Sunday, May 8, 2022

Still Following

Text: John 10:22-30

Focus: Security in faith

Function: to help people see the truth that God has them in God’s hand and will not drop them.

22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

Happy Mother’s day everyone. Today’s lesson is not very long, but it has a lot of meaning and hopefully, a lot of encouragement and depth.

My focus is on the security we have as believers who know and trust Jesus Christ as their lord and Savior. As a mother loves to comfort her children, I pray that this morning’s scripture will comfort you.

That is not to assume that you are not without comfort, but a hope, that the remembrance of what we already know will be there and present in your minds as you live your lives in the hope of Jesus’ salvation.

I find great comfort in verse 27 of today’s scripture lesson. Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

I have always heard the verse to say, I can hear the voice of Jesus. I have always been mystical in my faith and have had what I believe to be several very deep and personal interactions with the Holy Spirit and what appears to me to be the presence of angels.

So, when Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice,” my spirit resonates with the promise that is there in that verse.

I find myself listening for the voice of Jesus in my ears. You have heard me testify to the power of my calling into ministry when I heard the voice of God in my ear speak to me, “Luke 4:18.” It was the verse God used to call me into ministry and it says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord us upon me and He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor, the release of the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, and to set free those who are oppressed.”

So again, when I read those words, to reminds me of my own call to salvation and then in to Christian service for the Lord.

Jesus calls us toward Him.

And those who are willing to live their lives loving their neighbor as themselves, those who are willing to live their lives accepting others without judgment like Jesus preached are those who are listening to the voice of God calling them.

Let me paint a small picture of what is going on here.

By this time, Jesus has a crowd following Him. He has made His teaching about social justice clear. He has called out the systems that are continuing to oppress the least of these and He has given us ways to take back the power from those who oppress us.

Those who were doing the oppressing were pretty mad at Jesus for upsetting the systems and informing the people that there was a better way of living if they would just give up greed and love their neighbors as themselves.

They killed Jesus for telling them to love others.

Why does that message upset so much?

I keep having a fruitless argument with my Aunt on FB about refugees at the border. She often posts about how she loves Jesus and Jesus has saved her and what a blessing it is to be saved.

And I like those posts. But then she posts really negative stuff about the kind of people that Jesus was when He was a child. I am referring to Jesus as a refugee. I remind her that Jesus said that the way we treat the least of these is the way we treat Jesus Himself.

I remind her that calling refugees “Illegal” is the same as calling Jesus “Illegal.”

And I get loving responses from my Aunt, after all, she is a Christian. But I get hatred from others for posting that Jesus loves the ones they call Illegal and if we claim to love Jesus then, we too, will love the people that Jesus loves.

Remember, Jesus said. My sheep hear my voice. They will follow me, Jesus said.

But pride and sin keep us from hearing the voice of God.

And then He goes a little bit deeper and He tells us that He knows us.

I always read that verse to say, “I know Him.” It wasn’t until I prepared this sermon where I saw its true context. He knows us.

I had a friend who raised sheep and one thing he told me is that sheep are dumb. They need a shepherd to lead them.

Jesus leads us. Jesus calls us. And because we know His voice, we follow Him.

Jesus cares for us. When he says he knows us, it reminds me of an illustration I heard a preacher say once reflecting on the picture of Jesus carrying a lamb on His shoulder.

He said the shepherd would place the lamb on his shoulder to bond with it so that the lamb would know the shepherd and follow the shepherd.

Jesus bonds with us through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us.

Romans tells us that the Spirit of God dwells inside of us and bonds us to God as a child is bound to a loving father.

But today is Mother’s day.

And I am reminded of a couple of verses that go along with the theme that Jesus has a secure.

At Kairos, early Sunday morning, in the chapel, during a time of prayer and reflection as we prepare for the lessons God has for us, we hear either sung or read, the words from this prophecy in Isaiah:

Can a woman forget her nursing child
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these might forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;


The prophecy is that just as a nursing mother loves us, so God loves us and will not abandon us.

The second verse I consider is from Jesus Himself:

When He says: Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ...how I would have gathered you under my wings…

In both of these, we see the nurturing image of God loving us.

Genesis 1 says that we were created male and female in the image of God.

The Jewish name, El Sheddai means the big breasted one and speaks to God’s nurturing attributes.

So, when Jesus calls us His sheep, and He says He knows each and every one of us, I am reminded of the nurturing quality of El Sheddai, God the nurturer.

Yes, believer, we are reminded today of the security we have because Jesus knows us.

How do we know it is true? It is evident in the way we love others according to John 13:35.




