I have been streaming Kristen Gilles new offering–Parker’s Mercy Brigade–as she reflects on the stillbirth of her son. It has been a sweet place to rest. Even though I have not had to go through the unspeakable pain of losing a child, the beauty and the pain of the songs remind me of a sweet presence that heals wounds that even the closest friend cannot mend.

Perhaps you could benefit from a listen if you’re hurting.

If you have lost a child, Kristen also wrote a very sobering and truthful piece–“Dear Grieving Parents.” Here’s a poignant excerpt:

I can appreciate the confusion you feel (This wasn’t supposed to happen, certainly not again or Why did you allow this, God? You could’ve have prevented my children from dying!), and we do feel cheated when death takes our loved ones, especially when they die so young. But you and I also know the Lord is upholding us and is trustworthy in everything he says and does. We won’t necessarily have all our questions answered here, but we will always have our Father here with us to lead, instruct, comfort, and encourage us. Psalm 68 says that God daily bears our loads (another translation is he daily carries us in his arms). He is doing that for you, dear sister and brother.

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“Baptized in Suffering” – 1Peter 3.18-22

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the season of Lent. Epiphany began with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, Lent begins with Jesus’ baptism in suffering. What kind of solace does the Apostle Peter give to Christians around 64AD who were being persecuted and killed at the hands of the wicked Caesar Nero?

1Peter 3.18-22

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Wherever there is suffering for the Gospel, the beauty of the Gospel is proclaimed.

The Nature of Suffering

We could deny that it exists, like some Eastern religions do. We could try and reinterpret it, that suffering is actually good, like popular psychology does. The short answer in the Judeo-Christian worldview is that suffering and pain are a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Given the choice to live life under God’s rule or under their own rule, suffering and pain resulted from choosing to throw off God’s rule and opt for our own.

But the suffering we experience isn’t by our decisions all the time, are they? And on a macro-level, the answer is still the same. The suffering we experience is because people choose to live their lives in reference to themselves and their kingdom. But that merely answers the question in the abstract.

I do want to put our suffering in perspective to our brothers and sisters around the globe. And specifically during this first 300 years of the church’s existence.

If you haven’t heard of it, there is a ministry called Voice of the Martyrs. It is a ministry that intercedes and seeks to relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters all over the world. I went on the webpage on Friday to see about any news. These three stories were just posted on Friday:

Five Khmu believers in Laos were arrested and fined for holding a Christmas celebration on Dec. 15. The Christians had received permission from village authorities, but district officials arrested them after learning they had invited a pastor from a neighboring village. The five believers were held in prison for a few nights and fined about $600 before being released.

Christian widows whose husbands were killed in Islamist attacks are gradually returning to their coastal Kenyan homes. After an attack in June 2014 in which Islamists went door to door killing Christians, Naomi and her four children fled to her parents’ home in another village.

After focusing on an unreached area for the past 11 months, an evangelist has seen hundreds of Muslims come to faith in Christ. As a result, some have experienced persecution. A young married couple took shelter in a VOM-supported safe house for several months when they were kicked out of their family because of their Christian faith.

 

This is not about guilt, friends, this is about putting our lives in perspective. Putting our coconut milk latte with extra foam on notice.

Not only now, but the situation into which Peter was writing was even more tenuous. This epistle was written during the time of Nero’s reign (54-68). He was notorious for his extravagance and evil. He killed his own mother. And he accused the Christians for a fire that decimated Rome in 64. So Peter is writing to a group of believers wrongly accused of arson and being killed to rescue the skin of a wicked emperor. What comfort does he afford them?

The verses right before our passage tell us…and they really put into perspective how we ought to view suffering and pain.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Peter says you have one job: Honor Christ. Don’t try to figure out what God is doing. Just know he is pleased with you when you honor him.

And we come to our passage today that provides the support for suffering for doing good. For Christ suffered for sin. If it is God’s will for you to suffer unjustly, for doing good!…it is better. Because Christ suffered.

