comes from this letter.  He reminds the church (the elect lady) of the commandment which was from the beginning – that they love one another.  We heard that from John in the first letter, numerous times.  But then he defines love somewhat differently from the way he defined love in the first letter.  In his first letter, love was defined as something God did (4:9-10).  But in this second letter, love is defined as something we do: “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”  And what is that commandment?  We already said it: that we love one another.  Love is the fulfillment of all of God’s commandments (Romans 13:10).  To love one another is to be an obedient child of God, is to know the joy of walking with God.  It is in this way that the love of God is perfected in us (1 John 2:5).

John closes with words of warning for the church.  At that time, many roving evangelists were visiting the churches.  Churches generally gave hospitality to such men.  John warns them sternly not to entertain anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh.  Indeed, to do so would be to take part in their sin.  A stern warning it seems, but John would have us know that we must never even entertain the notion of compromising the gospel message, not even for the sake of hospitality.  We must guard this treasure with our lives, for the gospel is our life, the life of the Church.

Thursday in the Seventh Week of Easter

1 John 5:13-21

That You May Know

As you well know, John wrote this letter and a gospel (and Second and Third John and Revelation).  In his gospel, he writes the purpose of his book towards the end: “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).  Here in his first letter, he places the purpose again at the end: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”  So he wrote his gospel that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ; and, having believed that, he wrote his letter that we might know that as believers in Christ we have eternal life.  Thus, his gospel and his first letter fit very well together – the former pointing the way to saving faith, the latter indicating faith’s rewards.

Saving faith in this loving, benevolent God grants us great confidence in approaching Him in prayer.  Why wouldn’t one feel confident praying to such a wonderful God?  Because He has loved us so much as to stoop down to save us, we may know that He hears us when we pray according to His will, and that we shall have the requests we ask of Him.  Now the operative phrase here is: “according to His will.”  We know that we cannot ask for that which He would obviously oppose and expect to receive it.  The way we know His will is through the constant reading and application of Scripture to our lives (Hebrews 5:11-14).  Our problem comes when we ask things according to His will and do not receive.  We must remember that God calls us to patience in our prayers (Luke 18:1-8), and to submission to His will (Luke 22:42; 1 Peter 4:19).  Finally, we should remember that prayer is far more about finding ourselves in God’s will than about forcing Him into ours.

Verses sixteen and seventeen present a difficult passage.  What is a sin unto death?  Jesus spoke of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which seems to indicate a willful turning of the self and hardening of the heart towards the gospel message.  A sin unto death would seem to fall into that same category – an unrepented, presumptuous sin that one will not let go of, perhaps, in the light of John’s letter, a hatred for one’s brother or sister in Christ that one insists on taking to his grave.  It might be impossible to be specific.  John reminds us again that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning,” for God protects him.  The Christian continually works to root out all sin, hating it even as God does, implying that the opposite attitude may indeed be indicative of sinning unto death.  But John wrote this letter so that we may know that we who believe have eternal life.  Fear not.

Wednesday in the Seventh Week of Easter

1 John 5:1-12

The Way to Overcome

In this passage, John shows us the way to overcome the world, which is through faith in Jesus Christ.  We remember that for John, the world is an enemy.  The world is the tool of Satan to tempt us to sin and rebellion.  The Christian is called to flee, shun, or even better, overcome, the world.

We have already said that the way to overcome the world is through faith.  But how does one come to saving faith?  The first verse of this chapter speaks volumes: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”  This verse tells us three things.  First, it tells us that faith has content.  In other words, faith isn’t just believing anything.  Faith isn’t some mysterious experience that you can’t explain.  Faith isn’t something empty, as revealed in such sayings as, “Keep the faith,” which only begs the question, “Faith in what?”  Faith is believing something specific, namely, that Jesus is the Christ.  John states this in two other ways as well: confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (4:15) and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2).  We also notice that saving faith centers around a specific confession about Jesus and His relationship to the Father.  Which brings us to the second point this passage reveals, and which has been emphasized all along in this letter, namely, that there is no daylight between the Son and the Father.  To have the one is to have the other (2:23).  The Christian faith makes an exclusive and offensive claim before the world: That Jesus is the Christ, and the only Savior of the world.  And finally, this opening verse tells us the divine order of how one is saved.  Notice that those who believe “have been born” of God.  They believe because they have experienced the new birth, which John speaks of throughout this letter and in his gospel.  We do not believe so that we may be born again; we are born again so that we may believe.  And this puts the emphasis back where it’s supposed to be: with God.  We remember that it is He who loved us, not vice-versa, and it is only His loving us that enables us to love Him.  Likewise, it is only His birthing us anew through the Holy Spirit that enables us to believe that His Son is the Christ, the one who came in the flesh, the Savior of the world.

