Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hannah Received a Miracle But What About Me?

Based on 1 Samuel 1:1-20

Hannah prayed to the Lord and said: “Remember me and do not forget your servant” (1:11). She wanted a child. She poured out her heart to the Lord in the temple. She worshipped Him. She pleaded with God to give her a child. She vowed to dedicate her son to the Lord all the days of his life (1:11). This was more then the usual 25 year commitment, which was the Levitical custom at that time. The next day she rose early in the morning to worship the Lord again. Then she went back to her house. She was thinking to herself: “Is the Lord going to hear my prayer? Why doesn’t He grant me a baby? Why is God granting other women like Peninnah babies and not me? Are they doing more for the Lord then me? Will the Lord remember me? Or has He forgotten about me?” Then there is a shift in the story. The text says: “The Lord remembered her” (1:19) and “in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord” (1:20). The Lord remembered His servant Hannah and granted her a son.

Hannah’s experience reminds me of my time at the seminary. I’m going to share with you two stories from the seminary. The first is about my wife and I’s experience with pregnancy and prayer at the seminary. My wife and I got married in December of 2004 and we decided that we wanted to have children right away. Why wait? Children are such a blessing from God! So we prayed and asked the Lord to remember us, and not forget His servants. We prayed and prayed. But for over a year and half we were unable to achieve pregnancy. We had a problem on our hands. We felt like the Lord forgot about us. But then miraculously the Lord remembered us and granted us pregnancy in August of 2006. On May 6, 2007, we were blessed with our first daughter, Miriam Grayce. The Lord remembered us. On the other hand, we were friends with another couple. They had a different experience. They achieved pregnancy, but the problem was sustaining it. So they prayed to the Lord. Daisy and I prayed for them everyday at one point, hoping that God would remember them and cause them to maintain their pregnancy. But tragically, they had a miscarriage. This was very hard for them. They even got pregnant again at one point. But then they lost their pregnancy again. Two miscarriages. Why? Why did not the Lord remember them? Why did He answer our prayers but not theirs? These questions lead us back to our text.

Why doesn't God answer prayer sometimes? And why does He answer Elkanah and Hannah’s prayer? Was it because of anything that Elkanah and Hannah did? Was it because Hannah vowed to dedicate her son to the Lord all the days of her life? Was it because of Hannah’s commitment? Let’s explore this one first. After searching the Scriptures, this isn’t the reason. In the New Testament, Jesus comes along and reveals the Lord’s true heart towards vows on the Sermon on the Mount. He says not to make vows anymore. He reveals that God never intended vows to be present among His people forever. Vows were like other Old Testament principles that were elementary until the time of Christ. Now that Christ had come His people were called to maturity. Instead of vowing to God that you are going to do something, Jesus says, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” God knows the futility of man’s vows and commitments. Vows are man-centered. A simple “yes” to the Lord is God centered. So we know that Hannah’s vow was not the reason. If it were, we would all make vows to the Lord and negotiate with Him so we could get what we wanted. On to the next possibility…. Did God answer Hannah’s prayer because she was constantly praying to the Lord and worshiping Him? Was it because she was pious and faithful? Does God answer the prayers all the time of people who are faithful? This isn’t the answer either. The Scriptures say that Job was the most faithful man on the earth. But God allowed the devil to take his seven sons and three daughters from Him! Why didn’t God remember Job? Job was faithful. If anyone deserved to have peace and blessings, it was Job. But God did not grant Job the preservation of His children. So the answer to our question is not altogether known to us. We can gain some insight from Scripture. But we will never know all the answers in this life. The complete answer to this question has been hidden from us. So what shall we do? Should we speculate? Should we try and figure it out?

