Saturday, December 27, 2014

Is your foundation shaky? Use this regular maintenance tool to realign with the Cornerstone

THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES

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Let’s make up a want-ad for apostles; how does this sound?

Help wanted – apostles; no experience necessary; must be willing to travel and speak about an event that will boggle everyone’s mind; some diplomatic skill needed to represent an absent King; opportunity for letter writing; on the job training in suffering and perfection. 

John was one of those.  He represented Jesus, his absent King.  If Jesus was nothing, then John was nothing. On the other hand, if Jesus was who He said He was, then John was God’s representative.  He didn’t write down everything, for he didn’t have time for that.  He selected what he thought was most important to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, the atoning sacrifice for the world, the Victor over death, who judged the Prince of this World.  It was important that the apostles write their testimony in books, because death would come quickly to most of them, although John lived for many years after the others.  To properly represent Jesus to the world they had to be betrayed, beaten, imprisoned, exiled, and killed.

There are three ways in which the apostles are the foundation of the Church.  First, they were the eyewitnesses who knew Jesus and could vouch that the same Person who was crucified is the One who rose again.  Second, they wrote the New Testament, so that after they were dead we could experience their message.  And third, they taught true doctrine which they put into the form of propositions so we could have a creed.  No, the apostles did not know the Creed that we say today, but they taught all of the doctrines that we confess in it.  They are the foundation, and the Cornerstone is the main event they describe, Jesus Himself.  Every word of the New Testament is directly related to Jesus in some way, whether we are talking about the narratives, the letters, or the apocalyptic visions John wrote down in the final book.

Without the New Testament we would have no faith.  Our faith journey would lead us nowhere if we had no map to follow.  Too many Christians fail to read it the way they should, and that is a serious thing.  Why don’t more of us read it?  Some say because it is already familiar, but that can’t be the real reason, because all those same people have tasted beef many times but they still eat it.  Some say it isn’t interesting.  It may be only if you try to be a spectator. God’s Word is there for you to interact with.  When you interact with it you find it is gripping and beautiful.  Others say they are too busy to read it.  That doesn’t fly, because if something is important to you, you find time for it.  There is one real reason not to like the New Testament, and that is its terrible honesty.  We don’t like to have our sins called sins; we don’t like to be led to a model of behavior we cannot live up to.  Our consciences seek the darkness of ignorance . If the light shines in, we retreat to a safer place.

Although we refer to the New Testament as the "good news," it also contains a lot of bad news.  There are goats as well as sheep, self-exalters as well as self-abasers, those who deny the Son as well as those who confess, and the broad road leads to hell, while only the narrow one leads to heaven.  There is no way to sugar coat these pills, but we get nervous when we hear this news, because there is something inside of all of us that prefers rebellion to obedience, to reign rather than to serve, to worry instead of living and doing, to resist rather than suffer.  In other words, there is something inside each of us that prefers hell to heaven.  That is the self within that thinks it can handle anything.  When it reads God’s Word it sees itself in the brightest of all mirrors.  There can be no more ignorance, no more deception.  We have found ways to tarnish that mirror, to shoot God’s revelation full of holes, to try to make it mean other than what it says, but what are we doing? If we shoot the foundation full of holes, what will we stand on?  No, we have to leave the foundation the way the apostles laid it, and let it lead us to repentance.

The Holy Spirit comes to us through that Word.  Yes, our sins are really sins, but the atonement is a real atonement.  Jesus takes those real sins away.  We must continue to read, mark, and learn the Word, even though we might see something dreadful in the mirror.  We must also see the cleansing blood of Christ.  The apostles show us the resurrection.  They assure us that even though Jesus was made sin for us, He is stronger than sin.  The love of God is stronger than all the evil in hell and on earth.  More than that, not only are these doctrines true in general, they are true for you in particular.  Jesus broke your chains.  Sin cannot rule you.  God’s Spirit lives in you.  Jesus is leading; who wants to follow?

Oh, yes!  You have to get involved, but you can’t volunteer for this.  It takes more than will power.  It takes a miracle.  The Holy Spirit, through the message, gives you a new heart that wants Jesus’ forgiveness and life, a heart that wants His kingdom instead of its own rights.  Each time that happens we have a moral miracle which is greater than the natural miracle of the first Easter.  Even though every human will is bent on evil, the Holy Spirit can change its direction, and He does so in spite of our own resistance.

Your need for the New Testament will never end.  Faith needs the constant nurture of the Word.  You never get too old, too sophisticated, or too familiar with the material.  It’s like food that you have to keep eating to stay alive.  Those who say that once you come to faith you can be sure of eternal life are lying to you.  Judas came to faith, but fell away.  It can happen to anyone who does not persevere, who does not grow in his status in the kingdom of God.  The new heart is sometimes in evidence, sometimes not.  We cannot judge ourselves by that.  But when we see ourselves slipping into the shadows, head for the sunlight.  You can never get too much of the Holy Spirit.  Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.  Indeed, blessed are those who keep on hearing it, reading it, and learning it. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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