Not if You Die. . .

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It’s interesting what we worry about in life.  Most of us, at one time or another, have probably worried about how our lives will end and wondered what we might do to extend the time we spend on this earth.  If you watch the news, you may have come to the conclusion that this is a fairly violent world we live in and a disproportionate number of people die as the result of criminal acts and armed conflicts.
But according to a World Health Organization study, done a few years back, fewer than 3% of people died as the result of an intentional act.  Seriously, of the 57,029,000 people who died that year (give or take a few), 1.5 % were suicides, 1% died as a result of criminal violence and only .3% were killed in armed conflict; that would be war.  So, statistically speaking, out of every 100 deaths recorded, fewer than 3 were intentional, 30 were related to cardiovascular disease, 12 were the result of cancer and 6 were accidental. 
But the reality is this, it doesn’t matter how you die, because you will die, what matters is that you are ready to die.  Are you?  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

3:16- John

We’ve all seen them, at sporting events and
concerts.  The obligatory John 3:16
signs.  In case you are wondering that
all started in 1980.  A guy by the name
of Rollen Stewart had been making a name for himself by appearing at major
sporting events wearing a rainbow coloured wig and dancing wildly for the
cameras.  He was referred to as “Rainbow
Man”.  In 1980 following the Super Bowl,
Stewart was sitting in his hotel room watching a Televangelist by the name of
Charles Taylor and committed his life to Christ.  Shortly after that he decided to add the John
3:16 sign to his “Thing”. 

He claimed that he travelled 100,000 kms a
year to various sporting events, including the Indianapolis 500, the Olympics,
The Super Bowl and even showed up at Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s
wedding.  He truly felt that what he was
doing was a ministry that would lead people to Jesus. 

Not everybody agreed.  One sports director actually threatened to
fire any cameraman who focused on Stewart.

But things spiraled out of control for
Stewart, and his actions became increasing bizarre.  His wife left him claiming that he choked her
for holding her John 3:16 sign wrong, at the 1991 Masters he blew an air horn
as Jack Nicklaus lined up a putt. 
And in 1992 he was arrested after an
attempted kidnapping turned into a hostage situation.   He is presently serving 3 consecutive life
sentences in California. 
But it wasn’t
just Rollen and his sign.  You might
recall Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow wearing John 3:16 printed on his eye
black while playing College Football. 
When his team won the 2009 BCS (Bowl Championship Series) Championship
game John 3:16 was the most googled term on the internet the next day.   Shortly after that the rules were changed,
forbidding college football players from having words written in the eye
black.   This is sometime called the
“Tebow Rule”.
And on January
8, 2012 exactly three year to the day from that College win Tebow played his
first NFL playoff game and led the Denver Bronco to victory over the Pittsburg
Steelers.  and here are some stats for
that Game.   Tebow
threw for 316 yards.   He averaged the
highest single-game postseason completion average in NFL history and that was 31.6
yards per completion,

The second-quarter interception, which resulted
in the Bronco’s taking a 17-6 lead, came on you guessed it the third-and-16.

But it’s not just football, pro-wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin has been known to
wear an Austin 3:16 shirt, and some Christian Businesses try to include it,
here is a cup from Christian owned “In and Out” Burgers in the states, and it
creeps up on Road signs every once in a while.  
Back in the day
a buddy and I were hitchhiking from Sussex to Saint John, and so we included
3:16 on our sign.  We walked a lot on
that trip.
Just a year ago
Keith Urban went to number one on the Country charts with this little ditty.
(John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16)

John 3:16, in case you are wondering, is
probably the most memorized verse in the Bible, it has been called “The Gospel
in a Nutshell”.  In the King James
Version it says  John 3:16  For
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  In the New
Living Translation it reads John 3:16  “For God loved the world
so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him
will not perish but have eternal life.”

The
story has been told about President Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore and George W.
Bush or  you can simply insert the name
of your least favorite politician. 
Actually
the first time the story was circulated was in 1990 in regards to George W. Bush’s
Father the first President Bush.  But the
story is always the same that that particular politician is speaking at a
gathering of religious leaders and as part of his remarks he comments on his
favorite Bible verse and he means to say John 3:16 but instead he cites John
16:3 which says John 16:3  And these things they will do to
you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  Completely
different meaning.

I guess we’ll stick with 3:16.  But John isn’t the only book in the bible to have
a third chapter with a sixteenth verse.  And
so this summer we are going to look at a variety of 3:16s throughout God’s
word. 

Now please understand that there is nothing
magical about 3:16.  Every Chapter 3
verse 16 in the bible doesn’t have something profound for us.  The system that we have of Chapters and
verses in the bible has only been around for the past 500 years or so.  And they are pretty arbitrary and were just
put in place to make it easier to find locations in the bible.  So there aren’t 66 parts to this series, there
are only 11.