Our suffering is derivative of Christ’s suffering. He was the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for sins. We often can think of how thankful we are for being saved from our sins, but we forget the injustice at which it came. No cursing was found on his lips. He blessed those who scourged him. He forgave those who killed him. He loved to the uttermost. He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

He suffered on account of sin. The Righteous One for those who are Unrighteous. While we were still enemies, Christ died for us. While we were still reviling and cursing, he bid us to come to him. When we were still kicking, he opened our eyes. So that we could see. So that we could be brought to God. He suffered not merely at the hands of others. He suffered in order to bring those very ones to God.

Jesus died. He actually died. His body got cold. A body in a morgue. But he was resurrected by the Spirit. The next layer of suffering Peter draws out is how God uses it to proclaim to those who are in prison to sin. Verse 19 has been a hot topic of debate. Who are these spirits in prison? The early church believed them to be the spirits in the realm of the dead. Scholars today believe them to be the angels that rebelled against God and God declared himself powerful over death in the Resurrection. The third option is the one the Protestant Reformers held. Through Noah’s faithfulness and suffering in the face of persecution, the Gospel of Grace and Judgment was preached. But there is a fourth option! My answer to this is that it is a little bit of all three. When Jesus was resurrected in the Spirit, he proclaimed his victory over demons and death. This victory was proclaimed to all things in heaven and under the earth. This victory was the final and full proclamation of God’s victory over principalities and powers (look at V.22!). Before Jesus came God had been whispering this truth of his victory through installments–Abel, Noah, Abraham, David. All those who had been vindicated through their suffering to declare God’s power and love were foretastes and preachers of this same victorious message Jesus proclaims in his resurrection.

But this is the tree branch. The great oak tree of Peter’s argument is that suffering proclaims the Gospel to a watching world. Noah is merely one example of the Gospel being proclaimed that God is King over all. And just as Jesus, through the Spirit was proclaiming the Gospel through Noah’s suffering…so also, the suffering the Christians are unjustly going through proclaims the Gospel in Rome. We see this in Acts 5 and 6 where the Apostles were beaten in (5.40) and “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus” and then a few verses later we see that “the Word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (6.7).

Suffering demonstrates the worth of another. Not just enduring suffering, but embracing it as God’s means of sanctifying you and changing you and helping you see that he is more valuable than the comfort you seek.

The Nature of Baptism

This suffering is what is symbolized through baptism. Our second sentence and point. When we baptize someone, we submerse them under water. We don’t sprinkle. Why? It symbolizes the death they have undergone the Flood as it were. And then the believer is raised to life in the Spirit.

This has been a contentious issue for the last 500 years. I want to first remind us that the early church practiced both modes of baptism—baptism for infants and baptism after conversion. They allowed the parents to make the decision up as to what they would allow them to do. We see this in the life of St. Augustine—who his mother Monica deferred his baptism and he would be baptized as an adult.

But before that, we believe the first believers practiced baptism following conversion to Christ and it wasn’t until after the church became the state religion under Constantine that baptism became a rite for infants.

What is more, the witness of Scripture compels me in this direction.

I have many friends who are in other denominations and we disagree on this passage, but let me lay out for you a couple issues that make it impossible for me to baptize babies.

First, the issue of “baptism saving you.” If we stopped there, then we could say that baptism is salvific. But Peter doesn’t stop there, does he. Remember, there are a several layers to Peter’s sentence: V.21 Baptism, which corresponds to this [that is, Noah passing through the waters], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The text literally reads: “A good conscience in answer unto God.” And so, baptism is for those who answer God’s call to them.

This is why Baptism happens after someone has made a decision to follow Christ. This is his or her answer to God stemming from a good conscious decision to submit the life to Jesus.

Secondly, take into consideration the parallel itself. Those eight people on the boat with Noah had to decide to get on the boat. They weren’t coerced. They weren’t carried. They were told of the impending destruction, and they followed Noah onto the boat.

But this is also a branch on the tree of Peter’s argument, isn’t it? The Nature of Baptism is that we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord over all facets of my life. Jesus commands my destiny.

