How do you answer the question, “So…what do you do?” This is always a fun question for me to answer, because I can tell a lot about a person based on how they react to me once they hear the answer! They either smile or back away in horror. What we do (or did) to put food on the table is hardly the most important thing about us, yet, God has something to say about how we are supposed to work as well as worship. Namely, our work, according to the passage before us, is part of our worship of Jesus. “Ultimately, Christian slaves belong to one Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 6), and their obedience to their earthly masters is all of a piece with their serving him (vv. 7, 8).” (O’Brien, 449)
No matter what stage of life you are in, this passage actually has something to say to you. Even if you are retired and don’t collect a paycheck from a company anymore, this passage has a great deal to say to you about any endeavor that you put your mind towards. What’s amazing is in our economy in America, all of us have been on both sides of this master/servant divide. While you may not have official employees, you talk to someone at the bank, doctor’s office, and favorite restaurant. You may not be signing the paycheck for the wait staff at La Costa, but be sure that those people are serving you, and thus this passage applies to your interactions with them.
Our two points are Servants, serve Jesus and Masters, remember that you are a servant to Jesus, too.
Servants, serve like you would serve Jesus
Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room: slavery. Many people have critiqued the Bible because it would appear to condone slavery rather than condemn it. How on Earth is Paul not saying, “Slaves, rebel against your masters!”? We won’t spend a ton of time on this because it could be a sermon unto itself, but a few points need to be made. First, the way we typically think of slavery here in the US was never allowed by the Bible. Stealing people from one place to sell them to work another called for the death penalty in the Old Testament (Ex. 21:16; Dt. 24:7) (Thielman, 539). Here in the New Testament, Paul is setting things up for us to see slaves and masters as the same, namely, people. Slaves, even in Roman times, were considered property, but here Paul is addressing them as people. Such a concept was radical, and in the words of one writer, “If Paul does not make a full frontal attack on slavery, he is certainly putting a time-bomb under it.” (quoted in Francis Foulkes). Indeed, it was this very New Testament concept that drove the abolition of slavery in many parts of the world (Foulkes), thought it must be remembered that around 50 million people still sit in slavery even today (IJM).
Paul instead of calling for a social action that a small, minority group of people could hardly pull off against the Roman Empire, he shows them that even the lowest in society still had much to contribute to the Kingdom. Just because you were a slave didn’t mean that you were useless to God, and just because the wider society saw you as little more than a talking drill or wagon, doesn’t mean that God saw you that way.
Paul begins by addressing the slaves first with a simple command: obey your masters. They were supposed to do this with “fear and trembling.” This doesn’t mean that they needed to be physically afraid of their masters (as we will see in a moment, masters are called to not even threaten violence). The phrase “fear and trembling” comes up in a lot of different contexts (Phil. 2:12, 2 Cor. 7:15, 1 Cor. 2:3), with the idea that this is referring to a subordinate recognizing his position to a superior and showing respect. (Thielman, 405). Indeed, “[The phrase “fear and trembling”] has to do with an attitude of due reverence and awe in the presence of God, a godly fear of the believer in view of the final day (see also on 5:21, 33).” In other words, you are not acting with fear and trembling because you are reacting to a man. You are giving respect and awe because you can see God behind that boss.This is how we can carry out the command to respect even an unjust employer (1 Peter 2:18-19)
Indeed, as we go on to the next couple of verses, Paul makes how we are supposed to work quite clear. We are to do our work with a sincere heart (meaning, we do good works with good attitudes springing from a willing heart [Thielman, 406]) as if we were doing it for Jesus. One writer put it this way: “‘The conviction of the Christian workman is that every single piece of work he produces must be good enough to show to God’ (Barclay, quoted in Foulkes).” Now, this doesn’t mean that everything that you attempt in your life needs to be perfect. Growing up, Dad had a saying for me when we were working on something that didn’t need to be our best possible effort: “Son, we’re not building a piano here.” Pianos need to be built perfectly if they are going to be tuned and played correctly. Digging a fence post doesn’t require near the level of attention to detail. This passage isn’t trying to turn us all into OCD piano builders on every project, but it is saying that whatever God calls us to do, we should do with reasonable excellence. Nothing will be perfect, but we should put our heart and soul into it because ultimately, our heart and soul belong to God and so does our work that we present.
That is what work should look like, but Paul makes equally clear what a Christian work life shouldn’t look like. Paul uses the term “eye-service,” or working only so that you are noticed, for the first time in Greek literature, so likely he has coined the term (O’Brien, 451). This goes hand in hand with people pleasing, the definition of not doing your work for God (O’Brien, 451). When we work it should be work that is from the heart whether people notice or care about it or not. Integrity, as my family used to define it is doing what’s right when no one is looking. That’s really hard! Why do you think social media is so popular? It was something of a stereotype when our generation would go on a missions’ trip that we would film ourselves doing work and post it. We acknowledged that what we were doing was promoting ourselves, but somehow that didn’t stop us and even helped us coin a fun term for eye-service called the “humblebrag.” Let the reader understand.
Paul reiterates that we shouldn’t be servants like that, but rather serve in a way that shows that Jesus is our greatest treasure. Does your work look like you value Jesus? Do most people say, “Man, I wish I could hire a Christian! They do all their work like they are working for Jesus, and wow, they must really love that guy, because their work is stellar!” Your love changes how you work. Think about how you respond to text messages. You respond faster to people you like and respect more, don’t you? You’re more careful in typo-checking those emails, aren’t you? As a Christian, though, all our work is offered up to God and needs to be given the time to make it-not perfect- but excellent.
The only way that this is possible is that it comes from a transformed heart. You might be able to turn in excellent work no matter how you feel about the person, but God demands that this good work goes all the way down to the heart level. My old seminary professor, Frank Thielman, put it this way: “The obedience of the slave, Paul says, should have this straightforward character: there should be no division between the quality of the labor produced and the attitude of the one who produces it.” (406). That needs a heart transformed by Jesus. We need to cry out to Christ every time we clock in. Open up your heart to God before you open up the laptop. That’s what this passage calls us to do.
But Paul goes further than just a bare command. As usual, there is a promise waiting in the wings of a command. Paul says that God will reward good work. One scholar put it this way, “[Paul] knows what it will mean to his readers who are slaves to live out what he has said. So he reminds them that nothing is unwitnessed by the Lord in heaven, nothing well done is ever done in vain. There may be no thanks on earth. A person may reap only criticism and misunderstanding. But there is an unfailing reward for faithful service (cf. Luke 6:35; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 22:12).” (Foulkes). Isn’t that incredible? God misses nothing. O’Brien puts it like this: “He notices the good deeds of each and every one of them — note the stress on ‘each one’ — so that none will miss out on being rewarded for any good that has been done.” (emphasis in original, 453). Now that works both ways (Colossians 3:25), but God graciously promises to bless. To be clear, we are still justified and go to heaven on Jesus’ work alone, but in His kindness He rewards the efforts of His people. I remember one spring break, I helped my dad cut down a very large tree. We spent a number of days on it, but finally, on the last day, it fell! As a reward for my work, I got a computer (Thanks, Dad)! I didn’t get my sonship by doing that. I am Dad’s son, and nothing will change that, but it is a father’s delight to bless. And our Heavenly Father is no different.
Masters, remember that you are a servant to Jesus, too.
As we come around to the final verse in this passage, we see that God has things for masters, those with authority, to do, too. They are told to “do the same,” which means to do their work unto the Lord as well (Thielman). Paul also has a special command for masters. It is a significant one, that a little history lesson can help explain. From one scholar: “Although positive encouragement to obey was also used to keep slaves intermission, violence was the primary foundation of the institution: ‘slaves were never in a position to predict when the wrath of an owner would descend upon them, and their lives were thus conditioned by this perennial fear of physical abuse and maltreatment. Within that element of fear lay owners’ capacity for the permanent control of their lives’… Believing masters, however, must give up…the threat of violence. The command is not qualified in any way. It is not that masters must give up certain forms of threatening…, But they must give up threatening entirely. With this command, Paul has cut the thread that held the institution of slavery together.” (Thielman 409-10). Paul is telling Christian masters to treat their slaves, like, well, people! They could not use a slave’s status as an excuse to treat them poorly. Indeed, “Christian masters are reminded that they, too, are slaves, indeed fellow – slaves of the same Lord as their own servants.” (O’Brien, 455, emphasis in original). I don’t care what your business card says, you are a slave to God just like that other person is if they are in Christ. If they are not in Christ yet, then you should pity them on top of respecting them.
I am always amazed at how people in service positions, particularly retail, react when you genuinely ask them how their day is going and thank them for coming into work today. It’s incredible the abuse they take for minimum wage jobs. Christians should never be known for that. Christians shouldn’t be known as poor tippers for wait staff. The person in front of us is no different than we are. We serve a heavenly master, and should treat them as we are treated by our master.
Retired folks: You’ve got more people working for you than you think! From the doctor’s office to the post office, there are people working for you. Treat them excellently.