And so it only makes sense that our first
message comes from John 3:16. But like most verses in the bible John 3:16
doesn’t stand by itself, it is a part of a bigger story.  And it is the very beginning of the story as
told by John.  By now we have seen Jesus
baptized by John, we have been able to watch as Jesus turns the water into wine
at the wedding in Cana and have seen how he cleared the temple courts for the
first time. 
And chapter 2 ends with this statement John 2:23-25  Because of the miraculous signs
Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him.
 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature.  No one
needed to tell him what mankind is really like.   And that doesn’t
sound like Jesus, but it was. 
And then chapter 3 begins with these words John 3:1  There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was
a Pharisee.    And the next 21 verses chronicle the discussion that ensued between
Jesus and the man Nicodemus and it is in the discussion that we read the words
of John 3:16.
It is a given that John 3:16 is about
lover, but what is it we can discover about this love?   Let’s
take a look.
So let us start with John 3:16  “For God loved the
world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes
in him will not perish but have eternal life.” 
The first thing we discover in this verse is The Person of this Love How often do we hear about the wrath and
anger of the Old Testament God and the love and grace of the Jesus in the New
Testament? 
Somehow we get the picture of a gentle
graceful Jesus rescuing us in just the nick of time from this grumpy Old
Testament deity.
When we are challenged about events from
the Old Testament that we can’t explain or that embarrass us we blame the
vengeful jealous Old Testament God.   But
seriously, is that a reality? 
Listen up folks there is no Old Testament
God and New Testament God, there is only God. 
Or perhaps we see God the Father and God
the Son sitting around the heavenly strategy table and the Son saying “Well
Dad, we tried it your way and it didn’t work, so let’s try it my way.” And it’s
almost like Jesus argued with and persuaded the Father to try something
different.  To stop being so judgmental
and angry with the world
But that wasn’t it.  Listen again “For God”.  This was God’s idea, this was God’s love that
is spoken of in John 3:16.  “For
God”.  And we diminish the character and
the love of God when we try and define him by putting him in an Old Testament
box or New Testament Box.
Throughout the Old Testament we read about
the unfailing love of God, the love that God has for his people and God’s everlasting
love.
 And
so the Person of this love is God.  So
let’s go on from here.
John 3:16  “For God loved the world so
much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him
will not perish but have eternal life.” So the next thing we need to understand is The Breadth of this Love   God
didn’t just love part of the world, he didn’t just love the loveable, he didn’t
just love the obedient.  The word says “For
God loved the world.”   That’s not just a part of the world that is all
of the world.
It was for the world; it was not for a
single nation. Or a single group of people. 
 It was not just for good people,
and it wasn’t just for people who loved God. 
It was all the world that God loved, the lovable and the unlovable, it
was for the lonely and the lost.  It was
those who accepted the love of God and for those who have rejected the love of
God.
And that is hard to get our head around,
I’ve talked in the past of the scandal of Grace.  We all know who should be on the naughty list
and we all know who is on the nice list.
And while we are sure that God loves us and
our family, and the nice old lady next door who bakes us cookies and smiles at
our kids.  We’re not sure about the
terrorist and despots or the jerk who cut us off in traffic or the old guy who
yells at our kids for cutting through his yard. 
Or the person whith more than 8 items in the express line. 
But John 3:16 doesn’t tell us that God
loved nice people or lovable people, but that he loved all people.  Regardless of their gender, their race, their
colour, their religion or even their political party or personality.
Which is why we are told in Romans
5:8
 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die
for us while we were still sinners.  When?  While we were still
sinners.  And that is the reality that
whether we can get our heads around it or not, God loved the world, this
broken unregenerate world.  And he loves
it the way that parents love their rebellious child.  It is a love of broken-hearted grief but it
is love.
And so we continue John 3:16  “For God
loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” And
here we discover The Depth of
this Love 
It doesn’t just say “For
God Loved the world that he gave”  No, it
says “For God loved the world so much.” 
How much did God love the world? He loved the world so much, that he
gave his one and only son. 
Think about that.  Who is there that you would willingly
sacrifice one of your children for?
There was a time that I questioned
this.  I thought, “If God loved us that
much why wouldn’t he have given himself instead of his son?”  And then I became a parent.  
I have mentioned this before, there are
many of you here that I would sacrifice myself for, what’s the phrase?  I’d take a bullet for you.  But there isn’t one of you here that I would
sacrifice one of my kids or grandkids for. 
Sorry, but that’s the way it is.
But God loved the world so much, that he
was willing to give up what meant more than his very existence.
Paul tells us in the book of Romans 8:31-32  What
shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can
ever be against us?  Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him
up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
And so this leads us to the next
point,  John
3:16
 “For God loved the world so much
that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not
perish but have eternal life.” The
Acceptance of this Love 
This is
where universalism breaks down.  If the
verse simply said “everyone” then it wouldn’t matter what you did, or how you
behaved or what you believed.
But the scripture doesn’t just say
“Everybody” but it says “Everybody who believes in him”.  Believes in who? Believes in the Son. 
Jesus goes on to say in John
3:18-20
 “There is no judgment against anyone
who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been
judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.  And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into
the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions
were evil.  All who do evil hate the light
and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.
And that isn’t just an isolated statement,
remember the first two weeks in June when I preached on baptism we kept going
back to Mark 16:15-16  And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.
 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved.
But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
Jesus came to the world, salvation is
offered to everybody, and salvation is like the sun, it provides light for
everyone, but you have to open your eyes if you want to benefit from that
light.  And it’s not just a head
knowledge, it’s not enough for the belief to be here in the head but not here
in the heart.  You can’t just say you
believe if that belief hasn’t actually had an impact on your life.
I love the story of Charles Blondin, better
known as the Great Blondin.  And the
Great Blondin was a tightrope walker, and he was the first person to walk
across Niagara Falls.  He did it on June
30th 1859.   And after he got
across he asked the crowd “Who believes I can walk back across with a man on my
back?”  And everybody cheered, and then
he asked “Who wants to be that man?”  And
nobody said anything.  They believed
here, but not here.  And then one man stepped
out of the crowd and said “I’ll be that man.”   The rest said they believed, but Harry Colcord really believed. 
God extends the
invitation of his love to us, but it is up to us to accept it the invitation.
So what happens when you believe?    John 3:16  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one
and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have
eternal life.” The Results of the
Love 
Did you catch that? It is a
twofold result.  The first is that the
person who believes will not perish.  You
will not be separated from God for the remainder of eternity.  That means you won’t go to hell.
But it doesn’t just end there, you see more
than simply being a fire escape from hell the person who believes is promised
eternal life, not just living forever but living forever in the presence of the
God who we serve.  And sometimes I wonder
if we miss that. 
We think of heaven with pearly gates and
streets of gold, and good times lasting forever and ever.  Yep, in the presence of the God who we love
and serve and in the company of his children, other Christians.
Which is why I find it so hard to get my
head around why there are those who call themselves followers of Christ and
children of God who don’t spend any time with God or his kids now. 
A little aside here, it was J. Oswald Sanders who wrote “It is impossible for
a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will
not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let
other things go, but don’t neglect Him.”
So, to sum up Nicodemus comes to Jesus and
Jesus tells him in John 3:3 that he must be born again, they get into a
discussion about what that means and Jesus eventually tells Nick how much God
loves him, and Nicodemus’ response?  We
don’t know.  We have no clue how the
conversation ended. 
In John Chapter 4 we read the story of the
Samaritan woman at the well and how she embraces the claims of Christ and goes
back to her village to tell everyone she knows about him.
In Mark chapter 10 we read about the rich young
ruler who came to Christ and left rejecting Christ’s claim on his life.  But there is nothing in this account to
indicate that Nicodemus either accepted or rejected the claim of Christ on his
life. 
Now we do hear from Nicodemus again before
the story ends.  When the religious
leaders begin to plot against Jesus we read in John 7:50-51  Then
Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up.  “Is it
legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.
 And then after Jesus has been
crucified and Joseph of Arimathea asked permission to take down Jesus’ body we
read this,  John 19:39-40  With
him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought
seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.
 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices
in long sheets of linen cloth.
In his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” , Pope
Benedict XVI comments “The
quantity of the balm is extraordinary and exceeds all normal proportions. This
is a royal burial.”
And in both the Catholic church and the
Eastern Orthodox Church Nicodemus is revered as a saint. 
But we just don’t know.  We see Nicodemus at the beginning of Jesus’
ministry and again at the end of the story. 
But we don’t know if he actually embraced the grace that Jesus offers
each one of us.
And the question really isn’t how did
Nicodemus’ story end, the important question is “How will your story end?”  and only you will be able to answer
that.  Let’s personalize John 3:16 and
read it together, you ready?  John 3:16  “For God
loved me so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that when I believe in
him I will not perish but I will have eternal life.”

