Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Be A Letter of Joy to Others: A Sermon - Philippians 2:19-30

Buenos dias y bienvenido a Trinidad. Voy a ensenar totalmente en espanol este manana. Ojala que puedes entenderme. Hay dos posibilidades para error cuando predico en espanol. Uno, es possible que no hablas espanol, no entiendes nada, y puedo decir lo que quiero. Pero tambien, es muy possible, es cierto que en realidad yo no puedo hablar espanol corectamente y nadie pero Dios y yo sabe que estoy haciendo. Entonces probablamente es mejor hablar en ingles.

Did everyone get that? Let me translate for you. I said “Good day and welcome to Trinity. I'm going to teach entirely in Spanish this morning. I hope you can understand me. There are two possibilities for error when I preach in Spanish. One, it is possible that you don't speak Spanish, you don't understand anything, and I can say what I want. But also, it is very possible, it is true that in reality I can't speak Spanish properly and no one but God and I know what I am doing. So, it’s probably better to speak in English.”

That’s what I said, or I tried to say in Spanish, I hope those of you who are actually proficient in that language will forgive me for my amateur Spanish and I look forward to hearing the difference between what I think I said and what I actually said. Translation is an amazing process. It takes that which is incomprehensible and puts it into a form which we can understand. We usually think about it with regards to words, translating from one language to another but the word translation can also be used in a variety of contexts to talk about a change from one form into another. I’m going to go high school teacher on you here for a moment. In Geometry, you can shift and move an object from one place or one orientation to another and we call that mathematical translation. I think I just saw everyone’s eyes immediately glaze over when the graph showed up there. 

Let’s look at another example of translation, changing from one form into another. These groupings of three letters each code for a specific molecule. This is a DNA sequence and these letters, which we can read right here as letters, can be biologically transformed, and the word used for this step in the process is translation, through translation these letters become life. ATG-TCA-AAT– what at first might appear to be incomprehensible though the process of translation becomes the molecules of life, ultimately when whole DNA sequences are translated they are expressed as life, as functioning living beings.

Amazingly, God actually translated himself for us. God, the creator of the universe who has these attributes that are impossible for us to understand, a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable,  translated himself into a different form as he took on human flesh in the most understandable and ultimate revelation and expression of who God really is. As the book of Hebrews says , in the past God spoke through many different ways, His words recorded in Scripture, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” and not just using Jesus mouthpiece, but Jesus is God’s word, the letters of God if you will, translated into life. John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The literal Word of God, by which he spoke creation into being, which was recorded in the law and in the Old Testament became flesh. Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path.” This Word has been translated into life, into the person of Jesus, into a form just like you and I. This is why Jesus stands uniquely in history, fully God and fully human, as the one way of us connecting, returning to the one God.

Today, as we continue our study on the book of Philippians, we find another example of words, in this case Paul’s letter, being translated into life as Paul’s apprentices literally embody, enflesh the words of  Paul’s letter. Paul and the Philippians aren’t just sending words back and forth to each other, but actual individuals who exemplify the written word. Timothy and Epaphroditus personify Paul’s letter of Joy to the Philippians. 
Please open your bibles to our passage for today, Philippians 2:19-30. As we read this text, especially if you’ve been with us for this summer series, look for themes that Paul has already been impressing on us in his letter. If you are just joining us in the series I encourage you to read the letter the Philippians, its only about 3-4 pages long, and of course our past sermons are available online in audio and written format. Philippians 2:19-30:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. 25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.

Timothy and Epaphroditus, by their personal characteristics, their actions, by the way in which they live their lives personify the words that Paul has already written in this letter. First Paul has written about being one in Spirit. In 1:27 Paul wrote to the Philippians “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel…I will know that you stand firm in one spirit [psyche]”, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” He writes again in 2:2 “[M]ake my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit [sym-psyche] and purpose.” Paul has written these words, not just to be intellectually grasped, for us to us to create a systematic list of things that Christians ought to do, but so that they would be translated into reality. In our passage for today, Paul puts forward Timothy as the embodiment of his letter, Timothy is one in Spirit with Paul. In verse 20 he says “I have no one else like him” and this phrase in the original language indicates not only Timothy’s dearness to Paul but also is an expression that means to be of the same spirit, or same soul as Paul.  One translation (NAS) expresses verse 20 like this “For I have no one else of kindred spirit [iso-psyche] who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” The reason Timothy is so unique, like no one else, is because he actually personifies, translates into life this oneness that Paul’s been writing about.

Timothy also personifies Paul’s words by putting the interests of others above himself. In 2:4 Paul wrote “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In Pastor’s Michael’s sermon “Humble Steps to Greatness”  two Sundays ago we learned about how self-submission leads to God exaltation. When we humble ourselves, when we put others first, when we lower ourselves we actually paradoxically are raised up to heights of personal contentment and joy that we could never achieve on our own. Here, in our passage Paul writes “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (2:20-21). Timothy is of kindred spirit, there’s no one else like him, because he actually lives out what Paul has written. He takes genuine interest in the welfare of others and in Jesus and this in contrast to everyone else who live for themselves. This concept of looking to the interests of others, having an outward focus rather than a self-focus is incredibly countercultural for us. Maybe you’ve heard this acronym before that has become kind of a rallying cry for when you want to do something ridiculous. YOLO: You only live once. It’s incredibly popular among younger generations, in fact so popular that it’s become way overused. At first it meant something like Carpe Diem, seize the day, but it became you only live once so do whatever you want. Here are a couple tweets so you get the idea of what it means and how we live in a time just like Paul where “everyone looks out for [their] own interests.” Timothy stands out in his generation as one who personifies Paul’s words. He chooses the acronym we’ve seen in this series before JOY: Jesus Others Yourself rather than YOLO: You only live once.

