Posts Tagged ‘sin nature’

Matthew 6:1-4
Giving to the Needy
Buildings with our names on them. That is a lofty aspiration to have. The Mark Bowling School of Theology at North Greenville University. Wow! That would be something, wouldn’t it? That would require me to be much richer, by worldly standards, than I am right now. Sometimes, you wonder when people give huge sums of money to their alma mater as to what was their motivation. Was it a tax write-off as their main motivation? Was it to see their name on the side of a building forever (well, at least until the building falls down 150 years from now)? Or was it because they wanted to see the school be able to educate young minds in way that was financially and physically impossible before? When we work at the biggest event of our church each year, the Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway, do we do it to make ourselves feel good? Do we do it to be seen doing it? Do we participate in the corporate events so that our fellow church partners will see us and then we do not care for the widow next door? Do we walk down to put our offering in the plate to be seen giving but yet we don’t have but a dollar bill in the envelope? Do we give sacrificially or give our leftovers? Do we give coats to a coat drive but yet fail to care for a family in need because there is no one there to see us do it? Just what is our motivation for charity? Are we giving and doing for others because we expect to get something back from it (fame, notoriety, tax deduction, eternal servitude from the one we helped)? Jesus hits us square in the eye with His next statement.

As we open Chapter 6 of Matthew, here in Verses 1-4, Jesus takes us to task as what our motivation for being his follower truly is when He says, 1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

In his sermon on this passage, “What is Ted Turner Doing”, Rev. Adrian Dieleman says, “In our text Jesus speaks against strippers — spiritual strippers. ‘Spiritual exhibitionism’ is repulsive to Him.” What Dieleman is getting at is about our motivations for Christian, or perceived Christian, acts. Are we performing acts of kindness out of genuine care for our fellow man or are we doing it to get our name in the paper or at the very least a public pat on the back? In the Scripture, Jesus asks this very question. Therefore, it appears that Jesus ultimately is getting at pride. Our righteousness should be authentic and personal. What we do should be for the honor and glory of God; not ourselves. If the cameras aren’t there, if there isn’t a chance for personal publicity, if there is not a chance for a public ego massage, would we still help a family in need? Would we donate money to a worthy cause? Would we donate our time to uplift those less fortunate? Jesus says God knows our heart and knows our motivations.

This passage reminds me of the You Tube video that many of you have seen called “The Good-o-Meter”. Here’s the link if you have not seen it – http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=The+good-o-meter&aq=f. All of the people that get passed over are telling of all the positive things for society that they have done. As it is said in the Bible that faith without action is dead; then so the opposite is also true. But if you do good works but don’t have genuine faith, then you are just as spiritually dead, because the works aren’t really “good.” They are done for your glory and not for God’s. Works without faith is just as dead. As noted in the clip, God sees straight those to our true motivations. Our proud expectations of what will be said to us at the Pearly Gates will be confounded because of the lack of a humble heart. As the clip also shows us, regardless of what we do, we are doomed to failure at God’s throne as it is said in Romans 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. It is from this realization that our entrance to Heaven is ONLY through grace and our own humility at how far short we measure up against God’s standard of perfection can we realize the glories of Heaven. It is from this undeserved gift that we arise feeling truly, truly blessed. We consider ourselves as freed criminals who deserved the death penalty. What joy there is in our salvation through the gift of Jesus Christ! It is joy my friends. That joy is where our motivation must come. We are just giddy at the freedom from sin’s penalty that we have been granted (not earned).

When we are full of this joy that comes from our salvation, we can’t help ourselves from helping others. It is from our overflow of joy. We want others to experience the same joy that we have found. It matters not whether the stage lights are on or not. We love and we care because we have joy. Our motivation is to give God glory and give Him thanksgiving. We are driven to give God glory in everything. We are driven to see joy amidst struggle because we know what we have been saved from. Even in our darkest hours, we can see a way toward joy. We can see that it will get better. It will get better either in this life or in heaven, one or the other. There is peace in that knowledge. Let us be a people that are motivated by the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Let us be a people who give to others not because we want something in return but rather that we find it as a way to give glory to God. Let us be a people that give because, maybe, in the giving, we can show others who Jesus Christ is in real, practical ways.