My word to you today is: Release yourself from trying to figure out the answer to this question and it will bring you freedom. Now I know that some of you do not like this idea. But it is necessary. There have been many theologians who have tried to come up with answers to explain God’s hidden ways in this life. And none of their answers do justice to the Scriptures. God is God. And you and I are not. God is going to be God. He is going to do things that you and I do not understand. His thoughts are higher than your thoughts. His ways are higher then your ways. His ways are beyond finding out. So He calls on you and I to focus on what He has revealed to us. When you and I release ourselves from trying to figure out the hidden ways of God it brings us freedom. It gives us freedom because it takes us from speculation to focusing on what has been revealed. What God has revealed to us is certain. What He has hidden from us is uncertain. God has revealed to us some things that I am certain about. One thing that I am certain is about is:

God’s will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We know this is especially true when we recall what took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was in agony. He was praying to the Father earnestly. He was in such agony that his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Would the Father remember His Son and free Him from suffering? Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus prayed that the Father would remove suffering from his life. But he knew that the Father’s will had to be done. God’s will was that Jesus Christ would be mocked. That He would be struck. That He would be beaten and scourged. That He would suffer. And that He would be crucified and experience suffocation on a cross. On the cross Jesus said: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was asking the question that Hannah asked. Father, are you going to remember me? He was asking the question that our friends at the seminary asked. Jesus was asking the question that some of you are asking right now. Why did not the Father release the Son from suffering? Why does He allow us to suffer and not answer our prayers all the time? The truth of the matter is, is that we don’t always know why in our own lives. But we do know that Jesus Christ redeemed the whole world. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. He experienced death on a cross to bring us to the Father. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting man’s trespasses against them. His suffering and death was for all the suffering we experience in this life as a result of sin. For while you were weak, Christ died for you. By His wounds you are healed. And by Christ’s presence in your life you will experience love and healing even in the midst of tragedy and suffering. Christ is present in your weakness. And the Spirit helps you in your weakness.

Jesus Christ helps us even in the midst of tragedy. This was Greg Boyd’s experience after the loss of his mother. The Spirit helped him with his weakness. Greg Boyd was a former agnostic but is now an Evangelical Pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the early 70s his mother was dying. He prayed and prayed as a teenager that God would not let her die. He was too young to experience the death of his mother. He thought surely the Lord would answer His prayer. His father thought surely the Lord would hear the prayers of young kids. But sadly, Greg Boyd’s mother, Arlyle, passed away. In October of 1989, Greg’s father who was an agnostic himself at that time, wrote to his son, Greg, who had become a Christian Pastor. He said, “When Arlyle was dying, we all prayed till we were blue in the face. Even you kids prayed. Maybe God doesn’t listen to the prayers of sinful adults, but He should have at least heard the cries of you kids!” The next month Greg wrote a letter in response to his dad. He wrote: “My question [concerning why God did not spare my mother’s life] still remains, but Christ has won my trust in Him by showing me His beauty – the beauty of a love, a grace, a tenderness, a gentle strength which no mere human being could ever match. He won my love and trust through the healing compassion of His eyes and the warm understanding of His embrace. He provided an understanding in the heart which the mind could never grasp.” Greg experienced Christ’s healing presence in His life during the midst of suffering and unanswered prayer. How did Greg come to such understanding? We know the answer from the same letter. In Greg’s first year of college he went through a long period of doubt concerning the truth of Christianity. The problem of suffering and unanswered prayer was at the heart of it. As he approached his car on a cold February night something occurred to him. He wrote: “Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God enters smack-dab into the middle of the hell we create. Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a bloody, crap-filled stable…that He suffered, firsthand, the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence. Only the Gospel portrait of God makes sense of the contradictory fact that the world is at once so beautiful and so ugly.”

The world is at once so beautiful and so ugly because the kingdom of God is present today but not yet completely fulfilled. That is, through the redemption of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has come upon you. Jesus Christ is King. And His people make up a spiritual nation, a people belonging to Him. However, while Jesus reigns, there is sin in the world. And with sin comes death and evil. Satan still roams around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. One day Jesus promises to come again to conquer Satan, death, and sin forever. So the kingdom of God is now, but not yet. It is here among you today, but it has not yet completely fulfilled. For example: You and I are forgiven of our sins, but we still sin because of our sinful natures. That is we receive the assurance we are forgiven through the gospel, but we still sin in our weakness. Another example: Jesus Christ has come, but He will come again. He came once and we have been redeemed. But our complete redemption will not come until His second coming. Another example: Jesus Christ has given you and I spiritual resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit. But when He comes again you and I will receive resurrected bodies. In the new heavens and new earth there will be no more unanswered prayer or tragedy. Sin, death, and the devil will be completely wiped out. There will be no more darkness, but only light. There will be no more hate, but only love. There will be no more tears, but only joy. So today, you and I await with joyful hope the second coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. And until then we witness that the world is at once so beautiful, but at the same time so ugly. We witness His saving presence in our lives, but at the same time also experience times of unanswered prayer. But we do know one thing that is true today: Our God has not retired. He is active in this world, seeking and saving the lost.