Employers: You are under authority, and God is checking to see how you treat your employees.
Employed people: You’ve only got one Boss. Make sure that you are doing His work first and foremost which at the very least includes being excellent at your job.
Church Officers: You fit into both of these categories! This is why seeking an office is a big responsibility!
Kids: Your school is your work! Do it accordingly!
The only way you can do that is to realize that Jesus died and rose again for your poor treatment of others. You can be honest with yourself about how you have treated others under you and run to Jesus. He can forgive you if you have been a harsh boss or a lazy worker. Just go to Him. You will find forgiveness and transformation. Leave behind those old works, and find the joy of working for Jesus.
Finally, while Paul laid down the foundation to oppose slavery, God in His grace allows us to continue the work of abolishing it! Slavery is still very much a problem today, and probably strikes closer to home than you might think. The aforementioned human trafficking is a MASSIVE part of the pornography industry. The vast majority of those people on that screen are very unwilling victims, that according to statistics, are being viewed by 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women at least monthly. Half of those people view porn several times a week (link).
We can do something about it! See the International Justice Mission for ways in which you can help fight against modern-day slavery!
You know, there is often a temptation when we hear a sermon that applies to someone we know, especially when that person happens to be sitting next to us, to nudge them and say, “Hey, he’s talking about you!” There is no bigger temptation for that when it is a sermon for your kids! When you hear from the pulpit, “Kids, listen to your parents,” you want to elbow them and say, “See? I’m not the only person telling you that!” I’m sure that was the case when this letter was originally written. Parents would have said, “See? The Apostle Paul even tells you to listen to me!” But then Paul in one quick verse addresses the father (and the mother by implication) to care for their children well. Just like we saw in our marriage series, God takes care to address both sides of the power structure. One is called to humble submission or obedience while the other is called to use their power to serve. So today, there will be an opportunity for both sides to throw elbows, as it were, into everyone’s ribs, as is usually the case when sinners come before the holy Word of God. The two points that we are going to look at today are, Children, obey your parents and Parents, help your children obey.
Children, obey your parents
Kids, do you hear from your parents this phrase, “You can do that when you are older”? That’s hard to hear, isn’t it? You want to be able to do something fun or important or grown up but you keep being told “You’re too young.” I remember being told that. It felt like because I wasn’t an adult I couldn’t do anything important! But that is not what the Bible says. While yes, you may not be old enough to drive, you are old enough to be important to the work God is doing in the world. How do I know? Because God has given you a job to do. And if you do it, God will bless you as well! How cool is that? So let’s see what it is.
God starts out this chapter by saying, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Let’s start here. God is telling you that you need to listen to what your parents say and do what they tell you to do. That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Well, it may be easy to understand what you are supposed to do, but it is hard to do, isn’t it? It is difficult when they tell you to stop playing and do your homework, or go to bed, or eat your food, because you would rather do something else. It is hard to do something you don’t want to do. In fact, your mom and dad have to deal with the same thing when God tells them to do something they don’t want to do. We are all, parents and kids, in the same boat together!
So why are we supposed to do this? God tells us, “for this is right.” It is the right thing to do. Why is it the right thing to do? Because God tells us it is. You obeying your parents is a command directly from heaven.The King of the World, The Commander of the Universe, tells you to obey your parents in the Lord, and that is what makes it right. This is especially true if you are a Christian child (Thielman, 397). If you have put your faith in Jesus and are walking after Him, it is especially important to obey your parents because that is what your Savior tells you to do. As an aside, following Jesus is something that you have to decide to do. Just because your parents are Christians does not automatically make you one. So if you are following Jesus, that is a job you have taken on by God’s grace, and it has responsibilities! Jesus has done so much for you and loves you so very much. He would only tell you to do something if it was ultimately good for you to do. So because it is the right thing to do, and because you are hopefully following the same Jesus your parents are, you should obey your parents.
Now, is it enough to just obey your parents but do so with a bad attitude? No it is not. That is why Paul brings up the fifth of the Ten Commandments! It says to “Honor” your father and your mother. You have to be respectful of both your parents. You have to see them as people whom you want to obey, not just have to obey. That’s a big calling, y’all. You have to obey and honor your parents by obeying with a good attitude.
Now, does God just say, “Do it because I said so?” That would be reason enough, but God is so good, He offers you even more! He says that the fifth commandment also comes with a bonus! If you obey, then it is going to go well with you, and you will have a long life. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you obey your parents that you are going to get everything you want. This also doesn’t mean that you will never get sick or have any hard things in your life if you are obedient. It also doesn’t mean that if a kid gets sick or has something hard in their life that they necessarily disobeyed their parents. What it does mean is that if you obey, in general, life is going to be easier. Believe it or not, your parents actually know a lot of stuff. God gave you the parents that He did for a reason! Think about how much more you know about life than your siblings. They are only a couple years younger than you, but you’ve learned so much in those couple of years. Imagine how much more you will know by the time you are your parent’s age! They know a thing or two, because they’ve seen a thing or two, and they can tell you how to make life easier. Proverbs 13:15 says “Good sense wins favor, but the way of the treacherous is their ruin.” In other words, going the way of the sinner is hard. The Hebrew word there describes it like a rut. It is so much harder to live a sinful life. It starts out being easy, but the longer you stay in it, the harder and harder it gets. Your parents know this and want to keep you from it. They want you to be on the path God wants you on. That path, while it can be difficult at times, in general, makes life simpler and has fewer troubles on it of your own making.
Let’s imagine this. Let’s say that you don’t do something that you didn’t want to do. Well, now you are going to get in trouble. Already, life is getting harder because now you are going to have to do the thing you didn’t to do AND get in trouble. But instead of leaving it there, since you don’t want to get in trouble, you lie about it. Now you’ve done two bad things! And now you have to remember the lie you told to cover up the bad thing you did. If your parents can tell you’re lying (and they almost always can), they’ll start to ask questions. Then you have to lie to cover up the lie! Then you need to lie again to cover up THAT lie, and your life gets more and more complicated! Eventually, the truth is going to come out, because God says it will (Numbers 32:23), and then you’ll get in trouble for the bad thing you did plus getting in trouble for the lying and you’ll still have to do the thing you didn’t want to do in the first place. Do you see how much harder that is? Life just goes better when you listen to your parents. God loves to reward good behavior, and you will see that the longer you listen to God and your parents, the better life will go (in general).
Let me give you two more reasons to obey your parents: 1) Because we need you to! Have you ever thought about the fact that we as a church need you kids? We need you to obey God just like the grown ups need to obey God. We are all in this together, you are a part of this church, which is why Paul has written this to you! This isn’t just a New Testament thing, either. Y’all have been important since the start of redemptive history! When God made a promise to Abraham, what did He promise? A child! (Genesis 12:1-3) Over and over again, God commands the grownups in the Old Testament to teach the children about God (Deut. 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; Ps. 78:4). When Jesus came to Earth, He said to let the children come to Him. God has cared about you guys since the literal beginning. We need you to learn about God so that you can pass this on to the next generation. You are going to see and meet people that we won’t be able to, so we need you to know what to say and say it to them. You won’t know those things unless you listen to what your parents have to teach you.
Finally, 2) Jesus obeyed His parents! (Luke 2:51). If Jesus listened to His parents when He was literally better than them, then so do you. You can be like Jesus was when He was your age (because He was your age, once!) by listening and honoring your parents.
Parents, help your children obey.
Now, kids, it is time for you to elbow your parents! It is time for them to listen up closely! Paul has words directed at the father of the family, but this would apply to the mother as well. The reason why Paul doesn’t address both parents is probably because the father bears the responsibility for the family (Theilman, 395). Paul says to them to not provoke their children to anger but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
What does it mean to “provoke your children to anger”? Well, this can be done in a lot of different ways. It can be through words spoken from a harsh heart, for instance. Yes, our children need to know in clear terms what they have done wrong, and they need to be given warnings about what that behavior can lead them towards in equally clear terms. But, at least in my own parenting, words of correction can easily become harsh, provoking words when my child’s obedience is more about my own sake, my own convenience, than God’s. In other words, if I correct my children because I am embarrassed by their behavior, I am more likely to be harsh with them because I want immediate results. I want to stop being embarrassed, so I’ll deal with it quickly and speak harshly which might change the behavior in the moment, but it is not shaping their hearts for the future.
If I make parenting about me, then I am parenting out of selfishness. If I make parenting an arena where I can display my teaching prowess, my goodness, and my godliness, my competencies, I make parenting selfish and reduce my children to objects and props in my life. Do you know anything good that comes from selfishness? Paul Tripp has a great book on Parenting (simply titled “Parenting”) and here is a little bit from that book: Listen to this line from Tripp: “I am afraid that parenting confusion and dysfunction often begin with parents having an ownership view of parenting. It is seldom expressed and often unconscious, but it operates on this perspective of parenting: ‘These children belong to me, so I can parent them in the way I see fit’ (13, emphasis in original). What Tripp is warning us away from is parenting goals and techniques that come from our own brain and for our own purposes.
