Matthew 11:28-30

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Matthew 11

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I do believe that the last words of Matthew 11 are some of my favorite in all of scripture. My soul positively yearns for the peace they offer. Jesus calls upon those “who labor and are heavy laden”—the exhausted, the burned out, those crushed by religious charlatans and spiritual legalism—to remove the yokes that destroy and take from Him the sweet yoke of relationship and service.

David Platt had done a good job of unpacking this “yoke” imagery.

The imagery in this passage is of a “yoke” (v. 29), a heavy wooden bar that fits over the neck of an ox so that it can pull a cart or a plow. The yoke could be put on one animal or it could be shared between two animals. In a shared yoke, one of the oxen would often be much stronger than the other. The stronger ox was more schooled in the commands of the master, and so it would guide the other according to the master’s commands. By coming into the yoke with the stronger ox, the weaker ox could learn to obey the master’s voice.[1]

I love this image of the dual yoke that binds the weaker animal to the stronger so that the stronger can show the weaker how to obey the voice of the master. This is what it is to give one’s heart to Jesus! What a beautiful image!

In our text, Jesus calls us from a yoke and to a yoke. He is clearly not calling us from effort to laziness. Rather, He is calling us from a type of labor that ultimately destroys to a type of labor that ultimately heals and brings life.

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Revelation 1

Revelation

Revelation 1

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

My first foray into politics was as a boy when I wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan informing him that a girl at my school named Jennifer had told me that he was possibly the antichrist since his full name was Ronald Wilson Reagan and each of those three names has six letters: 666. I wanted to make President Reagan aware of this but also inform him that I, for one, certainly did not believe Jennifer’s allegation. One of the reasons I did not believe it was because I thought the antichrist was likely Mikhail Gorbachev since he had a big birthmark on his forehead. I do not claim that I possessed the detailed understanding of Robert Faid, of course, who wrote of the birthmark:

“When I look at the top of Gorbachev’s head, I see a red dragon and over the right eye, there’s a tail that hangs, representing stars,” says Faid. He explains that St. John, in Revelations: 12:3-4, portrays Satan in similar terms, as a “great red dragon . . . and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. . . “

Thus, says Faid, “If Gorbachev is truly the Antichrist, Satan branded him in his mother’s womb.”[1]

All I knew was this: that birthmark was ominous and it was on his head and Gorbachev was Russian and the movie Red Dawn, among others, let me know that they were the bad guys. So it added up. I was also fairly sure that Gog and Magog from the book of Revelation were Russia and China and that the locusts of Revelation represented Apache helicopters and that the European Common Market was an ominous sign of an encroaching one world government and that the pope had to be the “Whore of Babylon” etc. etc. etc.

Such was my youthful immersion into the book of Revelation…though, not really, because, when I think back on it, I was more interested in these theories about Revelation’s application to my own mid-1980’s reality than to the book itself. Later on I began to grow a bit suspicious about the certainty that Christians had in their own interpretations of the symbolism of Revelation, including my own certainty. By the time, in college, a friend sent me an entire sermon on audiotape meticulously detailing how Prince Charles was the antichrist, I was inclined to agree with the frustrated member of that congregation who I could hear yell out from the audience on the tape: “How do you know this is true?!”

How indeed?

And this is why I approach this journey with some sense of hesitation. There is a part of me that wonders if folks in churches love what we think Revelation might say and what we want it to say more than what it actually says. Put another way, if we are not careful, this amazing book with its astonishing and, at times, terrifying images, can tempt us to a kind of eschatological voyeurism where we watch the unfolding events of calamity as we conceive of them with perverse glee.

But surely the book of Revelation was not given to titillate our imaginations. In fact, I am going to argue that it certainly was not. There is something more important than Christians being prodded by the colorful images of the apocalyptic and that something would be Christians being inspired by the greatness of Jesus Christ and His victory and promised return. So I would like to begin our journey by laying down a few promises that I want to make.

Promises for Our Journey through Revelation

  1. I will preach what Revelation says, not what any system of prophecy
  2. I will not forget the original audience who received this book.
  3. I will not engage in forced efforts of identifying prophesied events, people, or entities today, though I will point out where our culture seems to be evidencing what was prophesied.
  4. I will not overly-stress the differences between prophetic systems, though I will mention them for context.
  5. I will refuse to miss the forest for the trees.

These promises are as much for me as for you. I believe they will keep me honest and keep us all focused. This book is too important to be squandered by ear-tickling flights of fancy. Everything in this book is intended to exalt the Lord Jesus and encourage and strengthen His church. Toward that end, I would like to propose a thesis statement for the book of Revelation and also for our journey through it. Here it is:

Revelation reveals the victory of Jesus Christ and how that victory, culminating in Christ’s return, can embolden the faith and endurance of the church today in the fallen world order.

I believe our journey through Revelation will bear out the truthfulness of this statement. In fact, I want to show that the very first chapter of the book does so. We will break this thesis statement down into its parts as we walk through chapter 1.

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Matthew 11:25-27

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Matthew 11

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Let me ask us a few questions: How do we know that what we claim to know about God is true? How do we know anything at all about God? Can we truly say with confidence that we know this or that about God?

In asking these questions I am asking questions about revelation. Before Revelation was the last book of the Bible it was a theological truth. In fact, revelation as a theological truth makes Revelation as a book of the Bible possible, for revelation refers to God’s self-disclosure, His revealing of Himself.

In Matthew 11:25-27 Jesus speaks of divine revelation. This is important because Jesus has said many things leading up to these verses, and, indeed, He has said much more than we have recorded in scripture. Jesus’ preaching and pronouncements raises a reasonable question: How can Jesus know these things about the Father and how can we believe Jesus? In other words, what is the basis for the revelation that the Son claimed to receive from the Father and that we claim to receive from the Son? It is to these questions that Jesus now turns. In these verses we have a primer on divine revelation from the Son of the living God.

