Sunday, June 25, 2017
What does salvation mean in the teaching of Jesus? He declared that he came to seek and to save the lost. He frequently expressed the purpose of his mission in another set of term: He came to found the Kingdom of God and to induce humanity to enter it.
To be saved and to enter the Kingdom of God must mean substantially the same. He also spoke of men becoming sons of God and of being like God. In view of such expressions there is hardly room for doubt as to what the idea of salvation was as it lay in the mind of Jesus. It is the life of obedience to God, or, more fundamentally stated, it is the life of Sonship or moral likeness to God.
Jesus came into the world to save us in the sense that he came to win us, to help us to, live the life of fellowship with God and of likeness to him. Jesus described salvation as a moral recovery from an evil life.
It is seen in the life of that lost son who repudiates all his natural obligations to his father and friends, abandons all restraints, and gives himself over to a life of selfish gratification.
It is seen in the Pharisee with his counterfeit piety, trying for social advantage - to seem what he inwardly knows he is not.
It is seen in the hardness, the cruelty, the intolerance of the rich and ruling classes of the age; in the pitilessness of a priest and a Levite who put social distinctions above humanity
These are examples of sin as Jesus views it. They are the "lost" who are forfeiting their lives in selfishness in its various forms: pride, hypocrisy, sensuality, cruelty, hatred. All these sins are simply various phases of that self-gratification in which a person loses their real, true self.
From this kind of life, we need to be saved. This can be done in only by a change in our motives and purposes. The sinful life can only be abandoned by being replaced. Love must supplant selfishness; kindness, humility, and sympathy must replace hardness, arrogance, and indifference.
We are to be saved to a life of service and helpfulness. We must learn that to give our lives is to save them.
Jesus' idea of salvation centers in his idea of God. His most characteristic description of God is as the bountiful Giver. With liberal hand He pours out His blessings upon all. His love is large and generous. He is ready and eager to bestow His gifts. This impulse to give and to bless springs from God's boundless, universal love.
Love is the law, not, primarily, because God enjoins it, but because it is the principle of His own moral perfection. His requirements are grounded in His Nature.
The life of love is the Godlike life; it is the life of Sonship; it constitutes men members of the Kingdom of heaven; it is salvation.
This teaching of Jesus does not minimize the requirements of holiness.
He knows nothing of a love which is not holy and morally exacting. Love is no mere easy, good nature. It rebukes and punishes evil, while it yearns to forgive and cure it.
There is no lack of strenuousness in our Master’s doctrine of salvation. The divine love repudiates and condemns sin, and there is no salvation which is not salvation from sin to holiness.
Adapted from a 1917 Sermon by Rev. George Barker Stevens
Sunday, June 18, 2017
A world famous preacher likes to say that Jesus did “three day’s work” and that is all he ever did. By this, he means that he died, spent time in a tomb, and then rose to Heaven. That, to him, was all Jesus was good for.
But this ignores the mission of Jesus: to teach and preach. Jesus’ words, in the view of that minister, mean nothing.
But we cannot ignore Jesus' words, because Jesus said his words and teachings would last forever. Anyone teaching people to disregard his teachings, therefore, is misleading us.
Jesus said that to hear and follow his words is like building a house on solid rock (Luke 6:48) and whoever is ashamed of him and his words is the one Jesus will be ashamed of (Mark 8:38.)
He said to the Apostles at one point, "You don't also want to go away, do you?" Peter answered him, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68.)
Peter was right. Where, indeed, and to WHOM would we get better information about eternal life and salvation from sin than Jesus himself? There is no one other than Jesus we need to hear when it comes to this important subject.
The words of Jesus have no expiration date.
Jesus never said that his teachings and words to the Apostles were directed only to those living in Roman Judea. Instead, he says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Matt. 24:35) While he did address certain things to his fellow Jews alone, his message and moral teachings are universal. Jesus never told us his words were only meant for a certain time in history.
There are no better teachings than the words of Jesus himself.
Jesus didn't say that after his ministry ended, someone else would be coming to interpret his words or change his teachings. Jesus said, “EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father, I have MADE KNOWN to you." Matt. 15:15. No further revelations are required for us to “learn” about God and God’s Will for our lives.
Jesus spoke on God's authority.