You are actually raising God’s kids, and He has a way of parenting them that does not include sinful harshness. Does it include firm, consistent discipline? Absolutely, yes! That’s what follows in the next line of the verse! We are told to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. They must be taught what the Lord says and taught it all the time (Deut. 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; Ps. 78:4). That means you have to know it first. And that teaching must be reinforced through loving discipline when they inevitably disobey it. No kid comes into this world perfect. They all need discipline. We did! We still do!
Godly parenting is done in a context of loving care. That is what is communicated in the word translated “bring up.” As one scholar points out, the word used here is the same word that was used for husband to tenderly care for their wives. He went on to say that in the Jewish mind at that time, bringing up children involved more than just meeting basic nutritional and bodily needs but included affection (Thielman, 401). I heard from a teacher in a seminary class one time, a question that they would ask their students: Do you know that your parents love you? Almost everyone in the class would raise their hands. The follow-up question was more insightful, “Do you know that your parents like you?” Many fewer hands went up, and some of the students would be moved to tears because they couldn’t answer with confidence that their parents liked them. It is easy to believe that we have done all we need to for our children by teaching them the right stuff and making sure that they obey you. Parenting is not less than that, but it is so much more. Do your kids know that you not only love them but like them? Yes, there are definitely times where kids, just like adults, make it hard to be likable, and it is exactly those times where you as a parent need to reach out in prayer and ask God for love and affection for them. It helps to be reminded in those moments that this is often how we treat God. Yes, it is hard to make kids consistently obey. Some of you have been at it for twenty years! How long has God been at it with you? Twice that much time? Three times that much time? To borrow again from Tripp, parenting just brings out of us what was always down there, and if we blame our children for that, then we won’t see our need, we won’t run to Jesus, so we will get stuck in the same pattern over and over of getting angry, blaming the kids, settling down, and repeating the whole process again (40-41).
God has been very, very good to you, mom and dad. God has been very good to you, son and daughter. God has sovereignly chosen to put you all together. You need the kids you have and you need the parents you have because that is what God has put together. Yes, we wish that we could be better parents, and slowly and surely Jesus is growing you to be. The same is true for you, children. Jesus is working on you. Parents, you are meant to be instruments towards that end for your children. Tripp puts it this way: “God has met you so that you would be ready to introduce his glory and grace to your children. Every day is filled with opportunities to point to God…” (32). This is what the Old Testament is getting at when it tells you to teach your children as you sit down, rise up, and go about the day. If the goodness, grace, and providence of God has captured your heart and eyes, then it will come out naturally. Amazed people point to that which moves them.
As we close, let me remind you that this process is not possible without Jesus. Unless you have put your trust in Jesus and are being changed by Him, this process will be impossible. You can make a child obey, but you can’t change his heart. You can discipline a child, but only God can change him. Pray at least as much as you discipline. Trust in Jesus that you are not parenting alone. And if your children have grown up and not under your direct jurisdiction anymore, know that they haven’t escaped Jesus’. Jesus can and is continuing to work on them. Grab hold of that hope, for as long as they still draw breath, there is hope.
God cares about your body and what you do with it even in marriage. It is easy to assume that a message like that is really only necessary for the wider world outside the Church. There we see plenty of sin and rebellion to God’s purposes, but this can and does happen inside marriages as well. In this sermon, I want us to look at what is God’s plan for marital intimacy. This can be uncomfortable for some, and in fact as we will see in our passage that some Christians in New Testament times just wanted to skip the whole discussion! It is clear, though, that God will not allow for that. This is something that we have to discuss.
Now, before we begin, I know that this is a very sensitive topic. A lot of people have been hurt and abused in this area and that was not ok. People have dealt with a lot of false guilt and have taken the blame for their own abuse, and that isn’t right either! You are not responsible for other people’s sin. I also know that there are those who have heard teaching from pulpits and online resources that were well-intentioned but wrong. Other resources were well-intentioned and right but people abused what they said to justify their own selfishness. We will tackle those things as they arrive. For now, I want us to look at two points this morning, Your body belongs to God and Your body belongs to your spouse.
As we look at 1 Corinthians 7, we will notice that this discussion on sexuality in marriage doesn’t arrive without context. If we look at chapter 6, I think the relevant discussion begins in verse 9. Paul warns us in no uncertain terms what sexual immorality means: not entering the kingdom of God. We cannot serve God and sexual perversity. These are things that we must not embrace. Are they things that Christians can struggle against? Yes, but the key word is struggle against. Christians don’t try to justify or rationalize our sin but repent of it. And those who do by the power of the Holy Spirit get to enjoy the comfort of verse 11. I start there because there may be some folks either here today or listening later who may walk away from this sermon saying that there is no hope for salvation here, and that isn’t true. If something we discuss here today hits home, then know that Jesus died for that sin, too. You can find forgiveness and the power to stop in Him.
As we get into verse 12, we begin to see some Corinthian rationalizations of their sin. I like the way the ESV puts their wrong words in quotes to be countered by Paul outside quotations. The Corinthians are saying, “Well, in the gospel we are free to do whatever we want!” Paul responds by saying, “Yes, the gospel frees you from the penalty of sin, but that doesn’t give you a license to sin. Jesus saves you from your sin not to your sin.” The Corinthians come back with a better, more philosophical-sounding argument: “Well, the stomach needs food, so what do you do? You eat! Why can’t we apply that logic to the rest of our bodily needs? We are just fulfilling the designs of the body.” Denny Burke, a prolific Christian writer, actually extends, correctly I think, the quotation marks to include the next phrase. The Corinthians went as far as to say, “Ah, not only are we just filling a need, God is going to destroy our bodies anyway. They are just going to rot in the dirt while we go to heaven, so what is the big deal with what we are doing with them now?” I think Burke is right because we see Paul talking in the next verse (verse 14) that God is going to raise up the body. Our bodies may die, but they aren’t going to be ultimately destroyed. Far from it! They are actually going to be resurrected and remade! God actually does care about the body. The body isn’t just some shell that is going to be tossed aside because what is on the inside counts. All of you counts! Which is why Paul goes on to say that you have been bought with a price, and that includes your body and what you do with it. Yes, the stomach was designed for food (and even that has rules to it. We can’t make our entire diet unhealthy), but your body wasn’t designed for sexual immorality. Paul then goes on to describe what we shouldn’t do with our bodies, which is a sermon unto itself, but we are going to jump right to the end of the chapter to Paul’s command to glorify God with our bodies.
Of course, the next question we have to ask is, “How do we glorify God with sex?” Didn’t we just spend a whole bunch of time going through all the ways to mess that up? You know, why not just say, “Don’t have sex. Even if you are married! The risks for sin are just too great.” That’s the Corinthian solution. The Corinthians are kinda extreme people, eh? Can we not relate? As always the Bible has the correct answer. It is not because it has the best balance; that’s actually a terrible way to do ethics. The Bible gives us what the right answer is for our sexuality. The answer is not avoidance of it, but channeling it only in marriage. In fact, God designed your sexuality for a very specific purpose, and wants you to use this gift but use it properly in its season, as we saw in our Old Testament reading in Ecclesiastes 3.
Paul goes on in verse 2 to show why the Corinthians are wrong to take a prudish attitude about sex. Contrary to their thinking, sexless marriages don’t lead away from sin, but can actually set up for sin. As an aside, God did not design marriage because people couldn’t control themselves. Remember, marriage was created in the Garden when sexual passions were perfectly in control. As Calvin put it, for those who need and desire marriage, this is something that they need to do. They have a desire for sex, and that should be fulfilled in the marriage context where it is not only allowed but encouraged! Read the Song of Solomon! God looks favorably on this.
So this wraps up our first point. God tells you what you can and cannot do with your body because He has a plan for that part of you, too. God actually wants you to experience your sexuality which is why He has created a beautiful institution of marriage that ultimately points to the gospel. Sexual expression is confined to this single institution. That is the only place that God allows for this. Sexuality requires a covenant.
But now what is this business about this second point that I have: Your body belongs to your spouse. Isn’t this setting up inevitable abuse? How can God be saying that spouses own each other’s bodies? Well, let’s take a look at this passage very, VERY carefully. We don’t have to be careful because it is unclear what God is saying. We have to be careful and very precise because people have taken these commands and horribly abused them within their marriages. This passage does not teach sex-on-demand. This passage does not teach that only one spouse gets pleasure and the other doesn’t. This passage teaches that married sex is mutual giving and mutual satisfaction. Let’s unpack that.
The first thing we need to notice is how unexpected this command would be. Paul begins by saying that the husband has to give his wife her conjugal rights. This would not have been the expectation. The cultural assumption at the time was that the husband could expect that his rights to intimacy would be fulfilled regardless of what his wife thought (CITE). That would have been the expectation, and where Biblical Christianity hasn’t gotten into a culture yet that is still the expectation. The husband gets whatever he wants without any regard for how his wife feels about it. That is not the position of the Bible. It begins by saying, husbands, you have to fulfill her conjugal desires, and yes, wives are to do the same for their husbands. Husbands and wives are given, in the words of one commentator, “absolute equality in this matter” (Morris).