Timothy and Epaphroditus both personify Paul’s letter because of their proven character in the face of suffering and opposition. In 1:27-30 Paul wrote “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…I will know that you stand firm…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”  Three Sundays ago I spoke about the joy that Paul exhibits in the face of certain death and the suffering he went through. We read from Romans 5:3-4 “[W]e rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  In 2:22 Paul writes of Timothy “You know Timothy’s proven worth” which is the same word for character in the Romans passage and refers to the character of one who has remained faithful despite hardship. Epaphroditus also, in 2:30 “[Epaphroditus] nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”  Timothy and Epaphroditus put their lives completely out there, they’ve been through suffering, they’ve been through opposition, and their character has been proven and refined as a result of everything. It’s a reminder to us, once again, of how even though God can use even our suffering and those opposed to us to create people of proven character. I can’t tell you as a pastor watching life group leaders and others in service and in ministry how amazing it is when I have the privilege to work alongside someone who has translated this into life, who shows perseverance, who has character, who has proven worth in the face of obstacles to their commitments and their service. It’s no wonder that Paul says “I have no one else like him”.

Probably the most important way in these men personify Paul’s letter is as slaves of Jesus and in partnership in the Gospel. The very first verse, Paul open “Paul and Timothy, servants [slaves] of Christ Jesus.”  In 1:4-5 Paul wrote “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel.”  Later in 2:7 he points us to Jesus himself who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant [a slave].” In our passage 2:22 “[Timothy] has served [slaved] with me in the work of the gospel.” In 2:25 he gives Epaphroditus all the honorable titles as “fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger” which is the same word for translated apostle. These guys personify Paul’s letter putting Jesus completely first in their lives and they make bringing the good news, the gospel, about Jesus to everyone their life’s work. Where many of us define ourselves by our profession, these two define themselves as slaves of Jesus and partners in the gospel. If you look at the bottom of your notes page, I’ve left you some space for a fun exercise. Write your name there, and the number of years in which you have been a slave, a servant of Jesus Christ. For some of you it may be 0, for others it may be many more. This is for yourself, I don’t want to see people comparing lists and resumes out in the lobby later. Since you became a follower of Jesus, what are some ministry roles you’ve filled? What are some real, tangible ways, roles in which you’ve been a servant of Jesus Christ that you could write on a resume, or in which you have partnered together with others for the gospel? The term we use here at Trinity for being a member, is covenant partner, because we believe that we together as a body are partners in the gospel. Write on your resume how you’ve translated these words of Paul, being a servant, being a partner in the gospel, into real life.

As I read about Timothy and Epaphroditus, how they personified everything we’ve been reading in the letter to the Philippians – one in spirit, the interests of others, proven character, slaves of Jesus, partnership in the gospel – translating Paul’s words into life, I’m encouraged and challenged to become a letter of joy to others.

Paul sends not only these written correspondences to the early church, but he sends tangible real life translations. Timothy, as we pointed out earlier, is of the same spirit, the same soul as Paul, he is, in verse 22, like a son in the image of his spiritual father, Paul whose own life is in imitation and of the same spirit and soul as his rabbi Jesus. The primary mode of discipleship and passing the practical living out of the gospel was not accomplished through what we would today consider traditional classroom style teaching. Today if you want to master a subject or a profession, you go to school and you get a degree in whatever subject it is that you desire. You can get a masters in finance,  a masters in criminal justice, a masters in environmental science, for pastors a masters in divinity (that’s what our masters degree is called), whatever subject you want to master is the title that you receive. This wasn’t always the case and isn’t always the case in every culture. Paul didn’t have a masters of divinity. Paul had a master of Jesus Christ. The way the rabbis, the teachers of the Jewish faith, worked was that you were known not by topic or subject, but by who your rabbi was. So you had a degree in John  or a degree in Michael because knowledge, particularly with a life of faith, was to be lived out, translated into life. Paul writes to the church at Corinth expressing this same concept in 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”  Paul’s way of life in Christ Jesus is organically passed through discipleship, through being one spirit, one soul into Timothy, who then proceeds to invest in others, the Corinthians and the Philippians as he personifies this aspect of Paul’s words.

We’re at the halfway point in this letter, in this series. Paul usually saves his travel plans for the end of the letters but it seems he wanted to bring these two out as models of what he’s been writing about. For us, the question becomes clear. As we continue this series, do we listen and read these words, take our notes and then let the information go the way of geometry and biology, somewhere  in the inner recesses of our minds. Do we have a masters in theology or do we have a master in Jesus? Do we go forward from teaching moments into actual relationships with real people who we can imitate like Paul and who can invest in others like Timothy?  Let me urge you, wherever you may be, to take a step, to translate your faith into life, whether it’s one on one with someone, in a discipleship group of 2 or 3, or in a life group or a missional community, be of one spirit, one soul and translate these words into life.

Finally, as we conclude time together today, think about this. Paul sends not only written letters but these people who have translated the gospel into their lives, who are the living body of Christ, the Church. You are the Church. You are the body of Christ sent into the world. For many who will never step foot on a church campus or open their bible or who find the Christian faith incomprehensible in the forms they’ve encountered, you are a letter of Joy translated into life and you are being sent to your communities, your Philippians.  My prayer is that as we partner together for the gospel, as slaves of Jesus Christ, we would translate this into life.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Sermon on Philippians 1:18b-30: A Joy Beyond Fear and Death

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here.

