Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aliens. (1 Peter 2:11-12 - Sermon) 
Jesus' life was entirely alien to the ways of the world. The culture of the Kingdom of God is alien to the spirit of violent, selfish empire. Followers of Jesus are called to live differently than those around them, ministering life even in the midst of darkness. 1 Peter 2:1-12 describes an alien people, a strange people, a set-apart people sent into the world as ambassadors of the good news of a new order, a new kingdom to come, and a completely different kind of King that has turned the whole corrupt world upside down.

(Of course Peter isn't literally talking about extraterrestrial life. He is talking about an alien life, a different and separate and wholly other way of being. However, when this sermon was shared on June 22, it sparked some interesting conversation about aliens and the gospel. You can read some of my own conclusions from that conversation at the end of this article, posted in a different font after the footer. You can listen to the audio of this sermon in a different window by clicking here.)

1 Peter 2:1-12 (NASB)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture:

“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,

“The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”

8 and,

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;

for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

You are an alien. You are a stranger.

The words "alien" and "stranger" here describe someone who is a visitor to another country, yet they keep their citizenship of their native land. They are not settlers, but they do intend to stay.

In some translations it uses the word "exile". In one, it calls us, "refugees". I don't prefer either of these because in English, they both imply people who are the victims of, or, at best, the survivors of, some tragedy. I don't believe 1 Peter intends any such connotation. In this passage, we are not acted upon by our circumstances. On the contrary, we are active. Another translation uses the word "sojourner". I like that. But my favourite translation is the one found here in the New American Standard: Alien.

An alien is different. It's from another world.
Listen to the full audio of this sermon here.

The first aliens that always come to me mind are the xenomorphs from the Ridley Scott film, Alien, and its sequels. They're a poor general illustration for this message, because they have no culture of which to speak, and are only alien in the most frightful sense of the word.
Pictured: Nightmare Fuel
The next aliens I think of are E.T. and the District 9 aliens. Both of these are visitors to earth, that really want to phone home.
Pictured: All the money
Next time you feel like you want to pray, remember you're an alien and think to yourself, "E.T. phone home".

Sympathetic Character
The District 9 aliens also work because (SPOILERS) when a human being comes in contact with them, he actually begins to change. Setting aside the refugee status of these aliens, and their deep desire to just leave the world behind, they remind me of Christians because we, like them, are carrying an incredibly dangerous living agent of change within us. To come in contact with the Divine Life within a believer is to experience complete metamorphosis, from the inside out (SPOILERS END).

Avatar might give us a similar illustration. The violent, military agent of empire is affected by the love of the alien Navi, becomes part of her people, and then by her is introduced to her Divine Spurce. Then, changed in both mind, heart, and body, he acts on the side of the peaceful alien community in resistance to their enemies, though he had once been one of them. But Avatar is a terrible movie, so I won't bring it up again.
Pictured: Incomprehensibly, all the money.
We aren't attacking this temporal world or infiltrating it. We're visiting, and we're here to share the good news that there are many of us, because the new world of which we are citizens is coming, and the king has already taken possession. It's good news, because he is an entirely different kind of king, one who sets people free.

We're not aliens that ask to be taken to the leader. The question is irrelevant. We don't want people to take us to their leader. We want to take them to our liberator.

In this passage, Peter describes two ways we are to live as aliens in the world. First, we are to resist the desires of our fallen nature that destroy us from within. Secondly, we are to live in active engagement with this world in such a way as to be seen by others for the glory of God.

Abstain From Fleshly Lusts

1 Peter 2:11 (NASB)
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

We don’t sin by accident. We sin because we still want to. We sin because our old nature still desires it.

James 1:13-15 (NASB)
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

This passage from James always reminds me of one of the most fascinating parasitic relationships in nature of which I’ve ever read. The relationship is between a wasp (Costa Rica - Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga)
Our Villain
and a spider (Plesiometa argyra).
Our Hero
The spider, like most, spins a fairly standard spiral-shaped web to catch its prey. However, when stung by its wasp nemesis and paralyzed, its parasitic enemy lays its egg in the spider’s body, setting into motion a major change in the spider’s most basic behaviour.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
On the first few nights of the growth of the wasp spawn, the spider continues to spin webs, and catch and eat insects as usual. But after only a few days, something very strange happens. Instead of the spider’s usual routine awakening just before dawn to spin its regular web, she wakes up much earlier, and builds an entirely different structure:

Pictured: Our Hero's Nightmare Fuel.
The seed of the wasp has taken over the spider’s mind. Soon after this strange new abomination has been erected, the new wasp bursts forth, killing its host, and matures within a cocoon hanging from the centre of the ideal shelter it has built for itself using the castoff body of our poor fallen hero.

Sometimes nature is even more terrifying than some of our best horror fiction.

