February 17, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
John 12: 37-50; Romans 5: 12-17
- Today is our second Sunday in the season of Lent. As I said last Sunday each week we are looking at an aspect of what was taught new believers in the early church. Each week the symbol of that next aspect of teaching will be on the bulletin cover and hung on our "Lenten Tree" here.
Last Sunday we began with the 10 Commandments, their position in the covenant and their place in our lives - giving us boundaries to our lives, showing us sin and keeping us out of the mud of sin.
Today, we turn to Jesus.
Even though there are many voices today declaring otherwise the New Testament gives clear witness to this very basic fact: the first disciples knew Jesus was both Lord and God-He was the Savior and they had been saved by Him.
They offered Him worship, they wrote hymns extolling Him, and they experienced Him with them after his death and resurrection, over a 40 day period of time. Once He even appeared to 500 disciples at one time. The first Christian creed was the phrase "Jesus is Lord" which may not seem significant to you and me, but that very statement meant you stood against the prevailing government's edicts which declared "Caesar is Lord!"
In the first century to believe that Jesus was God meant that you belonged to a "foreign superstition" that you were an "atheist" for you were refusing to offer worship to the emperor. It was not long before the threat of this sect was felt throughout the known world.
So, in 44 AD, about 14 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Roman Historian Tacitus wrote this of the persecution that began under Emperor Nero who torched Rome and then placed blamed upon the Christians:
"Nero set up as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. … Checked for the moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judaea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome, that receptacle for everything that is sordid and degrading from every quarter of the globe, which there finds a following. Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed; then on their evidence, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as because of hatred of the human race… they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual." (Documents of the Christian church, Oxford University Press, c'63, ubp pp. 1-2)
You can catch Tacitus' belief that Christianity was an evil thing, a pernicious superstition, and that its adherents were hated for their "abominations". However, still he viewed that Nero was in the wrong here for he was cruelly punishing them to satisfy his own evil heart.
Persecution however never stopped the message. In the first and later decades of the church those accused as Christians were asked to renounce their faith, curse the Christ, and offer worship to the emperor. In 155 AD at the martyrdom of Polycarp then bishop of Smyrna, a town in Asia Minor, when urged by the Proconsul to thus recant his faith in Jesus, Polycarp responded: "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me!" (ibid. p. 10).
Such a response had to be based upon a strong, fervent reality in his life. It was a testimony repeated by many who gave their lives for Christ - beginning with Stephen's martyrdom described in Acts 7 and the martyrdom of all the apostles except St. John. Again the words of Paul were proven true that the Gospel could not be chained for this Jesus who was worshiped truly was God in the flesh and those who loved Him were changed by Him into mighty witnesses, proclaiming Him even to death.
- Sometime in these early centuries the symbol on the bulletin cover and the acrostic of the word fish was developed. An acrostic is when you take a word and make a word of each letter to give the word a new meaning. The word FROG was taken several years ago and made into the acrostic: FULLY RELY ON GOD. So, the symbol of a frog now can carry the weight of that meaning.
In like manner, the Christians took the Greek word for Fish IXTHUS and found they could make an acrostic about Jesus from each letter. The symbol of the fish had long been a pagan symbol, but by being adopted by the Christians was given a new meaning.
The words applied to each letter are on your bulletin cover: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior". Perhaps drawn on the ground as a symbol of Christian faith or used as a signal of the same, the symbol is found among the graves of Christians even with on epitaph from the third century saying, "Divine offspring of the heavenly Fish, preserve a reverent heart when thou takest the drink of immortality that is given among mortals." (Bettenson, Ibid., p. 86)
Now today the fish is used on bumpers and business cards - and some have had nothing but bad experiences with businesses who with a "fish" claim to be followers of the Lamb of God. The fact is some probably are Christian and full of integrity, but others are far from it and I have met many who will not do business with anyone who puts such a symbol on their business for in their experience those who have thus advertised "faith" are far from living it.
- But what this symbol does tell us with clarity is what the early Christians summarized about Jesus Christ. The early Christians believed Jesus was not just a man, but the promised Christ of God, predicted through some 2000 years of Jewish history. They believed Jesus was the God Man. They believed he was God's Son - not the son of Joseph, but the son of the Living God who "became" man! And they believed he was the Savior - their savior, and the one who came to be the savior of the whole world.
The passage read from John 12 comes at the end of Jesus' public ministry, following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here we hear testimony from Isaiah that many Jews would not believe, for their eyes were blinded and hearts deafened to the words Jesus spoke. However, we read also that this prophecy was not some blanket tossed over all Israel, for some leaders among the Jews did believe, two of these we would later learn were Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. And Jesus' last words illustrate that to believe in Him is to believe in God the Father who sent Him and this belief leads to eternal life.
In Romans 5 the apostle Paul explains with radical clarity just what this life means to every person who receives the grace and gift offered in Him.
So I want us to look at this passage - for it powerfully explains what it means that Jesus is the Christ, God's Son and Savior. This is what the early church believed. This is what we are called to believe. So what are we believing?
This passage in Romans 5 says with clarity that there were only two men in the history of the world that we need to remember - of all the billions of people who have lived only two effect us all. There are only two men that God sees who stand out from all the rest: Adam and Jesus Christ. In this passage we learn that they have a point of similarity between them. And they have multiple points of difference in what happened through them.
