Friday, March 23, 2018

Expressions of Faith. Hebrews Ch 12. A View of Heaven

Judaism has from the Torah itself always spoken of a life following this one. The Torah speaks about what seems to be a physical place, called Sheol, to which one "goes down" following this life. A variety of different passages indicate that Sheol was probably thought of as located in the center of the earth, although it is never formally described. What is clear is that this was a well-known concept amongst the ancient Israelites.
It was not until the Pharisees (c. 100 B.C.E.) that the notion of a spiritual life after death developed in any meaningful way in Jewish thought. The Pharisees, who were the forerunners of the rabbis, taught that when the Torah spoke of reward for following God's ways, the reward would be forthcoming in an afterlife, Olam Ha-Ba (world to come), as they called it.
Reform Judaism, while not taking any "official" position on the matter, has, for the most part, ignored the question, and tended towards the belief that there is no such thing. The attitude of Judaism might best be summed up as "We really do not know, but if there is a life after this one, and a reward for what we do, then surely it will be dependent upon the kind of life we have lived - therefore, let us strive to follow God's path for us as closely and as enthusiastically as possible, for then we will surely know all manner of rewards, especially the one of seeing a world that is a better place for our efforts."

As explained above, the concept of heaven is of Christian origin. I suspect that's why today's Scripture passage was included by the writer of Hebrews

No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
 Hebrews 12:22-24

A View of Heaven

Pearly gates.
Saint Peter.
Streets of gold.
Halos and harps.

Earthly descriptions of heaven are stereotyped and limited in scope. This passage offers a different view. Or, maybe it focuses on a much different view that’s more appropriate.

V22. Living God – not a mental or stone fabrication. Joyful angels – lots of them!

V23. The city is exclusive to the firstborn children of God, those saved by the blood sacrifice of Jesus.
The name of each firstborn is recorded there – no posers allowed!
Along with God, the perfect souls of the righteous wait for you.

V24. Jesus is there.

Next Expressions of Faith: Entertaining Angels

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Timeless Truths. Palm Sunday - Beyond the tree branches

Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is not only about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
It’s about why Jesus came to Jerusalem.
Be careful not to let familiarity keep you from hearing the message of this story.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.
Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.
Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.
Mark 11:8-22

Look at the strange things in this passage.
1. Jesus goes to the Temple in v11 and does “nothing.” That’s not what Mark implies might happen earlier in the verse.
Jesus saves the “BIG FINISH” for the crowd He knows will be there the next day.
2. Jesus response to the fig tree’s lack of fruit. It seems over the top since it’s not fig season.
Leaves can promise fruit but the can conceal fruit as well.
3. The day after Jesus arrives, he throws the buyers and sellers out of the Temple. This happens between the two parts of the fig tree story.
Cast out of the Temple is the same term used for Cast out demons. Jesus casts “unclean spirits” out of the Temple.
4. During this time Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.

From Cursed to Clean
A commentary on the fig tree story.
The fig tree is a parable of the state of the Temple.
Micah and Jeremiah use the image of a Barren Fig Tree.
Jesus goes to the Temple expecting it to be a fruitful place of prayer for all nations.
Why did the Temple Authorities allow this decline?

The parable is about Christians.
We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
We are supposed to bear fruit.

More challenging than bearing fruit is knowing when you’re not bearing fruit!
We can deceive ourselves into the shape we are in.

When Jesus visits your church does He see a functional Temple or a place hiding behind the foliage?

Use this time of year as a time of self-reflection.
Are you bearing leaves but not fruit?

It’s easy to know when some fruit is missing, but not so easy with other fruit.

On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus looked for
. . . a house of prayer for all nations,’ (Isaiah 56:7c) a place to reconcile Jews and Gentiles.
Is your church like this?
Is mine?

This sermon was delivered on Palm Sunday, 2016. The Presidential Election campaign was heating up, figuratively and literally. 
The remainder of this message addresses the angst that was present then and is still with us today.
Read. Think. Pray. Respond.
If you are a follower of Christ, YOU ARE THE CHURCH.

Too many people today are angry and exclusive in support/opposition of “their” candidate.”

Christ’s Church is called to be
The Temple of the Holy Spirit
A place of prayer for the nations
God’s project of reconciliation exemplified

The Church cannot be associated with violence and division.
The Church must commit to completing God’s agenda—be good Samaritans to all in need.
The Church cannot allow the political mood of the day to drive it.
The Church cannot respond to anger from any source with more anger.

Jesus Heals a Man's Withered Hand
[Jesus] entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.
He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward! And He said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?" But they kept silent.
After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
Mark 3:1-6 [NASB]

In this story of a man’s withered hand, we see that God can restore whatever has withered be it a hand
a fig tree
a Temple/church
a soul/spirit

As you move through Easter week, pray for God to restore the withered state of our lives and our country.

Special thanks to Dr. Sam Powell for the primary teachings in this post.

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