This is not some check your salvation thing if you are not giving generously or if you have some self-centered motivation for your giving. Our salvation is secure when we proclaim to the universe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and believe wholeheartedly in Him. However, we are to examine our motives because we are of sin nature. Our salvation is secure but our sanctification is a life-long process of the Holy Spirit becoming greater and our sin nature becoming less as we mature in Christ. Part of maturing in Christ is to see the areas of our life where we need to give control over to the Holy Spirit. As we mature in Christ, we make conscious choices for change when the Holy Spirit points out to us where we are not like Christ. Pride is certainly one of those areas that we struggle with as maturing Christ followers.

Jesus, thus, in this passage, is calling us to check our motivations. Is it for God’s glory that we do things publicly in His name? Do you want a position of leadership at church so as to glorify God or further your agenda? Is me desiring full-time ministry a God-calling or an ego-calling? Is pride motivating you or is giving glory to our Savior motivating you? If the latter is true, it will not matter whether people see us helping our neighbor or not. You help your neighbor because of giving glory to God and to allow others to see God at work through us. It’s all about Him! That should be our catchphrase! That should be the test by we measure everything we do. Is this all about Him?

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Matthew 2:13-18 — When we read this passage, we are often thankful for Jesus being able to escape into Egypt, but we often ignore the hard question. In the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth, there is this ugly episode involving King Herod. There is a fundamentally hard question that often we Christians ignore because it is so hard to answer, particularly in the midst of this story that we tell our children over and over at Christmas time. With all of the “good vibrations” of the Christmas holiday, all the syrupy-sweet warm fuzzies our culture builds into the holiday, and especially here in the church where we celebrate our Savior’s birth and focus on its actual meaning…. Still, it’s kind of shocking, to be faced with such a gruesome story.

In this passage, we learn that Joseph is warned by an angel to flee into Egypt. Because Herod had learned of the Magi left town without re-visiting him he was enraged because they took with them the knowledge of the whereabouts of the would-be king, the Christ. Therefore, to cover his bases to keep a supposed rival king from arising from his midst, he ordered having all children under the age of two that resided in Bethlehem murdered. Although there has been conjecture as to whether this actually happened or not, it is completely consistent with the paranoid defense of his throne that Herod displayed during his reign which is well documented outside the Bible. He killed several of his sons and at least his first wife because of his fears that they were plotting to take his throne among many other such killngs. The fact that Bethlehem was so small at the time there was very few children under the age of two resided in Bethlehem (probably less than 10 in a town of approximately 300 at the time of Jesus’ birth). Therefore, to me, this did indeed happen.

This brings us to a troubling question, we can understand why Jesus was spared. He was God’s own Son, but why were the innocent children (even if it was actually less than 10) not spared from the mania of a diabolical earthly ruler? Did God allow this to happen just to fulfill the prophecies of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt I will call my son) and of Jeremiah 31:15 (A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more). Seems like God is either very callous in keeping to his prophecy fulfillment timetable or He is a weak God that cannot prevent such things from happening. We may not speak it out loud but we think it in today’s world when natural disasters happen or especially when senseless acts of violence happen. We certainly must ask this question here when there is this truly evil act of senseless violence.

This is a fundamental question of faith. Many people disdain the Old Testament today because of its violence and all the smiting that went on and the wiping out of entire groups of people. They say they are just going to stick with the New Testament. But here in the New Testament, you have this act of pure evil in which numerous innocents died, simply because of their age. So, this is a question we must deal with at some point or another. It is an ever present one in the Bible and it is an ever present one in our day and age. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did 09/11/01 happen? Why did Columbine happen? Why did the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happen? Why did Emmanuel AME happen here in our state just a few short weeks ago? Just this week, why did two fun-loving energetic young people who were in the midst of advancing their television careers get gunned down for senseless reasons? We avoid this question and it seems that with all the background and examples I am laying down in this blog that I am too. This question brings us into several doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith.

