Monday, November 28, 2011

Hope for the Hopeless, Genesis 38, Matthew 1:1-17

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jesus is Still on His Throne, Acts 17:1-9

The Sovereignty of God is one of the essential tenets of the reformed faith. It is one that I find particularly comforting. The fact that God is on His throne and totally in control of everything that is, has been, and will be gives me great peace. That God initiated everything and nothing I do can mess up God’s plan reassures me.
In the synagogue at Thessalonica, Paul preached, taught, and persuaded from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is Sovereign. “Jesus is Lord” is the earliest and simplest profession of faith. It is crucial. Every Christian affirms this truth. But although the words are simple, they are packed with meaning. To claim that “Jesus is Lord” is to declare that Jesus is King, the Ruler, not just over one’s individual life but over all that is, has been and will be. It is to say that Jesus has a right to all that I am, that He is in control of my life and I am not, that He directs me, that He owns me, that I have no right to myself.
As much as I sometimes like to think that I’m in control, I know that I’m not, and that when I try to be I usually get it wrong, so I’m grateful that there is Someone who knows exactly what is going on and what to do about it. Because we did get it wrong, very wrong…

We messed up our Father’s World, and so Paul proves from the Scripture that it was necessary, absolutely necessary for King Jesus the Messiah to suffer and rise again from the dead. He had to. Both suffering and resurrection were necessary to purchase and apply redemption. Just because we don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. We heard in a sermon on Reformation Sunday why we ought to rejoice in this truth.
Many believed Paul’s message. Most were God-fearing Greeks, and once again, for the 3rd time in Acts, prominent women are listed as believing. We know from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians that his first visit lasted more than 3 weeks. He was able to set up his tentmaking business here and had time to receive a gift from the church at Philippi. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for Paul. At some point the Jews started making trouble for Paul.

Since Jesus did suffer and rise from the dead, since Jesus is King and on His throne, since this is our Father’s world, why is our world so messed up still? Why isn’t it fixed? This is theodicy, that if God is all-powerful and all good, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world. If the death and resurrection of Christ was sufficient, why do bad things still happen? This is probably a universal struggle among believers and nonbelievers. I remember being in college working through this paradox. I never doubted that God was in control. I so desperately needed to believe this and still do, but I remember doubting that God was really all good. My Methodist friends don’t struggle with this paradox in the same way that I do. Their theology emphasizes God’s goodness over God’s sovereignty when the two seem to not fit together very well.
But if God is God, if God is who God says He is in His revealed world, both God’s goodness and sovereignty must be equally true. We can guess and guess why God works the way God does until our head explodes and still be way off base. But we hold to that profession of faith that “Jesus is Lord.”
For some, the paradox is too much. When God doesn’t fit the image we expect God to be, we reject God. This is what happened in the synagogue in Thessalonica. Though many believed after hearing Paul teach, the Jews didn’t allow him in to teach in the synagogue anymore after three weeks. Paul and the new believers had to meet elsewhere. And later on, out of jealousy, they stirred up a mob to attack Paul and Silas, but not finding them, they instead attacked Jason, who had been hosting them. Jason had to pay a fine and promise that Paul and Silas wouldn’t be staying at his house anymore. Paul and Silas leave Thessalonica quietly that night so that Jason and the other believers don’t face any more harm.
We don’t like the theology of suffering, but it is undeniable in Scripture. When we do deny a theology of suffering we trivialize Christ’s own suffering. As Paul taught, Christ had to suffer. And Paul will explain to us in one of his letters that our own suffering today is still the suffering of Christ; that we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction on behalf of the body of Christ.

In a world full of suffering Jesus IS still on His throne. Ron Goetz wrote, “Let us never suppose that the power of the love of Christ to turn the world upside down depends upon our capacity to calculate the physics of the maneuver. God works through the word we have been called to proclaim, but God is free to flip the world over his shoulder in ways that confound our calculations." The Kingdom of Jesus is an upside-down kingdom. (Or as this morning’s children’s message said, Jesus is King Backward.) We see Christ’s reign in the world by faith. We know its reality, and then we live it so that others can see it. Paul and Silas were accused of turning the world upside town—flipping the inhabited world on its head. We too can turn the world upside down!
We are the ones who make the invisible kingdom of God visible. The summary of the Great Ends of the Church is the “Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World”. Our church motto says it, “Living Christ’s Kingdom Now.” When we live the Kingdom now, not only do we help others to see the reality that Jesus is on His throne, but we help ourselves not only to see it but experience it. We also help fix those wrongs in the world.
We know from Paul’s letters and an inscription on an archway in Thessaloniki that even one of Jason’s persecutors was transformed. Secundus was one of those politarchs that extorted Jason. But he believed in Jesus and became a friend of Paul. Jason did not let persecution stop him from serving the Lord. He may be the same Jason that Paul lists in Romans as giving greetings to the church.
God is sovereign; God is in control, and God doesn’t need us. But God has chosen to use us. We are His chosen people, His chosen instruments, His chosen vessels, through which the Kingdom of our Lord is made known. Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology says, “Every believer receives Christ as his king. Those who receive Him in sincerity constitute his kingdom, in the sense in which the loyal subjects of an earthly sovereign constitute his kingdom. Those who profess allegiance to Christ as king constitute his visible kingdom upon earth.”
Our redemption is for a purpose. We are ordained for service as ambassadors for the upside-down kingdom. When filled with the Spirit of Christ, we can change the world. Christ in us is at work to bring the world to restored order and so we work until He comes again. The world needs to know that Jesus is Lord, and that He is still on His throne. Preaching King Jesus may get you into trouble with the world just like it did Paul and his companions. But if we don’t live and proclaim the kingdom, how will others see it? How will they know? Romans 10 says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in One of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear without someone to proclaim Him? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent?” Will you say, “Here am I; send me?”

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Song in the Dark, Acts 16:16-40