The point of the Flood was to wash the earth of its wickedness. The point of baptism is to show that we have been washed clean by the Spirit. Our soiled souls have been dipped in blood. They have been dipped in the ever-flowing river of God’s forgiveness.

At every baptism, the heavens open up. There’s a bow in the clouds reminding us that God has not and will not deal with us as our sins deserve. The clouds open up and declare you a child of God. Never to be orphaned. The heavens open up and proclaim that even your suffering proclaims the value and worth of your Savior. You may suffer for doing good, but God would remind you to flee to him and know that your one job. Your one job is not merely to do the right thing. It is to find your delight and satisfaction in Another—namely, Jesus, so that when you suffer, you will be counted worthy to suffer for that great name.

 

Questions to Consider:

Take time to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering and being persecuted around the world.

How does Jesus’ preeminent baptism in suffering bring solace and comfort in the midst of ours?

What’s the difference between suffering and suffering for the Gospel?

What steps of faith might God be calling you to take that you have been afraid to take because you do not want to suffer for the Gospel (loss of friends, notoriety, comfort)?

“Tearing the Veiled Mountain” – Mark 9.2-10

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. This is the culmination of the season of Epiphany and in essence serves as the hinge upon which our call to follow Jesus takes a sober turn. For the last several weeks we have been focusing on Jesus’ magnificent call to follow him. Some of us heeded that call because of the excitement and our eyes being opened to the reality of eternal life–on earth as it is in heaven.

Leading up to this passage we need to keep in mind two things: (1) Jesus’ call is a reconfiguration, a re-orbiting of our small worlds so that we realize the magnitude of living in reference to God. To live the life he intended for his creatures from the beginning–to know him and love him. (2) Life with Jesus begins with death to ourselves. Mark 9.2ff comes on the heels of Jesus’ first of three foretellings of his impending death. In this way, the Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus’ glory is not in spite of his crucifixion, but it is his glorification. The mighty and Shining One on the mountain is the same as the Crucified One.

 

Why a mountain?

V.2: Jesus leads his three closest disciples up a high mountain alone. A mountain is the place where God reveals himself to his people. Abraham at Mt. Moriah. Moses sees the burning bush at Mt. Horeb and receives the tablets of God’s words on Mt. Sinai—which are the same mountain. David builds the city of Jerusalem on Mt. Zion. Elijah defies the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel.

The mountains in Scripture are the places of God revealing himself and his purposes to his people. This is no less the fact of what Jesus does. He is not doing anything new and different but follows in the train of God himself in revealing his purposes to his people. Note: It is God who leads each of these individuals to a mountain. Here we see God incarnate leading his people anew.

 

Why Elijah and Moses?

Why not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos?

Elijah

It is important to understand Elijah’s role in the history of redemption. It is more than just that Elijah was the greatest of the prophets—for we read that Elisha had a double portion of the Spirit. Consider our passage read earlier.

There are three separate places that Elijah leads Elisha before he is taken away in a heavenly chariot.

The land of Bethel—lit., “the house of God”—where Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on a ladder and that Jesus said he would be.

The land of Jericho where the great battle of God’s redemption by trumpet blasts took place. God’s defeat of an enemy by his initiative and power independent of military prowess.

The Jordan River he split in two. The same Jordan that Jesus was baptized in and became our New Joshua to lead us into the Land of Promise we looked at the first Sunday of Epiphany.

Moses

Moses infamously receives the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. And is the one who led Israel to the banks of the Jordan River. He is the one who brought them through the wilderness and onto the edge of God’s multi-generational promise. Both Moses and Elijah suffered because of Israel’s rebellion. They were both rejected by God’s people to lead them. But they were both vindicated by God—to be shown to be in the right.

Elijah also heard from God at Mt. Sinai. Remember he was running away from wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel? He cried out to God: “I am the only prophet left!” God had to tell him that there were 500 other prophets that hadn’t left the faith. What is more, he had forgotten Moses’ very words in Deuteronomy 18.15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”

It is here that we see two of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history taking a backseat to Jesus.