First, we as Christians believe that man is born with a sin nature. As a result, evil exists. Paul says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. With sin comes evil. Since the entrance of sin in the world, we see man unloading unspeakable evils upon one another beginning with Cain and Abel and degenerating from there. Evil is a real thing. Sin is a real thing. As we remember from Genesis, even the ground was cursed. Our planet suffers the effects of sin and evil. And Paul says even the ground groans under the weight of sin and wishes for the day when Jesus will return. Thus we live in a world filled with sin and on a planet groaning from the effects of sin. Because of the evil than can often go unchecked in the hands of someone in power such as a despotic king like Herod, unspeakable atrocities such as this can occur. Look at Hitler in Europe. He was essentially a king with no checks on his power. The holocaust was the result, World War II was the result, evil on a grand scale. Outside the Christian faith, many try to speak of the basic goodness of man. It is just not true. We are evil at our core. Just look at all the attempts at utopian societies. Each one has ultimately failed because of greed caused by the innate evil nature of man. This scene from Matthew is evidence of the fact that man is evil. Because of this evil nature of man, it amply points out our everpresent need for a Savior.

Second, God gave man free will. We have the power to choose our actions on a daily basis. In our free will, we daily choose to disobey God. When we sin, it has ripple effects. Our sins impact other people. Herod’s sins are all on display here and throughout his rein his sins have devastating effects on many, many people. We think of the children murdered here. But think of our own evil actions and the long lasting impacts they have on others. Just think of the disastrous effects of adultery on families. It may feel good to the person enjoying a dangerous liasons where the sex is fun and secretive and you may even be able to justify in your mind why you are doing it, but the ripple effects destroy families. Adultery impacts children deeply and can often ruin their lives. Adultery can have impacts for generations. Evil upon evil is dumped on all of us from the actions of others and our sins are dumped on other people too. Free will, what a dangerous thing that was that God gave us. It has had disastrous effects. It has been God’s grand experiment gone wrong it seems. Like leaving your kids home on the weekend while you and your spouse go on a weekend getaway and the house gets trashed in the process. However, free will with all his resulting troubles is necessary in God’s plan. It is a risk that He is willing to take. If we were robots of God, we would robotically obey God. He wants us to choose Him, not robotically obey Him. With free will, we come to God and seek Him out. With free will, we choose to reject evil and our evil ways and repent. With free will, we understand why we need a Savior. With free will, we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So, free will enables us to choose, but because of the sin of Adam, we choose evil over good and bad things happen to us and everyone around us. In our free will, we sin and we definitely need a Savior.

Third, we find the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In this scene, we completely do not understand it. We do not understand it when a 16 year old is killed in a car accident. We certainly do not understand it when a mother who has sweet innocent children at hope is murdered. We certainly do not understand it when a young woman is raped and murdered. We certainly do not understand it when planes crash. We certainly do not understand it when a young man walks into a church and murders 9 people for no other reason that the fact that they were there. Sometimes, when the inexplicable happens, we simply have to trust that God has a purpose and plan in it all. We don’t have to understand it sometimes. We may even get angry at God about it at times. But ultimately God is sovereign and He does not have to explain Himself to us. Many times though we can ultimately see what His plan was. Often out of bad things, good things come. Often people’s eyes are opened. Often in our loss for words and explanations for life’s events, we see that we do not have all the answers and that we need God. Often bad things happen cause us to see our sins for what they are. Often bad things happen to force us to see our need for a Savior. I am not saying that this is why God allows what seems as a bad things in our limited nature to us. I don’t know that. Because God ways are higher than my ways I will never truly understand Him fully in this my limited nature in this human life. However, I am just saying that there are often the results of bad things happening is that we are drawn closer to the Almighty, All-Knowing God. It is often true that bad things happening show us the limited nature of our life and it points us to our need for a Savior. Bad things happening often force us to take stock of our mortality and forces us to our knees to see that we definitely need a Savior.

