Sunday, April 24, 2022

The True Purpose of Our Faith #JesusFollowers

There are certain speculative questions in Theology, upon which some decide very authoritatively, but of which I am accustomed to think but little, and to say nothing. There are, however, certain elementary principles of our faith, which have all the force of axioms. 

One of these principles is the absolute unity of the Great Supreme God. Another is, that He is our Father, and that He is perfect rectitude and perfect love. Another is, that I was made, and that all my fellow-beings wore made, for the knowledge, love, and enjoyment of God. 

Another is, that the supreme good of every human being is virtue, or a conformity to the will, and an assimilation to the character, of God. Another is, that I need, and that all need, light and aids in the discharge of duties. And another is. that my greatest benefactor is the benefactor of my soul, of my immortal nature. 

These at once are teachings of Christianity and principles by which it is to be interpreted. Under the influence of these principles, the Gospels, as often as I open them, becomes to me “glad tidings of great joy.”

I cannot think of Jesus but with the sentiment, 'Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.' 

My best evidence of the truth of our religion is in the fact that while it reveals to me, in myself, the capacities of a nature which was formed for the infinite, the immense and the everlasting, it, and it alone, goes to the height and the depth of the soul — it, and it alone, supplies the objects in which these wants ever found, or can find, satisfaction. 

My great inquiries are not, therefore, for the metaphysical nature of Christ or for any of the secret things of God. 

I would be one in spirit with Jesus, as He was one with the Father. This, I am sure, is the purpose of Christianity here, and will be the perfection of Heaven hereafter. 

With the will of God, as illustrated by the spirit of Jesus for my law, with redemption or deliverance from all sin, and progress in all virtue and holiness, as my end, I have no fear of any dangerous error in my faith. 

Our danger lies, not in our liability to erroneous conceptions of Christian doctrine, but in our defective sensibility to Christian obligations, and in our poor and low standard of Christian duty. 

Any lower aim than this is unworthy of us as his disciples; nor can I conceive that any faith, which does not minister to our advancement in the spirit and life of Jesus, can do anything to advance our qualification for the immortal blessedness of the Christian's Heaven.

Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Joseph Tuckerman, given Nov. 2, 1834

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Welcoming the Wrong Messiah - Both Then and Now #JesusFollowers

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that last week of his life, his disciples were joined by the many who had heard and seen him preach in Galilee and those who heard about his fame far beyond that region. And they rushed to welcome him.

Surely they had heard of his teachings and his works, and believed him to be the Messiah. And so he was. Today, we understand his Messiahship clearly when he said he was sent by God, Whom he called The Father, to rescue us from our sins and call us to repent and turn back to God. 

He proclaimed God’s Kingdom, and said it was both within us and among the people in the form of himself. And he called disciples to follow him in creating this Kingdom and spreading it throughout first Judea and then the earth.

But that wasn’t what many had in mind that day as they welcomed him and proclaimed him “King.” They sought a military leader, someone who would lead a military revolt and overthrow the Romans, re-establishing a literal kingdom of Israel, and bringing justice by the sword, not by words of peace.

And within days, almost all of them would be going home disappointed – saddened that THIS Messiah would not be leading a military revolt. They had somehow drastically misread the clear words of Jesus, and their failure to listen would have grave consequences for them and their nation.

Jesus was always very clear about his mission. He was clear that this Kingdom was to be brought into this earthly reality by our deeds and actions by following God’s Moral Commandments, and that we would all be judged by those deeds to be deemed worthy to enter in to Eternal Life.

His kingdom was “not of this world” and that which belonged to Caesar should be given to Caesar. Every opportunity he was given to sow sedition against Rome, he instead spoke of peace and individual repentance from individual sinful behavior. That’s not the preaching of a revolutionary, conquering Messiah.

Perhaps that’s why the Gospels portray even the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate – who was otherwise known by historians as a brutal, ruthless ruler – as finding no sedition in him at all. Jesus is said to have answered Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, so I would not be delivered over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not from the world." This was a huge disappointment to those who sought a military revolt.

