Posts Tagged ‘sinners’

Numbers 9:1-14 (Part 5)

The Second Passover

I recently read an article, Lesbian Bishop Wants to Remove Church Crosses So Muslims ‘Won’t Be Offended’, at www.christianpost.com. The idea behind the removal of the crosses in the seaport area where this bishop presides was so as to not offend the multicultural seafarers that enter the port city of Freeport. This is what Christianity has become – a female gay bishop proclaiming that we should not offend people of other faiths with symbols of our faith. There was once a song by Aaron Tippin back in the whose lyrics included the words, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything!” Never have these words been more true when a leader in the Christian church suggests that we water down our faith to the point that we no longer hold that the symbol of our faith, the cross, as a non-negotiable aspect of who we are. This bishop defended her position by saying we will not negotiate the tenets of our faith but just the symbols of the faith. From the mere presence of this bishop in the position that she is in makes it appear that we have already begun negotiating the faith away to suit the world’s desires. The mere existence of this woman in her position and with her characteristics means that we have negotiated away certain aspects of the faith that are offensive to those who desire to be a part of the faith. When we begin negotiating away the symbol of the cross. It is just another watering down of the nature of Christianity. In twenty centuries, we have become a religion and not a faith. We have gone from being willing to die for our faith twenty centuries ago to not wanting to offend anyone with our faith.

 

If we have already ripped out certain parts of the Bible to accommodate this bishop, why then not tear down the crosses! Why not say that Jesus is no longer the only way to the Father. Just rip those words of Jesus, right out the Bible. It’s all negotiable! Jesus being the only way to God is offensive in the multi-variant world in which we live. That other people who have belief in something other than Jesus are doomed to hell is offensive and, well, it takes the pressure off too. If all roads lead to heaven, we as Christians do not have then the desperate need to evangelize not only the non-believer but the believers of all the other religions of the world. That’s too much work! Let’s just say it’s OK that if you believe in something other than Jesus you will get to heaven. If it God’s Word is timeless and eternal then why are we negotiating away the faith in ways that make us more palatable to the culture around us. Have we become so enamored with our culture that we have watered down our faith to make it acceptable to the culture. What would our Christian forefathers think? They died because they would not deny Christ for the culture. They willingly gave up their freedom or even their life rather than denounce or turn their back on Jesus Christ. And now it has come to the point that we suggest taking down the crosses from our churches in coastal Sweden so as not offend. We are so afraid that we might have be house churches again, sneaking from one place to the next to share the gospel, so afraid that we might be underground once again that we are stripping our faith of that which makes it our faith.

 

The fact that the gospel by its very nature is offensive to the world culture, regardless of time period, and how we have forgotten that in today’s world is what the Holy Spirit put on my heart this morning when I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next. Let’s read through the passage, Numbers 9:1-14, for the fifth and final time this morning and for this morning, let’s concentrate on vv. 13-14 today:

 

 

9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

 

4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

 

8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

 

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

 

Here, in this passage, God, first, says that His own people would suffer judgment for not obeying His command for the Passover rites. He also said that foreigners living among the Israelites must follow the same prescribed regulations. This principle designed for foreigners was not to beat them over the head with the ways of God’s own people but it meant that if you wanted to be a part of God’s people there were non-negotiables of the faith. In the same way, we should not cover up or water down our beliefs as Christians in today’s world to make our message more palatable to the world around us.

 

As we compromise our faith, we lose it wondrous offensiveness and we lose its unfathomable urgency. The gospel is offensive because it is hard on sin. We think, “The gospel is really offensive. It could be better received if we weren’t so hard on sin.” The trouble with this is when we pull on that string we unravel the whole thing! Think about it, what is at the heart of the offense of the gospel? It was Paul that said the gospel is folly to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and He said that almost 2,000 years ago.

 

What is the folly? What is the foolishness? It is the cross. So, if in effort to remove the offense we would unwittingly remove the substance! There are sharp edges to this gospel. There is blood, death, wrath, sin, greed, and anger. You can’t sand that down without losing it all. Paul continued to preach Christ and him crucified (even though he knew it was perceived as folly) precisely because he knew that this same (foolish) gospel was also the saving gospel. It is the offensive nature of the gospel that we cannot be good enough and we cannot negotiate away our sins by doing more good than bad. We are screwed! We are damned before God because of our first sin much less all the others that we commit. That’s offensive. We cannot fix it ourselves. We cannot do enough good! That’s offensive. We need intervention from one person and only one person, Jesus Christ. That’s offensive.

 

That we cannot offset our sin nature by good works and by self-improvement and self-actualization is offensive. That we cannot negotiate this sin away because the culture says it is OK and acceptable is offensive. That there is only one way to fix it is offensive. That there are not multiple ways to fix it is offensive. Jesus says we are sinners all of us! But he offers us reconciliation to Father through Him and Him alone. This is a huge point. If we think of the gospel and our mission in the world as Jesus coming to bring us the birthday present for our moral awesomeness then it is not the gospel. It is by grace that we are saved. Grace is a gift. Salvation is from sin, Satan, and death. Anybody can pat us on the back for doing good but it is only Jesus Christ than can save us from our sins.

 

When we water down the gospel to the point that we take the cross down off a church then we have ceased to be the church. We are a culture club of self-improvement. When we become a culturally palatable self-improvement club, we eliminate the very offensive core of the gospel and the very high burden that we have as Christians.