First what they share: both Adam and Jesus began something new for the whole of humanity. Both of them took an action and each of their actions effected all of humanity for all time. So, they were "beginnings".
Adam, created by God from dust and given life through the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, was the start of the first creation. Jesus, uncreated, God born man of the virgin, also began something: the new creation. This is why Paul writes in v. 14 that Adam was a pattern or a type of Christ - he did something that still lasts but Jesus began something that will last into eternity.
So, this first man sinned, trespassed God's command, he chose to "go against" the command of God, he rebelled and his rebellion we read in v. 12 brought death to all men - to all of humanity because in Adam we all sinned. So Paul says in v. 17, "by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man…"
That is what Adam began. Paul says here that although this is devastating, although it affects every person born, it is far less a consequence than what the Second Adam, Jesus Christ accomplished. So we do not despair!
So what did Jesus accomplish? He brought the gift of righteousness to us which was not like the trespass - for as the trespass (Adam's sin) brought death to many how much more did "God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (v 15)
Whereas the sin of Adam brought condemnation the gift through Jesus brought justification. (v. 16)
Whereas death reigned through Adam, in contrast how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (17)
Paul goes onto say that whereas Adam was disobedient to God and thus many were made sinners - notice it is passive, you do not "choose" to be a sinner, you are made one by the sin of Adam - so also through the obedience of Jesus the many will be made righteous.
- So there are just 2 men in all of history in which we find ourselves - we are either in Adam and in consequence of that, still under condemnation because of sin and death or we are in Christ - which we are told in v. 17 means we have received the grace and the gift offered to us in order that we may reign in this life.
The contrast here is so immense. Jesus is not a Savior who merely saved us from death, no, he is one who saves us INTO life, even that eternal life which he spoke of in John 12. Jesus saved us, brought us into Himself, out of sin and death, in order that we may reign in this life, experience that "abundant life" day by day, that joy that He wants to bring to us.
The Phillips' translation of verse 17 says: "For if one man's offense meant that men should be slaves to death all their lives, it is a far greater thing that through another man, Jesus Christ, men by their acceptance of His more than sufficient grace should live all their lives like kings!" (Romans 5:17, Phillips New Testament, Macmillan).
What a huge contrast there is to living like a slave, owned by another, with no possibility of freedom, as opposed to living as a part of God's own royal family - given a new name, a new birth right, given life!
- Two experiences have underlined this reality to me in the past couple weeks.
The first is my Lenten discipline this year. On February 5th the night before the beginning of Lent Gabrielle, my youngest, and I were having our discipleship time together and she had just told me all that she was giving up for this season in order to focus more fully upon Jesus. I was impressed. So, having not yet made up my mind on what I wanted to do for the season, I asked her, "What do you think I should focus on for this season?"
She immediately had a response - as if she had been waiting for me to ask-and said, "I think you should give up being stressed out, being overwhelmed in life." That surprised me. You see, I don't see what others see and needed her to say this to point this out to me.
We chatted about what she had seen in me, and how I "live" this life God has given. The conversation underlined how much "being overwhelmed" really had become a pattern in my life, it was not God-glorifying, it was not God honoring. So, that is my discipline to not be overwhelmed. I chose Colossians 2:6-7 to be my theme verses which say: "Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."
So on February 6th I began this discipline which has turned out to be much more challenging than anything else would have been for I discovered soon into it that I do have an emotional habit of getting overwhelmed. As one brother told me, "if I don't arrive home from the office overwhelmed it must mean I have not worked hard enough".
The first couple days were a breeze but on the third day I encountered a computer problem which nearly fried me and in the process my whole system was frustrated and I began to get overwhelmed. So, while I was working on something else, I asked if Gabri would read my theme scripture aloud.
What I have discovered is that I have all the resources in the universe to not allow life to overwhelm me if I just will receive those resources. That God has intended that I experience great joy in this life and to live with thankfulness, but that I can choose to abide in feelings which are not telling the truth instead.
Part of what the provision of grace and the gift of righteousness mean for me during this season, is the ability to "reign" in the fullness of what God has given me in Christ. It is the gift from God to live this life - not just be "saved" for some future life.
The second experience is the fruit of two conversations in which both persons were describing other conversations they had had. In these, they have people proclaiming the "philosophy of life" they were living by, but where that philosophy had no basis in truth. They believed they had created a third human category - something other than In Adam or In Christ - however they were sadly deceived. In these also were people who "claimed" Jesus - they may have had a "fish" on their bumper stickers but did not follow him in their choices in life. They were "Christian" by name but not by behavior or heart, which in essence meant they were not Christians at all.
These people have not discovered that their choices of sin causes them to be a slave to sin-they have lost hold of the Head, Jesus, and rebelled against His leadership in their lives. They have quit relying upon the depth of understanding about this Jesus Christ Son of God Savior, exhibited by the 1st Century Chrisitans, but believe the relativism of this age.
Were they to encounter persecution as their fore fathers did, they would not be able to stand up in it, but would recant their faith and turn to other gods. Indeed, even without such a test that is already what they have done.
Is your life being patterned after the One you claim?
Remember IXTHUS! Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.