His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, rather than on the massive white horse of a general, was also subtle hint about his true mission.

The key to understanding Jesus’ true mission (one of inaugurating a Heavenly Kingdom, not a military revolt) is that the religious leaders of the day hated him. They saw his teachings as a threat, and made numerous accusations against him, all of them false. They accused him of trying to end God’s Law (but he said he was upholding every line of it) and of trying to destroy the Sabbath observance (but he said he was upholding the true spirit of the Sabbath) and even trying to make himself equal with God (something he denied over and over again.)

And the day after his triumphal entry, he did something else that was unexpected: he entered the Temple, and there he loudly condemned those who were using it as a money-making venture, rather than a place of pure worship.

Today, Christendom – those who supposedly revere him and his teachings – continue to misunderstand him. They, like his contemporaries, believe him to be a conquering king who’s going to come back and smite all of his enemies – secular “Romans” – in a bloodbath.

Many arrogantly call themselves “children of the King” and believe that entitles them to riches in this earth, while Jesus taught we should never trust in riches, but instead store up riches in heaven by doing Good Works in this life (which today’s Christendom also condemns.)

Most are quick to worship and admire him, and make his death and return to God into a magical charm that absolves them of the hard work of living in Righteousness as Jesus commanded us to do, rather than obeying his words and honoring his teachings. 

And many make God’s house into a money-making venture, rather than a pure house of worship.

So as we greet Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, let’s renounce those misunderstandings and look back to Jesus and his actual teachings. Let’s stop looking for a conquering General who will make our lives easier by simply killing our enemies and giving us all of Rome’s riches so we can live easily and in physical comfort in this life.

Let’s instead remember that we are greeting God’s chosen Prophet – the one who brings us a Good and Beneficial Message (“Gospel”) that tells us if we turn from our sins, we may live with God eternally, and live the Righteous life God wants us to live here on earth. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

What More Are We Doing Than Others? #JesusFollowers

"What more are you doing than others?" Matt. 5:47

The discourse of our Master of which these words are a part was addressed to his first followers, and especially those who were afterwards Apostles, and preachers of the gospel.

In it, he explains what was their proper character, their station, and their duty; setting them in as striking a light as possible. "You," he says, "are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set upon a hill."

They were to be the public instructors of mankind, ambassadors, as it were, from God, sent by him for the great purpose of persuading a sinful world to abandon their vices, and sinful customs, and to devote themselves to a life of virtue, with a view towards a happy immortality.

It was expected that they should be examples to others, that their lives might illustrate their doctrine. As they were supposed to know more than others, so it would be reasonably expected that they should do more than others.

And in what ways our Master’s disciples should seek to outdo others, he tells them; and the instances he mentions are indeed most worthy of our ambition. Namely, to strive to carry the generous virtues of benevolence, forgiveness of injuries, and the desire to live useful lives, to the greatest height.

He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And as an incentive to a virtue so seemingly above humanity, he annexes this noble motive, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Pursuing the same argument, he adds, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To act in this manner with such true greatness of mind, and disinterested benevolence, is to act the part that the almighty and infinitely benevolent maker of all things continually acts, it is to be as the sons of God, doing the work of our heavenly Father. 

Could a nobler principle or a nobler cause of action be proposed to mankind or could they be enforced by a more powerful and worthy motive.

To be governed by these principles, and to act in this manner is to approach as near to the sentiments and conduct of Divinity, as is permitted to mortals.

The religion of Jesus lays us under obligation to live as he did, to resemble him in the temper our minds, and the course of our conduct, to obey his commands, and to copy his example, is to confess him before men, and such only as confess him in this manner, will he confess, and acknowledge to be his, before his heavenly Father.

Are we trained up in the sound belief that nothing but a good heart and an exemplary life are pleasing to Almighty God, and will recommend us to his favor and acceptance? Is this our faith? 

So pure and spiritual a profession lays us under obligations to live lives in the highest degree pure and spiritual, worthy of a pure and undefiled religion.