Christian Assist

–>

Last month I drove to New Brunswick twice for funerals that affected our Atlantic District Ministerial family.  And on one of those trips my rental had “Driver Assist” as an option.  That was kind of cool.  It’s not quite a self-driving car, but it was close.

With the Lane Departure Warning system in place, if (or in my case when) you drifted outside your lane, it would nudge you back in, not just beep and warn you, but actually nudge you back to where you were safe.  And if that happened enough, the car would suggest you stop for a coffee.

If you set the adaptive cruise control, it would slow you down if you approached a car driving slower than you and then increase your speed again when you pulled out to pass.  And because I’m a preacher and think in metaphors, I thought how much driver assist was like allowing the Holy Spirit to have control in your life.  A nudge here and there to slow you down or keep you on track. 

But the reality is that I could turn off the driver assist or choose to ignore it.  In the same way a Christian can choose to ignore the promptings  of the Holy Spirit and there are consequences in both cases.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Understanding Peace

Do you remember praying as
a child?  Do you remember the words that
you prayed?  Let’s try it together:  “Now I
lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I
wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” 
But what if when you laid down to sleep you knew that would be the last
time you ever laid down to sleep? 
What if when you closed
your eyes you knew it would be the last time you would ever close your eyes to
sleep.  What if you knew when you went to
bed tonight that tomorrow night you would be history, that you would never
again hold the ones you loved, that you would never again be held by the ones
who loved you.  That you would never see
another sunset, never hear another bird sing, never live another day.  How would you sleep?
I’ve read that they often put
a suicide watch on prisoners in the United States who have been sentenced to
death.  Probably don’t want the prisoner
to cheat the state out of all their fun. 
I mean do they really use an alcohol swab to sterilize the site for the
lethal injection?
If you knew that tomorrow
there was a pretty good chance that you would die, do you think you’d be able
to sleep? 
I’m not sure if I would be
able to or if my mind would be racing with regrets and what if’s.  Wondering if I had said good byes and
thank-yous to all the right people. 
Asking myself if I had left a mark and whether or not I’d be
remembered. 
That was exactly the
situation that Peter was in.  King Herod
had ordered execution of James who was the brother of John, maybe you remember
him as one of the sons of Thunder, or Zebedee’s boy, or one of the original
group that Jesus called to be his disciples. 
It really doesn’t matter but what does matter is that he was executed by
King Herod.  One line finishes the story
of James, you’ll find it in Acts
12:2
 He
(Herod) had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword.  And that was all that was
written.  Herod had James killed.
Now perhaps you’re thinking
“I remember King Herod he was the king who ordered all the baby boys in
Bethlehem killed when Jesus was born.” 
Well you’re partially right, that was King Herod but it wasn’t this King
Herod.  Then you’re thinking that it must
have been the King Herod that had John the Baptist killed.   Well again you are partially right, it was
King Herod but not this King Herod.  This
is in fact King Herod Agrippa and after he saw how much his killing James had pleased
the Jewish leaders he thought, “Great,
all I have to do to become popular is kill Christians.” 
Justin Trudeau and Stephen
McNeil, they have to reduce taxes to be popular, but Herod he just had to kill
preachers.  And so he figured “If killing James made me popular think
how popular I would be if I killed Peter”, and so he had Peter arrested and
thrown into Jail.
Now it was the Jewish
celebration of Passover, probably the 12th Passover since Jesus died on the
cross and was raised from the dead, and Herod couldn’t very well execute Peter
during the holidays so he decides that as soon as Passover is done, then he
will separate Peter’s head from the rest of his body. 
And so here Peter is, in
prison, waiting to stand trial with execution being a very, very real
possibility.  As a matter of fact, it was
virtually the only probable outcome of the trial. 
It’s the night before the
trial, the church has called a prayer meeting and they are up praying.  I don’t know if they were praying for Peter’s
release or if they were praying for Peter to have the courage and strength to
face his imminent demise.  We don’t know,
but we do know that they were praying. 
And Peter, you’d think that Peter would either be wide awake worrying or
wide awake praying. 
But that wasn’t the case,
instead of being wide awake for anything Peter was sound asleep. 
Chained between two Roman
soldiers this boy wasn’t just napping he was out like a light, dead to the
world so to speak. 
And suddenly a great light
filled the prison cell and standing there was an angel, and Peter didn’t wake
up.  Boy you gotta hate that, this angel
had this great entrance, poof, a great light fills the cell and there stands
this great big strapping angel shinning in all his glory and Peter doesn’t wake
up, at all.  Having lost all of the
impact of a dramatic entrance the angel pokes Peter and says, “Hey, come on wake up we’re out of
here.” Or something like that.
The thing that amazes me
isn’t the great rescue with the angel, that’s a God thing, God can do those
things.  What amazes me is that Peter is
asleep.  This is the same Peter who had
hacked off the guy’s ear in the garden of Gethsemane, the same Peter who avowed
that he would never let Jesus down and then denied he knew him three times, the
same Peter who saw Jesus walking on the water and jumped out of the boat and
joined him.  Everything we knew about
Peter is turned inside out when we see him sleeping between these two Roman
soldiers the night before his execution. 
What happened?  Three words “The Holy Spirit”.  In Acts chapter 2 we see how the Holy Spirit
filled Peter and he was never the same again.
You’ve probably heard me
