DEAD AND ALIVE

How wide, how deep, how high, how far does the love of God reach for His creation? Many have tried to plumb the depths of His love and have come up with answers that seem to keep many people out of God’s reach. How can a finite being such as a human possibly know the full expanse of the infinite? Maybe God is not the ogre many have portrayed Him to be.

GOD

IS

LOVE

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Today’s readings from the Psalms (Ps. 32:1-2), the epistles (2 Cor. 5:16-21) and the gospels (Lk. 15:11-32) all blend together to form a beautiful tapestry.

The psalm said that the one whose sin is forgiven is blessed. The scripture lesson said the one whose sin is forgiven is a new creature. The gospel reading said we didn’t even get a chance to ask for forgiveness.

Because there is so much in each of these readings, all I can do at this time is to give you a brief overview of the expansive love and mercy of God for us.

His love and mercy shown in these passages is so grand, so expansive, so far-reaching that I could not come up with a decent title for this message.

So, it is simply DEAD AND ALIVE; but it is all about God’s love.

I have spent time on this concept in weeks past, but it is something that continues to show up in the passages suggested in the Lectionary.

Maybe that’s because that is what the Bible is all about—God’s love for His creation.

Let’s begin with the first reading from Psalm 32.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psa 32:1-2

Notice the three words used for sin in this passage—transgression, sin and iniquity.

While we usually just associate them as synonyms for sin, they each have a slightly different meaning.

SIN = missing the mark  

INIQUITY = bending the line  

TRANSGRESSION = stepping over the line

What we see here is that in any way you want to define sin, it is covered in this passage.

AND, it is covered by the Lord in the grace and mercy of His forgiveness.

David is saying here that the one for whom this is true is blessed and happy.

I always preached this verse as something you must do to gain this blessing; but I don’t see it that way any longer.

David later wrote

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Psa 130:3

That is a rhetorical question which has an obvious answer—NO ONE COULD STAND.

NO ONE COULD STAND.

Let’s consider the gospel reading

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
Luk 15:20-22

You know the basic story of how the boy took his inheritance before he was supposed to and then squandered it all on easy and fast living.

When he realized what he had done and what it was costing him, he began to feel sorry for himself.

He decided to try his luck back home to see if maybe he could do better.

He had a speech all planned out that he thought sure would cause his dad to feel sorry for him.

But, before he could get the first words out of his mouth, the father was already hugging and kissing him. He had seen the boy from a long way off.

That can only mean one thing—the father was continually expecting the boy’s return.

Then, when the kid tried to offer his speech, the father cut him off and said, “Let’s have a party to celebrate his coming home!”

QUESTION—

Where’s the reproof?

Where is the
‘I told you so?’

Where is the
“I hope you learned your lesson?”

Where is the
“Well, we will just have to wait and see how sorry you really are.”?

It is not there, is it?

It is not there because this is not the parable of the prodigal son. It is the parable of the loving father. It is more about the goodness of God than it is about the wickedness of man.

The parable of the Loving Father

The father was not looking for anything other than the return of the one who had wandered off.

That was enough repentance for him.

He wasn’t looking for any apologies. He didn’t need any expression of sorrow. He wasn’t looking for any tears.

He was only looking for his son.

The only thing God is looking for from anyone is for them to awaken to whose they are and return to where they belong.

That is the only repentance that is required of anyone.

He will take care of everything else that is needed after we get home.

We can see that plainly as we consider the passage from the scripture lesson.

in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2Co 5:19

God is not counting our trespasses against us. He is not counting anyone’s trespasses against them.

That is not what we have believed for decades, is it? We have been taught to believe that we needed to be sorry for our sins in order for God to accept us.

The word ‘reconciling’ is the word we use for balancing the books. We need to make sure that all our debits and credits are applied for our balance to be correct.

In this case, the books are balanced by the blood of Jesus. There is no sin too great or too many for His blood to cover.

If there is or was one for whom His blood was not efficient, then it was ineffective for all.

But that is not what we learn from the scriptures.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:22

This is a verse which is often preached in evangelistic meetings where the goal is to get people saved, to have them accept Jesus.