This is made even more clear in the bright white shining of Jesus’ clothes. Whenever Moses would meet with God, his face would shine. Here we see the entirety of Jesus’ body in bright, other worldly white. And Elijah and Moses just fade into the background in light of Christ’s brightness.

Moses’ Veiled Ministry

Our Epistle reading today was from 2Cor 4 which follows on the heels of the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the passing glory of Moses’ ministry. Indeed, a ministry that pointed to a greater fulfillment in the One to Come.

Whenever Moses would meet with God his face would shine…and he would put a veil over his face. This veil kept the people from gazing at Moses as the substance of the promise. He was merely the one pointing to Another. He was the Bride pointing to the Groom. He was the recipient from the Gracious Giver. It was not and never was supposed to be Moses as the finalization of God’s promises.

From the beginning of Moses’ writing of Genesis all the way through Deuteronomy, we read about a coming Son of God a Coming Seed of the Woman who would right all the wrong. Seth was not him. Noah was not him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Saul, David, Elijah, Hezekiah…all failed. All fell when temped in the wilderness. All pointed to the Shining One.

They were veils and shadows of the Reality.

This veil is lifted. Listen to Paul (2Cor 3.14-16):

For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Don’t forget that this Transfiguration happens right after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. Why?

Suffering is not in spite of the glory revealed on the mountain. It is the glory that is the cross. At Mt. Calvary. The Mountain of God’s suffering for us to make us new. His death to free us.

This suffering not only lifted the veil, it tore the veil on the Temple Mount to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

Friends, it is not only that he died, but that he rose again. He rose not only to show his victory over our looming enemy Death. He rose again to give us victory over ourselves. Our self-serving attitudes. Our self-centeredness. In our taking up of our cross daily, we save our lives.

His Transfiguration. His being Transformed assures us that the cross—our daily taking up our crosses—is not the end. It is not defeat. It is in the dying that we find the lives we’ve been looking for.

Paul continues in 2Cor 3:

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The beauty of the Gospel is not only that we are forgiven of our sin—which is glorious!—it is that we ourselves are being transfigured from one degree of glory to another! The Spirit has been given to us to transform us. To transfigure us into the self-same image of the glorious Christ.

You may feel downcast or defeated or listless and bored in life. You were made for more. You were made to reflect this glory we see on the Mountain of Jesus’ Transfiguration. And there beholding his glory, we are transfigured.

And I ended my sermon by singing these familiar words:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Questions to Consider:

How does Jesus’ Transfiguration give us hope in the face of suffering and death and pain?

Why do you think it’s easy to forget that death is the pre-requisite to life?

Are there ways which boredom or frustration or the mundane of everyday life have crowded out the glorious life God has called you to? How might the Gospel of forgiveness and life help you lift your eyes up ? How might this same Gospel free you to serve?

“Hearing & Healing” – Mark 1.29-39

Mark’s gospel is notorious for narrating with urgency. Throughout he uses the word “immediately.” In doing so, there is a direct movement (a bee line, if you will) to the cross. He is at pains to show Jesus’ authority in preaching and teaching and healing. This authority is paramount in understanding why Jesus’ crucifixion matters. These happened all the time, but what is it about this particular “criminal’s” actions that merit his death at a different qualitative level than those that were on his right and his left?

There is an inextricable link between the proclamation of the Gospel and the actions of the Gospel. Preaching without the actions of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is merely a fiction. The Gospel is Good News about a reality…the Kingdom of God among us. Yet, action without the interpretation of those action (i.e., preaching) is short-sighted and passing away.

The Hearing of the Gospel

Why such movement in Mark’s gospel? In 1.38, Jesus gives his rationale for moving from town to town: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It ought not get lost on us the layers of reason Jesus gives:

Let us go on to the next towns
in order that I may preach
for that is why I came out

Of particular note, we see that Jesus came out to do this. Where was he coming from? From within the synagogue (v.29) and from his private communion with his Father (v.35). It is clear that communion with God must give way to communion with people. The place of learning must give way to action.