While God has not fully established the new heavens and the new earth, He has not retired. He is living and active and interceding as we speak. He may be interceding and working in your lives in ways that you do not see. Because you and I are so busy, sometimes we miss all the ways He is working. Christianity is about God becoming a person in Jesus Christ. Christians are not Deists. We believe in a God who descends to us. This incarnational approach to us did not stop at the birth of Christ. It continues today every time Christian preachers throughout the world proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit descends and is currently drawing people to His kingdom. In baptism, God descends to us and gives us new life and washes away our sins. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ descends to us again and is present with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit is being poured out into the hearts of non-believers and believers on a continual basis. The Holy Spirit is living and active pointing people to Jesus Christ throughout the world. He appears in dreams to the nations who have not yet heard the gospel. And on the mission field He is miraculously healing many.

So when you pray remember that God is all-powerful and almighty and cares about every detail of your life. And even if He does not answer your prayer the way you want, He still has given you Jesus Christ to suffer on your behalf. During times of pain and tragedy, He will be with you with His healing presence. He promises to never leave you nor forsake you. He will never forget you but always will remember you. In Jesus Christ all people are remembered and not one is forgotten. In Jesus Christ all people have had their sins atoned for, and not one has been forgotten. Remember that the kingdom of God is now, but not yet. And pray with faith which is optimism that God will actually do something. Hannah was persistent and never gave up, but continued praying to the Lord. She exhibited faith. In the gospels, Jesus did not perform miracles unless people had faith that He could do something. He may not perform a miracle the way you want Him to. But He will always miraculously be present in your life with His healing presence. And in those times we are reminded to say to the Lord: Remember me in your kingdom and teach me to pray. Pray with me: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, yours, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Sinful Woman

From Luke 7:36-50

The context of the story of the sinful woman comes after Jesus defends his ministry before those whom John the Baptist sent to Him, and right before Jesus begins to travel again. Jesus is invited to eat at the home of the Pharisees somewhere in Palestine, not because they wanted to learn from him, but rather to entrap Him. And all of sudden, out of no where comes the quote unquote sinful woman to their home. The first question one might have is: where did this woman come from and who was she? We can probably say with confidence that she heard Jesus preach, knew that He was a prophet, and knew that He would not turn her away or judge her because of her public sin. The Concordia Self Study Bible says that she was a prostitute, which is likely, but does not want us to confuse her with Mary Magdalene who is mentioned in the next chapter, or Mary of Bethany who was Lazarus’ brother. Mary of Bethany acted similar to the sinful woman later in Jesus’ ministry by pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping it with her hair. But there are some who insist this was Mary Magdalene, who later became a devout follower of Christ. Whether or not she was Mary Magdalene or not is an interesting question – but it really makes no difference.

The “sinful” woman brings an alabaster jar of perfume, is sorry for her sin, and desires to receive the forgiveness of her sins through Jesus Christ. This alabaster jar back in that time was a carved, long-necked, globular, expensive, beautiful jar. This showed her adoration and worship of Christ as she came to receive forgiveness.


The thing that stands out about this text is the contrition, sorrow and remorse that this woman has over her sin. David said: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:18). She has been hit with the law. She has been hit with judgment and the pride of the religious leaders. She has been told that she is a sinner, but she comes to see Jesus who was publicly and lovingly a friend of sinners. St. John says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). To receive the forgiveness of sins we must confess our sins to Jesus.