 

The offensive core of the gospel is that we are all sinners in the eyes of God and that we have not hope on our own. We have only one hope and that is to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who came to die for sins in our place and take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. And that it is through His resurrection that we have eternal victory over our sins and can exist in the presence of God forever through Him and Him alone. The fact that only Jesus can save us always places a high burden on us to take the offensive message to everyone we know and do so in love. It is urgent that we share that there is only one way and it is urgent that we do so in a loving way because it is not because we are superior that we share this message. We are the condemned who have been set free. We are the sin alcoholics talking to other sin alcholics and teaching them about the one and only way we got sober. We are the beggars telling other beggars where we found food.

 

When we water down the gospel, when we negotiate away the faith to make our faith more palatable to the world that does not wish to see itself as sinners, when we start editing God’s Word to meet the needs of the culture, we lose it all. We lose our message. We have no message. We have no mission. We have no church.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Luke 3:21-22 — Why did Jesus allow Himself to be baptized by John The Baptist? He was sinless wasn’t He after all? There are several reasons. First, it is symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life.

First, it was symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus lived an earthly life (symbolic of Him prior to immersion in the water). He lived here among us as a human being. He know the life that we live. We have that in common with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As we have discussed here before, Jesus understands the human existence. He lived it. The only difference between Him and us was that He was able to go through this life without sinning. We see in Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus was tempted by Satan Himself during Jesus’ human existence but never failed, never sinned. However, His lack of sin does not mean that He does not understand our existence. He lived among us. The next step in the baptism process is the immersion in water. This is symbolic of Jesus’ death on earth. Being in the water symbolic of the time from Good Friday at sundown to sunrise on Easter Sunday morning when Jesus was in the tomb. Again, it is a reminder that Jesus experienced death just as we do. Jesus’ death was an excruciating ordeal on the cross. Jesus knew that physical pain that sometimes occurs as we die. He knows of slow agonizing death. He knows of welcoming His last breath. He knows that hour when the body gives up and shuts down and stops working. He knows of that moment when the life force stops. But that is not the end of the story with Jesus nor is it the end of story for us as His followers. The next step in the baptism process is the rising out of the water. It is symbolic of Jesus’ resurrection into new life, and a new body. He arose from the dead just as he arose from the death of the water. There is such beauty in this symbolism.

In another gospel, John The Baptist ask this same question. Jesus said that we must carry out what God requires (Matthew 3:15). The baptism thus was not about a symbolic rejection of sin, because there was no sin in Him. It was about carrying out God’s mission. Jesus was baptized because it is symbolic of Him taking on the sins of his nation and of all people. He was following Nehemiah, Ezra, Moses and Daniel. In His baptism, He again identifies with you and me and any who would believe in Him. He who was without sin was baptised. Again, He shows that He is willingly taking our place though He had no personal need to do so. He shouldered the sins of the world on the cross. He is doing it here as well. The sinless substituting Himself for the sinner. He is identifying Himself with those who are repentant. You will notice He is in the water with the penitent ones not up on the shore with the watching Pharisees. There are some today who stand on the shore and believe that they are righteous in their own right. Jesus does not stand with them. He stands in the mess of the murky water with us, the sinners. Jesus, the perfect man, did not need baptism as the symbolic gesture of rejecting our past life of sin, but He accepted baptism because He, as the Son on earth, was being obedient to the Father. His Father in Heaven was well pleased in the obedience of His Son and what it means to us.

The baptism is also an annoucement. It is announcing to the world that Jesus’ ministry has begun. It is public now. All the preparation is over. There is no turning back from the pre-ordained trajectory of Jesus’ life by the Father. Jesus’ baptism is saying to the Father, I am ready. Let’s do this. Prior to arriving at the Jordan, Jesus had been preparing for His ministry for 30 years. He was learning the human experience. He lived it from birth til now. No one could ever say that Jesus could not possibly understand what it’s like to be human. He did it for 30 years! He did not magically appear. People knew him as one of them. He was a tradesman’s son. He lived the life. He experienced joy, laughter, happiness, pain (physical and emotional). He was a child and knew what that experience was like. He was a teenager and knew what that experience was like. He was a young man learning to make a living in the world. He knew what that was like. He was now ready to end that portion of His existence with all that it allowed Him to experience and move on to the specific purpose for which He was sent. As Rafiki says to Simba, “It is time.” It is now time for the stakes to be raised. The game is on. It is also interesting to note that Jesus’ announcement of the beginning of His ministry begins in humility, on the fringes, in the dirty water, not in the main court of the Temple. He went to the river and identified Himself with those who were actually interested in repenting of their sins. This annoucement is humble. He submits Himself to John just as He submitted to the Father in everything He did. Jesus was so humble and obedient to His Father. He was obedient to the point of death on the cross because that was what God required of Him. It all starts right here.

Right here in this moment of baptism, we see our humble Savior saying to us, “I am with you.” I identify with you. I know what is like to be human. I know and understand it from birth to death. He knows how hard it is for us to not sin and how hard our very existence is. In this moment of baptism, He is telling us that He is taking on our sins – a theme that took him through the remaining three years of His life to the cross. The baptism and the cross are book ends to His willingness to take on the sins of His nation and the sins of the world. He loves us that much. His entire earthly existence was preparation. It was understanding of the human experience. It was all pointing toward taking on our sins. He came to give us an out from the condemnation that we deserve. The baptism was the beginning of the ministry. The crucifixion was the literal sacrifice. The baptism the symbolic one. Through His literal sacrifice on the cross, He did what God required to solve man’s sin problem permanently. But like the end sequence of His baptism ritual, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus came out of the water at His baptism. Jesus came out of the grave after his sacrificial death. He demonstrates to us that through Him we have conquered sin and death. We have promise of eternal life with Him through His resurrection. It all starts right here in the Jordan River. The ministry that changed the world begins here in the murky, muddy waters of the Jordan.