Happy Father’s day! I don’t know if you were here with us on Mother’s day back in May but we had an entire sermon dedicated to mothers and Pastor Michael taught us using biblical examples of the kind of dreams that moms can have for children. Well, the way things worked out Father’s day is in the middle of our summer sermon series on the book of Philippians entitled Full of Joy. So, I’m sorry to say dads, this sermon isn’t completely dedicated to Fathers in the same way that Pastor Michael preached on Mother’s day, but after doing a little historical research, I did find  that this is pretty much par for the course as far as Father’s day is concerned. Mother’s day was made an official holiday in 1914 by president Woodrow Wilson, but Father’s day wasn’t an official federal holiday, even though it was celebrated, until 1972 by president Richard Nixon. I did try and think about how our text might apply specifically to Fathers, but this is difficult text and this happens when you preach a series through a book of the bible. The text for today, go ahead and open your bibles there, Philippians 1:18-30, has some deep truth about how Paul found joy in the face of death, a joy that surpassed any fear he might have faced and a joy that he passed on to others. It’s a tough text for Father’s Day and for the end of VBS week. It’s a danger for pastors to try and make a text say something, that it doesn’t say, but as I reflected this week on this text, I realized while the text doesn’t speak specifically to Fathers, our experience as Fathers helps us understand the text. In other words, in our culture here in the United States, it is unlikely that many of us will face the same suffering and even possibly death for the gospel like Paul did, so sometimes it is difficult to connect with how Paul had joy in such circumstances, but I think that my experience as a father helps give me an understanding of what it must be like to have the kind of joy that Paul seems to have in this letter.

You’ll see what I mean as we begin with the first two points in your notes, Joy in Salvation through the prayers of others.

One of my experiences as a Father has been that when you have children, if you’re to be a good father, then all shame and embarrassment must go out the door. And I don’t mean to scare those of you future father’s to be, but when you become a dad, everything about yourself is over and everything about your children takes priority. In other words, your days of looking cool are completely over. The other day I took my daughter Sophia, she’s four years old, to the swimming pool and we were swimming around having a good time and she indicates that she wants me to sing Sinamarinky Dinky Dink. Now I’m really an extreme introvert, and I know I can pull together for church functions, or for the sake of preaching, and by the way I would never be preacher except God made me, so I look around the pool and there are teenagers there, other adults and I have to make a choice. Am I going to sing Skinamarinky Dinky Dink with the full hand motions, that aren’t the real hand motions, they’re ones I made up, or am I going to not draw attention to us? Which do you think I did? I did Skinamarinky Dinky Dink. That’s what dad’s do. They aren’t in any way ashamed of their children. Here's a picture of someone who, at VBS this week, was unashamed to sing Pharaoh Pharaoh in front of hundreds of kids, parents, and visitors. If you’ve ever been in situations like these, you understand that even though the circumstances look foolish to others, the love that you have for your children creates a joy in you that no matter what happens, whether it’s singing Skinamrinky Dinky Dink or Pharoah Pharaoh, you are unashamed because of the joy and the love you have in your children.

The same is true for Paul but to a greater degree. The joy that he has in his deliverance, in his salvation, makes him courageous, and bold, and unashamed of who he is and whose he is, so much more even than we are empowered as Fathers and parents by the love of our children.

Follow along in your bibles as we read the first section together, verse 18-20. Paul writes:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance [also translated salvation] 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death

Paul is not ashamed. As he faces the courtroom, the judgment of the Roman Empire, he speaks of a certainty that regardless of what happens, whether he lives or dies, he will be delivered, he will be saved. Paul is really facing two courtrooms. He facing the courtroom of the Roman Empire and yet he knows that regardless of how this situation turns out, he ultimately faces the courtroom of God in heaven. When he says that what has happened to him will turn out for his deliverance,  he’s making a connection to the book of Job in the Old Testament where Job, getting ready to face the courtroom of heaven with God as judge, says in Job 13:15-16,18 ”Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed this will turn out for my deliverance….I know I will be vindicated.” Paul also uses the language of being ashamed from the Old Testament, where being put to shame meant ultimately the judgment of God.  Psalm 31:17 is a great example: Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave.

Paul ultimately knows that he is facing this heavenly court and he anticipates a deliverance at some point in the future, that does not depend on Roman justice. Paul is aware that his trial may be his last and greatest witness for Christ in his body. In fact, his witness may cause his execution, and yet he is confident in his salvation, in his deliverance in the heavenly court so much so that he is bold, unafraid, and unashamed of the gospel in the Roman court whether he lives or dies. We as fathers, as parents, have joy in our children that is difficult for others to understand. The joy that Paul has in his salvation pierces through the darkness of every circumstance making him unashamed of Jesus and the gospel and causes him to say “I will continue to rejoice” because of what he has in Jesus, ultimate salvation and vindication. Do you want know what it’s like to have no shame, to have great joy, in doing ridiculous things for your kids? Then have some kids, adopt kids! Do you want know what it’s like to have no shame, to have the greatest joy possible, no matter what the circumstance? Then pray for God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and have others pray for you as well.

Before moving on to the next section of text, just linger here with me for a moment. Paul writes that “what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” He says that it is through two things that this deliverance, his ultimate salvation happens, through the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and through what? Through your prayers. This inexplicable joy that Paul has in facing death comes from his salvation through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but that presence is supplied, is poured out, comes in full measure through the prayers of the Philippians. The Spirit of Jesus and these prayers are so tied together in this verse that you could paraphrase this “Your prayers and the consequent supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ will turn out for my salvation.” Surely Paul could ask for the Spirit himself, Paul knows how to pray, but Paul didn’t conceive sanctification, perseverance in the faith, or even ultimate salvation as solely private enterprises. Don’t get me wrong, God saves. God initiates salvation and sustains us by His Spirit. Just earlier Paul wrote in this letter: “he [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It’s God who saves, but God ordains the prayers of his people as a means through which to accomplish his purposes, including his purposes for the perseverance of Christians in the faith and for their ultimate salvation. Who are we praying for that they might receive an abundant supply of the Spirit, receive ultimate salvation? Who are we praying for that they might continue in boldness, unashamedly in the faith? One of the great things about being a pastor is having so many people pray for you. I encourage you pray for one another, pray for others in deep earnest and sincerity. Pray, “for I know that through your prayers and the consequent supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” others will experience the unashamed joy that comes from salvation in Him.