The preacher hammers home the idea that because of Adam’s sin, we all sinned. And because we all sinned we will all die a spiritual death.

The only remedy for that spiritual death is to accept Jesus. And if you don’t, then you will die a spiritual death, which means you will go to hell.

Therefore, you need to make sure that you get yourself into Christ.

Sounds perfectly logical, doesn’t it?

If we do not pay attention to what Paul is saying here, we will go along with that line of thinking.

So, let’s look a little more closely.

How many die in Adam? ALL.

How many are in Adam? ALL.

How did they get there? By being born. It was not a choice made by their free will.

But, when it comes to the “all in Christ” of the verse, we change it to making a choice.

If you don’t make the right choice, then you can’t be in Christ.

Can you see the lack of logic in such a conclusion?

If we only had this verse, and the teachings about how you must accept Jesus—which, by the way, is not found anywhere in scripture—then it would seem to be a correct understanding.

However, we are not left with only this one verse which may appear somewhat ambiguous if left by itself.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
Rom 5:18

This is about as plain as it gets.

One person, Adam, committed one sin, and that one sin led to condemnation for the entire human race.

One person, Jesus, did His one act of righteousness, which led to justification and life for the entire human race.

That word ‘justification’ is the idea of justice being completed. The demands of justice have been met in Christ.

Let’s continue. It gets better.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Rom. 5:19

This is another verse like the one in Corinthians we just looked at, where people exercise their mental gymnastics in order to make it say something to fit their paradigm of choosing Jesus.

They focus on the ‘many being made righteous’ to prove that it is not everyone.

QUESTION—why is the second many in the verse different from the first many?

THE MANY were made sinners by one man’s disobedience.

Who are we talking about? Adam.

How many were made sinners because of his disobedience? ALL.

Therefore, is it at all logical to assume that the second “many”—which is the same word—is any different from the first?

Can we with a straight face say that the second many is not as inclusive as the first?

I’m sure we can as far as ability goes, but it defies and denies any sense of rationality.

So.

What have we said?

We have shown that any and all who have their sins covered or forgiven are blessed.

We have seen that the Father is only concerned with our coming to our senses and realizing that we already belong to Him.

We have also seen that He does not keep a record of wrongs. He does not count anyone’s sins, trespasses, or iniquities against them.

This truth about God’s love should completely eliminate any fear someone may have about sinning in such a way as to doom them to hell.

There are far too many Christians who are continually afraid that their sins might outweigh their good deeds and they will wind up in hell.

That is not the Father’s love, because perfect love casts out fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1Jo 4:18

Brothers and sisters, the reality is that you are loved with a perfect love which has no conditions for your acceptance.

You are loved with a love that has no boundaries.

There is nothing you can do to defeat this love.

His love will find you regardless of where you may choose to wander.

Maybe it is time we all just simply learned to bask in the reality of that love.

THREE MEN on a MOUNTAIN

Why did Moses and Elijah disappear when the Father said, “This is my beloved Son?” Why did He not say anything about those two great messengers of God? Is there something more than just the glorification and approval of Jesus in the story of the Transfiguration?

Photo by Leo Caldas on Pexels.com

NOTE: For a video of this message, click here.

NOTE: For a podcast of this message, click here.

The gospel reading from Luke 9:28-36 related the event we normally refer to as the Transfiguration.

Jesus took His three closest disciples with Him up on a mountain to pray. While He was praying, His features were changed.

His face and His clothing began to glow a dazzling bright white.

Then Moses and Elijah appear beside Jesus talking with Him about His soon departure.

Then impetuous Peter got all excited and wanted to set up a building to capture and contain the experience. I usually refer to him as Peter Popoff, because he was always popping off at the mouth with whatever came into his mind.

The scripture says that he was just jabbering away and didn‘t have a clue what he was talking about. That was a common experience for this uneducated fisherman whom Jesus loved.

The Father came down in a cloud and yelled at him, the same way Jesus yelled at him just a little earlier for saying He couldn’t die. (We use the term “yelled” whenever someone corrects us—”he yelled at me!”)

While this may look like just another event in the life of Jesus, there are some very important lessons for the disciples—and us—to be found in this account.