speak about the Fruit of the Spirit from time to time.  You know it is a list of what Christ
followers are to be like and the characteristics they are supposed to exhibit
when they allow the Holy Spirit to control their lives.  It’s actually a part of the mission statement
at Cornerstone. 
In case you’ve forgotten what all is included in the list it is
spelled out in Galatians 5:22-23  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our
lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
 gentleness, and self-control. And
so, after Peter embraces the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit embraces Peter on
the day of Pentecost the old Peter is gone and in his place is this new
Peter.  Not the Peter who was rash and
angry but a Peter whose life was characterized by  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
 gentleness, and self-control.  This
morning I want to look at the Peace that is exhibited in Peter’s life the night
before his impending death.  a
So what is peace?  Good question, it can be defined several
different ways.  Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as defining peace this
way: “Peace is that
brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.”
And if you were to ask that
question to a room full of people most would speak of an absence of war,
something that we haven’t seen in the world for a long time.  If you asked me to define peace, I’d probably
say “a small, round, green vegetable”, and then I’d have to confess that I
hadn’t really been paying attention to the question, or at least that was what
it was like in school. 
But for most people peace
is an external, it is something that happens out there. 
The peace that shows up as
a Fruit of the Spirit is a different concept. 
Paul not talking about an absence of war or even an absence of
interpersonal conflict in our lives.  The
peace that Paul is speaking of is a tranquility of heart which derives from the
all-pervading knowledge that we are in the hands of God. 
It is the peace that is written
about in Philippians 4:7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which
exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds
as you live in Christ Jesus.   In
the NKJV it says it this way Philippians 4:7 NKJV and the peace
of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds
through Christ Jesus.
To which Helen
Keller commented “I do not want the peace
which passes understanding, I want the understanding which brings peace.”
And it would appear that
Peter had discovered the understanding which brought peace in his life.  So what was it that he understood?
Peter Understood That God
Is There 
Last month while driving down Larry
Utek I noticed the sign at Full Gospel and it said  “Know God, Know Peace.  No God, No Peace.”  It’s the truth, without an acknowledgement
that there is a God you will not have peace. 
That’s why it’s called the peace of God or God’s peace in the
Bible.  If there were no other
certainties in Peter’s life, there was the certainty that God was real.
If we are to find peace in
our life the first step is acknowledging that there is a God.  The Bible says in Psalm 14:1 Only fools say in their
hearts, “There is no God.”
Abraham
Lincoln echoed that when he said  “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon
the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into
the heaven and say there is no God.” 
And so Peter knew that
there was a God, he knew that whatever happened tomorrow that a higher power
was in control, even if he was executed he knew that was not the end.  He would not share the epitaph of the Atheist
which said “Here lies the Atheist,
all dressed up and no place to go.”
Peter Understood That God Is
Aware 
Not
only did Peter know that God existed, but God knew that Peter Existed.  Or as the Bible says in Galatians 4:9  So now that you
know God (or should I say, now that God knows you).
And so we need to take our
belief to the next level, not only believing in God but also believing that God
knows what’s going on.
I have met people who
assure me that they believe in God, but what they can’t believe is that God is
interested in what happens on earth.  At
the very most he is just a game master who put everything in place and now sits
back and watches to see how it will work itself out.
However, Jesus made an
incrediable statement concerning this remarkable attribute of God in Matthew 10:29  What is the price of two
sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground
without your Father knowing it.
God didn’t create this
world and then turn his back on it, he is aware what is going on, we aren’t
alone.  He rejoices when he sees good and
love and beauty. It breaks his heart when he sees war, and hatred and what we’ve
done to this world.  And he knows you,
and everything about you, David wrote in Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have
examined my heart and know everything about me.
And that is a struggle sometimes,
is God in control?  And if so how come
things aren’t perfect?   I truly believe
that God has given us the resources and abilities for this world to be a much
better place than it is. 
3000 years ago the people of
Israel were told Deuteronomy 30:11-15  “This command I am giving you
today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is not beyond your
reach.  It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will
go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’  It is not
kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to
bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’  No, the message is very close
at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.
 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death,
between prosperity and disaster.”   The scripture goes on to tell
them the choice they were being offered was to obey God and his commands or to
reject God and his commands.  The choice
is still there today, and God is cheering us on to make the right choice.  
Peter Understood That God Cares Of the three this is probably the most important thing that Peter
knew.  It’s not enough that there is a
God out there, if he’s not aware of what’s going on in my life.  And it’s not enough that there’s a God out
there who is aware of what’s happening in my life if he doesn’t care about what
is happening in my life.   Earlier we
read Matthew
10:29
 