Jesus' words, he said, were not spoken on his own authority, but on God's (John 14:10) and Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.
If we believe this, then Jesus' words and actions reflect the Will of God, Who chose and anointed Jesus as God's spokesman, sending him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel".) (Luke 4:18)
There is nothing greater, then, than the teachings of Jesus. They are to be the focus of our lives.
An often overlooked phrase in a popular verse, Jesus calls on us to teach and make disciples of all nations, and also, "teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you." All of his teachings, therefore, have eternal and profound significance, and deserve to be known by all peoples.
His clear teachings, which call on us to perform Good Works, to seek heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones, to pray and act righteously without doing so just to be seen by others, to actively serve others, especially the poor, to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies, and to go the extra mile in all that we do, HAVE NEVER BEEN CHANGED. Nor can we explain them away or minimize their importance, or allow others to do so.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Jesus' ministry was a call to humanity to come back to God, our Creator. That’s not a minor thing, nor is it a call that can leave us unchanged.
In fact, while we may come to God “as we are,” we cannot remain unchanged after approaching our Heavenly Father, Who is our Creator.
God chose Jesus, anointed him, and sent him out to preach His Truth.
Jesus’ ministry calls us to make changes to our life, as well as to humbly approach God in repentance. Without action on our part, starting with repentance, we aren’t truly returning to God, but simply SAYING we are.
Jesus calls us to be better people. Mere belief is not enough, but is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will keep his commands (John 14:15.)
Those who claim to know him, but don’t believe his commands are worth following, or are “irrelevant” or are superseded by another person’s teachings, are liars, and don’t really know Jesus at all (1 John 2:4.)
Here, then, are a few (not all) of the commands Jesus gives those who say they follow him:
1. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or emotionalism.
2. Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – complete and total love (Mark 12:31.) And all people are our neighbors.
3. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.
4. Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30.) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)
5. Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)
6. Jesus tells us we must repent of our sins. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17.) Repent means to feel sorry about our sins, and work to stop sinning.
7. Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.
8. Jesus says we must lay up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones that don’t last (Matthew 5:44–46.) The race for wealth doesn’t last, but our rewards in Heaven do.
9. Jesus tells us to be a “light to the world” and that we must let our Good Works “shine” so that others may see God’s righteousness manifest in us (Matt. 5:14-16.)
10. Jesus calls on us to choose the “narrow gate” that leads to God and salvation, rather than the “wide gate” that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14.) The popular way, the easy way of “faith alone” and the way that requires the least work isn’t the way Jesus calls us to approach God.
11. Jesus calls us to “do to others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) This “Golden Rule” has been ignored, demeaned and ridiculed by modern Christendom, but it’s at the core of Jesus’ preaching.
12. Jesus calls on us to follow him (Matt. 4:19.) Jesus sets for us a perfect example of how to live our lives (John 13:15.) We have the ability to serve God through Jesus’ moral commands (Matt. 5:48) strengthened always through God’s spirit and Jesus’ holy example.
Let us take up the challenge Jesus puts before us!
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Jesus' idea of salvation centers in his idea of God. His most characteristic description of God is as the bountiful Giver. With a liberal hand God pours out His blessings upon all people.
His love is large and generous. He is ready and eager to bestow His gifts. This impulse to give and to bless springs from God's boundless, universal love.
Jesus' favorite expression for this aspect of God's character is the term “Father.” As the Father, He loves and blesses all people - even His disobedient and sinful children. He yearns for the lost son and waits and watches for his return; He continues to love those who are indifferent, or even hostile, to His will, and sends His Son to seek and to save them.
Salvation means a life corresponding to this character of God. Jesus expressed it by the phrase "becoming sons of the Father" (Matt. 5:45.) Sonship in the Jewish mode of thought denotes moral kinship and likeness.
Jesus presented a view of God designed to move the heart to penitence for sin and to gratitude and obedience. He set the highest value on small deeds, if done from love or compassion.
Jesus illustrates in detail the elements which constitute this true righteousness or salvation. They are: humility, meekness, aspiration after goodness, mercifulness, purity, and peacemaking. These qualities constitute that real righteousness which is the passport into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3-9, 20.)
The man who fulfilled Jesus' law of neighbor love was he, social outcast though he was, who ministered to the poor sufferer at the roadside (Luke 10:36, 37.)