A number of years ago, a man named Peter Conway was vacationing from England in St. Augustine Florida. It was a very rough day, the waves were huge, someone reported them to be about 8ft. Peter looked out at the waves and about 400 feet out there were a 15 year old boy and a 20 year old girl struggling. Peter ran into the ocean and helped both of them get closer to shore and out of danger. As they got closer to shore, Peter had a heart attack while in the water. He lost consciousness and he died saving his two children. What can cause a man to sacrifice his life, to risk it all, for others? Being a Father can. The love that you have for your children gives you a courage in the face of death that you might not otherwise have and someone looking from the outside might say “why would you do that?” but those of us who are Fathers know that we would gladly give our lives for our children. We take great joy in the life that we have with them, but we also would take great joy if giving our lives meant something for them.

It might also be difficult for us to understand Paul when he says “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”, as he finds Joy in Death and Joy in Life because of the love and the relationship he has with God through Jesus Christ. Read along with me this second section of our text for today, Philippians 1:21-26.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

Paul, as he reflects on whether or not he will lose his life at the hands of the Roman court, feels torn, a huge tension, between what would be better for him. Since Jesus Christ is his everything, he knows that whether he lives or dies he will be with Christ. If he dies, he will depart and be with Christ, in his presence, which Paul writes “is better by far.” At the same time he recognizes that if he lives, he will continue to serve Christ, produce good fruit, and be a blessing to his spiritual children, the Philippians. He doesn’t really himself have a choice in this matter, it’s up to the Roman tribunal, but he sets an example for his spiritual children by choosing their interests over his own. It would be better by far to be with Jesus. No more pain, no more suffering, the race is over and he knows he will be vindicated in the God’s court, and yet he chooses as an example to the Philippians to continue on in the face of death and imprisonment for their joy and well-being. The joy that Paul has from being completely dedicated to Jesus and God overflows into others as he seeks their progress, their joy in the faith so that their joy in Jesus Christ will overflow also. Paul is facing death, and part of him as he is torn, wants it to be over and to be with Jesus, but the joy he has in life and in death through Jesus directs him to put others first. I know it is scary to hear someone saying they prefer death, but when you have this kind of dedication to something, you find a joy in life and in death. It may be hard for some who aren’t parents to understand how a father like Peter Conway could give up his life for his kids. As good as our kids are and as joyous as it is to be a parent, God is even better. The joy that comes from knowing God through Jesus Christ is insurmountably better than the joy that comes from being parents. I know it’s hard to understand. Just like it’s hard for someone who is not a parent to understand the kind of love and joy you take from your children so also those who haven’t entered into a real daily relationship with Jesus Christ can’t get it until they do.

Let’s look at the final section of our text, Philippians 1:27-30:

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man [SOUL] for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-- and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul finishes this chapter with a joy beyond fear and through suffering. This is a real transition point in this letter where Paul begins to turn his focus on the Philippians rather than on himself. He appeals to the Philippians as citizens. That verb there, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, has political overtones. We remember as pastor Michael described during the first sermon of this series how the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and had certain privileges because of that title and being a citizen of Rome carried privileges and responsibilities. Paul is here making the analogy and appealing to the Christians in Philippi as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As Philippi is a colony of the Roman Empire, a micro expression of Rome out in Macedonia, Paul considers the church a colony a micro expression of heaven here on earth. He encourages them and challenges them, whether Paul himself comes or not, whether he gets out of this mess in Rome or he ends up dead, to continue the struggle of the Christian faith. He encourages the Philippians in their joy, their courage, in the face of opposition as they, like Paul are imprisoned, suffer, and even die for their faith. He’s saying that the conflicts, the suffering you are experiencing may appear frightening. You might even think that God is displeased with you and intends to destroy you. But that is exactly wrong. Suffering is the way to glory. Look at Jesus. Look at Paul. 2 Timothy 3:12 says “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Romans 5:3-5 says: Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

As a Father, I’ve had some particular challenges over the last four years with regards to suffering. As many of you know, I’ve mentioned this in sermons before, my daughter Sophia had a heart transplant at 8 mo. old. That was a particular type of suffering that both Benita and I went through and continue in many ways as Sophia faces different challenges. These last three and half months with Ezra has brought its own challenges and in my case suffering. I have a condition called Ulcerative Colitis, UC. My immune system sometimes, especially when under great stress, decides that my colon is an enemy and so attacks it with inflammation and basically tries to destroy my colon. Well when we had Ezra, he had severe acid reflux which meant that for the first couple months we were literally waking up every 45 minutes and when Ezra was awake he wasn’t easily consoled. He took a lot of attention and none of us were getting any sleep. It seem like we’re getting out of this phase now and getting some sleep, but in the process of all that stress my UC decided to act up like it has never acted up before. So I’ve been really struggling with this, even on nights where the kids were sleeping I would wake up because I was bleeding internally, or had built up too much mucus from the inflammation and had to use the restroom throughout the night. Even this last week I had to leave during the middle of a staff meeting because I had to use the restroom pretty quickly. I want you know, that every Sunday for the past few months has been a huge risk for me to try to make it through as service. 