Paul goes on in even stronger terms. Each spouse owns the other’s body. The husband is not allowed to just force himself onto his wife. It is not his body to do that with. That kind of behavior isn’t Biblical, and it’s also illegal. It is still considered rape even if it happens in marriage, by the way, in all 50 states. Why isn’t it Biblical? Because the husband does not own his body. He cannot force himself onto his wife with his body because it is not his body to use in that way. The wife has Biblical authority over that. A wife is not allowed to do this either because her body is owned by her husband. We cannot force each other into something sexual that we don’t want to do. That is not allowed by God.
However, depriving each other of sex without mutual agreement isn’t allowed either. Look at what it says in verse 5. Paul allows for interruptions of this aspect of married life for the purposes of prayer (though this isn't the only reason) and even that only by mutual agreement. It is for a set time, and then the couple is to return to the normal course of things. I think the stress here needs to be on the mutual agreement. I don’t think we are supposed take away from this that prayer is the only reason to mutually agree to suspend marital relations. I think that recovery from surgery or childbirth, sickness, or other similar categories qualify for this. The phrase to not deny does not mean that one can never say no (The Great Sex Rescue). But it is saying that whatever the reason is for the “no” needs to be resolved so that marital relations can continue. If there is terrible pain during intimacy, as many ladies experience, especially early on in marriage, steps need to be taken to resolve said pain. It isn’t supposed to hurt, and there are medical steps that can be taken to help with that. Know that sometimes these treatments take a significant amount of time, especially if it has been painful for years, but treatment is available.
Paul gives the reason for this is so that either party won’t be as tempted towards sexual sin. Very often, this comes across in our explanations of these verses as a threat: “Satisfy your spouse or else they’ll go out and sin, and it’s kinda your fault!” Let’s be clear here, everyone is responsible for their own sin. Husbands are not allowed to blame their wives’ unwillingness for their porn usage. If you log on to porn, that is your fault alone. You are responsible for your own reactions to people even if it is a response to sinful actions. Jesus being led to the cross was absolutely being sinned against, yet He opened not His mouth. This didn’t give an allowance to sin. Notice even how God handed out punishments in Genesis 3. God didn’t say, “Eve, because your husband listened to you, now childbirth is going to be painful.” He punished her based on her sin, not giving her the blame for Adam’s sin. Adam did the blame thing. God did not. Is it sinful to deny sexual relations constantly for no real reason and not taking any steps to resolve the problem or offer any alternatives to satisfy the spouse? Yes, but that doesn’t give the other spouse permission to sin in response.
That being said, it is not helpful to ignore reality, either. Paul is not making this up as a reason to not neglect each other; he is writing under the inspiration of the Spirit. The people that this passage applies to, namely married people, by definition don’t have the gift of celibacy. So to deprive them consistently isn’t helping. We often focus on one spouse over another, but the reality is that both spouses have emotional as well as sexual desires. We both need to attend to both and not assume that we are meeting these needs. Let’s be frank here, husbands, if you are just running in and out of this process with little regard whether or not she has been satisfied physically and emotionally, you are not obeying this verse. If you are impatient or just trying to rush through “her part” so you can get to yours, that’s depriving. Ladies, same admonition. We tend to think that guys are all about the physical, and emotional connection doesn’t matter, but that’s not true (The Great Sex Rescue). Have you seen a husband whose wife genuinely loves and respects him? That’s a confident man. Have you seen a wife whose husband adores and cares for her? That’s a confident lady.
I want to back up and look at the big picture, as we draw to a close here. Now, you gotta pay attention here. If you don’t listen to this next part, everything that I have just said is going to leave you with an eternal power struggle of who has to give in to the other person’s wants in a downward spiral towards bitterness. Ok? Do I have your attention? Good.
The ONLY way this passage (really any Bible passage) is going to work is if you both are motivated by the gospel. For this to work the best, both of you have a role here. The purpose of sex is not ultimately your pleasure, though that is a part of it. It is ultimately about God’s glory (Burke). When we spend time with our spouses in total vulnerability and both working towards mutual joy, emotionally and physically, intimacy becomes a garden of security from the rest of the world and points to the joy of heaven (Burke). Not to say that heaven is a place of sex, but a place of fully being known and yet loved. If we treat sex as something that we get something out of rather than a place to give into, we are not glorifying God with it. We are glorifying ourselves with it. Sex is another part of our lives where we want to give God glory, and we want to glorify Him as best as we can. That doesn’t happen when we are being abusive to our spouse. If that is happening to you, you are not required to allow your spouse to sin. It is not kind of you to let them commit wrong against you and God. Let the church help. On the other side of the coin, glorifying God in our sex life isn’t happening if it isn’t there. A sex life that gives (not takes) is what God intends.
If you have had issues with that, you are not alone. If you are here today saying, “Oh, I wish I could be comfortable in this, but you have no idea what has happened to me.” And you are right, I don’t. I had a wonderful upbringing that didn’t include what happens to about twenty percent of the population. I was never abused. But if the stats are correct, about a quarter of you (men and women) have been abused in some way in the past. If that’s you, God sees you. And He wants to invite you and your spouse together to walk down a road of healing. It doesn’t have to stay this way. Will it require work, sacrifice, love, grace, and understanding on both spouses in the marriage potentially for years? Yes. But in my preparation for this sermon, I read many accounts of couples who did just that and found wonderful healing. It’s possible in Jesus. He invites you to bring to Him your brokenness and let Him work on it.
Sex is a beautiful gift. Don’t leave it behind. Christ died for your sins. He rose again from the dead. If you have put your trust in Him, you are going to heaven, the place of real joy that sex is only a shadow of. God calls you to be unselfish and loving to your spouse, both of you. And this applies everywhere in the house, not just the bedroom. If you are really selfish everywhere else in your life, you are being selfish there, I guarantee you. If you have an angle in everything else, you have an angle there. Give it up. Surrender to Jesus. Be another’s. Glorify God. Everything else will change.
Finally, if there is anything here that has been confusing or you still have questions, please come see me. Trust me, I’ve heard before. And if I have never heard that one before, I’ve got friends in counseling departments who truly have heard it all and can help. You are not alone in this, Jesus cares about you.
As we come to Easter Monday, we turn to our last reflection on why Jesus came to Earth. The last reason we are going to explore is for Christ to rise from the dead.
My son loves the book, the Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross. It’s a beautiful book both the way it is drawn and the way it is written (and you can get it at a fabulous local bookstore my mother in law just so happens to manage). When it gets to the part where Jesus dies on the cross, it remarks that Jesus had always planned to die and then says, “what a strange plan!” It is a strange plan from a human standpoint if you don’t have resurrection. If a person dies, they are unable to carry out their mission afterwards. But Jesus isn’t going to stay dead. He is going to rise again!
Jesus doesn’t rise from the grave as some sort of stunt or mere teaching moment. When Jesus steps out of the grave, a cosmic victory is won in that death is defeated. Death always held those it took, save one! Jesus has made death not permanent anymore! Resurrection is now guaranteed if you are in Christ. Jesus defeats death and is the way for us to defeat death, too! That should change absolutely everything!
Have you ever had a super crazy day packed with meetings and then suddenly have your longest meeting canceled? In a moment, you are granted hours of time, and now so many more things are possible in that day! What freedom! In fact, you may even feel a tinge of regret spending time preparing for that meeting now that priorities can shift!
If that is the difference that a few hours freed up can make, how much more should the knowledge that death isn’t permanent change how you live the rest of your life? There is life after death! And Jesus says that it is eternal life (John 3:16)! You will spend infinitely more time on the other side of death than this side. Does this not change what your priorities will be? Suddenly, life doesn’t have to be about making as much money as possible, or having the biggest house, or our kids getting into the best schools. There is more to life than what we see or what the world tells us to prioritize. Now it is about how God wants us to use our money, houses, and kids. This is not your only life anymore if you are in Christ.
The resurrection also gives a different view to the sad things in life as well. Dear friend, your troubles will not be present forever. You will be raised to new life one day if you have put your faith and trust in Jesus, but your troubles will not. Sickness, disability, and family disfunctionality will not be raised to new life. That should change how you look at your suffering. It is in fact not eternal. You will not be dealing with this forever even if you deal with it the rest of your earthly life here. Those troubles will end, those tears will stop, that pain will cease when Christ comes to call you home.
All of these hopes and changes in perspective only happen if Christ rose from the dead, which He did. And that is why He came.
Really good news can be hard to believe, especially in the moment. If I were to say that by coming here today, you each will receive ten million dollars at the close of this service, it would take you a couple of minutes to process that, wouldn’t it? You might not even believe it at first, assuming that you didn’t hear it right or I would just be messing with you. Even after you realized that such a thing was true, perhaps once you saw the check in your hand, it would still likely take a couple of days for you to process fully the implications of receiving that level of money. As the hours went on, you would realize all the things you could finish at the house, the debts you could be free from, and the people that you could help now that you have this sum.
