Saturday, December 31, 2016

Free those held in slavery by fear of death

It might seem strange to jump from the Christmas story to Hebrews.  Aren’t we supposed to talk about the Magi on the one the Sundays after Christmas?  How did we get to Hebrews?  We don’t even know who wrote it and yet it is in our Bibles.

In the spirit of Christmas, we are going to look at this bundle of joy wrapped up in swaddling clothes from the perspective of the author of Hebrews.  Just who is this child?  What Child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping.
We know from the Bible and the verses that follow in the song that this is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

The author of Hebrews adds a few more.  Most of us remember this one.  He is the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith or some prefer the Author and Finisher of our faith.  But in Hebrews we gain even more insight into the person we celebrated at Christmas as a Babe in a manger.

·     He is heir of all things.  

This Jesus that we claim as our Savior and Lord and Master stepped out of heaven to enter this world as helpless baby and endure the human life.  He made himself lower than the angels for a time so he could live completely as a person like you and me.

The human child is perhaps the most helpless of all of God’s creatures at birth.  Many animals stand upright, though a bit wobbly, moments after birth.  The sea turtle after getting a mouthful of sand heads for the ocean.  The human child is virtually helpless in all things.

But Jesus stepped out of the heavenly realm into this harsh world in a helpless state for us.  He is all the things that were just mentioned, and more: yet he came into this world as a child fully dependent upon human parents.

When I went to Africa, part of the introduction was that I had come from my comfortable bed in America to preach the good news and teach pastors and church leaders.  Of all the things that our friends in Africa valued, the comfortable bed seemed to be among the best.  They could have mentioned air conditioning, modern indoor plumbing, highways in which paved meant more than splotches of asphalt every few miles for aesthetic effect; but they mentioned comfortable beds.

Imagine leaving everything that we take for granted in America and living in primitive fashion for a couple of weeks.  Most don’t want to go after looking at the bathroom facilities.

Now consider stepping out of heaven into the domain of humankind and being at the mercy of a human mother and father for your first couple of years.  Consider stepping out of paradise into a world where sin and death prevail.  

Consider that on top of just giving up the perfection of the divine realm, entering into this world was accompanied by the purpose of being a sacrifice for sin.  Human birth would require a human death, not from old age but from crucifixion.

I’m thinking that I might have wanted to hang out in heaven a couple more millennia and just sent out a universal tweet that said, “Get your act together or burn in hell.”

But God is love and his love is for his entire creation, but especially for us.  The psalmist queried the Creator of all things and asked, who are we that you are mindful of us?  Just how did we deserve your attention, much less your love?

But we received much more than God’s attention.  We received life, real life, and eternal life through this Jesus who came into our world as a Babe in a manger and lived the human life for over three decades until it ended brutally on a cross.  He came so that we could live and yet so many live as if he never came.

Too many see salvation only as a get out of hell free card.  So many see believing in Jesus just only as a way to escape the flames of perdition.  So many see salvation only in terms of what we have escaped and not what we have come into.

Many of God’s Chosen People idolized Moses.  He led them out of slavery in Egypt.  That was a great thing and the Passover was the remembrance of these mighty acts of God effected through Moses. But the story of Moses is incomplete with considering that the Promised Land was realized through Joshua.

Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt.  Joshua led God’s people into the Promised land.  The people are incomplete without both parts of the story.

Jesus delivered us from slavery to sin and death.  For some that’s the definition of salvation, but for those who seek after the Lord, that definition is incomplete.  We have escaped death but we have entered into life and realized our salvation.  Our salvation is more than an escape; it is knowing the fullness of a life lived for Christ.

Oswald Chambers once wrote:  “All of heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, hell afraid of it, while men are the only ones to ignore its meaning.”

It’s time to stop minimizing the work done on the cross and live as people responding to the greatest gift of love ever known.  It is time to live knowing the work on the cross was complete.  We are a forgiven people.  We are fully—completely—loved by God and that’s forever.
Let’s quit doubting that!

Here is our struggle as believers seeking the fullness of salvation in Christ.  God placed everything under Jesus.  There is nothing that is not subject to his authority; yet, in the present age we do not see everything behaving as if it is subject to Jesus.  The creation still seems to be acting up like a rebellious teenager.

Our challenge as disciples is to live fully in the freedom that Christ gave us in a world that does not yet know it belongs to him.  Our challenge as a disciple is—borrowing a phrase from Paul—to live by faith and not by sight.

We can’t see the creation in complete obedience to God just yet but we can see Jesus—that is we can know Jesus as the way and the truth and the life as John’s gospel quoted our Savior. 

We can stop short if we want at the get out of hell free card or we can live as God has intended us to live from the inception of the world. 