James’ description of sin and death is much like this relationship of the spider to the wasp. For days, that spider awakens and continues making her web like usual, as though nothing is wrong, though death itself is growing in and on her. No matter how this spider tries to act otherwise, because of the accursed sting, she will eventually be the builder of her own murderer’s home. To live, she needs the death within her to be surgically removed.

Our resistance to the lust of the flesh in 1 Peter will be utterly futile if it does not follow the miraculous intervention of God in our lives to remove our sin from within us, the iniquity from which comes our sin that will eventually lead to our death. Only be death may we be made free from this curse. By our faith in the death of Jesus upon the Roman cross, this sin within us, the seed of our wasp, is crucified along with him. If we die with him, we are also resurrected on the other side of the grave with Jesus, and given the power of God in our very being to resist sin and live for life from that day forward.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NASB)
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus' Cross purchased for us not only a one-time forgiveness, but a lifetime of growing in purity.

1 Peter 1:22-23 (NASB)
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

1 Peter 2:1-3 (NASB)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

We resist sin by knowing the Word and living according to it. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (Romans 1:16-17).

2 Peter 1:2-4 (NASB)
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

The Word of God, God’s promises to us, is a gift by which we may partake in the divine nature. We are changed from the inside out. So we do not simply try our hardest not to sin. If that’s all we do, we will fail. Instead, by faith we know and love the Word, and as we apply it to ourselves, we are changed from the inside out by the power of the presence of God.

Aliens are different. Being holy is to be different. Holiness, being set apart, allows us to see God more clearly. In the end, our faith in God’s holy work in us will let us see God face to face. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5).

Be Excellent Aliens To Your Neighbours

1 Peter 2:12 (NASB)
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Jesus has called us to be holy because God is holy.

1 Peter 1:14-16 (NASB)
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;

because it is written,

"You shall be holy, for I am holy."

God made a covenant with the people of God in the earth. Before giving the law, God called Israel a "nation of priests".

Exodus 19:4-6 (NASB)
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

We are now called to be these priests to the world. We are ambassadors of the coming kingdom. We are to demonstrate the culture and values of the Kingdom of God to our neighbours living in a world still bound by oppression and slavery because of sin.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (NASB)
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

"Alien" also reminds us of the OT law about mercy to the alien. We minister mercy to the aliens, but not as outsiders to needy “others” like a charity. We love those who don't fit in. We don't fit in, either. We love the alien because we also are aliens who are loved by God. We live in solidarity with the most hurting and outcast of the world.

To be "strange" is one of the worst sins of the contemporary world. It is often more acceptable to be a Christian who is hip than holy, even if hip requires a compromise. We are not called to leave the world. We're stinking around. But we should not be surprised if our otherworldly culture strikes our neighbours as strange.

If we are trying very hard to be hip, we are choosing to beg for the affirmation that have made outcasts of those to whom God most calls us to serve. If we seek to hide our alien nature, we lose the opportunity to be even more present to the many in this world who also feel like aliens among us, yet don't have a home like we do. God is ready to grant citizenship to the least likely of the world, no background check or application process necessary. They, like us, are looking for their home. Let us not try so hard to win the favour of the world's most impressively integrated citizens at the expense of the marginalized who are waiting for what we have.

Peter gives us no excuse to separate ourselves from our neighbours. We aren’t squatters living in the lobby of the world just for the night, ready to get away as soon as the sun comes up. We’re renting an apartment, and joining the condo association.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NASB)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’

Life in Christ is about pursuing the beautiful, not avoiding the impure. We live intentionally outward, letting the consequence of the life of God in us to be seen.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NASB)
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Be an alien. Live a life according to the Word of God, in resistance to your flesh. Let the compassion and justice of The Kingdom of God be seen in your life as you love and bless the world in which you have made your home. May God be glorified by all our neighbours as they come to know that the very presence of God has come to dwell among them.

Next Thursday, July 3, 2014: 1 Peter 2:21-25 - Following our Lord, the Suffering Saviour
Next Tuesday, July 1, 2014: Isaiah 11 - The New King and the New Kingdom
Click the image for the complete series.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Shoot From The Stump Of Jesse, King David’s Descendant and Source (Isaiah 11)
On the scorched and blackened ground are short hills of charred wood, the cold remnants of trees that once stood proud in the garden of God. In their midst is one that was once the tree called Jesse, from which each new branch was a king, now reduced to a small mound from which go roots into the now rich and darkened soil.

Isaiah 11:1 (ESVUK)
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
   and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
Jesse, a Bethlehemite, was a shepherd of the tribe of Judah. In the days of Israel's first rebel king, Saul, the prophet Samuel came secretly to Jesse's house. He told the humble shepherd that God had sent him with good news. From his family would come a new king. Samuel had come to anoint one of Jesse's sons as this next shepherd of the nation (1 Samuel 16).

David, Jesse's youngest and most humble son, was anointed king that day. Years later, after a miraculous deliverance from the oppressive Philistine giant (1 Samuel 17), and a time of exile in the wilderness (1 Samuel 20-30) in which his submission to God was tested and his character was forged, David did finally take the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 2, 5). He would be the first of Judah's tribe to fulfill the prophesy of kingship made to Judah by Jacob, his father, hundreds of years before.