The end [goal] of all knowledge is practice, and it would ill become us to show the zeal that we do by forming ourselves into separate societies, and being at the expense of supporting them, by which we hold out to the world our idea of their importance, if we thought they were merely matters of speculation, and had no connection with moral duty.

Let our lives be as pure, as our sentiments, equally worthy of God and of Christ Jesus, and we shall be indeed the light. of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city that is set upon a hill.

Let us not be ashamed of our good confession. I trust we are bearing a public testimony in favor of the purity of. the worship of the one true God, amidst a corrupt and idolatrous generation.

Let all those persons who are possessed of whatever themselves and the world consider as advantages, ask themselves what they do more than others, who are lacking them.

Better for us to be poor, than to be rich and not generous; to be fools, than to be knaves; and to have been taught nothing at all, than to make a bad use of superior knowledge . It would have been better for us never to have heard of Christ than to be Christians in name only, and not in deed and in truth.

(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Joseph Priestley, “On the Necessbity of Self-Examination,” 1805)

Sunday, April 3, 2022

For What Cause Do We Advocate? #JesusFollowers

Now it has been nearly two thousand years since Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the Jewish nation, appeared in the world under the sanction of Divine Authority. 

The history of his life is made up of a uniform and unbroken series of virtuous exertions, “he went about doing good to the souls and bodies of men,” and it attracted the admiration of the world by the dignity of his temper and the charities of his heart. 

Piety to God and benevolence to man were the first principles of his conduct; these, if we may so speak, were the maxims upon which he set out, from which he never swerved, and which he exhibited in a most wonderful and extraordinary manner. 

He instructed his disciples in the spirit and design of his religion, and he fell a victim to the malice of the Judeans, and thus sealed his testimony by the shedding of his blood.

This was the faith of Jesus Christ: When asked by a scribe which was the first commandment, he singled out from the whole body of the Law the belief in one God; and what is more worthy of our attention, is this, that though he frequently and unreservedly censured the ceremonial corruptions of the Judeans’ religion, and condemned their traditions as derogatory from the designs of the Mosaic economy, yet on this one subject he bore testimony to their consistency and fidelity, and declared, that in this point of view, "he came not to destroy the law but to fulfil." 

In the course of his instructions he uniformly alluded to and taught the same doctrine, evidently to the exclusion of his own person, and that of the Holy Ghost: he denied the accusations of the Judeans when they represented him as assuming the title of God; he constantly referred his authority, his power, his plan of man's salvation, to God the Father; he prayed to Him, taught others to pray to Him, and Him alone; and ascended to heaven with an attestation of this divine truth on his lips, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

After his death, we find his disciples, who previous to this period, had betrayed no uncommon portion of human frailty, acting the part of the most determined and courageous men, opposing “through evil and good report,” the corruptions of Judaism; travelling into foreign countries with the glad tidings of salvation, and, in imitation of their Master, giving up their lives rather than sacrifice their integrity. 

For what is the cause we, today, are called to advocate? It is the cause of his religion; of simple, pure, and undefiled religion. The religion whose truths are founded on the existence of a Supreme Being, whose principles are corroborated by reason and revelation, and whose influences sympathize with the best affections and the purest feelings of the human soul — “that there is one God, and besides him no other"? - the Father, the Redeemer, the Judge of his creatures. 

These are the principles we profess, the cause we advocate; and with such professions, however inadequate to the end in view our exertions may appear, “He who does what seems him best in the kingdoms of men,” will approve our work and bless our labors. 

Ages rolled on and corruptions increased, centuries passed away, and the religion of Jesus spread, but it spread alas! in a spurious form, in a heathen clothes — it retained the name, but the spirit of its author had fled - it

reared its head' on thrones and in kingly palaces, but the poor sincere disciple who had formerly graced it by his virtues, was now transformed into the superstitious monk or the ignorant slave.

It is appropriate to bring the discussion to today, for one object of our faith is to restore to the religion of Jesus the same prominence in modern preaching that his teachings had in the preaching of the apostles. An erroneous theology has diminished the obvious and peculiar importance of his teachings.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Charles Valentine, 1822)