And it is this faith that keeps the commandments, since the Holy Spirit living within us gives us a heart to keep them, so that they are no longer burdensome to us but a joy.  It is this faith that hears the Spirit say that our Lord came by water (his baptism) and by blood (his passion) to save us.  It is this faith that teaches us that abundant and eternal life dwell in the Son.  And it is faith in such promises as this that overcomes the world.

Tuesday in the Seventh Week of Easter

1 John 4:7-21

And Just Why Should We Love One Another?

John has told us several times now that we should love one another.  Now he tells us the reason.  To do so, he defines what love is.  Love is often defined as caring and feeling.  But listen to John: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”  And then he further clarifies: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  (To propitiate means to take the punishment for our sin and thus render God “propitious” towards us.)  Notice how John defines love.  He says nothing about us generating or doing the loving.  We are the objects of love, and that is all.  John defines love strictly from God’s side.  Indeed, he pointedly says, “Not that we have loved God.”  It is God doing the loving, and He is loving us.  In other words, if you will know what love is, you must look at God, and what He has done.  And what has God done?  God sent His Son as our atoning sacrifice so that we might live through him.  It is because God has loved us and shown us what love is that then John can say, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  Later on he adds, “We love because He first loved us.”  And this is why we should love one another – because God has so loved us.

It is God’s love that is the basis for our loving.  I cannot hope to love rightly until I learn how to love the way God would have me to.  And God’s way of loving is obviously sacrificial and giving.  We recall that Jesus laid down his life, and in a most painful way.  I must learn to love my wife, my children, my friends, my church, and my enemies, the way God loves them and for His glory.  I must love them all for His sake, knowing full well that the way He wants me to love them will run completely counter to the way I want to love them.  My way will always be tainted with self-interest, but His way will always be pure and devout … and sometimes painful, as it was for our Lord.  Ultimately, I must love others, not for my sake, and perhaps not even for their sake, but for His sake.

This kind of love is impossible for man, but we can possess it because “He has given us of His Spirit.”  As His Spirit leads us, placing the saving confession of His Son upon our lips, we abide in Him and He in us.  We grow in love as we continue to walk with Him.  As we grow in love, we are thereby perfected in love, and such love relieves us of all fear – fear of Judgment Day, but also the fear of the risk of loving others.  Like spokes on a wheel, the closer we get to God, the closer we get to one another.

Monday in the Seventh Week of Easter

1 John 4:1-6

Testing the Spirits

In this chapter, John gives us some tests whereby we may know whether one is truly of the faith.  We have already discussed one that he refers to later in the chapter which is loving one another.  It’s a favorite theme of John.  We will begin, however, where John begins.

John begins his testing of the spirits saying that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  Notice that this is a doctrinal test.  It takes us back to the beginning of the letter: “That … which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1:1).  It is a nonnegotiable of the Christian faith that the Son of God became a son of man.  He did this so that children of men might become children of God.  But his incarnation (in-flesh-ment) was necessary that he might bear our sins and take our place on the cross.  He tasted death for every man.  John is certain of this.  And we must remember that John was there.  It was he who saw, heard, and handled.  This is so crucial to the Christian faith that to deny this is to place oneself in league with the spirit of the antichrist.

John has a second test.  He says, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”  Wow!  In this day and age, someone would accuse John of megalomania.  Who does he think he is?  Well, he was an apostle.  And the apostles were the first order and rank in the Church (Ephesians 4:11).  The Church is built on the foundation of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20).  The Church defines herself in her creeds as being “one, holy, universal, and apostolic.”  Their position was so unique, they were irreplaceable, meaning there are none today, and never will be.  They were especially commissioned by our Lord as witnesses of his resurrection, to testify to his saving work, to confirm the gospel with works of healing and miracles.  It was they and their trusted listeners who wrote the apostolic word the Church has received as her New Testament.  These men were the Church’s earliest authority.  It wasn’t that they were perfect, but when they spoke in agreement about the revelation of Jesus Christ, there was really no court of appeal.  This revelation is the Holy Bible.  And the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church down through the ages is our interpreter.  So we have doctrinal tests and “how to live our life” tests.  And we need them both, not so much to test others, although that may be necessary from time to time, but mainly to test ourselves.