David would go on to become Israel's ideal king, called precious to God's own heart in the Hebrew scripture (1 Sam. 13:14; also Acts 13:22). In his reign, the prophecy of Judah's line of kings would be renewed and expanded to David. God promised David that the kingdom established in him will never end, that an heir of David, of Judah's tribe, would always sit on the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 7). During the reign of David, Israel prospered, and experienced their first time of true rest from war or wandering since they had left Egypt .

However, though ideal in the eyes of the nation, even David failed to be the wise and just king God had called him to be. Once established in his power, David arrogantly claimed the authority God had graciously given him when he was a meek shepherd boy as his own, as though by his own strength he had earned it. For David's rebellious and foolish entitlement, God judged the nation. Before the judgment was complete, on the hill of Abraham's sacrifice of his son David repented, pleading with God to let the curse for his sin fall on him alone, and to spare the nation. For David's humility, the curse is lifted, and even David is spared (2 Samuel 24). Though he frequently failed, it is in this humble and willing repentance that David most pleased God.

The hand of God's judgment would not be held back forever. Each king after David would repeat his acts of arrogance, each generation building upon the hubris of their fathers (1 Kings). There would be times of repentance, but no king after David would ever come even as close to the heart of God as David had, though even David himself had been a failure. Isaiah preaches in a day of utter apostasy. The judgment that was stayed in the time of David will now return. The nation of Israel, God's garden of love and justice in the world, will be razed to the ground, leaving only a seed of a hope of renewal (Isaiah 10). Even the line of kings, God's precious promise to the people of God, will be cut down to the roots, to even before the time of the most precious King David. God is starting over.

Hundreds of years later a child was born to descendants of the tribe of Judah, in Bethlehem, the city of David. The child was named Jesus. News of his arrival was as humble as the quiet anointing of King David. The first to greet the new king were shepherds called in by angels telling the good news, as David had been called in from the sheep by Samuel the priest (Luke 2:8-20). Like Israel twice before him in both their wilderness wanderings and their exile, and like King David during his flight from Saul, Jesus would also be taken into the desert and tested (Luke 4:1-13). As Israel had been cut down by God and destroyed by the empires surrounding her, Jesus would also be killed at the hands of the empire of his day (Luke 23). Yet while Israel was punished for her rebellion, this king had never transgressed a single law (Luke 23:4, 14). And, like the nation Israel was before him, Jesus was also raised to new life by the hand of God (Luke 24).

By his willing fulfillment of all of Israel's law and history, Jesus became the substitution for any and all who would from then on be added to the family of God. Though we rebel as Israel did, we need not ever be cut down. Christ, into whose branch we may now all be grafted (John 15), has been cut down in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). In this was the full nature of God manifest. Our Just King did not forgive our corruption by looking over it, but by fully satisfying the debt incurred by our wrongdoing. The death of Israel because of the rebellion of the kings became his. At his resurrection he became the new and final King, the firstborn of a new humanity (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5), a merciful and loving God by whom all may be brought back to justice.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESVUK)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The Kingship of Jesus was inaugurated by his death and resurrection, but his origin was from long before. Jesus was present in the beginning with God, and all things were made through him (John 1:1-4; Ephesians 1). His rule began after his payment for sin on the cross (Hebrews 1:3). His reign is eternal, the fulfillment of the eternal kingdom promised to David. All else is subject to change.

Revelation 5:5 (ESVUK)
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Jesus became the shoot from the stump of Jesse, and therefore also the root of David, the one from whom even David takes his source. By his intervention in human history, all debts owed by we, the rebel kings of earth, are now paid. Jesus becomes like David, the intercessor on the hill between the judgment of God and the people of God. Jesus becomes like us, the rebel nation deserving of destruction. In exchange, we become like him, grafted into his new life, drinking deep from divine roots.

Revelation 22:16 (ESVUK)
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

Jesus is both the root of David, his divine source from whom he receives his adoption into God's family, and the descendant of David, his human son, whom he willingly became so that the lineage of David may be redeemed (Matthew 22:41-46).

By his death and resurrection, Jesus becomes the final judge on whom all judgment may fall.

Isaiah 11:2-4 (ESVUK)
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
   the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and might,
   the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Jesus came as the poor and received the judgment of the wicked upon himself. He judges with righteousness by his own death. His judgment is equal. By his death he set free both the oppressed and the oppressor. Every one saved by the death of Christ has been a king like David, arrogant rulers of our own world as though we made our own throne, and the oppressed of the land under the wicked kings after David. The true and final King has set us free from both.

Tomorrow, June 26, 2014: 1 Peter 2:11-12 - Aliens 
Next Tuesday, July 1, 2014: Isaiah 11 - The New King and the New Kingdom
Click the image to read the entire series from Isaiah.