Tomorrow, we will look at this passage one more time from the point of view of the parallel of Jesus’ life and the history of Israel. But for today, we are dealing with this tough question. Sin. Free Will. God’s Sovereignty. Evil in the world. The tough questions of our faith. Right here in the middle of the nativity scene that we make so sweet at Christmas. Our faith forces us to deal with tough questions all the time. When we deal with these tough questions head on, we will, I think, grow in our faith. When we deal with the tough questions of life, we begin to understand why we believe what we believe and it all starts making sense and strengthens our faith and strengthens our belief in our need for a Savior. It demonstrates the wonderful grace that we live under in the name of Jesus Christ, the central character that was spared in this scene from Matthew 2:13-18.

Luke 24:32-43 — Jesus on the cross. Jesus dying on the cross. We understand from Scripture that this fact is significant. Scripture tells us that Jesus dying on the cross is what reconciles us to God. When I was a non-believer I could grasp that Jesus was a great man. I could grasp that His death on the cross was a travesty of human justice. I could grasp that He was a holy man of God that spoke great truths of the universe. I could grasp that He was so committed to the truth that He risked his life to call out that which claimed to be holy as unholy. I could grasp that He spoke of peace and love and not war and hate in a world built on war and hate. I could grasp that all of these factors, truth, candor, peace made Him a rebel in his day. To me when I was a non-believer, he was the original flower child much like the hippees of the 60’s. To me, I admired Him as an anti-establishment rebel that through his love not war attitude changed the world much like the counterculture of the late 60’s-early 70s changed our nation forever. Much like the racial equality movement of that same time changed the face of our nation forever as well. As a non-believer, I could see Jesus marching in anti-war protests of the 60’s, marching arm in arm with His black friends from Selma to Montgomery. That was the Jesus that I grasped. I grasped a rebel Jesus who was martyred for being different, for fighting for change, and through whose death the world was changed. That was the Jesus I grasped.

However, as a non-believer, I just could not grasp the Christian theology that Jesus’ death on the cross was for me. I just could not grasp that Him hanging on the cross was for the forgiveness of my sins. How does a man dying on the cross reconcile me to God, I asked myself? It all boils down to who do you think Jesus is. If Jesus was just a man…if Jesus was just a rebel fighting against injustice and the status quo who was killed for it…if Jesus was just another prophet who was killed…if Jesus was a cool dude that was super-perceptive about life…if Jesus was just…then it does not make sense. If Jesus was just these things, then this whole Christian thing built on Him dying on the cross does not make any sense at all. Jesus dying on the cross was just the end of a cool dude’s life and then the church fabricated the resurrection thing. It just doesn’t make any sense if Jesus was just…a man.

However, Jesus was not just a man. He was the Son of God. He was God in the flesh. He was part of the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit that has existed since before creation. It was through Him that the universe was made. That’s the part that takes faith. And that faith is what makes sense of the cross. His death on the cross makes senses when you realize that Jesus was the Son of God and that He and the Father were one and were of the same essence. This makes the cross make sense.

Beginning in Egypt we see God pointing us toward the cross. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. During the final plague in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to paint the blood of an innocent pure lamb on their doorway so that the death plague would passover their homes. This points to Jesus on the cross. His blood was spilled so that we might live. The Old Testament sacrificial system instituted at Mt. Sinai taught the Israelites and us about Jesus. Animals were sacrificed as atonement for sin. The animals spilled their blood for forgiveness of sin because that’s God said it was for. The animals took the punishment for sin that the sinner deserved. God was pointing us toward his ultimate act on the cross in Jesus.

We have all done things that are wrong and we have failed to live up to God’s laws – his expectations for holiness from us as He is holy. Sin, just one sin, separates us from God. It does not matter how we justify it or how much good we do, our sin, any sin, taints us and makes us imperfect. Imperfection cannot exist in the presence of God. Once we have sinned there is nothing we can do ourselves to make ourselves clean. It is like squirting flavor additives into clear water. Once you have squirted the colored additive into the water, you cannot make it clear again no matter what you do. Sin is that way for us. Thus, there is a permanent separation for us from God because of this sin imperfection from the first time we think of sinning. We need help. And it is only when we realize that we are helpless that we are ready to understand what Jesus did on the cross that is so important to us. That is so important that its news spread out from the cross around the globe and through the centuries.