Regardless of the lesson, however, there is no doubt that this experience was indelibly imprinted on the minds and memories of the three who went with Jesus. Peter wrote in his second letter—

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
(2Pe 1:16-18)

Notice, though, that Peter does not refer to Moses or Elijah being there. Peter only mentions the fact that they were with Jesus and they heard the voice.

Why do Elijah and Moses suddenly appear to talk with Jesus?

They were like Jesus in several respects. They both disappeared from earth in an unusual manner. They both had to lead God’s people even though they were rejected by those same people.

In their ministry they both suffered a lot; but now they appear in glory. Their lives didn’t end in bitterness and death, but in God’s glorious presence.

Because of their experiences, Elijah and Moses could actually relate to Jesus and encourage him as he faced the way of the cross. Even Jesus’ closest disciples couldn’t be an encouragement to him at this hardest moment in his life, because of their own human desires, but Elijah and Moses could.

But there is something much more important happening here. Moses and Elijah represent two major concepts—the Law and the Prophets.

Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets.

Therefore, with Moses and Elijah together we have the Law and the Prophets. This phrase was paramount to the understanding of the Jewish religion.

When Jesus summarized the greatest commandments, He concluded with

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Mat 22:40)

The Law and the Prophets was the way the Jews referred to their sacred text we call the Old Testament of the Bible.

For them, their entire life was to be guided by what was contained in their Bible.

Filled with more commands than they could possibly learn and obey, Jesus summed up the entire book with the two commandments of love.

He did this because if your focus, your desire, your aim is to love, then you will not need to know each of the rules for living.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:10)

With love there is no need to understand or know the law. Love does not violate the law.

Let’s look a little more closely at what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration.

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
(Luk 9:35)

It is instructive that the Father did not say anything about listening to Moses or Elijah—the law and the prophets.

After they heard the voice from the cloud, there was no one there but Jesus.

The law and the prophets were gone.

This is more than a simple story of an event that took place.

God is telling the disciples something here that they did not yet understand, and wouldn’t for many years after Jesus left the earth.

They are being told in symbolic language what Jesus had told them plainly.

“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.
(Luk 16:16)

The Law and the Prophets had an important part to play in the preparation of the world to receive Jesus. However, when He came, their job was done.

This is what Jesus meant here, and what Paul meant in his letter to the Galatians.

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
(Gal 3:24-25)

Now that faith has come, we no longer need someone or something to tell us what to do.

If we still needed the law, Jesus would have made that plain when He told us about the Holy Spirit as a teacher.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (Jn 14:26)

Jesus said nothing about the Holy Spirit helping us to understand, know or memorize the Law and the Prophets.

The reason that Moses and Elijah disappeared before the event was complete was to show that their ministry was no longer necessary.

The Law and the Prophets were part of the Old Covenant, and so was Jesus.

Jesus was a part of the Old Covenant

Read that again. Is that something new or shocking to you?

Jesus was also a part of the Old Covenant as He was bringing in the transition from the old to the new.

This is a very important concept that we so often miss.

One of the reasons we fail to understand is because of the way our Bible is divided.

In our Bibles, the old stops with the end of Malachi, and the New begins with the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John contain the stories of Jesus’ life on earth. We see the division as only the Old Testament and New Testament.

The letter to the Hebrews makes it abundantly clear, however, that this is incorrect, and we would do well to understand it.

For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
(Heb 9:16)

We know that the letter to the Hebrews was written to show that Jesus was the mediator of the New Covenant between God and His creation.

Jesus’ death sealed the new covenant as being established.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15)

Summary

Moses and Elijah had their ministry which was in effect until John.

Jesus brought in a time of transition from the old to the new.

That period of transition officially ended with the crucifixion.

However, we know that it took a few years for it to take effect in the mind of the apostles.

The Transfiguration was an important event in the life of Jesus and the three closest to Him.

It was a signatory event in the full plan of God for mankind.

The Transfiguration was not only about Jesus being glorified in that moment, but was also about the transformation from the old way of seeing things into the new way of understanding.

May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that understands the fullness of His love.