Jesus said “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a
single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.”
But Jesus didn’t end there,
he went on to say Matthew 10:29-31  Jesus said “What is the price of two
sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground
without your Father knowing it.  And the
very hairs on your head are all numbered. 
So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of
sparrows.
When Peter closed his eyes
that night in the prison cell between the two guards he knew that if nobody
else in the universe cared about what happened to Peter that God did.  That ultimately he mattered to God and that
ultimately God was in control.  Maybe it
was this experience that caused Peter to write later on in the Letter of 1 Peter 5:7  Give all your worries
and cares to God, for he cares about you.
Peter knew that there was
absolutely nothing he could do to change his situation, so why worry about?  Larry Eisenberg summed it up when he said “For peace of mind, we
need to resign as general manager of the universe.” 
If we are going to have
peace in our life it will only be when we realize that God not only knows
what’s best for us, but that he wants what’s best for us.  And not only do we need to realize that we
need to believe it and act upon it. 
How many of our troubles
could we have avoided if we had believed that God had our best at heart all
along?  Too often we second-guess
God.  We decide that even though God is
God, and that he is the creator and ruler of the universe that he’s not nearly
as smart as we are.  That we know what is
best for us, and if that doesn’t agree with what God says then that’s because
God doesn’t really want the best for us, all he wants is to ruin our fun. 
And so we do the things we
want to do, and when it flies all to pieces and when we have to pay the fiddler
so to speak, we wonder what went wrong. 
And sometimes in retrospect we say “Wow, if only I had done what God wanted
me to do.”
It’s easy to believe that God
will do what is good, it’s more difficult to believe that whatever God does is
good.  A lady whose son had leukemia was
talking to another lady and the second woman said “Maybe God
will be good and heal your son.”  To
which the first lady responded “God will be good whether he heals my son or
not.” 
God does care, and God sees a
much bigger picture then we do.  God
cared enough about Peter that he sent an Angel to deliver him, did that mean
that he cared less about James when he allowed him to be executed.  No, I can’t explain it, and I don’t
understand it, but even though James was killed and that caused his family pain
and grief, God is still good.  And Peter
understood that.  The book of Romans
hadn’t been written at this point in history but the premise of  Romans 8:28 was still
real  Romans 8:28  And we know that
God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and
are called according to his purpose for them.
I wonder if when James’
mother heard the news about her son if she remembered the time she had asked
Jesus if James would be permitted to sit at his right hand?  And if so, I wonder if she could believe that
is where he was?  It was Paul who would
later write in Romans
14:8
 If
we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So
whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
It is reported that John Wesley once said “Until my
work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work for Christ is done
… I go to be with Jesus!”  We don’t know why James died that week, but we do know that Peter’s
work wasn’t done.  That he would go on to
become the Father of the Western Church.
Peter knew that Peter could
do nothing, and God could do everything, so why worry?  
Even though Paul hadn’t
written it yet Peter seemed to have embraced the philosophy of Philippians 4:6-7  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray
about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has
done.  Then you will experience God’s
peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your
hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
So, maybe Peter had prayed,
told God what he needed, thanked him for all he had done, and was experiencing
the peace that is more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  Or maybe Peter had discovered the truth of
what Clive James would write 2000 years later “Stop worrying — nobody
gets out of this world alive.”
A story is told by Bishop William Quayle, he said that one night all the
worries and concerns of his parish seemed to catch up with him, and as he paced
back and forth that God spoke to him and said “Quayle, you go to bed;
I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”  Well two thousand years ago God told
Peter, “Peter, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the
rest of the night.”
And that’s what he’s
telling you. 
Perhaps that night Peter simply remembered and claimed the
promise that Jesus had made to him 12 years before, when he said:  John
14:27  “I am leaving you with a
gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot
give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
And that promise and that gif wasn’t just for Peter, it was
for you.  Jesus didn’t say he might leave
us with the gift of peace of mind and heart. 
He said he was leaving it with us. 
Can you believe that today?

Stop it.

–>

I mentioned the tragedy of the weekend shooting to a friend the other day and they asked “Which one?”  I was referring to the massacre in Orlando but my friend had a point.Hardly a day goes by without the report of another fatal shooting south of the boarder.

The outrage over the Orlando shooting seems to be compounded by the fact that those who were shot were identified with the LGBTQ community.  But the reality is that whenever there is a mass shooting in the States the victims are a part of a group. 

In 2007, the thirty-two victims were identified with Virginia Tech.  In 2012, twenty children were killed simply because they attended Sandy Hook Elementary School and the list unfortunately goes on.   The shooter in Orlando was identified as (I won’t use his name) and he was linked to ISIS and in 2015 the same group beheaded 30 Ethiopian Christians, just because they were Christians.

The Bible is clear, to murder someone is wrong for everyone.  For the Christ Follower, Jesus makes it even stronger when he commands us to not even hate, and in the book of 1 John we are told that if we hate someone we are guilty of murder.  And hate, like tolerance, is a two way street.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Deeper into Baptsim