Just to give you an understanding of how bad this can be, we went to Orlando so that the doctors at Arnold Palmer could help us with Ezra’s reflux, they did a swallow study where they watch him eat and see what’s going on. While Ezra and my wife Benita were at the hospital, I took Sophia to the park. We were in the park, just arrived there and Sophia was so excited to go and play. Right as we walked through the gates to the park, I had to use the restroom, but before I could take a step further, I pooed myself. My daughter didn’t seem to mind, she was excited about the playground. Obviously that had to wait, she was pretty upset as she had to wait while I cleaned up as best I could in the public bathroom and once we got out she was ecstatic about riding the see-saw with me. Not necessarily the wisest toy in the playground for someone who poos himself, but it worked out alright. And even in the midst of all that, I took great joy in my daughter, in her laughter, and in the time we shared together in that playground. Even though, and I’m very hopeful that this is all but under control at this point, my son Ezra indirectly has led me down this path of suffering, he himself suffering, I would not trade anything in the world for him or Sophia. I take great joy in my children. I believe, no, I know that I am a better father for the suffering that I’ve been through. I have a different depth of character, of perserverance, that I would never have if I had no suffering. I do not delight in pain, but I take joy in being a better father because of it.

Often Scripture uses the illustration of family, of being a parent, adoption, of marriage – almost universal conditions - to help us understand what it’s like to be in a relationship with God. You can’t understand marriage until you put the ring on, you can’t understand being a Father until you have children, you engage with them, and you experience life with them no matter what the circumstances. You can’t understand God until you have a relationship with Jesus Christ – which is a continued struggle – strengthened by prayer – that gives you Joy in His courtroom, Joy in the face of death or life, and Joy beyond fear through suffering.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Sermon: Spirit of God

Seven weeks ago, something extraordinary happened in my life, something that rarely ever happens. I can’t remember the last time this happened. Seven weeks ago I intentionally, on purpose, woke up before the sun had risen. This never happens! I drove to Hightower beach just over here off of A1A and along with over 500 other individuals I watched the sun rise and in that peaceful serene moment we all reflected on how the Son of God rose from the grave some 2000 years ago. And here we are seven weeks later. I wonder if the disciples of Jesus knew what would happen seven weeks after Jesus rose from the grave. I doubt it. They knew of course that as they had just celebrated the Passover that seven weeks later would be the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost in Greek. Pentecost means 50 days because 7 weeks of 7 days is 49 days and then on day 50 you have the celebration, a festival in which they would commemorate the day that Israel received the Torah, the law, from God but did the disciples have any idea that this time they would not just celebrate the receiving of the law, but that they themselves would receive the very Spirit of God, that the God of the universe would live inside their bodies. Follow along with me in your bibles as we read about this moment, the birthday of the Church in Acts 2:1-4:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

In a very real sense this day, the receiving of the Spirit is why Jesus died on the cross. We often think of Easter, seven weeks ago, as the pinnacle of the Christian calendar. Jesus died and he was resurrected: that’s what it’s all about and frankly many of us in our Christian lives stay there at that moment. We recognize that Jesus died for our sins, that he was resurrected from the dead but we never move forward to the day of Pentecost, we never receive the Spirit for which Christ died. We never look for the power that Christ promised to live extraordinary, supernatural lives, with the God of the universe living inside our bodies. Galatians 3:13-14 says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Christ did what he did SO THAT we might receive the Spirit of God. The very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside of us. Jesus promised I’m going to put my very spirit into your body. You’re going to become a new creation and it’s going to change everything. You, yourself, your body is a temple and not in a well-intentioned but misappropriated use of scripture that you say “I can’t have another piece of cake” – body is a temple. No, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit – the God of the Universe resides within you and this has much more profound implications than whether or not you have blue cheese with your chicken wings.

When we read Scripture about people receiving Spirit or being filled with the Spirit we see these supernatural things that happened in their lives. Over and again we read that the Holy Spirit filled and empowered the early believers. The question is why don’t we believe that this should be the case in our own lives? Why don’t we believe he won’t do that in us? In many cases when you look at a group of Christians and non-Christians it is all but impossible to discern the difference – sure maybe the Christians are a little nicer, a little more morally conscientious, but is that all the Spirit of God came to do in our lives? I want to be able to say that I have this power to do things that the ordinary person cannot do. I want people to look at my life and my actions and say “that’s not possible.” I want to live my life in a way that demands a gospel explanation and in order to do that I have to have the power of the Gospel, I have to receive the Spirit of God and if I am to do this daily I have to be filled with the Spirit daily.

How do we begin to do this? First, if you haven’t already, ask! Jesus says in Luke 11:13 “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” If you want to see the Spirit working in your life ask Him and He will give you the Spirit. Secondly, recognize that the Spirit of God is not an impersonal force or a thing. The Holy Spirit is not some high powered fuel that God gives us to enhance what we’re already doing. The Spirit of God is God. The Spirit of God is a person that lives inside you, that slowly teaches us to trust him, and molds us and uses us in greater and greater ways. You could walk away from this sermon knowing more about the Spirit of God or you could walk away knowing a person, knowing the Spirit of God more deeply. Which do you think will change your life? The Spirit of God is a person and we receive Him, are filled with Him, are transformed by Him when we walk with Him and follow His lead.

In Acts 8, there a story about a man named Simon. Simon practiced sorcery and was able to do amazing things. The people were blown away at his magic so much that they called him “The Great Power.” Well when Philip came and preached the gospel in the area where Simon lived, people were baptized and Simon himself believed and was baptized. Later the believers in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to that same area and when they arrived they prayed that they might receive the Spirit of God, because while they had been baptized, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them. Peter and John put their hands on them, and they receive the Spirit of God. When Simon sees this, he wants the Spirit too. I mean who wouldn’t and remember Simon believed, he was baptized, he wanted the Holy Spirit. Simon offers Peter and John money so that he can receive the Spirit and his reason is so that he would have the ability to lay hands on others and give the Spirit to them. Peter reacts really negatively and says “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

What did Simon do that was so wrong? Simon saw the power of the Holy Spirit as he saw his own magic. He thought of it as something he could control, a power that he could use to do whatever he wanted and Peter rightly realizes that his in the heart is in the wrong place. Simon tries to lead the Spirit rather than being led by Him. Simon tries to walk on his own and get a little Holy Spirit power for his own purposes rather than walking with the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit, not so that we can do the things that we want but so that we can be led by him on daily basis, walking with him.

