This year’s theme is God first. We’ve been talking about God and you–developing a deeper relationship with God. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). God loved us enough to send his only son for us. Therefore, John concludes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (vs. 11).
We have confidence that God remains in us because he gives us his Spirit. Furthermore, “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (vs. 15). This gives us absolute confidence for the day of judgment and we know that we will spend eternity with God.
John concludes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (vs. 18). If we’ve really been perfected in love, Christians should have no fear of death or judgment. This gives us peace of mind and courage to teach others, knowing that we are secure with God.
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This passage is in the bigger context of Jesus being our high priest. This passage is important because we should be able to come to God with confidence (the word used here means to be able to speak freely and unhindered).
One of the biggest things that trips up Christians is the lack of belief in ourselves because of our sins or shortcomings. Earlier, this passage says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (vs. 15). This is vital because, oftentimes, our sin leaves us feeling guilty and unequipped to carry out the works of God’s kingdom.
Our lack of confidence leads to a downward spiral, where we feel like even God isn’t on our side. It’s vital, as the church, to have confidence in approaching God’s throne of grace. Without grace we will always flounder and hesitate to do good works. However, when we have confidence we won’t hesitate to do what’s right in the eyes of God, because we know that we have already received his grace. Hesitation turns into procrastination, and procrastination leads to stagnation.
As Easter fast approaches, we cannot ignore the significance of the triumphal entry Jesus had as he approached Jerusalem. Jesus sent his disciples ahead and told them to find a donkey and a colt. This was to fulfil the prophecy in Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).
Jesus was clearly fulfilling the prophecy that was spoken in Zechariah. The desperate people gave him a red carpet treatment as he rode by placing their cloaks and palm branches on the road. Matthew said the crowds were shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV).
Immediately after the entry, Jesus clears the Temple, overturning tables and driving out the money-changers. Matthew is alluding to the Temple being torn down and by Jesus’ doing this, he demonstrates that the Temple is not the safe haven Jews think that it is. While still in the Temple, the blind and lame came to him and he began to heal these “outcasts.”
Finally, Jesus curses the fig tree that had leaves but no figs. This was another way of showing that Israel was barren and the barrenness was not going to be tolerated. There is judgment on people who claim to love God but are barren in the fruits of their faith. All these things point to salvation that comes through Christ alone.
As Jesus was making his way toward Jerusalem, he was passing through towns and villages. Someone asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23 ESV). This was an important question that may be a lot more about quality than it is about quantity. It’s doubtful this person was asking about statistics on those who would be saved. Even if he intended to learn about quantity, Jesus responded in a qualitative manner.
Jesus’ reply was, “Strive to enter by the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (vs. 24). Jesus then went on to describe what he meant by this by concluding, “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (vs. 30). This language was often used by Jesus to talk about the importance of humble servanthood. Disciples should consider other people more important then themselves. We should empty ourselves for the sake of others. We should give and serve without expecting anything in return.
This is the narrow door. The door is narrow because there are no shortcuts. There are no get into heaven for free cards. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts to get into heaven. Salvation requires service, dedication, and sacrifice. And Jesus pleaded with his listeners to enter by the narrow door. It was not popular to enter by this path. It required breaking from traditions. Often it meant breaking from family and friends. The narrow gate isn’t comfortable, but the reward is eternal!
While God’s foundation is righteousness and justice, he longs for people to repent. In God’s compassion he offers a way for our sins to be removed. God doesn’t wish harm on people who sin, but neither will he tolerate continual unrepentant sin. Isaiah preached during a time of great unrest. The people were wicked. They were oppressive. Poverty was rampant and disease was common.
As we noted last week, Isaiah preached hope into the hearts of the few righteous people. God longs for people to come back to him. God calls us to love and bless our neighbors. In Isaiah 55, Isaiah speaks of God’s compassion for those who turn back to him. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV).
This is great news for people who are still alive. It’s not too late to turn back to God. In his compassion, he extends pardon because of his mercy. It’s perfectly fine to warn people who do not repent. And it’s also good to share God’s compassion with those who turn back to God. This is not about people turning to God for their own sake, but for the blessing of others. Our wold can and should be a kinder place. It should be a place of peace where people feel safe to walk the streets.
As Isaiah says, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
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We don’t know much about the seventy-two people who Jesus sent out to preach. What we do know is that he sent them two-by-two, that they were to go ahead of Jesus into all the towns he would be visiting, and that he told them to heal the sick in those towns and proclaim that the kingdom is near. We really have no idea who these people were, what their backgrounds were, or what professions they had. Jesus did tell them not to take anything with them except what was already in their possession.
When the seventy-two returned, they were astounded at what all God was accomplishing through them. “Lord!,” they exclaimed. “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17 ESV). Jesus told them that he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, and that he gave the disciples authority over all the power of the enemy. It was an incredible responsibility that they were given. But Jesus didn’t want them to rejoice in this.
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Jesus’ warning here was to not get intoxicated with the power they had. Sure, he gave them authority over the power of the enemy. But that didn’t make them invincible. Authority can be infatuating. It can lead to pride and arrogance. It can blind people to compassion. Jesus would rather them remain humble and rejoice that their names are written in heaven. This is a good reminder that our message needs to be seasoned with hope, grace, and must point people to salvation.
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The parallels between the Exodus story and Jesus’s birth and first years are not accidental. Throughout the Bible, and because of God’s throne of righteousness and justice, God cares for what philosopher and theologian Nicolas Wolterstorff dubs “the quartet of vulnerable.” Those include widows, orphans, aliens, and the impoverished. It’s no accident that Jesus was born extremely poor to an unmarried Jewish couple. They were outcasts and had to flee to Egypt to escape death.
King Herod wanted to see Jesus, under the pretense of worshiping him but presumably to kill him. The wise men tricked Herod and an angel warned Joseph to take the child and flee to Egypt. Matthew records: “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:14-15 ESV).
This evoked the whole Egypt experience. Israel was living under oppression with a Pharaoh who wouldn’t let the Israelites go. The last plague required a sacrifice, a slain lambs’ blood to be painted over the door frame. Then God miraculously led the Israelites out of the foreign land of oppression into the Promised Land. God doesn’t just parallel these stories, Christ reenacts the whole Egypt experience.
People waited for the Messiah with anticipation. They longed to be healed. They longed to be freed. The vulnerable quartet of widows, orphans, aliens, and impoverished finally had a redeemer and protector-one who not only could save them, but one who also would.
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