Now, if that is the expectation for us when it comes to a sum of money, imagine what it would be like if I told you that a relative of yours who had passed away returned from the dead? Well, that would take even longer to process through! While ten million dollars is a lot of money, you can wrap your head around the possibility of receiving money like that. Receiving a gift like that doesn’t bend the laws of nature, but rising from the dead is a whole other matter.
With that in mind, I think we can be a little bit more understanding of the disciples. Yes, we can judge them for being slow to believe until they actually saw Jesus. Yes, Jesus told them many, many times that He was going to die and rise again. Yes, they had seen Him do amazing miracles, indeed, miracles that raised other people from the dead! But it must be realized that the prophets of old had done that, too. They showed the Israelites signs and wonders (though admittedly, not nearly as many as Jesus did) including raising people from the dead. But none of those wonder-workers saved themselves from death. No one had ever conquered the grave on their own before. This is new! If anything, the disciples had a view of the world that saw death as more permanent than we do. We have so many technologies and healthcare advancements that we are beginning to debate when someone is actually dead. They had no such hope like that. We need to cut the disciples some slack, and instead spend more time wondering why Jesus’ resurrection hasn’t affected us more deeply. This passage confronts us with two important realities: Jesus has conquered death and Jesus can give you eternal life.
The chapter opens with Mary coming up to the tomb to prepare the body (While other gospel accounts mention two other ladies with her that day, John just focuses on her). She didn’t have time to do this the day He died because Sabbath was about to start. Now that the time of rest is over, she comes back to the tomb to finish the work of putting spices and perfumes on Jesus’ body to mask the smell of decay. This would have been a costly venture, so we can see that Mary is fully convinced that Jesus is dead and is going to stay dead. With that thought in mind, it is no small wonder that when she sees the stone rolled back, her first thought is not “Oh! Jesus actually did it!” It is, “Someone took Jesus’ body!” In a superstitious time, much like our own, I could imagine someone thinking that Jesus’ body was still powerful and decide to take it. After all, Elijah’s bones did that (2 Kings 13:21), so why couldn’t Jesus’? In any case, she runs back to tell the disciples that someone stole the body.
Peter and John race to the tomb to confirm. John, a natural sprinter, it seems, beats Peter to the tomb and looks inside, but doesn’t go in. Why the hesitation? Well, something that profound would be a little scary to encounter. It may also be that John thought the women were mistaken, and if the body was still in there and John touches it, he would be unclean for a week, and unable to go to the temple (Numbers 19:11-13). Peter, impetuous man that he is, runs straight in to see. Sure enough, it’s empty! One commentator makes an important point here, “It is important to note the emphasis John and other NT writers place upon the importance of the empty tomb. For them the resurrection of Jesus was certainly not just ‘spiritual’ survival after death; it involved a real resurrection of the body.” (Kruse, Tyndale).
It would appear at this moment that John is the only one who believes that Jesus has risen—the other disciples are going to be a bit slower to understand (Kruse). Mary stands there and continues to weep when suddenly Jesus appears behind her. She does not recognize Him until He reveals Himself. She is overwhelmed with joy, and is sent to go inform the other disciples that Jesus has risen again. Let’s take a brief look at what Jesus says to Mary here, because there is a lot of confusion as to what Jesus’ words mean. According to scholars, the word used here is not prohibiting her from touching Him or holding Him but to stop holding Him. She could well have reacted in her emotion to grab onto Him to not let Him go lest she lose Him again. Jesus’ words would then mean something like this: “Stop clinging to Me. I have not yet ascended to My Father, it is true. But I shall certainly do so. Tell this to my brothers.” (Morris, 841). In other words, Jesus is tell her not to worry. He is going to ascend, but not right now. In the meantime, go and let the disciples know what has happened. (Bruce, 389). It is worth noting here who He first appears to. He doesn’t appear to Peter or some major figure. He appears to Mary, someone whom society at that time wouldn’t have thought much about at all. But Jesus does (Morris, 836).
As we are about to see, Jesus isn’t going to be making just this one appearance, but will in fact make multiple appearances in the coming hours and days. He first appears to 10 of the disciples (Judas was dead, and Thomas was absent) in the midst of their gathering. He does this a second time when Thomas is present. It is worth noting how physical this particular encounter is. Thomas is poking at Jesus and seeing the marks that crucifixion has left on Jesus. This whole thing is emphasizing a physical resurrection. It wouldn’t do to have Jesus simply “rise from the dead” as something just spiritual or metaphorical. If Jesus doesn’t literally rise physically from the dead, then the whole Bible is nothing short of just some fantasy tale or some sort of moral teaching about the importance of self-sacrifice. It is important to note that the disciples really weren’t expecting this. They didn’t understand the Scriptures about this, so they are hardly making something up to fit with a preconceived narrative (Morris, 835). In fact, Morris puts it this way: ““Moreover, as Thomas makes abundantly clear, the appearances were not at first welcomed. They were resisted as idle talk, and those who have not actually seen Christ for themselves refused point blank to accept the stories. Only the plainest of evidence could have convinced a skeptic like Thomas. But convinced he was, which shows us that the evidence was incontrovertible.” (851) Another commentator put it this way, “The early Christians did not believe in the resurrection of Christ because they could not find his dead body; they believed because they did find a living Christ.” (Bruce, 386)
So why does the story go to all the trouble to establish this fact? What does the physical resurrection prove to us that a mere “spiritual” resurrection does not?
Well, theologically, if Jesus didn’t physically rise, then our sins weren’t paid for. Paul makes this point exactly in 1 Corinthians 15:17. What does He mean by this? Well, in Romans, Paul says that the wages of sin is death. Wages are something you earn. What do you earn when you work? What is your wage? Money! What do you earn when you sin? What is your wage for sin? Death. Now, we can pay for that on our own, but it will take all of forever. There is no amount of time that will pass for you to be able to pay for all of your sin. You will be dead forever without Christ. But with Jesus, when He died, He paid for all your sin. How do you know He paid all of it? He rose from the dead! How do you know when a jail sentence is up for someone? They are free! They are out of their cell. In the same way, we know that all the death has been paid for by Jesus by the fact that He isn’t dead anymore! Death no longer has to be permanent.
Now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute. Christians still die. I thought you said Jesus has paid off all the death debt.” It is worth mentioning here that what Jesus has done is not prevent people from dying but changing what that death means. Death used to be a permanent state for everyone physically and spiritually. Now, as Jesus shows us, death isn’t permanent. At some point in the future, there will be a resurrection for all who are in Christ to new life! Just like Jesus’ physical body rose from the grave, so will ours (1 Thess. 4:13-18)! Paul mentions in that famous 1 Corinthians 15:55 that death no longer has a sting. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (although one day that is coming!), but it just doesn’t sting like it used to. It isn’t permanent! That, quite simply, folks, changes everything!
Jesus’ resurrection proves He is someone quite different. If He doesn’t rise from the dead, then He is just another teacher giving us a philosophy for life. Everyone else who had a theory about how life works eventually died and is still dead. But because Jesus rose from the dead as a real fact of history, it means that we have to take what He says extremely seriously. Why? I’ve thought of a few implications for His resurrection.
Since Jesus rises from the dead, it means that He is the Lord over the one certainty of life. You can avoid taxes if you want. You’ll go to jail, but then you don’t have to pay taxes there either! But you cannot avoid death. Everything and everyone eventually dies because we have all sinned. What’s worse, is sin has brought its death-dealing effects to the rest of creation. The sun in the sky is eventually going to die unless Jesus comes back first. But here, Jesus shows that He holds power over this. Death can’t hold Jesus. That means that Jesus is in charge over death, which means He has charge over life, too. I read in an article a couple weeks ago that one futurist believes that we will achieve immortality in the next decade. Advances in nanotechnology will allow internal repairs of our bodies, leading to a sort of eternal life. Even if such a thing is possible (which given how I still struggle to get my bluetooth headphones to connect to my phone consistently, I seriously doubt), it doesn’t give any hope to those who have already died. And as I mentioned earlier, the sun is going to burn out, so even if we can buy ourselves a billion more years, we can’t outrun death forever. But since Jesus has risen from the dead, we don’t have to run away. That enemy is defeated. It doesn’t mean we run towards it, but it does mean we don’t have to be afraid of it anymore if we are in Christ. A second implication is that if life after death is real, then that is the most important life we need to be concerned about. It will obviously last a lot longer than our lives here!
Of course, thirdly, if Jesus has defeated death, then our final implication is that He truly is Lord and God as Thomas has so memorably put it. We do well to learn how we can know Him better.
Jesus can give you eternal life.
As we draw to a close, we can see what John mentions at the end of our chapter. Why does John tell us all these things? These things are written so that we may believe in Jesus and have life in His name. What does this mean?