Galatians 5:25 says “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit!” This means, of course, that we need to constantly be asking this person who lives in us, what you want to do today, allowing the Spirit to step by step, day by day, direct us. Where are we going walk today? Where do you want to lead me today Spirit? Who do you want me to love today? Who do you want me to serve today? What do you want me to do right now? Holy Spirit, if you’re in there, what are we doing this afternoon? Are you Sunday afternoon plans open to input from the Spirit of God that lives within you?

Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us, he died so that we could forget everything else and follow Him. How is the Spirit leading you as you spend time with your family? What might the Spirit be leading you to say to people you work with? How might the Spirit be leading you to shape your budget? Let me warn you, walking with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit will change you. He may ask you to give up some good things, at least for a time, to accomplish his purposes in and through you. He may ask you, even if you run a million dollar business, to hand out bulletins for those coming to worship. He may ask you, even if you’re the pastor of a large Presbyterian church, to dress up like a lunch lady and prepare meals for the hungry. If you were 100% submitted to the will of God at this moment, what do you think He might ask you to do? The answer is not as important as the question. It is crucial to our lives to daily consider and pursue the Spirit’s leading, keeping in step with the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit requires continued action, a lifelong process, and an ongoing relationship with this person, the Spirit of God. It requires also, giving up control and stepping out in faith with the Spirit of God.

I question myself sometimes and ask “Is the Holy Spirit weaker now than He was in the New Testament times? Or have we simply restructured our lives to be safer, more comfortable, more self-dependent? One of the names that describes the Holy Spirit is the Comforter. Are our lives so safe and comfortable that we don’t need the Comforter? That we only experience him when some sort of tragedy happens.  Perhaps we’ve forgotten the Holy Spirit because we don’t need him in our day to day lives the way those in the New Testament did when they stepped out in faith. I remember a number of years ago Texas Hold ‘em became really popular and I watched a number of tournaments on television and I even played an online version of the game. It wasn’t with real money but I remember how exciting it was when someone would go “all in”. They would put all their chips on the line and they’d either lose it all or would win big. When I played this online game you started with a small number of chips and maybe you’ve had this experience before playing games like this, but at first it wasn’t that hard to go all in. I’d put it all on the line because the fall back to 0 wasn’t that bad and in this online game if you hit 0 they’d give you a certain amount to restart with. So you go all in and you win big. Maybe you go all in again, and you win big again! Probably the third time you look down at your chips, and you hesitate a little when you see how much you’ve gathered. The more you accumulate, the less likely you are to go all in. 

The same seems true in my own life with regard to my walk with God. When I first became a Christian, I was single, I had a job that paid around $20,000 a year and I went all in with God. I stepped out in faith in dramatic ways. My first year as a Christian I had conversations that led two people to step out themselves and call themselves Christians for the first time. I gave up my full time teaching job to live in a dorm with teenagers so I could have more time to listen to God through His Word and Spirit. I began a bible study for the teenagers I was living with an in the bible study a few came to call themselves Christians, one who was from China and had never heard of the name of Jesus. As time goes on and life becomes more complicated, as we gather more and more chips, we tend to be more reluctant to go all in to wherever the Spirit may be leading us. I’ve got a wife now. I’ve got two kids now. I have a nice job and live ½ mile from the beach. It becomes harder to go all in, to step out in faith, to say “Holy Spirit lead me wherever you want.” Instead many of us in the Christian faith bunker down and we try to make things as safe and as comfortable as possible for ourselves and our families. We say I’m going move into my gated community, and I’m going make my kids wear helmets everywhere, and I’m going to keep us all inside all day cause sun rays are harmful and we live our lives in the cradle position trying to live this most comfortable and safe lives that we can live until the end. Then at the end we jump off the balance beam and expect to hear from the judge “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

When we read about the Spirit, does God ask people to something safe and comfortable or does He lead us into a life of adventure, a life of pain and discomfort, a life on mission that requires the power of the Holy Spirit, that requires the Comforter. Before the holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, this happened in Acts 1:4

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

He tells them to wait for the gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit before going to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They would need the Spirit. The early disciples put themselves in places where the Holy Spirit has to come through for them. How do we live lives radically different, how do we continue the mission? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we find ourselves in the midst of overwhelming circumstances, the Spirit has a chance to show His incredible power.

Anyone can show up on a Sunday, sing some, sit still for 45 min, shake a few hands and drive home. When we begin to talk to the hurting people around us , digging deeper to learn how we can love and serve them, that’s when you need the Holy Spirit – that’s when he shows up. You won’t know what God will do until you get out there and follow his leading, stepping beyond your own abilities and out in faith. Where might He want you to go? Who might He want you to talk to or serve? All the power in the world is irrelevant until its put to use. I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. I want Him to say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Wow this is a lot right? How do we find the courage and the strength to go all in and live these unexplainable lives? How do I find the energy and the will to get up before the sun rises on Easter Sunday? Often times in the church we get so caught up trying to live the Christian life, that we overlook the source of life change. Life change and transformation comes from the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says

            So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

We don’t become acceptable to God by restraining our sinful nature or through our own power forcing ourselves to go to church, to not use curse words, or whatever our sin may be. We’re acceptable to God because Jesus Christ died for our sins in our place and granted us the gift of the Spirit of God. We, like a caterpillar who emerges from a cocoon, then look at ourselves in amazement, in stunned disbelief over becoming a new creation with the Spirit living in us. Then from the inside out, as we live by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature, you will be transformed patiently but steadily into people who transform our corners of the world. Receive the Spirit, keep in step as you walk with the Spirit, Step out in Faith with the Spirit and be transformed into new creations by the power of the triune God.