If you have ever lusted over another person who was not your spouse according to God’s covenant of marriage then you have transgressed His law and are an adulterer. If you have ever lost your temper and called another person an evil name unjustly, then you are a murderer. Romans 3:23 says: All of us have sinned against God’s law and fall short of His glory. James 2:10 says: If we have broken one part of God’s law, we are guilty of breaking all of it. If you are prideful and don’t think you are living in sin, and don’t feel guilty over your sin then Jesus will have nothing to do with you. If you don’t think that you have sinned against God by transgressing His commandments, then you will not receive forgiveness. If you do not admit that you have not loved God with your whole heart, and your neighbors as yourselves then Jesus will not forgive you.

Forgiveness through Christ

But if you agree with God’s law that you are a sinner and desire to receive His forgiveness then He will give it to you. It is that simple, and it is that real. For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it through Him (John 3:17). The person who comes into the light, and is willing to confess their sin to God will receive His forgiveness. Even while we were spending our money unwisely, and being selfish towards our spouses, and gossiping about others, God died for us. It is by His unconditional grace that you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is God’s gift. God gives it to you freely, and all you have to do is receive it through faith. Now even faith is God’s gift. But that faith is continuously exercised through continuous confession/absolution in which we receive continuous grace and mercy. God says through the Prophet Isaiah: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (57:15). For Jesus Christ lived the perfect life in your place, died on the cross as your substitute so you would not live in spiritual death, and was raised from the dead and gives you new life through His resurrection. Through His obedience and blood, your sins are forgiven. Yes, it is true: God does not count your sins against you. He has forgotten them, and now only sees Christ. All he asks is that you want forgiveness. David writes: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1, 2). Your debt has been cancelled by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Pride of the Pharisees

The Pharisees are examples of those who may have known theoretically about God’s forgiveness since they too had the writings of David and Isaiah but they were prideful. They were not contrite. They did not receive God’s forgiveness. And more then that, they did not even treat Jesus with the minimum ordinary gestures because they thought they were too good for this self-proclaimed prophet. And when they see Jesus act with compassion and love towards the woman, they continue not only with their judgment of her sin, but also in judgment towards him and his compassion. How often do we judge others who we don’t see fit for God’s kingdom? When those who use drugs and are alcoholics walk into our church, do we act with compassion? When we see homosexuals or those living outside of marriage do we judge them? Do we judge those churches that act with compassion towards former homosexuals or do we rejoice that they have been added to God’s family?

No matter where we are at in our lives, and no matter how big or small our sin is. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God has cancelled your debt in Christ Jesus!

In the story Jesus tells the Pharisees, he gives them the impression that since she has so much sin in her life, she loves God all the much for His forgiveness. And this is true. But don’t think for a moment that the Pharisees were not more sinful then this woman. They suffered from the worst sin of them all: pride. And pride is the worst because that was the sin of Lucifer who fell from heaven. Pride is the reason that people do not seek out who God is or His will. They think they’re fine the way they are. But Jesus, knowing the Pharisees are self-righteous gives them a parable their dull and heard hearts can understand.

The woman on the other hand, doesn’t think she’s fine the way she is. She is sorrowful and extremely emotional over the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. She wept at Jesus’ feet, wet his feet with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. She knew how sinful she was.

Do you know how sinful you are? Why do you not act in emotion with contrition and faith over the grace that comes through Jesus Christ? Do you understand just how sinful you are? Do you understand how great, high, deep, and wide the love of God is through Jesus Christ? I want you to know just how deep your sin is against Christ Jesus. And I want you to know how deep the love of God is through Christ Jesus.