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Vision Reset

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Last Sunday was my ten-year anniversary as the pastor at Central Baptist Church. It has been an amazing ten years and Roni, Hannah, and I love Central so very much. I had been thinking for some months about what I wanted to use the occasion to say and I decided to do a kind of vision reset. I expressed in the sermon what I believe the way forward for our church is in the midst of these difficult days and beyond. We remain committed to our 4 Canons (to be “an authentic family around the whole gospel for the glory of God and the reaching of the nations”) but these three paths forward constitute emphases arising from our canons that I believe we need to pay special attention to at this time and, again, beyond. The first sermon is an introduction that lays out the three emphases. The next three sermons will flesh each of these emphases out a bit more fully. I will be updating this post each week for the next three weeks to include the whole series here. Below is the first sermon.

Vision Reset, Sermon #1, Introduction [video]

Vision Reset, Sermon #2, A House of Prayer [video]

Vision Reset, Sermon #3, Evangelism [video]

Vision Reset, Sermon #4, Discipleship [video]

Matthew 11:20-24

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Matthew 11

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Brian Jones has written a book with the interesting title Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) in which he reveals the following:

According to a recent survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 59 percent of Americans believe in hell. That’s six out of ten people, a slight majority in any room. But another poll narrowed the question even more and discovered that “fewer than half of all Americans (43 percent) thought people go to heaven or hell depending on their actions on earth.” Furthermore, in twenty-five years of being a pastor, I would add that maybe three out of every ten Christians I’ve met truly believe people who die without becoming Christians go to hell.[1]

The implication seems to be clear enough: Americans struggle with the idea of judgment, particularly a final judgment before a holy God. This is not surprising to any even casual observer of modern American life. What is interesting, though, is how very clear Jesus was about the reality and certainty of divine judgment. Matthew 11:20-24 is one of the more startling examples of this clarity.

This is an amazing text in which Jesus compares and contrasts three cities in which He performed miracles with three earlier cities that had received the fiery judgment of God. In an amazing twist, Jesus will tell his undoubtedly offended audience that it will be more intolerable for the cities that received and then rejected Him than it will be for these earlier cities. As we progress through our passage we will see why this is. Our passage is important for establishing a number of important truths about judgment and salvation.

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Matthew 11:1-19

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Matthew 11

1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. 16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

One poet, a lady named Kelly whose last name I cannot find (she runs the “This Contemplative Life” blog), has written a beautiful poem that I think captures the person and life of John the Baptist so very well.

He didn’t see it, but felt it

through the darkness

of his mother’s womb,

the flame that baptized

drawn close enough

to singe his foot,

which caused him to leap.

The wild fire caught

and grew, ruining him

for a life of conformity.

So he moved to the wilderness

somewhere near the river’s edge

where others were drawn

by the smoldering flame.

He doused them each with water,

warning them one-by-one

of the fire to come.

Later, when he leapt

from this world to the next,

leaving his head behind,

he was greeted by the fellowship

of the flame – Isaiah

with his charred black lips,

Miriam who danced

like a flickering wick,

and the others, too many now to name

together they glowed like

so many embers,

lighting the long, dark night.[1]

I love this poem and particularly the way it uses the image of fire to describe John. If ever there was an incendiary figure it was John! He prepared the people for and preached the coming of Christ with shocking boldness and even confrontation. Yet he was a person of humility, drawing back initially from the suggestion that he baptize Christ instead of the other way around and proclaim his own unworthiness before Christ. But there is even more to John and we see it in Matthew 11. Here, John, imprisoned and awaiting the end of his life, sends his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus is really…well…Jesus, the promised Messiah. In this question, and in Jesus’ response, the picture of John the Baptist is rounded out in a full and inspiring way. Truly our brother John provides us with an amazing picture of the life of a Christ-follower. Let us watch and listen closely to what the scriptures reveal.

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Genesis and Matthew Sermon Series Updated in Sermon Archives

Just wanted to post a brief notice that the Genesis sermon series and the Wednesday night Matthew sermon series have now been added to the sermon archives of the Walking Together Ministries site. I had been posting sermon audio and links to the manuscripts on the sermon page of www.cbcnlr.org as well as weekly links in the sidebar of the homepage here, but they are now posted in the archives here as well. All sermons from here on out will be posted at www.cbcnlr.org as well as here each week, like we used to do. Thanks so much!

Genesis 49:29-50

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Genesis 49

29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 50

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

One of the many things I love about Roni Richardson is her absolute commitment to disliking the ending of any story! Through the many years we have been together, without fail, when a movie ends or a television series ends or a book ends she will inevitably say, “That’s it?!” I have come to expect it and to thoroughly enjoy it! And no matter how much I try to say, “Well, what else could they do? It had to end!,” she will reply, “That’s it?!

I love that there is something about an ending she does not like. I like to think it is a reflection of the Christian conviction that the endings the world offers us are not real endings, that in Jesus the story does not end but goes on and on.

I was thinking about her question while working on the end of Genesis. I could hear her saying, “Is that it?!” and I believe I heard the Lord say, “No. It is not!” For the ending of Genesis leaves us wanting to know the rest of God’s story in and among the human race and the rest of scripture tells us that story. I actually love how Genesis ends, though, because it brings together a number of important theological themes that frame not only Genesis but also the rest of scripture. In fact, I believe the end of Genesis answers three important questions that our hearts are constantly asking and, in doing so, it leaves our hearts wanting to know more and more of God’s great plan of redemption for the world.

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