While I always use multiple sources when researching and preparing for my sermons, I am overwhelmingly indebted and highly recommend Remembering the Forgotten God by Francis Chan.

A Sermon: Become Wounded Healers

For an audio version of this sermon click here

This morning I bring you good news. The good news, paraphrasing Tim Keller, is that you and I are more broken, so much more wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined.  However much you imagine yourself to have broken areas, sin in your life, triple it. We are a broken and deeply wounded people. The good news is also that we are more loved and accepted by God in Christ than we ever dared hope for. The degree to which we recognize and come to grips with these two concepts, is the degree to which we grasp the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God. It means that the deeper we see our own flaws, sins and brokenness, how much more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. And on the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of our sin. To fully grasp the good news and to be good news to others, we as the church must be a hospital for sinners.

The Church is a hospital for the sick, the wounded, and the broken. Imagine for a moment that the United States is conquered by Canada, stay with me, I know it’s a stretch, and we all are under their control. The Canadian military drives up and down A1A keeping us under martial law. In the process of the conquest they brutalized people you know, your neighbors, your friends, your family, let’s say they completely burned down the campus here at Trinity. I don’t say the church because even if this campus gets burned down you will always be the church. Then, in our scenario, let’s say that a person in our community decided that they would work for the Canadians. His job would be to go home to home and demand money to help support the Canadian regime. He has a specific quota he has to meet for the Canadians but any money he can extort from his community beyond his quota he gets to keep and in fact he does that and becomes one of the wealthiest in this community. How would you feel about such a person? If they showed up at your BBQ would you hang out with them? If they wanted to worship with you in the tents erected over Trinity’s burned remains, would you let them?  Probably not, they’d have their wealth, but they would be social pariahs, outcasts. They would be lost to the community.

In Matthew 9, Jesus is traveling and he encounters a man named Matthew, yes the very same Matthew, and he is sitting at a tax booth. He is a tax collector, a traitorous profession in the eyes of the Jewish people. He is working for the Canadians, the Roman Empire. Jesus says to him in his tax booth “Bleep you man! Look what you’ve done to my people for your own selfish gain. You have turned your back on your people and your God!” No, he says “Follow me”. Not only that, but later Jesus goes to his home. The home provided for and supplied by extortions from the people and many other tax collectors, traitors come to eat with Jesus. Matthew 9 says tax collectors and sinners. Traitors and outcasts. Prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, murderers, thieves, rapists, homosexuals, abortionists, traitors and outcasts came to eat with Jesus. And the upright in the community, the righteous, those who didn’t make mistakes, who followed the rules, spoke to the disciples of Jesus and asked “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this (don’t ever talk about Jesus around Jesus, he’s got great hearing)…On hearing this, Jesus said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come call the righteous, but sinners.”

Do you need Jesus? Do you want Jesus to call you, to seek after you? If you are righteous, he will not call. If you believe you’re basically ok, you try hard enough, then what need do you have for a savior? The good news is that you and I are more broken, wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined and that we are more loved and accepted by God in Christ than we ever dared hope for.  Jesus, in his own words, “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Later, Jesus, after his resurrection, also said “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you!” We are, as much as the Holy Spirit indwells us, a part of the body of Christ and we are sent to continue Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost, to love, serve, and eat meals with traitors and outcasts. The Church, we as the church, are called to be a hospital for sinners. A place for the sick to gather together and to be healed through each other and by Jesus the great physician.

Too often we view the church as a stronghold or fortress where we gather in the righteous and protect ourselves from others. Just last week, I had this experience. I’m part of missional community of 13 people and one of the many things we do is we have a family meal together once a week because we believe we’re a spiritual family and we need to reconnect, we need to celebrate,  we need to eat, we need to listen to each other’s stories. We invite others to join us as we eat together and last week a person joined us and after the meal was over, he spoke to me away from the others and he said he was looking forward to coming back and sharing more of his story, who he is and what he’s been through. He said though that he was a little wary of telling others about his past. He said “I can’t tell anyone this shame I have in my past.”

First are you having meals or informal gatherings were you would encounter people like this, and if you encountered someone like this, who said “I can’t tell anyone this shame I have in my past”, what do you think is the best way to guide them through the process of healing? I’ll give you three options. 1. You could redirect the awkward conversation and slowly meld into the crowd. 2. You could say “Wow, what is it? I’ve never really done anything shameful. We’re all really good here so we can help you. 3. You could say “You’d be surprised of the shame in my own past.” The answer of course is number three. We can avoid brokenness, we can pretend we’re perfect, or we can empathize with the wound. If we pretend that we are completely righteous, that we don’t make any mistakes, we will actually never fulfill our mission of loving and healing others. The truth is those of us who can identify with a particular wound in our past make the best healers, wounded healers, for those particular wounds in others.

The famous psychotherapist and psychiatrist Carl Jung used this term, the wounded healer, based partly on the Greek myth of Chiron. Chiron, for those of you not up to date on your Greek mythology, was a centaur, part man and part horse. In one story Chiron is accidently injured by an arrow from Hercules. The arrow hits him in the knee, which isn’t that bad because Chiron is immortal, but the tip of the arrow was coated with poison from the blood of the Hydra. His wound would never completely heal, and in the process of searching for a way to heal himself, Chiron became an excellent healer. In fact he becomes known as a healer and source of healing knowledge in other myths. It’s through his wound that his capacity for healing becomes so much greater. He is a wounded healer. Carl Jung pointed out that it is partially a psychotherapist’s personal acceptance of his or her own suffering and imperfection that enhances their capacity to heal others.