Psalm 130 says: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” At Cornelius’ house the Apostle Peter declared: “All the prophets testify about Christ that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name” (Acts 10:43). And in Antioch, the Apostle Paul said: “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). And I want you to know that your sins are forgiven. And as Jesus told the woman: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” I tell you now, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. Amen.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Washing of Regeneration

The Apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

What does “the washing of regeneration mean?” This question is significant because Paul says that God saved us “by the washing of regeneration.” That particular preposition translated as “by” can also be translated as “through.” Paul is saying that God saved us by means of the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. To determine what “the washing” means, we first must analyze how Paul uses this word in his letters. Considering this passage by itself, we do not know what kind of washing Paul is referring to. Is he referring to washing with water? Or is he referring to some sort of inner cleansing? The only other place this particular Greek noun appears is in Ephesians 5:26. How does Paul use the word there? Ephesians 5:25-27 says:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Here, Paul says that Christ cleansed the church by washing with water. Therefore, when Paul uses the noun translated as “washing,” he has in mind washing with water. And there is no reason not to understand this passage as referring to literal water since their is nothing in the context of the letter or in the New Testament as a whole that would compel us do to do so. Christians are washed with water in the New Testament by means of water baptism (Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12).

In Acts 21:37-22:21, Paul gives a testimony to the people telling them how God worked in his life to bring him to Christ. He tells them that Ananias was sent to Him by God and said to him: “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Here, baptism is described as a washing away of sins. Many Christians come to the Scriptures with presuppositions that do not allow them to believe that God would actually wash away sins by means of water baptism. Water is just a physical object. However, the plain reading of this passage is that baptism washes away sins. There is no reason not to accept it the way it is written.

What about the Greek verb translated as “to baptize?” It has at least three different meanings in the New Testament. First, it is describing as a washing (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38). In Mark 7:4 the word is used to describe the Pharisees ritual washings. The Pharisees washed, or baptized, cups, pots, copper vessels and dining couches. Luke 11:38 describes the washing or baptizing of hands. Second, the word is used to describe John the Baptist’s baptism, and Christian baptism that is administered during the church age. And finally, the word is even broad enough to include martyrdom as Jesus says to James and John: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with" (Mark 10:38)? However, the most common meaning of the word “to baptize” means “to wash.”

In summary, the verb “to baptize” means “to wash.” Washing is used in association with water baptism by Paul. Baptism is referred to as a washing away of sins by Ananias. Therefore, it is right to interpret “The washing” in Titus 3:5 as referring to water baptism. The Apostle Paul and the New Testament give us no other option. But what about “regeneration?” How is regeneration associated with baptism?

The noun Paul uses in Titus 3:5 translated as “regeneration” is only used one other time in the New Testament in Matthew 19:28. In Matthew 19:28 Jesus says:

“Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world (Greek noun: regeneration), when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Therefore, the Greek noun can mean “renewal” or “regeneration.” The new world Jesus speaks about as renewed is the new heavens and new earth. When Jesus comes again, He will establish a new earth and there will be a renewal or regeneration of all things.

But how does this renewal or regeneration come about in the Christian life? The answer is that by repentance and faith worked by the operation of the Holy Spirit the Christian dies to his old self and is renewed by putting on Jesus Christ. The Christian’s old self is buried, and then raised up by Jesus Christ unto the newness of life.

Is this renewal or regeneration associated with baptism in the New Testament? The answer is yes. In Romans 6:3-4 Paul says:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Paul says that we were buried with Christ through baptism. That is, by means of baptism the Christian is put to death. The purpose of this putting to death was that just as Christ was raised from the dead we too might walk in the newness of life. Paul describes the Christian as one who has been buried and resurrected. Paul speaks this way in Colossians 2:11-12 where he says:

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

The circumcision made without men’s hands is baptism. Baptism is not simply administered by men but by Jesus Christ Himself. Through baptism Paul says that we were buried with Christ, and through the working of God, were raised with Christ. Therefore, baptism is death and resurrection. It is putting to death the old self and becoming renewed by Christ unto the newness of life.

Indeed, this renewal happened in the past when we were granted spiritual rebirth. But continual repentance and renewal occurs throughout the Christian life. Indeed, Paul uses baptism in Romans 6:3-4 and Col. 2:11-12 to exhort Christians to walk in the newness of life by the power of the Spirit. Therefore, baptism does not only have significance for the past. It also has significance for the present and future. At the renewal of all things (Matt. 19:28), our bodies will be completely renewed and sin will be completely done away with. Until then, Christians are continually putting to death their old selves and being renewed by the Spirit unto newness until the coming of Jesus Christ.