The first and great commandment, which summarizes the whole import of the law and the prophets, is the law of love. In comparison with the requirements of this law, all sacrifices and other religious ceremonies are of little consequence.
Love is the law because it is the principle of God's own moral perfection. God’s requirements are grounded in His nature.
The life of love is the Godlike life, the life of sonship; it makes us members of the Kingdom of Heaven; it IS salvation.
This teaching of Jesus does not minimize the requirements of holiness. If the statement of it appears to do so, this is due to the fact that Jesus does not separate righteousness from love, as later thought has done. To him these are never contrasting and rival terms.
What, then, must a person do in order to be saved? They must repent of sins and forsake them. The first word in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom was, "Repent" (Mk. 1:15). But not only must we repent; we must turn (Mt. 18:3) — turn away from the old life, and in humility and self-surrender take up the life of obedience to God. Our Master’s descriptions of the conditions of salvation are not abstract and formal, but concrete and realistic.
It lay within the power of the erring son to forsake his evil life and escape his sinfulness by returning to his Father with a penitent and obedient heart.
When one recalls the complicated theological discussions of Salvation, the teaching of Jesus on the subject does seem, in comparison, very simple.
That’s because popular theological terminology for the subject is derived more from the language of others than from Jesus himself. Jesus did not analyze the process of attaining salvation, nor define its various steps and stages. He simply pictured the Father's house as standing open, and the Father's heart as ready and waiting to receive the wandering, lost son.
Jesus calls sinners to repent. He demands moral purity, humility, charitableness, and kindred virtues, and does not hesitate to require "good works" in one who wishes to glorify the Father in Heaven (Matt. 5:16.) In one place he declares that only one who does the will of God can enter His Kingdom, and elsewhere he prescribes the law of service as the law of that Kingdom.
When we further observe that he conceives his own mission as a mission to serve humanity, we realize one of his saving works was to induce us, by example and influence, to live the Godlike life of self-giving, in which our true greatness and glory are found.
Jesus saw his teaching and example as saving in their effect upon us. He sought by these to strengthen in us the desires and efforts for a better life - the life of sonship to God.
The life of Jesus, with its various expressions of itself in word and act, was a powerful saving agency in his time, and still remains so. The teaching of Jesus gives us no warrant to speak flippantly, as is commonly done, of his "mere" example.
Theology rarely takes time to mention the saving power of the personal influence of Jesus.
But let us not minimize by silence or by qualifying words what Jesus placed in the very forefront of his message to humanity: the declaration that the door of God's Kingdom stood open before them that they might enter then and there if they would, and that he had come to show them the way.
Jesus says: I am the world's light; by me you can know the Father, God's Kingdom is in your midst - by such words as these Jesus announced a present salvation, available at this moment, and himself as the guide to its realization.
Adapted from “The Christian Doctrine of Salvation” (1917) by George Barker Stevens
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Would you willingly turn down the chance to be part of something wonderful? Would you give up the opportunity to meet and dine with a famous celebrity, an artist, or some other major world figure? How would that person feel if you declined such an invitation? How would YOU feel if you invited someone to dine and they make a lame excuse for not showing up?
That's the set-up to Jesus' “Parable of the Great Banquet.” Jesus here tells the story (recorded in Luke 14:15-24) of a man who gave “a great banquet, and invited many.” When the banquet was ready, he sent servants out to collect the invited guests. But the guests all gave rather lame excuses why they couldn't come:
One said: “I've bought a field, and I must go out and see it.” Another said he had just bought oxen, “and I must go look at them.” Yet another said he had just married a wife. Lame excuses, for sure.
So the servant came back and told his master what had happened. Then, as the Book of Luke tells it:
“The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And [later] the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, so my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
Are we making excuses for not attending a banquet, too?
When Jesus calls us to join with him in building a Kingdom of Heaven, and challenges us to become perfect and merciful, as God Himself is perfect and merciful, are we accepting that message? Or are we making excuses for why we cannot do such a thing?
Some religious teachers have said that the invited guests who rejected the man giving the banquet (be it God Himself, with Jesus, God's chosen one, acting as his servant here) were the Jewish people of the time. And while many of the Jews reject Jesus – as Jesus himself testified – all did not. So it's an imperfect interpretation.