There are some things that cannot be merely intellectually grasped or learned in a book. There are certain things that only life teaches you. Healing others as Jesus healed – body and spirit, or being a part of that healing process is one such thing. The wounded healer is someone who is broken so that they can be open, so that the people who come to them can be treated with the soul rather than just the mind. Their pain is more than theory, but something felt and a real spiritual healing connection is made. When we approach others as a wounded healer, we come not as a righteous master, but as a brother or sister who’s been there before.

Marsha Linehan was diagnosed at age seventeen as schizophrenic. She was psychiatrically instituionalzed for more than two years and was described in the medical records of that institution as being perhaps the most severely disturbed, deeply withdrawn and difficult to manage patient on the unit. She would violently thrash about. She burned herself with cigarettes. She cut herself on her wrists, arms, legs, and stomach. When she was unable to burn or cut herself, she would bang her head violently against walls and floors. Then, when she was 23, something happened. 

Marsha Linehan moved forward in life after this pivotal moment. She became Dr. Marsha Linehan with a Ph.D. in psychology and is today one of the most prominent clinicians and researchers in the psychotherapy world today. She says “I decided to get supersuicidal people, the very worst cases, because I figured these are the most miserable people in the world – they think they’re evil, that they’re bad, bad, bad – and I understood that they weren’t…I understood their suffering because I’d been there, in hell, with no idea how to get out.” “I was in hell...And I made a vow: when I get out, I’m going to come back and get others out of here.”

This is the last sermon in a series called Liberating Grace where we’ve examined the steps we take to find healing in our brokenness. As Dr. Linehan pointed out, it’s usually not in a specific miraculous moment that we are healed, but rather it’s a process. As we reach the last of the steps, this process, when we find ourselves far enough out of whatever broken system or habits we’ve been healed from, it’s important that we reach out to others as wounded healers. The best spiritual physicians, are the ones who have been there, the best sponsors are those who have walked the steps. If we are to be a hospital for sinners, I want you and I to be the best physicians available in that hospital. If you’ve already overcome something, like divorce, addiction, anger, materialism, self-righteousness, then ask yourself how might God send me as he sent Jesus, how might I be a wounded healer for others. If you’re in the middle of the steps or just beginning to admit your life isn’t perfect, be on the lookout for someone God might send to you to be a wounded healer in your life and look forward to the day, make a vow as Dr. Linehan did that when you get out, you’re going to come back and get others out of the same destructive patterns.

Before we conclude this series, I’d like to look at our primary passage for today which is Hebrews 4:15. As you turn there, Hebrews is one of the last letters in the back of your bible, let us be reminded that while we are called to be the Church, the body of Christ sent out into the world, to be wounded healers, we have one who said that he will be with us always, we have one who is THE wounded healer, we have one who is the Great Physician, we have one who is our high priest, we have the one, the messiah, the Christ, Jesus. 

Hebrews 4:15 says:

or we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.

Before the Jewish Temple was burned to the ground, there were many different priests who performed all the different upkeep and functions at the temple. There were priests for offering sacrifices, there were priests for taking care of the articles of the temple, there were priests who played instruments, and each year there was one priest, called the high priest, who on a particular day would actually enter into the most holy space of the temple, the holy of holies and offer atonement for the people by sprinkling blood on the ark of the covenant. The legend goes that before the high priest would go behind the veil into this room, the other priests would tie a rope around his leg in case he made any error in the presence of God and was struck down, so they could pull him out without having to enter into God’s holy, almighty presence. This all changed, of course, with Jesus. The blood of animals, a temporary shadow, no longer needs to be offered on a regular basis because the blood of Jesus is forever and all sufficient. The day he died, the veil which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was torn by an earthquake, and after his resurrection Jesus ascending into heaven into the real throne room, the very presence of God as our high priest. One of the reasons he’s particularly qualified to be our high priest, the one who stands before God on our account, is because he took on human nature. If he is to represent us, then he must be us. He is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. He, as the wounded healer, as the great Physician is able to offer comfort like none other.

“There was a man named Booth Tucker who was conducting evangelistic meetings in the Salvation Army Citadel in Chicago. One night, after he had preached on the sympathy of Jesus, a man came forward and asked Mr. Tucker how he could talk about a loving, understanding sympathetic God. “If your wife had just died, like mine has,” the man said, “and your babies were crying for their mother who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.”

A few days later Mr. Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck. Her body was brought to Chicago and carried to the Citadel for the funeral. After the service the bereaved preacher looked down into the silent face of his wife and then turned to those who were attending. “The other day when I was here,” he said, “a man told me that, if my wife had just died and my children were crying for their mother, I would not be able to say that Christ was understanding and sympathetic, or that He was sufficient for every need. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, it is crushed, but it has a song, and Christ put it there. I want to tell that man that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.” The man was there, and he came and knelt beside the casket while Booth Tucker introduced him to Jesus Christ.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. The Greek that is translated “sympathize” here means “to suffer along with”. Jesus suffers along with us in all of our sufferings. We have in Him a high priest with an unequaled capacity for sympathizing with us in all the dangers and sorrows and trials which come our way in life. Isaiah 53:3-5 describes Jesus as a man of sorrow:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Literally by His wounds we are healed and in Him we have a wounded healer, someone who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, able to sympathize with us and heal us as the great physician. The gospel, the good news is that you and I are more broken, wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined and that we are more loved and accepted by Christ than we ever dared hope for. The next verse in Hebrews, verse 16 says “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When we turn to this wounded healer, this great physician Jesus, he greets us with grace, liberating grace that transforms us into wounded healers ourselves who God uses to help others and to point them also to the love and liberating grace of Jesus Christ.