Deeper into Baptism
Last week we dove in to the discussion of
baptism by looking at the Baptism of Jesus, and from that story we discovered
that Jesus’ Baptism was Intentional, that it wasn’t without opposition, that it
was a baptism of obedience, that it happened in the water and that Jesus’
Baptism testified to the trinity. 
But the story of Jesus’ baptism isn’t the
only account in the New Testament of water baptism, so this week we are going a
little deeper into the topic, so to speak.
Sometimes we get the impression that baptism
was invented by John the Baptist. And that isn’t the case at all.  By that time in Jewish history baptism was a
part of the process when a gentile, that is a person who wasn’t Jewish wanted
to convert to Judaism.    It wasn’t a
biblical commandment instead it was something instituted under the laws of the
Rabbis. 
What we do have in the Old Testament are
regulations in Leviticus and Exodus, for various times that ceremonial washing
was to take place.  Before the priest could
go into the temple, if you touched a dead body, after child birth and after
numerous other events. 
This eventually evolved into full
immersion.  And from that concept came
all kinds of rules and regulations on the where the when and the how.  It was from these extra biblical rules that
the Mikveh came to be in the Jewish religion, which was very much like what we
think of as a baptistery.   Here is a picture of an ancient Mikveh and
here is a modern Mikveh.
And there was even a prescribed blessing
that was said before someone immersed themselves in the water of the
Mikveh,  Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the
universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
regarding the immersion.  The exception to when the blessing was said was in the case of someone
who was converting to Judaism.  Because
they weren’t under the commandments of God until after they had immersed
themselves signifying their new life.  So
instead of saying the blessing right before they were immersed they would say
it as soon as they surfaced.
And then you get scriptures like we find in
Ezekiel 36:25-27  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you,
and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer
worship idols.  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new
spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a
tender, responsive heart.  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you
will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”
Water to the Jew signified birth, and so
when they were immersed in the Mikveh and came out it was as if they were as
clean as a newborn.  But it was a never
ending process, they just kept adding to the list of when you needed to enter
the Mikveh.  For the priests it was
necessary before they entered the temple, for those who had a skin infection it
was necessary before they were declared clean, for anyone who came in contact
with a dead body it was required.  Women
needed to go to the Mikveh after they give birth, and every month from puberty
until menopause.
And that is just kind of background
bringing us to the baptism that John was offering, which was very different
from the baptism that most of those who heard him were familiar with. 
And so while Christian Baptism may have had
shared some similarities with the ceremonial cleansing of the Old Testament it
changed direction with John and then again with Jesus and the movement that he
established.
So let’s dive right in and see what we can
discover.  Let’s start with The Why
The question that people will often ask
when I first talk about baptism is “Why?” 
And last week we talked a little bit about the example that was set by
Jesus when he asked John on the shore of the Jordan river to be baptized.  And so to a certain degree we can tell people
that we need to be baptized because of the example set by Jesus.  But it has to go deeper than that. 
We aren’t just baptized because Jesus
modeled it, we are baptized because Jesus commanded it.  Mark 16:15-16  And then he told them, “Go into
all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.  Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone
who refuses to believe will be condemned.” 
And so Jesus himself commanded folks, to not just believe
but to believe and to be baptized.  The
baptism shows the belief in action.  It’s
like Jesus is saying, “Ok, you’ve said you are going to follow me, let’s try
this out. . . follow me into the water.”
And the command to be baptized didn’t stop
with Jesus, when the very first sermon of the new church was preached on the
Day of Pentecost Peter says this Acts 2:38  Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins,
turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have
received forgiveness for your sins.” 
And so for Peter the need for people was
clear, repent, turn to God and be baptized. 
And so if the question is “Why?”  Then the answer from the bible would have to
be “Because I say so.”  
So the next question needs to be The When After the resurrection, before
Jesus returned to heaven he gave the apostles directions on what they, and the
church, were supposed to do in order for the movement to carry on. 
The official churchy name for this is the
Great Commission and this is where we read Jesus’ words, Matthew 28:19-20  Jesus said Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach
these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of
this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And so the church is commanded to baptize
those who become disciples, which means that those who become disciples are
supposed to be baptized.  And notice the
order, they become disciples, that is followers of Jesus, and then they are
baptized and then they are instructed on all the commands that Jesus gave. 
Within the early church the process always
seemed to be the same, people became Christ followers and they were baptized.  It happened with Paul, it happened with
Lydia, it happened with Crispus leader of the synagogue, with the Philippian
Jailer, Simon the Sorcerer and thousands of others.  
Sometimes, today, it seems that we want for
folks to become disciples, that is to start following Jesus, and then to be
instructed in all the commands that Jesus gave, and then once they have that
down pat then they ought to be baptized. 
But the New Testament church taught and
modeled that baptism was the first point of obedience.  Believe and be baptized.  
 So, we’ve looked at the why, and the when.  I guess the next is The Where.  In most of the
cases of baptism in the Bible the common element is water.  Last week we looked at what John was looking
for in a baptism spot and we discovered in 
John 3:23  At this time John the Baptist was baptizing
at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept
coming to him for baptism.   And so John choice this particular spot for one reason: there was
plenty of water there.
In the book of Acts we read the story of
how Philip led the Ethiopian Eunuch to the Lord, and in the aftermath of that
event we read:   Acts 8:36-38  As they rode along, they came to some
water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be
baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water,
and Philip baptized him.
In Acts 16 Lydia was at the Riverbank when
she made the decision to follow Jesus, and was immediately baptized, presumably
in the river. 
So the where is: in the water.

The How  The correct
answer here is we don’t know.  It would
be great if there were specific instructions in the bible about “How to
baptize”, but there isn’t.  We are given
some general directions in Matthew 28:19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.   We
are at least told to baptize in the name of the Trinity.  But the mechanics, pouring, sprinkling,
immersion?  There we are left to
guess. 

Love the story of the Baptist and Anglican
minister arguing over who had it right in baptism.  The Anglican guy says, “What if they got wet
to the waist?”  and the Baptist says “No
it has to be all the way”  and the
Anglican says “what about if he got wet to the chest?” and the Baptist says “No
it has to be all the way”.  And the
Anglican responds by saying “How about neck deep, surely up to the neck would
be fine? and the Baptist says “No it has to be all the way”.    And the Anglican says “what about above the
eyebrows, that should be enough?”  In
frustration the Baptist guy yells “No, no, no it has to be all the way, up to
the eyebrows won’t work.”  To which the Anglican
says “See, it’s just the little bit on top that counts.”

And while there are not a lot of examples
given in the scriptures there are some.  And
so we read in Mark’s account that after Jesus was baptized that he came up out
of the water.  That kind of implies that
he had gone down into the water.  And in
Acts when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch it says “They both went down
into the water.”  But it still isn’t
definitive, they could have knelt down in the water and had water sprinkled or
poured on them, and even if we knew that they were immersed we aren’t told to
baptize people the same way as John and Phillip Baptized people. 

We are given a hint in a word picture that
Paul uses in the letter to the Romans. 
Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4  Or have you forgotten that
when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?
 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ
was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live
new lives.   

The picture here of being buried with Christ
and then being raised from the grave is dramatically pictured in full
immersion.  But . . . we are still
guessing and speculating.   

Which finally leads us to The What: I mean we understand the why,
that Jesus commanded it, but beyond the obedience factor what else is there
about baptism that we need to know, what all does Baptism teach us?