Of course, the Jewish religious leaders of that era did reject Jesus and his message, and that mirrors what Jesus said repeatedly, especially during his ministry's final weeks, as he came to know they would put him to death.
But the Gospel stories (and the early part of the Book of Acts) portray the people in Judea rushing to Jesus, swarming to hear his teachings, and eagerly clinging to his words.
Are the religious elites today – those who build little kingdoms to honor themselves, rather than God's Kingdom – rejecting the banquet of Jesus' teachings? It could be, and that may be a more honest interpretation of this Parable than hanging it on “the Jews” - then or now.
In Jesus' parable, OTHERS are being sought in place of “those invited.” The religious elites of his day – the same ones who walked coldly by as the man lay injured on the side of the road – couldn't be bothered with Jesus' teachings. It took an outsider, a Good Samaritan, to stop and help the injured man.
Jesus also spoke to a woman drawing water from a well in Samaria, another despised outsider. And Jesus sat and ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other renegades who needed to hear his teachings. This angered the religious elites who didn't think those people were worthy.
At its core, however, the Parable's central message is that of helping the poor, the outsider, the destitute, instead of the rich and the well connected. That, also is a theme that runs clearly throughout the ministry of Jesus, and his teachings proclaimed it loudly.
Indeed, the Parable is preceded by a story of a wedding feast, in which he warns against taking the best seats, noting that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:15)
And this Banquet Parable is followed by another in which the Costs of Discipleship must be counted, and those who make excuses, or are unwilling to sacrifice “all” for the Kingdom aren't worthy of it. (Luke 14:25-33)
Jesus says the man throwing the banquet in the Parable seeks to totally fill his house. If this “man” is a stand-in for Jesus himself, acting for God, our Creator, it becomes a powerful message that God wishes all of us to crowd into the Kingdom Jesus says must be first built here on earth, “as it is in Heaven” regardless of whomever else is refusing to attend.
Let us start crowding in to this banquet, and invite all others to partake of it!
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Only those who gain knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and follow him in humility can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.
Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, to live, to relate to others,and even to die.
It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Seeing and learning from this perfect example of Godly action without acting upon what we've seen and learned would be pointless, and useless, leading only to a dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to ourselves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.
Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)
Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)
From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone.
God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)
The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.
To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)
When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!
Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Does our faith serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and security, or are we willing to sacrifice ALL for the sake of our Master and our Master's God?
What if everyone put others first in all things? What if all of us, all the time, thought of others' needs and put ourselves in second place?
If all this doesn't sound familiar to you, it should, because this thinking lies at the core of the teaching of Jesus.
If Jesus is the one whom God chose to be our teacher of Righteousness and our perfect example to follow, what he says actually matters.
Jesus taught that we must seek not to be first, or the Greatest among others, but instead to be the last, putting others first.
Jesus told a parable saying that we must not seek to give the most important and most visible public seats to alleged VIPs, but instead, we ought to let others, including the poor and "unimportant" sit in the best places. God doesn't make distinctions among people, and neither should we.
When some of his disciples asked to be given honors, he said that the first would be last and the last would be made first.
Jesus made it clear, speaking to the disciples, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave." Jesus says he made his life a ransom for many, giving all to others. We, he said, must do the same.
Jesus says we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and treat others as we wish to be treated.
We ought to head Jesus' teachings, then, and seek to treat everyone equally, putting others first, and our desires second.
It's clear that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.
God wishes us to be holy, just as God is holy, merciful, just as God is merciful, and righteous, just as God is righteous.
Jesus says he did all that God commanded him to do, and calls us to always seek to do the same.
He didn't think it demeaning to serve the disciples by washing their feet. Serving each other is the pattern our exemplar, Jesus, gave us to follow. It's not too hard for us, it's not just a model to admire, and he gave us this example not to make us feel insignificant and unworthy, but to prove the greatness to which we all may aspire.
By taking up the challenge of seeking to emulate Jesus in all things, we compliment God, Who gave us this challenging Good News, and Who made us capable of accepting it and doing as He wishes us to do.
God wishes us to put others first, and his chosen son, Jesus, is the proof that we can seek to do it. Let's get busy, then, serving and loving our neighbors!