For the answer to this question, one commentator Leon Morris was particularly helpful. I commend him to you. He put it this way: “Faith, for John, is an activity which takes man right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ.” (336) Morris continues in another place, “John does not think of faith as a vague trust, but it's something with content… Faith means believing that –. Here he singles out two things in faith's content. The one is that Jesus is the Christ, i.e. the Messiah, the long expected One. The other is that he is the Son of God.” (856).
Hear what He is saying. Faith isn’t just some undefined feeling. True faith is in someone. It’s not just agreeing to facts but it is a full trust in Christ. Hear one last time from Leon Morris: “The name in some way express the whole person. To believe “on the name” of the Word, then, means to trust the person of the word. It is to believe in Him as he is. It is to believe that God is the God we see revealed in the Word and to put our trust in that God. This is more than simple credence. It is not believing that what He says it's true, but trusting Him as a person. It is believing “in” or “on” Him.” (99)
Is that where you are today? Do you trust in Jesus? Have you believed on Him? Have you placed the entire weight of your future in His hands? If you have, then things are going to look different in your life. God doesn’t bring someone to faith and then leaves them the same as they were. Slowly but surely you will see a change in your life as well. This is called repentance, and it starts as soon as you are united to Christ. You don’t try to fix yourself before you come to Jesus. Come to Jesus, and He will make you whole.
If you haven’t, I urge you to come to Him today. There is no better time than the present. Christ offers eternal life, so don’t stay in your sins and choose eternal death. There is eternal suffering down that path. You don’t have to go down it. “But Pastor, you don’t understand how many times I’ve tried to be better, but I just keep failing.” Well, then, come to Jesus. He is looking for tired and weary souls, and He promises to give them rest. “But Pastor, I’m still skeptical. I’ve got more questions. Well, as one commentator mentioned, remember Thomas! Jesus was able to handle Him. He can handle your honest questions as well (Hamilton, ESV Commentary, 301). Be found by Jesus. He loves you so much.
Good Friday is a reminder of the greatest exchange that has ever been made. Jesus was substituted for you and me. It is in this moment that our sin was paid for, and we could go freely to heaven. While there are some who dislike the church calendar, I think setting aside some time to contemplate Christ’s sufferings is helpful.
We tend to avoid thinking about pain and sadness because they are unpleasant, but it is exactly this pain that we need to focus on here. In our lives as Christians, we can spend far more time thinking about the positive moments in Jesus’ life, His teachings, His miracles, and His resurrection. All of these are important, but we mustn't skip over Jesus’ suffering and death. After all, that is a major part of why Jesus came to Earth in the first place and one of the main reasons Jesus was born in a physical body. Think about it. What is the one thing that Jesus needed a body for? He could have healed without a body. He could have done miracles without a body. God did that all the time in the Old Testament. But Jesus couldn’t die without a body. God, having a divine nature, cannot die, but when He takes on humanity, now it is possible to experience pain and death in His humanity.
On the cross, Jesus experiences physical pain and spiritual pain. Sometimes we can be overly descriptive on each side of this. We can exalt the physical pain over the spiritual pain because that is what we can most clearly see, understand, and relate to. On the other hand, we can point out that bearing the wrath of God that was aimed at us is far harder than the physical pain of crucifixion. After all, many have endured crucifixion that physically was harder than Jesus’, but no one has been crucified and simultaneously borne the wrath of God for the sin of the elect. This is absolutely true, but we don’t use that fairly abstract concept to numb the horror of the physical pain that He endured.
On the physical side, Jesus would have been whipped first, a tremendously painful punishment. The whips would have contained bits of glass, bone, and other sharp things to make the damage to one’s back substantial. Some even died just from that experience alone. The blood loss and pain are almost unimaginable from this experience alone.
From there, Jesus was told to carry His own cross, but He was too weak to do it. This isn’t because Jesus didn’t have the arm strength due to a lack of training in the gym. He would have been just as strong as anyone else in that time. If anything, due to His likely work as a carpenter prior to His ministry, He was probably physically strong as they wouldn’t have had power tools or easy means of lifting and sawing trees. He would have been too weak to carry the cross due to the beating He has already received. He likely has lost a lot of blood. So another man, Simeon of Cyrene is compelled to carry the cross for Jesus.
The cross as we imagine it, indeed, as it is depicted behind me, may have been different from what Jesus actually was hung on. One source I came across described a cross beam nailed to an already existing tree, with the feet hammered into the trunk of the tree and the hands nailed to the cross beam (Martin, Beck, and Hansen, 180). There were a couple ways to die on a cross like this. One has the victim eventually unable to breathe, as the position the body is placed in would only allow breathing when pulling on the nails in the hands and pushing on the nails in the feet. This would have been even more painful given the flogging that has already happened, and the roughness of the tree bark. The other way to die would be simple dehydration or blood loss (Keener, 684), which might take days.
Regardless of how Jesus would have died (and it is key to realize that Jesus gave up His life rather than had it taken from Him [John 10:18]) or exactly what shape the cross was, there is a shame component as well. In the Old Testament, it is clear that whoever hangs on a tree is cursed of God (Deu. 21:23), and now Jesus is hanging in that spot! What’s worse, He is hanging on a cross in the midst of other criminals. Anyone walking by would assume that Jesus was guilty of the same sorts of crimes that they were. Have you ever been in a group where a couple of people in your group did something wrong or stupid and the whole group was implicated, including you? Even though you had nothing really to do with the act in question, you feel the heat of judgment from those around you. They assume you did it, too, or were at least in agreement with the act. That shame by association that you feel is something that was thrown towards Jesus as well.
And here is where we transition to the spiritual pain of Jesus. It is here where we don’t have as much clear Scripture to guide us on how to think about it. In some way, Jesus, God the Son Himself, is absorbing the wrath of the Father aimed towards us. How that works is a mystery, but it is clear that Jesus became sin for us so that we might have His righteousness. In some way, He was turning away a real wrath from God towards Himself away from us, and it is difficult to even begin to imagine what that must have been like. He endured the wrath of God so that the elect would not have to. This is something that Jesus dreaded tremendously yet willingly suffered on our behalf.
How people respond to this death is dramatically portrayed in the two criminals on either side of Him (for the following, I am indebted to Martin, Beck, and Hansen, 178-9). One responds in mockery based only on what he saw with his eyes. A bleeding victim of crucifixion is hardly the Messiah everyone is looking for. What kind of savior is unable to save Himself? Yet the other looks to Jesus and despite what he saw with his eyes, he could see with the eyes of faith a vision of a King about to enter into His Kingdom. Is this not what Jesus pictured in Matthew 25:31-46? The sheep on the one hand and the goats on the other. (Martin, Beck, and Hansen, 179).
These are the only two responses to Jesus. Anything less than trust in Christ is against Him. That one thief with the eyes of faith saw his Lord, and was given the incredible promise that today he would be with Jesus in paradise. Jesus knew what was going to happen, and He was going to His exaltation. The thief could see that by grace, and asked Jesus for help. Note he doesn’t ask to get down from the cross. He simply asks Jesus to remember Him in His kingdom. The thief's hope lay beyond this life and comprehended what was important. What comfort would it be to get off the cross only to die later in life to eternal judgment? The thief knew what was truly important and knew the only person He needed to be united to. There wasn’t time to do good works, join a church, or even read the Bible. The thief only trusted Jesus, and based on Jesus’ invitation alone was he worthy to enter heaven. I’m sure if we could speak to the thief today, we would have loved to get to live and serve Christ here on Earth, which is our privilege, but the promise is still the same: look to Jesus, and you will live.
What is your reaction to Christ? You will have one. Is it the eyes of faith like the faithful thief? Is it with the understanding that you can’t save yourself, but Jesus can save you? Is it with a vote of no-confidence in yourself but every confidence in Christ?
Or is it like the other thief? Are you only interested in Jesus as long as you think it might pay off for you in gaining some other goal?
Either way, Jesus stands ready to save you. Just ask Him!
From here, Jesus gives up His life, is taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb. It is here that we leave Jesus and wait.
We are in the midst of a seven part series looking at seven reasons Christ came to earth. Today we come to reason number six: to present His passion for us.
How do you know Jesus loves you? For many, they think the level of Jesus’ love for them is proportional to the number of times they have gotten what they want out of life. They feel that God loves them when there is money in the bank but suddenly question God’s love where there is more month than money left. God’s love seems real when the prayer request is answered “the right way” that day instead of having to wait weeks to find out it is a “no.”
Many think this way, but if the circumstances of our lives where the only way to measure God’s love for us, then almost no one would have assurance of God’s love. We all have gone through something really hard, and the older we get the more frequent those hardships seem to come up.