If we go back to the scripture that we
started with we read,  Galatians 3:26-29  For
you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who
have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ,
like putting on new clothes.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or
free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that
you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs,
and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
And so the first thing we discover is
that  Baptism Teaches us About Christ’s Transforming Power   I’ve said this multiple times, if your
Christianity doesn’t make a difference on this side of eternity, then your
Christianity isn’t going to make a difference on the other side of eternity.   The bible comes back to this theme over and
over again about becoming a new person, putting on new clothes, being born
again. 
2000 years ago the teaching was clear, that
the before Jesus person and the after Jesus person are supposed to be
different.  And this was shown through
baptism.  People often talk about how they
wish that the church was like it used to be. 
So let’s go down that road for a while.
Sometimes people will ask us why we don’t
use white robes for baptisms, after all they were baptized in white robes, and
the church they grew up in used white robes. 
So I did a little digging, discover something new all the time.  From drawings on the walls of catacombs and
early church writing I discovered that white robes are a fairly old tradition
in the church.  And I know that some of
you are feeling pretty smug and self-satisfied right now, got that “told you
so” vibe going.  But let’s keep going,
the white robe wasn’t for the baptism it was for after the baptism.  The candidate got to the edge of the water,
peeled off their old clothes, got baptized in the nude and were given a white
robe when they came out.  All
symbolic.  Taking off the old and putting
on the new. Times were different 2000 years ago.  But the message is the same, baptism
testifies to a new beginning and the transforming power that Jesus has had in
your life.
But that’s not all, in  1 Corinthians 1:10-17  I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of
our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no
divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
 For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels,
my dear brothers and sisters.  Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of
Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow
only Christ.”  
Has Christ
been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you
baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not!  I thank God that I did not
baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,  for now no one can say they
were baptized in my name.  (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of
Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.)  For Christ didn’t
send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for
fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.
Baptism
Teaches us About Christ’s Ownership. 
You are not baptized in the name of the Wesleyan Church, or
Cornerstone or Denn Guptill.  In our
tradition baptism does not translate into membership in the local church.   It’s not about following Denn, or Stefan, or
Ben or Jason.  It’s about following Jesus.  And someday when Denn is gone you should
still be following Jesus. 
1
Corinthians 12:12-13
 The
human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is
with the body of Christ.  Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are
slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one
Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
Baptism
Teaches us About Unity in the Body 
Rich, poor, employee, employer, male, female it didn’t matter
everyone was baptised the same and became the same, A Christ Follower.  The church may have lost its way for a while
in how it viewed equality but the message of the cross and the message of
baptism was that we are all the same in Christ.
And that’s why the Wesleyan Church was at the
forefront of the abolitionist movement in the 1800’s fighting against
slavery.  Some of our earliest Wesleyan churches were a one-day journey apart, as
part of the Underground Railroad, smuggling slaves from the South to freedom in
the North. In fact it is reported that in one county in the South, there was a
saying that “there is not enough rope to hang all the Wesleyans.”
And that’ why
when in 1848 when the first Women’s right’s convention was held in Seneca
Fall’s New York, it would be held in a Wesleyan Church, and why the first women
ordained in the United States was ordained by the Wesleyan’s and the first
woman ordained in Canada was ordained by the Wesleyans.  Because we believe that part of what is
illustrated through baptism is our unity in Christ.
But that’s not all, we read in Colossians 2:12  For
you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were
raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised
Christ from the dead.    And it’s here we see that Baptism Teaches us About  Christ’s
Death & Resurrection 
The early
church used baptism as a constant reminder that Christ was buried and rose from
the grave. 
And so in that simple act of immersion we
see his death and resurrection illustrated. 
Dying to sin, dying to your old self being buried and then being raised
to a new life a life of holiness and obedience. 

And finally we read in  Romans 10:9-13  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God,
and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.  As the
Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”  Jew
and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives
generously to all who call on him.  For “Everyone who calls on the name of
the LORD will be saved.”  

And maybe you are wondering, “What does this
passage have to do with baptism?”  Well, Baptism Is a Confession of Jesus as Lord

       
We are told that in the early days of the
church when someone was about to be baptised they stood in the water and
confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord’.
Many scholars believe that this simple one-line
confession is reflected in Romans 10:9. To call Jesus ‘Lord’ meant that He was
acknowledged to be absolute owner, King and God. This verse teaches that both
inner faith and outward confession are necessary for authentic salvation.
But it went deeper than that, we’ve talked
about this before that the Romans had a pretty Laissez-faire attitude about
religion.  It really was a live and let
live philosophy, all that the empire required was a yearly acknowledgement that
“Caesar is Lord”.  And the new Christians
tried to be really good citizens but this was the one thing they couldn’t
do.  Because they knew that there could
only be one Lord in your life.  Caesar or
Jesus?
And so Baptism publicly proclaims Jesus is
Lord. 
And you thought baptism was just about
getting wet. 
In just a few minutes Phil and Evie
Croucher will be joining us in the celebration of baptism and they will be testifying
to all of those things.  And here is the
thing if you have never been baptized we’d love to have you join us, we have
spare towels, or if you feel you need to run home and grab dry clothes the
water will be here in the next service as well.
But hold on to this from last week and this
week, Baptism is the first point of obedience or disobedience in your Christian
experience.

Playing God

–>

“Death with dignity” or “Physician assisted suicide”, you can call it what you will but it is now a reality in Canada.  While our elected representatives have struggled to put together a law that would benefit the most and harm the least, the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court has come and gone.  The result?  Doctors will now be put in the ethical and moral quandary of when and if they will assist a patient in ending their own life.

I read an article recently by Dr. Jeff Sutherland, a physician in Ontario who is a victim of ALS.  Dr. Sutherland speaks of the times that he wanted his life to end, but now is glad that he is still alive and yet he still supports Bill C-14 and feels that it will be too restrictive.

My concern over the legislation is that like capital punishment and abortion, there are no second chances.  Once it’s done you can’t change your mind or ask for a mulligan.

And so now as a society we have claimed the right to determine when a life should end, at any point from natural conception to natural death. It seems that’s society still believes the age old lie of the Devil: You can be like God.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Diving into Baptism