Sunday, May 1, 2022

Do You Love Me?

 

Text: John 21:1-19

Focus: Following Christ

Function: to help people see that loving Christ means loving others



21:1After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.

The theme for today is following Christ. Jesus said it to the disciples, the third time He appeared to them after He was raised from the dead. He commanded them -as if He needed to- to follow Him.

What does it mean for us to follow Jesus?

Well, I can’t sum it up in one sermon, it is a vocation that takes a lifetime to fulfill, that is why we are told to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But today we are going to look at from the perspective of the second time Jesus calls Peter to the task of service.

And the spirit behind it, the power that drives it, the force that compels him has to do with Jesus’ question with which I titled the sermon, “Do you love me?”

It is a question we ask ourselves when it comes the time for us to make a choice of obedience to Christ and the way that He showed us or going our own way.

Peter, after the third time Jesus asks him if he loves Jesus gets a little bit uncomfortable with the question and resists it by saying to the Lord, “you can look into my heart and know the truth, so why would you ask?”

By uncomfortable I don’t mean that Jesus was overstepping His boundaries, but I mean that Peter must have, I imagine, started to squirm because of the line of questions. I wonder if Peter began to question it himself?

And that comes from the reason why we believe that Jesus asked Peter three times.

You know the story of Maunday Thursday, how Peter bragged that He would never abandon Jesus and Jesus exposes his pride and Peter ends up denying Christ three times.

He wept bitterly because he failed Jesus.

I wonder if he had doubts that he loved Jesus.

Do you love Jesus?

I don’t want to shame anyone with the question.

I know that you love Jesus. And Peter gives a wise answer, he tells Jesus that Jesus knows better than Peter himself if he loves Jesus.

There is no shame in Jesus question.

We have to be careful not to shame with the question: do you love Jesus?

During the height of the Cold war when we were told that the Godless commies were going to come and take away our religion, we were asked in youth group if someone were to put a gun to your head and tell you to deny Christ or die, would you do it or not?

It was the extreme scenario and of course, we were not sure. And the Bible tells us we don’t have to be sure. Peter was sure he wouldn’t and yet he denied Christ. Luke 21:15 says that the ability to confess Jesus comes from the Spirit of God Itself and we don’t have to worry about our answer because Jesus promises to be by our side.

So, don’t waste my time on shame is my answer to the way the question was asked.

Again, Jesus asks Peter three times. Maybe not to see if Peter doubted, but to reassure Peter that Peter knew that He loved the Lord.

The lesson taught Peter that he was far from perfect and that they only way he can make this Christian life work is by depending on the grace, mercy and presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.

I notice something wonderful about Jesus’ answer to Peter’s response. Jesus does not say to him, “Then why did you deny me?”

NO!

After his failure and the lesson learned about pride, Peter is reminded that Jesus has called him. He isn’t reinstated, because he never lost his position in the first place. He was Jesus’ man in the middle of his triumph and in the middle of his disgrace.

When we come to Christ, we belong to Him.

He lives inside of us and promises to be with us to make us successful in our mission by the power of His Spirit inside of us.

Jesus doesn’t remind him of his failure. Jesus reminds him of his purpose, his calling, and most importantly, his Love for Jesus.

I feel assured that by the end of this conversation, Peter can begin to say that he has a fundamental understanding of the grace, mercy and patience of God.

As your pastor, I ask you, do you love Jesus?

And I am sure that your answer is, Yes!

So make sure you receive the gift of God’s grace every time you think that you might have failed in your love for Christ.

We are not perfect. Jesus is. And we come to Jesus for forgiveness of our sins and He loves to forgive.

And, He doesn’t remember the sins against us. He loves us and restores us to a proper relationship with Him.

Loving Him means that we obey Him. John 14:15. And that does not mean that we have to follow the letter of the law that never saved the Jewish people because we need grace, but it is simple. At least the scripture says so. 1 John 5:3, If we love Jesus (Him) we will keep His commandments and His commandments ARE NOT BURDENSOME.

It was never intended to be a burden to love our neighbor. But we are commanded to love each other as much as we love ourselves.

Have you failed God? God forgives you, forgive yourselves. And always live in love by forgiving others.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Why Ask?

Text: John John 20:19-31

Focus: Doubts

Function: to help people see that legitimate questions are an essential part of the faith


19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Today we are looking at the very end of the book of John. And I find it interesting that the last story that it includes is the story that has been, in many people’s opinion, misnamed “Doubting Thomas.”

The person we know as Doubting Thomas was actually asking a sincere and honest question.