We have something far more sure, far more dramatic as an undeniable proof that Jesus, God Himself, loves us. Jesus has shown us the ultimate expression of love in laying down His life for us. John 3:16 tells us that it was love that motivated Jesus’ whole mission that ended in His brutal death. What else could He possibly do to prove His love for you? He did even more than die for you, He lived for you as well (as we saw in the first post of this series). Living for us wasn’t easy either. Living a life of limitation when all He had ever known was phenomenal cosmic power must have been difficult. It wasn’t even a case where He gave up being God. He never lost His power but simply chose only to use His power to fulfill the wishes of His Father (Matthew 26:53).
This is an important concept to grasp because the world is constantly trying to convince you that God doesn’t love you, or at the very least isn’t very good to you if He does. As we have been studying in Sunday School, this is the very first lie that Satan gave to Adam and Eve. Satan told them that God is restrictive and mean. In other words, “He doesn’t really love you." (Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ). We can begin to think this lie ourselves if we are not careful. We can convince ourselves that a lie is true, and that always has disastrous consequences.
When we begin to think that God doesn’t love us, this is more than just an emotional temper tantrum. Besides being a sin in and of itself, it is beginning to sow the seeds of more unfaithfulness to God. That’s what happened to Adam and Eve, isn’t it? They believed that God wasn’t faithful to them, so they were unfaithful to God. And they weren’t the only ones. In Ezekiel 8:7-13, Ezekiel sees a vision of the elders of Israel worshipping idols. This is totally opposite to what God has commanded, but in verse 12, we get a glimpse into their hearts: “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, “The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.”’” (ESV, emphasis added). What are they saying here? They are turning to idols because they believe two lies. The first lie is that God can’t see, but the second lie is more insidious: “God has forsaken this land.” Things haven’t gone their way (due to their own sin, of course), so they assume God hasn’t been good to them. Therefore, since God apparently isn’t around anymore, they might as well worship these idols. Lies bring about spiritual lust, a desire for another god.
Now, we are not likely to start bowing down to statues when we are mad at God (only because that isn’t our culture), but I’ll bet that we are more willing to click on that website we know we shouldn’t go to when we are mad. I’ll bet we are more lax in our spiritual disciplines when we believe God doesn’t love us. Is this true of you?
We must constantly remember that even when trials come our way, the God who brought those into your life is also the one who died for you. God isn’t taking you through something hard for His own amusement or malevolence. When something has cost you a great deal to have, you are very protective of it and won’t take any unnecessary risks with it. Nevertheless you will also do whatever is necessary to care for it. This is most powerfully felt when one has a child, and this is exactly the image that God uses of us. We are His children, and He, as a good Father, loves us. Does He discipline us? Yes. Does He bring us through hard things to grow us? Yes.
Does He love us?
The cross tells us so.
We are continuing our series Seven Reasons Jesus Came, and today we come to our fifth reason: To Participate in the Pain of Man.
When we are going through something hard, one of the first things we want to do is find someone who has been through it before. Even if they cannot offer any particular solution or help, just having their understanding ear is valuable and comforting. A doctor is said to be a good physician if they have a bedside manner, a manner that communicates that they have at least some idea the level of suffering you are going through and respond in gentle understanding. Even if the treatment they prescribe for your condition may cause additional, though temporary suffering, you are more willing to go through with it because you know the doctor has your best in mind (illustration borrowed and adapted from Dr. Gerald Bray).
This is what we have in Jesus and what is so unique about Him from every other god. Jesus is God in the flesh. God with His divine nature, immune to pain, deprivation, weakness, sickness, and fatigue, took on human nature which was subject to all of those things. Jesus experienced fatigue so powerful, He slept through a storm on boat that was so bad, experienced fisherman thought they were going to die (Matthew 8:23-27)! Jesus experienced starvation, having not eaten in forty days and then be tempted in mighty ways to sin by the devil himself (Matthew 4:2ff). He experienced physical weakness (John 19:17 shows Jesus carrying His cross, but in all the other gospel accounts, like Luke 23:26, they found someone else to carry it. This means that he started out carrying it, but couldn’t make it the whole way due to the weakness from the beating). He experienced grief (John 11:35) and distress of soul (Matthew 26:38). He experienced betrayal by His friend (John 13:21-27), and even His own family thought He was crazy, at first (Mark 3:21).
Of course, what we remember today is the pinnacle of Jesus’ suffering: His crucifixion on the cross. He had nails driven through His hands and feet and was hung on the cross to die. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus was also bearing all the punishment for our sin on the cross! He was absorbing all of God’s righteous wrath aimed at us so that we would never have to go through that ourselves.
Then, Jesus died. There is no pain that God has not experienced. Jesus wasn’t the only one suffering that day. The Father lost His Son in that moment, too.
This brings up another reason why Jesus came to Earth. He came to experience what it is like to be human with all of its pain, coming at a time when it was likely the hardest to be a human being. He didn’t come in our time with air conditioning and modern medicine. He came at a time when creature comforts were vanishingly few. The Bible says Jesus can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14-15), but more than that, He can help us (Hebrews 4:16)! In Him we can find grace and mercy in our times of need! He truly is our Great Physician with a bedside manner forged in the fires of pain personally experienced.
Yes, Jesus understands us. You could say that He gets us. But more than that, He transforms us as well. He does not leave us in temptation, sin, and grief, but begins moving us away from those things in our life. We won’t see the conclusion of this process until we die, but even in death, He is with us and will shepherd us through that valley to joy. He can do this because He has already walked that path for us, and now He is the way through death to life.
So if you are going through something hard today, reach out to Jesus in prayer. Tell Him about it. Cry in front of Him if you need to. Jesus understands. And one day, Jesus will deliver you from that distress. It doesn’t happen instantly, but one day, you will be delivered comprehensively!
I remember once on a Saturday evening I was watching some nature show on the Discovery channel, when my dad came in from outside. He looked at me and said, “Oh, good, you’ll appreciate this. Come outside and see the real Discovery channel. I was intrigued, and I got up and followed him outside. In between two trees, glistening in the moonlight, was a spider’s web being carefully woven together. I watched as the spider was seemingly running on air building this incredible structure and was struck with wonder. I wasn’t thinking so much about how the spider was making the web, what kind of spider it was, or even my own personal feelings about spiders which, incidentally, are largely negative. My heart was simply captured by the wonder of this creature unfolding his web in front of me in such a way that I still think about that nearly twenty years later. My father was correct about this moment being the real Discovery channel, because I wasn’t just learning, I was discovering.
Too often we approach the Bible and important theological concepts as a set of facts merely to learn, to commit to our memories instead of seeing it as a revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper, a picture of the Lord’s work and its blessing for us has so often been reduced to a set of theological precepts that don’t include beholding Christ. Now, please hear me: I’m not saying that precision in theology isn’t important. It is critical. But the reason it is critical is not because you have to pass a theological examination to get into heaven. Peter isn’t going to ask you to quote the Westminster Catechism to him. But theological precision is critical because you want to know your Lord who loves you so much as well as you can. I want to know my wife’s shoe size, or her favorite flower, or what kind of work she would do if she weren’t an artist not because I am trying to pass a test but because I want to know my wife as completely as I can. It is the same way with Jesus—we should desire to know Him for His own sake.
We have covered what our understanding of this Supper is in previous sermons. Yes, this table is a table of blessing, whereby we commune by faith with our Lord Jesus Christ in a real, spiritual way. No, this is not the literal body and blood of Christ as if Jesus needs to have His body broken again for our salvation. Jesus did the work to save us from our sin and He did it completely—it is finished. There is no more sin among the elect to be atoned for anymore. Yet that does not mean that Jesus isn’t still working for us, ministering to us. He is continuing to nourish us, support us, pray for us, and bless us with His presence as we see signified and in a way accomplished in and through this Supper. That’s why this isn’t just a memorial as if all of the important work Jesus already did and is done with us. No, He continues to feed us after He washed us. There is no more sin to pay for, no more forgiveness to grant, but there is a deeper intimacy with Jesus to be had, and that is exactly what He gives us in this supper: Himself.
Having said all of that, that’s not what I want to explore in detail tonight. I want us to focus on Jesus, as the point, the purpose of this Supper. We don’t commune with Jesus in order to get some other blessing. The communion with Jesus is the blessing, is the strengthening of our faith. It all comes back to Him, and we seek Him and love Him because of Who He is, not what He gives to us.
We can think of it this way, have you ever visited your grandparents when you were a small child, and upon seeing them you say, “What did you get me?” Have you done that? Maybe you’re on the other side of that question now! If that’s the question, then what is that visit really about? Is it about seeing your grandparents, or is it about receiving the gift? When we are young, we can excuse enthusiasm for things, because children haven’t been around long enough to know what a profound gift a person is. As you get older, that gets clearer. Suddenly, when you are a teenager, or if God so chooses, a full-grown adult with grandparents, you see the value of who they are as people. Suddenly, you just want to see them. You cherish them for who they are.
That’s where I want us to grow towards in our relationship with Jesus. So let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s use this supper that is in front of us to remind us of the Beloved. This Supper blesses us in three ways that all go back to the person and work of Jesus. This supper blesses us by reminding us of what Jesus did for us in the past, by repeating our fellowship with Jesus in the present, and by revealing to us Jesus’ return in the future.