It is a new year and while we have arrived with the same bodies and minds that we ended the previous year; somehow, we are disposed to raising the bar of our expectations at this time of year.

What if, we began this year knowing with certainty that the blood of Jesus took away my sin and that death—separation from God—is not something that I will ever know.  I have been saved by the blood of Jesus.  I am redeemed.  I have been rescued.  Sin and death do not own me anymore.

Now get rid of those two words—what if

Begin this year knowing with certainty that the blood of Jesus took away my sin and that death—separation from God—is not something that I will ever know.  I have been saved by the blood of Jesus.  I am redeemed.  I have been rescued.  Sin and death do not own me anymore.

What if that is our starting point for this new year?  Now, let’s remove the what if from that statement.  That is our starting point for this year.  We will only revisit these things in a spirit of thanksgiving to our Lord who rescued us.  We will not wrestle with them.  The fires of hell or eternal separation from God are things that we will never know and we will stop fighting battles that are already won.

OK.  I’m in.  So what is next?

Living!  Living fully and completely doing our very best to bring glory to God.

Mark Twain once said:  "The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why."

Isn’t it time to find out the “why” of our lives.  Isn’t it time to live the purpose that God gave us.  Isn’t it time to stop going from one day to the next and just live this day as fully as you can trying your very best to bring glory to God?

Isn’t it time to take the gifts and talents and abilities that we have and put them to use fully and completely without any hint of doubt.

We have been set free from sin and death having power in our lives.  What we do in response to that should be to please God.  Isn’t it time to start living the “why” of our lives with everything that we have and that we are.

Too often we try to equate the “why” of our lives with educational and vocational choices.  Too often we try to restrict the why of our lives to our geography, or genealogy, or even  the chronology of events. 

We come to know the “why” of our lives as we come to know Jesus more and more.  In the year ahead we will study many of the parables of Jesus.  Parables give us unique insight because Jesus has unique insight into heaven and into living a human life.  Parables set one thing beside the other.

In the year ahead, I challenge you to permeate you prayer life with the words, “Lord, your will not mine.”  Do it without fear.  That means without caveat to your prayers.  What do I mean?

Lord, I am yours.  I am ready to do whatever you have planned for me, with the following exceptions…

This year, let’s take a big step in discipleship and just pray, “Thy will be done.”

This year, begin or continue in a serious reading plan.  Make it more than what we are reading for Sunday school or Wednesday night groups.  Just set out on a course of reading that is just you and God.

This year, live in hope.  Too many Christians forget that hope is a big part of who we are.  The author of Hebrews said we can’t see everything coming into obedience to God but we know that it will because we know Jesus.  We live knowing that everything will one day be reconciled.  We live in joyful obedience to God now not having to wait for someday.

In the year ahead, start doing things that you might have been afraid to do because of what others might think of you.  Fear does not govern in our lives.  Perfect loves casts out fear.  Jesus is our Lord.  We live to please him and not public opinion.

In the year ahead, take the first steps to reconcile relationships that are broken.  Be the first because we are not afraid of failure in our human relationships.  Our relationship with our Lord is intact and permanent and that gives us permission to be bold where there is brokenness among us.

In the year ahead, live as if Jesus really is your friend.  We are his brothers and sisters.  We can live with the utmost reverence and in the most intimate friendship.  The two are not exclusive.  He is Lord.  He is friend.  He is God.  He is Brother.

Sportscasters talk about playing in the zone.  That’s what we should be doing as his disciples.  Fear does not come into play.  Fear has been taken out of the picture.  We are liberated from death and now we live liberated from the fear of death.

Jesus is the captain of our salvation.  That’s a cool title but what it translates to is that Jesus is saying “Follow Me,” and we as his brothers and sisters need to do so because he is our Lord and because he is our teammate. 

We respond by saying “Thy will be done.”  We respond knowing that his will is the best will for us and contained within that will is the “why “of our lives.

We respond by living the words of the psalmist as he said, “Calm down, stop fighting, be still and know that God will bring everything into order.”  God is God and he is on our side.  He is with us and wants us to live completely.  He wants us out of fearing anything in the world to include death.

Let’s be still and know that God is God and he is not letting go of us.

Jesus, our High Priest and closest Friend, knows what it is to live in these fleshly vessels and he has liberated us to live without fear of death. 

He has atoned for our sins, actively makes intercession for us, and wants us to live fully liberated from the fear of the world and the fear of death.  Jesus wants us to live in the zone.

Today’s message is about heading into a new year unencumbered by fear, ready to really live for Jesus, and in the words, “Thy will be done,” fully expectant of knowing the “why” of our lives.

That’s a year that I am looking forward to living.

Happy New Year and Amen.

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