But before we get to that, there is a whole lot of theology in this passage that is important for us to try to unravel.

You hear me pray and preach, almost every Sunday that we be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can carry out our tasks.

Starting at verse 19, through verse 23, we read about Jesus’ first appearance to them according to John account of the resurrection. The first thing Jesus does is extend His peace to them.

It was stated that at first they thought they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus wants them to know that He has risen in bodily form, not just as an apparition from beyond the grave. He wants them to know that He has risen from the actual grave itself and is now standing among them.

He extends His peace and then breathes the Holy Spirit on to them.

And He gives them the purpose of the Holy Spirit. He says, Just as the Father has sent Him, so He is sending us.

Forgive people their sins. You forgive them. We have been taught that only God can forgive sins. But Jesus, in this passage, gives the church tremendous authority to forgive sins.

And I don’t mean the institution called the church that could either give or withhold communion based on their own doctrines, but the Church universal, the body of Christ.

We are the Church. Not the institution. And Jesus has called us as the Church to forgive the sins of others, to forgive the sins of the nations so that the world can be healed.

We lay down our right to revenge when we join the Kingdom of God, the family of God, the Church universal when we trust Jesus to save us.

The power of the Spirit resides inside of us so that we can forgive and heal the world of its transgressions. Peter said, Love covers a multitude of sins.

People wonder why I am so generous against so called “sinners.” It is because we are called to be like Christ and forgive the sins of others.

Now, on to doubting Thomas.

I titled the sermon, “Why Ask?” because I have come to realize something in my Christian journey. It is okay to ask questions and to have doubts.

It is in the place of questions that we are compelled to seek the face of God and wonder, even ponder, the possibilities of God’s grace, mercy and love.

Although Thomas probably didn’t witness Jesus’ execution as an enemy of the State for crying out against injustice, apparently John was the only disciple who was there at the cross according to the gospel accounts, we believe that he knew of Jesus’ death and burial. We don’t know why he wasn’t with the others, or what he was doing, there is no record, but he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the twelve.

So, his doubt is sincere. He wants to see for himself.

He has to have proof. Now Jesus goes on to sort of reprove him for not believing the witness of his fellow disciples when they told him that they had seen the Lord.

But Thomas wants to make sure that it isn’t a ghost that they were speaking to. So, he wants proof of flesh and blood, not of life after death. He apparently already believes in ghosts and the spirits of people who have died and not ascended into heaven.

So the question is, Why Ask?

Right before the parable of the good Samaritan, we see the answer to the question, “Why ask?” when the Pharisee asks Jesus “who is my neighbor?”

The text says: “The Pharisee, wishing to justify himself, asked…”

Why did he ask? His question is not a sincere question of faith and doubt, while he is trying to reason out what has happened that he cannot explain, like Thomas, but one of a selfish nature intended to assuage his guilt over the fact that Jesus is right, he does not love his neighbor as himself.

Thomas was not trying to justify himself OVER the teachings of Jesus, he sincerely wanted to know if this was a physical verses metaphysical resurrection.

I believe that Jesus loves sincere questions. Mary asked the angel when he told her that she was going to give birth to the Savior, she said: “How can this be since I am still a virgin?”

God understands our human frailty. I believe that if we are not honest with God about our doubts, then we are insincere with God.

I tell people that God has big shoulders and can take it.

I have been reading through the book of Job in my morning devotions. And for the first time, for some reason, I am understanding it.

Job’s so called friends ASSUME he is guilty because calamity happens to him.

But Job knows that he is innocent and Job never curses God.

But that does not mean that he does not question God throughout the book.

He speaks of their idea of fairness and says that it cannot be true because bad things are happening to him and he didn’t deserve it.

He wants to have an argument with God.

And in the end, God appears to him and he gets his wish and he is properly humbled in the presence of God.

The whole book is about asking sincere and honest questions with the answer, “You cannot put God in a box or imagine what God is doing.”

So Thomas paints a picture for us that Jesus honors sincere questions. They are honest.

But have faith sill, Blessed are those who believe and have not seen. That is us.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Resurrection Expands!

 

Text: Acts 10:34-43

Focus: Easter


34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!)

He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!)

He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!)

Happy Easter everyone.

As it turns out this year, Passion Weekend falls on the same weekend as the Jewish Passover. And for some reason, the Orthodox Church will celebrate Easter next weekend.

I don’t understand how the Jewish people originally set their calendars. They didn’t use the Roman calendar system. Their new year coincides with the celebration of the date of the first Passover and their redemption from bondage and slavery to the Egyptians.