Jesus was not only a man. He was also God in the flesh acting as the Son of the Father. OK. Why then still does his death on the cross mean? It all goes back God’s sacrificial system. Jesus is the culmination of that. The animals used in the passover and the sacrifices at the Tabernacle and later the Temple had to be pure and spotless to be used to atone for the sinner’s sin. Jesus was pure and spotless. He never sinned. Thus, this made Him the only sacrifice ever that was truly perfect, spotless, and sinless. Because He lived a sinless life and never disobeyed the Father in any way then his sacrifice of His life was the culminating atonement for sin. It did not have to be repeated anymore like the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin. He is the Passover Lamb of all Passover Lambs. He is the Sin Sacrifice of Sin Sacrifices.

On the cross, He was thus sacrficed for sin. He became all sin of all time, past, present and future. He took on the full wrath of God against the imperfection of sin for all time. Jesus who had existed for eternity with the Holy Spirit and the Father was now separated from that one essence, that unity that He had known for all eternity. That is why when taking on the full wrath of sin for all time, he exclaims in all four gospels, Father why have you abandoned me. He, on the cross, was substituting Himself for man’s sins of all time and He was alone bearing that heavy burden. He was separated from the loving trinity that He had known since before what we know as time begin. It is through His death that the sacrificial system is completed. It is finished at the cross. Jesus bore the punishment for all sin for all time on the cross. Thus, it is finished. The job is complete at the cross. When we have the faith to believe this, that is where we can say that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin on the cross. He paid our debt and we are released from the impurity and imperfection of sin that condemns us to eternal separation from God in hell. We are redeemed from slavery through his payment made at the cross.

That is the only way that the cross makes sense. There is indeed a God who created the universe and created man. He gave man free will to choose to worship God not as robots but as knowledgeable humans making choices. With the risk of free will came the ability to listen to evil in the form of Satan. When the first sin in Adam occurred, it set mankind on a course of self-destruction from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Sin stains us and changed everything. With our sin nature passed down from Adam to us, we cannot help ourselves. We sin. We cannot help ourselves. With that first sin, we permanently taint ourselves and separate ourselves from God. With sin, it is a permanent stain. No matter how much good we try to do, it is like trying to get a wine stain out of white shag carpet. It will never be same. We become imperfect and ineligible for existing in the presence of our Creator with our first sin not to mention the mounds of sins we pile up in our lifetime due to our sin nature. We can’t clean it. We can’t fix it. We are truly screwed. We are up crap creek without a paddle. There is only one thing that can change that. It is Jesus who is the culmination of God’s sacrificial system instituted in the Old Testament. He is the permanent fix to our sin problem. Jesus lived the sinless life and sacrificed himself in our place on the cross. He bore the punishment that you and I deserve for our first and the rest of our sins. When we believe on this fact. We are freed from condemnation to hell that we deserve for our sins. Hell is where we are separated from God and live eternally in flesh eating, teeth gnashing, wailing, burning, nothingness separated from God. That is what we deserve for what we have made of ourselves and the world we live in. When we believe on Jesus, He frees us from our death sentence. In Him, we know that we will be able to join Him in heaven in the presence of the God and know eternal joy. We know in Him that there will be an end to this madness that we live in. We know that in our physical death we will join Him in eternity. We know that in the end that Jesus will redeem His creation and conquer evil once and for all. In Him, there is hope.

That is why the cross makes sense to me now. I grasp who Jesus is. He is my Savior. He is the Son of God. He is God in the flesh who loves you and me enough to break into the history of His creation and offer Himself up as as sacrifice for your and my sins so that we can be redeemed from death in Hell. That’s why the cross makes sense. Do you get it?