Reminding us of what Jesus did for us in the past
The Supper is a visual picture of the Gospel which is, quite simply, Jesus died for you. He did so in the most definitive of ways. God, as God, cannot die. Nothing is more powerful than God to force Him to stop existing, and He needs nothing to sustain His life. He is neither dependant nor subservient. But the payment of sin requires death. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins, Scripture says. So the Person of the Son, at the Father’s wish, takes on humanity. He becomes human while remaining fully God. By doing this, He takes on a nature that is weak, subject to external forces, and has needs. God can now feel pain, deprivation, and displeasure. And He does it for you, while you were yet a sinner. In the tearing of the bread we are reminded of this body that He took on was broken. When we pour the fruit of the vine, we are reminded of blood that was poured out to the very bottom. His body wasn’t scratched; it was broken. Jesus didn’t just bleed. He died. The death of the Son of God! Why, it seems almost a contradiction of terms. The innocent dying for the guilty as an ultimately good thing strikes us as scandalous! Yet that is precisely what we are saying in this supper, only we make it personal. The Innocent One died for me, the Guilty One, and that Innocent One was the very Son of God. The Holy One paid my debt, what could possibly be left to pay? My sin is dead and gone, and I am free! When I taste of this supper I am reminded of the grace and love of God that is complete. There is nothing I add to it. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a potluck where we all bring something to the table, it is a royal dinner served by the King Himself. To bring your own food is an insult to the Host Who has thought of and provided everything!
Repeating our fellowship with Jesus in the present
But this isn’t just a reminder of what Jesus has done in the past, but it is a repetition of our fellowship with Jesus. Jesus didn’t just die, rise again, ascend into heaven, and is now just waiting in heaven for us to finally show up. Instead, He walks with us the whole way. In John 6, Jesus uses this metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking His blood. And this is offensive to the people he says this to, so I’ve wondered why Jesus did this. At first, I just assumed that this was a way of showing us who was committed to following Him, that even when He said something confusing, the truly committed would just keep on following Him. Maybe that is part of it, but I think there is more. John 6 comes right after Jesus feeding the five thousand. He leaves and the crowd searches around to find Him. They ask Him to reproduce this sign, you know, just one more time, and then they will believe. Of course Jesus realizes this and points out that it isn’t about free bread, but about Him. You don’t come to eat bread, because that is not where true life is found, you come to eat Jesus. It is only in Jesus, not in what Jesus gives you that you find Life. You don’t find Jesus by looking in peace. You look in Jesus and there is peace. You don’t find Jesus by finding forgiveness, you find forgiveness by finding Jesus.
So what better gift can Jesus give you in the Lord’s Supper than Himself? That is what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. When we read the word “participation” or “partaking” the word behind that translation is the word for “fellowship.” You fellowship with Jesus in this cup of blessing. Listen to FF Bruce, “The true sustenance and refreshment of our spiritual life are to be found only in him who died that we might live. In all ways in which his people feed on him by faith – not only the Holy Table, but in reading, and hearing the word of God, or in private, or united prayer and meditation, (to mention no more) – they may fulfill the conditions which he lays down here [that of eating His flesh and drinking his blood], and receive the promised blessings (160). Do you hear what he is saying? By making use of all the means which God uses to bless us do we find Christ. But it must be said that there is something special about the Lord’s Supper.
Let’s look at the other means of grace God gives to us and see how they compare to the Lord’s Supper. The Bible promises to strengthen the believer, but it is also the means by which faith is produced in the unbeliever (Romans 10:17), so the Bible is for unbelievers, too. Prayer is the means by which we get in tune with God’s will as Christians, but it is also the means by which we cry out to God in saving faith (Acts 16:31). The Lord’s Supper, by contrast, is the only means of grace reserved for those who have already put their trust in Christ. This is something special, folks. This is dinner with the Friend of Sinners, the One who sticks closer than a brother, the Bridegroom of the Church.
I remember the rehearsal dinner for my wedding. It was such a sweet meal of fellowship with my bride-to-be in anticipation of the day to come when we would be united forever. Though, yes, there were many people there who were deeply important to me there, I only saw my bride. It wouldn’t have been a good meal without her there, in fact, if she hadn’t been there, it would have been the saddest meal of my life. But even a dinner as special as that was looking forward to something, a marriage within which all future meals would be together. And the Lord’s Supper is no different.
In this supper is a revealing of the return of Jesus. There is something very subtle in Luke 22:14. Jesus says that He isn’t going to eat of the fruit of the vine until it is fulfilled in The Kingdom of God. Jesus, on the night in which He was betrayed to His death, was already speaking of His coming victory, even beyond rising from the grave. Christ in that moment is looking forward to the time described in Revelation 19, the marriage feast. One of my favorite things about eating out is getting appetizers. It is food that promises even more food. It’s such a great experience, especially when it is good food because that promises that the main course will be even sweeter. This is one of those cases. The Lord’s supper we have here, with all of its benefits to us remind what Christ has done, repeats to us what Christ is doing, points us to what Christ is yet to do, and it is His greatest work yet! The best is yet to be, beloved. We have even more of Christ to experience.
There is a story of the theologian Thomas Aquinas. Thomas has an entire system of thought named after him due to the literal thousands of pages he wrote on philosophy, theology, and ethics, books which, while not right in everything, still have an impact nearly 800 years after his death. Yet, in the months before he died, it was said that he had a vision of Jesus during a church service. This master thinker and prolific writer suddenly stopped writing. When asked why, he said, “I can do no more. The end of my labors has come. Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life after that of my works.” Now I don’t know what he saw or if that story is even strictly true, but it does capture the point very well that there is more, so much more for us to see. God has given us so much in His Word, and what is true there will be true in heaven. Yes we should seek to know this book and study it like correspondence from a lover, but let it drive us to look forward to the day when we meet the Author Face to Face. Until then, let us fellowship with Him in this Supper.
Bruce, F.F. The Gospel of John and the Epistles
We are in the midst of a series of seven reasons why Jesus came to Earth. In this post, we are looking at the fourth reason: to Premier the New Promise of God.
What element of your church’s worship service could go missing without you realizing it? I doubt most people would forget about the sermon. I doubt even fewer would miss the absence of singing. Some might not notice the disappearance of the offering plate (but then tithing is done a lot online these days). But I’ll bet you if the Lord’s Supper didn’t make an appearance for a few months, very few would notice it. This is a phenomenon that Tim Chester poses in His book (Truth We Can Touch) about the Lord’s Supper. Yet the promise that Jesus is making here is in one way the reason that the Church exists at all. The promise made here is what Jesus sealed on the cross and was centuries in the making.
If we look back in time to Jeremiah 31:31, we see this incredible promise from God that is made in the midst of a book of judgement. Israel has had a covenant with God since father Abraham, and yet they have broken their end of the promise: to worship only God. This is a case of spiritual adultery (v32)! Yet God, forgiving God that He is, is going to make a new covenant, a covenant that is better, one that transforms the heart of the people He makes it with. This announcement is made in the midst of more good news: Israel who has been scattered in exile would be regathered again. By way of illustration, it is like a promise to a cheating spouse that they can come home, and it will be even better than when they left. It is a beautiful promise, an amazing covenant.
But there is something important to understand about Biblical covenants: they are sealed in blood. You wouldn’t make an ancient covenant without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:18-22), the slaughter of an animal. They would actually split the animal in two, and the parties of the covenant would walk between them. Why is this important? Well, this was a way of saying, “If I don’t hold up my end of the bargain, what may God make happened to this animal happen to me!” The Old Covenant was like that, and the New Covenant is no different.
There is key difference between the Old and New Covenant, however. Instead of an animal providing the blood, as is the usual procedure, Jesus does something different. He is going to be the sacrifice, the provider of blood, and the supper that He announces this is going to be the means by which we remember and proclaim Jesus’ work. When we break the bread, we remember how Jesus broke His body for us. When we pour the fruit of the vine, we remember how Jesus poured out His blood completely to death. When we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, we remember that Jesus is the only means of strengthening our souls in the same way that food strengthens our bodies.
That is what we celebrate on Maundy Thursday. Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant, promised all the way back in Jeremiah, but not by means of the blood of bulls and goats, but by means of his own blood. God bled for you to have salvation, and that is yet another reason why Jesus came. Without Jesus coming with a body, the possibility of bleeding was impossible for God. But when Jesus condescended to take one humanity, this possibility was opened and used just for us.
And there’s more! In this covenant, just like the Old Covenant with Abraham, God takes on both sides of the responsibility. Abraham didn’t walk between the animals in Genesis 15; God did. In the same way, Jesus has fulfilled both sides of the covenant by taking on the punishment for our unfaithfulness to God. We need only be united to Jesus by faith, and God will bless us with salvation and a changed heart and life! We will no longer desire to continue in our sin, but we will desire to be faithful to our covenant-keeping God. That is what this Last Supper inaugurates, and that is yet another reason why Jesus came.