That first Easter happened to Jewish people in Jerusalem. In today’s text, we read the account of the first sermon preached specifically to Gentiles, that is, people who were not born of Jewish descent.

That is why I titled the sermon, The Resurrection Expands. Because in today’s text, we see that the salvation that God provided to the Jewish people is now the salvation provided to the whole world through Jesus Christ.

Peter is preaching this sermon in the house of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. Remember, the Romans were the enemy. As we get angry at the war crimes committed in Ukraine currently, and we see the people’s need for some sort of revenge, we remember that the occupying army does not treat the civilian enemy population with basic respect or basic human civil rights. Men are being executed and women are being raped as spoils of war. It makes me angry and along with others, we cry out to God for peace and justice on behalf of all the victims.

Jesus cried out for justice and it got Him killed. In the face of a political struggle, Jesus got political and the other side had Him murdered because He spoke truth to their abuse of power. And the sad thing is that they used devotion to God’s word and scriptural purity as an excuse to create outcasts of everyone they decided didn’t fit in. They used the excuse that they were defending the faith when they murdered Jesus.

And the instrument of that power to murder Jesus was sitting right before Peter in the form of the Roman Soldier as Peter is preaching the good news to him.

Preaching the gospel to your enemy is what the gospel is all about. Praise God for the resurrection power of Jesus Christ that can transform lives through the proclamation of the good news!

Our text does not include the ending of the sermon where before Peter even finishes, they start believing and the Holy Spirit falls on the room as a witness to their conversion to Christ.

Although Cornelius was a Roman officer, he was not really the enemy of God’s people.

He had already become a convert to Judaism. And apparently he understood what it was all about. I mean, he understood that it was about loving others.

When the people came to Peter and asked him to come to the house of the gentile enemy, the symbol of their oppression, they told Peter that Cornelius was already a righteous person.

Out of his own funds he built a synagogue for the people and he gave regularly substantial gifts to help the poor.

And that is where our text picks up in verse 34. Peter finally understands what had been a mystery to him before: God’s impartial love.

The Jews were a proud people and they were oppressed. So Cornelius made it clear by his lifestyle that he was not going to act in a way that was unjust.

We read the account of those whom John the Baptist converted before Jesus appeared. The Roman soldiers are mentioned among that group and John tells them to do their jobs with justice.

And by justice I do not mean judgment and execution, but with mercy and love and fairness, the kind of justice that Jesus proclaimed.

Cornelius understood what kind of justice that was, and so, God went out of the way to expand the power of the resurrection through his conversion.

I keep mentioning how in Peter’s eyes, he was the enemy. And I find it wonderful that Peter would not hold on to his bitterness and unforgiveness any longer and instead he offered mercy and love to one of those whom he could blame for the misery of his people.

God cares for those who do acts of justice. The Bible says that whomever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord and the Lord will repay.

God paid him back in a big way. The story earlier also tells us that Peter had a vision whereby God told him three times that God is able to cleanse what is made unclean. The vision happened right before the men came from Cornelius to ask Peter to come to the house.

I imagine that after Cornelius has a dream telling him to ask for Peter to come. And Peter has a vision telling him that God cleanses the unclean and they had shared those stories before Peter started preaching to them that the group gathered in the house was pretty excited about what was going to happen next.

And we are excited today as well. We are excited because the salvation provided by Jesus Christ goes to the world entire.

And there are two clues to this salvation. 1st. God appears to have chased after Cornelius in order to save him. There are a lot of people searching for God who do not get the privilege of prophets and apostles coming to their house to share the good news with them.

And the conclusion that I draw from that is that Cornelius already demonstrates a deep faith in the love, mercy and justice of God before he is converted to salvation.

One could almost say that his good deeds saved him. I am not advocating works only salvation.

Because tied in with this is the fact that God took the time to tell him what he needed to do in order to be saved. He was, obviously, already doing it. But God points him to the resurrection and the power of faith in Christ and the power of what can happen when that faith is combined with the Holy Spirit living inside of the believer.

God had a lot more in store for Cornelius and his household. Just as God has more in store for us.

The resurrection expanded to the gentiles on this day and we are grateful for what it means.

And that last verse explains the purpose of the cross and the resurrection, that everyone who believes in him will have forgiveness of their sins.

Cornelius received that salvation because God is faithful to the just and is always seeking those who love as Jesus loved.



Sunday, April 3, 2022

Pressing On

 

Text: Philippians 3:4b-14

Focus: Perseverance

Function: to remind people to focus on the heavenly reward


4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.