We can often content ourselves, and fool ourselves, into thinking that cognitive knowing is equal to true knowing. This way is easier, and we see it all the time. Those that are overly careful in parsing the details of their theology, are oftentimes lax in doing what it says. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14.15). Doctrine must always compel us to go into the highways and byways to love and proclaim the Good News that God offers forgiveness to all those who repent and believe. But we mustn’t stay in the places of learning and parsing for knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Christianity has always been a public faith. Not in an “I told you so” sort of way, but in a disposition of service to others. Instead we say, “God has given me forgiveness and life, and he offers the same for all people.”

The Healing of the Gospel

This integral nature of the proclamation of the Gospel and healing of the Gospel can be seen at the juxtaposition of Jesus’ comment in v.38 and what Mark tells us in v.39: Jesus went out and preached and healed.

These healings are both confirmation of Jesus’ authority as well as a demonstration of who Jesus is: God incarnate. In the Lectionary we read from Psalm 147 and Isaiah 40 that reminds us that God is the Creator of all. He calms the storms and he stoops to give strength to the infirm. What does it look like with God arrives? Freedom for the oppressed. Wholeness to the disintegrated. Strength to the weak.

But from Jesus’ very example we see that the healing of the Gospel is the very manifestation of the Kingdom of God. God’s original Creation had been marred ad broken. When he comes to his creatures, he restores. Freedom and justice and health are freely given.

Two Implications

The purpose of the miracles is to show that in Jesus all Creation obeys its Makers and his original intention for Creation. To be a place free from suffering and oppression. To be a place where humans can reflect the image of God and flourish in the cultivation of the earth and others. The miracles point to the good, original intention of God’s good creation. They lift our eyes up to what it looks like for God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Call to Righteousness

As his representatives on earth, who have been freed from sin and death, he calls us to cultivate his Creation. To be the image bearers we are.

Each of us have gifts and passions. Could it be that God has placed these loves in our hearts so that we can be his representatives of compassion and change on earth? Could it be that your love of finance could be used in service for others to help them balance their checkbook? Could it be that your love for dressing wounds could be used to bring wholeness to others? This service is inherent to who God is as the One who slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

We oftentimes look like the preacher who came upon a car wreck. The victim is bleeding and in pain. We share the Gospel of salvation by grace and call them to submit their lives to Christ. The ambulance shows up on the scene and the person dies. We celebrate and are thankful for the opportunity to share this Great News with this person before they died. And then the EMT turns to us and said, “This young lady would have lived if you had just applied pressure to the wound.”

Our Call to Pray for Healing

Too often we put a premium on the spiritual over the physical. We denigrate the very bodies God has given us. We forget that we are redeemed people in spirit and in body. The resurrection of the body. We will be flesh and blood for eternity with our souls.

We cannot get around the fact that Jesus healed people. He heals people. Too often faith healers lay emphasis on the faith, or lack of faith, as to why people are not healed. This misses the point. The healing comes from God’s good pleasure and good purposes. And so, God calls us as his ministers to pray for healing and to expect it. Yes, we have doctors and nurses and surgeons and MRIs and medicine. And God uses these means for healing. We also believe that God can heal without these. We pray and we go to the doctor. But…we still pray and ask for healing.

There is no guilt here. This is a plea for us to expand and experience an even greater joy in giving our lives away. In using these gifts and passions in the service of others. To see God at work in the service. By serving others in God’s strength, our hearts are expanded as we are expended. Laying our lives down for others. As Christ has done for us. This does not earn our salvation, but confirms, demonstrates, and is inherent to our being saved. We obey as a natural overflow of love for God.

To Consider

Where can I speak the truths and beauties of the Gospel to others?

What avenues has God given me to serve others as a demonstration of God’s love for others?

What passions and loves do I have that could meet the needs of others?

Who might I pray for right now who needs physical healing?

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