This is a deep passage. I have often pondered the mystery of the phrase in verse 10 when he says “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…”

So, I hope to unwrap this passage a little bit this morning.

Paul starts out with the fact that he stands in the right position before God, not because of the fact that he was born of Jewish ancestry. Not because his family obeyed the law and had him circumcised on the 8th day. Not because of his extensive religions vocation denoted by the fact that he was an expert in the Law and was called a Pharisee, a person of a strict religions sect that carefully obeyed all 1,000 commands in the OT and 13,000 commands in the Talmud, their commentary on the OT.

He makes the point that if anyone could have earned salvation, or more theologically correct: an upright standing with God, it would have been a person like him who kept himself blameless according to the letter of the law.

But he recognizes that the correct doctrine, without trust in God, is meaningless if we are trying to win God’s favor by our actions.

According to Paul, we cannot win God’s favor by our actions alone. It takes faith. Faith is trust. So then, He says that he has obtained a righteousness, that is, an upright standing with God, because he has trust in Jesus Christ to be His savior.

He says, it is faith, or more clearly, it is by living in the trust that God loves and forgives us and keeps us holy and pure by His Spirit inside of us that makes him a person who has an upright standing with God.

Brother Paul gives us a personal glimpse into the motivating factors in his life. For him, all of it is based on the fact that he has personally seen Jesus Christ risen from the dead in the vision that leads him to faith in Christ.

(When he was converted on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, At the time, he was on the way to incarcerate people for believing in Jesus and Jesus opened up the heavens and revealed Himself to Paul and Paul became a believer.)

And because Jesus rose from the dead, that is the goal of his life as well: His own resurrection from the dead. And he says that in his life, he presses on toward that prize of the resurrection.

He tells us that he has not yet obtained it. He is living on this side of the great veil of death that separates the living from the dead and because he is still on this side, he does not want to give up living a life that brings honor and glory to the fact that Jesus Christ has given him a real purpose and hope in this life.

Now, the whole passage is crouched in the fact that Paul rests in Christ to save Him. He trusts Christ to keep him close to Christ so that he can obtain the resurrection of the dead for himself.

As a pastor, I want the flock to rest in the loving arms of Jesus and keep themselves close enough to Christ to keep from straying and confident enough in Christ to be bold in their proclamation and demonstrations of their love for others.

Paul tells us he rests in Christ and at the same time, he presses on.

He motivates himself. And a large part of it, I believe born out of gratitude for his salvation, is to understand more and more thy mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

There are a lot of questions around it for me. I don’t understand why it takes a death to pay the price for sin. I know that God could just forgive by choice, as God commands us to do.

But God forgave through the mystery of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God choose a violent and terrible symbol for us to behold when God saved us.

If you were living in the 1st century, the word “Crucifixion” brought chills to your spine and a sense of terror and dread. You knew how awful it was. In contrast, our crosses today are golden.

We might not fully appreciate what Jesus did for us when He gave his life for us.

To Paul, the mystery of what that meant was an intellectual pursuit because it was driven by his love and gratitude to Jesus Christ.

I ponder the questions myself. I wonder: Just what kind of love could draw me to the point whereby I was willing to endure a torturous death for someone I did not know?

Could or do I have that kind of love within me?

We reckon ourselves as heroes, I imagine. I imagine that all of us could see ourselves giving our lives to save a loved one, but Jesus does it for strangers. He does it for the people who loved Him and mourned His death as well as those who plotted His judicial execution.

From the cross He said: Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.

What kind of love drives a person like that? It must be divine. And when Paul says that he wants to know, to understand, Christ and all of that mystery, I feel the same way.

Can I love like that as well?

How do we love like that?

We, I believe, as Paul says in this passage, do it by faith.

I believe that when Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, He was appealing to the Father’s superior knowledge of justice and fairness.

When evil happens to us, our natural reaction is defense and we generally want retribution, or at least we want to be vindicated.

Jesus was vindicated by the resurrection. The resurrection of the dead trumped the injustice and unfairness of His murder.

But Paul presses on to the knowledge of what it means for him to be the servant of Christ.

I want to have that kind of love inside of me, inside of all of us.

Paul wants to grab a hold of the love that drove Jesus to the cross so that he can experience the resurrection of the dead. He is willing to give up everything in order to be considered upright in God’s eyes. I am glad that Jesus made the command simple when He said for us to love one another. At the same time, Just like Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, our love can be our own sacrifice in faith to God.

We need to make loving others the priority in our lives so that we too can obtain the resurrection of the dead.