The Baptism of Jesus
It’s just confusing.  We all know the story of John the Baptist,
and we know the story of Jesus and we even know the point where the two stories
intercept.  And that’s where it gets
confusing. 
There are two things we know that seem to
muddy the water, so to speak.  The first
is that John was preaching a baptism of Repentance.    In
Mark’s Gospel we read Mark 1:4  This
messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people
should be baptized to show that they had turned to God to receive forgiveness
for their sins.
And he is faithful to that message, not
content with lip service, he actually called on people to change their
ways.  In Luke’s account we read that the
crowd hearing John’s message wanted to know what repentance looked like in real
life, we pick up the story in Luke 3:10-14  The
crowds asked, “What should we do?”  John replied, “If you have two shirts,
give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what
should we do?”  He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government
requires.”  “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t
extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
 And
we have no problem with that, some people did. 
His message finally resulted in his being killed by King Herod after he
challenged the king about his marriage to his younger brother’s ex-wife. 
And while John was a little different and
just a tad eccentric his message was clear. 
Repent, commit to changing your behaviour and get baptized.  Simple.
The confusion arises when Jesus arrives at
the edge of the Jordon River asking John to baptize him.  Because our understanding of Christ’s
character was that he was without sin, that is that he had nothing to repent
of, no behaviour that had to be changed. 
And that isn’t just my opinion, the scriptures return to that theme over
and over again.    And it forms the
foundation of our theology of salvation. 
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21  For God made
Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be
made right with God through Christ.   No sin, no need for
repentance, no repentance not need for baptism.   That’s where it gets confusing.
So let’s jump in and see where the story takes
us.
Matthew
3:13
Then Jesus went
from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  
The First Thing we discover is that Jesus’ Baptism Was Intentional The
baptism of Jesus didn’t just kind of happen, Jesus wasn’t just walking along
one day and saw John baptizing people and thought, “Hey that’s kind of cool, I
should do that.”
We are told that Jesus travelled from
Galilee to the Jordan river to be baptized.  Let’s pull up one of our handy dandy
maps.  Couple of points of
reference.  Here is the Sea of Galilee
and here here is the Dead Sea.
And here is where Jesus was, and here is
where John was and where Jesus went.   That isn’t like Jesus crossed the road to be
baptized, it was at least a full day’s journey, and possibly longer to get from
point A Galilee to Point B the Jordan river. 
This is the first mention that we have of
Jesus since he was 12, you’ll remember that story from the book of Luke when
Jesus and his family had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and Jesus
got separated from his parents and got lost. 
Actually he knew exactly where he was, in the temple, and that’s where
they found him.  Now we discover that he
is 30 years old and he steps back into the narrative.  And what may or may not have happened in
those 18 years will remain speculation and the arena of fiction.
After Luke’s account of the Jesus’ baptism
he adds a little aside when he writes Luke 3:23  Jesus was about thirty years old when he began
his public ministry.     And maybe that’s just Luke, after all he told us that Jesus was 12
when his parents lost him at the temple, he seems like a bit of a numbers
guy.  Or maybe there is more to it. 
In 1965 it was Jack
Weinberg who coined the phrase “Don’t trust
anyone over 30.”   Of course
Weinberg turned 76 in April so he might have changed his mind.  But 2000 years ago a man’s opinion wasn’t
worth much before he was thirty.  Joseph
was thirty when he began his service in Pharaoh’s court, David was thirty when
he became King and the Levites had to be thirty before they could serve in the
temple. 
And so when Jesus was thirty, he made the
decision to be baptized, and being baptized was a choice that Jesus made, his
parents didn’t make it for him, John didn’t make it, it was Jesus who decided
to go from Galilee to where John was baptizing people and he went with a
purpose, to be baptized.
I am a firm believer in believer
baptism.  In 35 years of pastoral
ministry I have never baptized a baby, I have baptized children who have made a
commitment to follow Christ and who have asked to be baptized, but I have never
baptized an infant.  Why?  Because I believe that baptism needs to be
intentional, that it is a choice and a decision that has to be made, by the
person being baptized.
Other’s may suggest that you ought to get
baptized, but ultimately the decision to be baptized has to be yours. 
Let’s go back to the story, Jesus makes the
journey and finds his cousin baptizing folks, now if you are familiar with the
story John has been telling people that he wasn’t the promised Messiah but that
the promised one was on the way.  And
then Jesus show up and asks to be baptized and we pick up the story in  Matthew 3:14  But
John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by
you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
Jesus’
Baptism Wasn’t Without Opposition 
I would
think that John would have been excited to baptize Jesus.  Pretty good chance that they knew each other,
we are told very early in the story that their mothers were related, and even
though they raised in different communities, Jesus in Nazareth and John in
Jerusalem, the gospels tell us that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year
for the Passover. 
Now I don’t know if you have a place that
you go home to, but when I was a kid we went home to Grand Manan.  And when we went home to Grand Manan we
stayed with kin and we visited kin.  I
would suspect that it was the same with Jesus. 
And I would think that John would be excited that his younger cousin
wanted to be baptized, and that he wanted John to do it.
But Nooooooo.  The New Living Translation says that John
tried to talk him out of it, the New International Version says that John tried
to deter him and the King James version is even stronger, it says that John
forbade him.  The word used in the
original language means to hinder or to prohibit.  It would appear that John wasn’t in favour of
Jesus being baptized. 
John no doubt saw Jesus as the messiah that
he had been announcing, if he had grown up with Jesus he probably had seen the
difference in Jesus’ life compared to the life of others and had never
witnessed any behaviour, attitudes or actions that Jesus needed to repent of.
So understand, if you choose to be baptized
there will be some who might not be as excited as you are.   If you were baptized as an infant they might
not understand why you have chosen to be baptized again, they might tell you
there is no need of it.  They might even
feel that by choosing to be baptized that you are in some way negating or
diminishing their earlier earlier decision, or  by being baptised you are saying that it was
wrong. 
Other may not understand your need to get
baptized, or maybe because they have never been baptized they are feeling some
pressure because of your choice. 
Other’s may suggest that you shouldn’t get
baptized, but ultimately the decision to be baptized needs to be yours.
So what happens, Jesus arrives at the edge
of the river asking John to baptize him and John objects and tries to talk
Jesus out of his decision, well let’s go back to the story
Matthew
3:15
 But Jesus
said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John
agreed to baptize him.”
Jesus’
Baptism Was an Act of Obedience  
There have been many suggestions and theories as to why Jesus was
baptized.  But ultimately Jesus goes back
to the fact that God required it.  Why?   We’ll never really know, this side of
eternity, but we can speculate.
Some have suggested that he was baptized to
display his humility.  Others would say
that he was baptized in order to provide an example to future believers. 
I kind of think that he chose to be
baptized in order to mark the beginning of his journey.  He could point back to his ministry beginning
at that point.   He could say “It all
began the day John baptized me in the Jordan.”
But honestly, Jesus doesn’t elaborate on
the why, he simply said he needed to be baptized if he was going to be obedient
to God.   And if we go back to Luke’s account we are
told that is when Jesus began his public ministry.  And so baptism seems to be Jesus stepping out
in obedience and saying “Yes I will.”
We can go into all the theological
implications of why you need to be baptized, and that is a sermon in itself,
for next week.   And we will talk about
how baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, that it is a metaphor for
becoming made new, that it illustrates the resurrection and new life.  And we can provide scriptures to back up each
of those concepts. 
But for the Christians there is really only
one scripture that we need and that is when Jesus told his disciples in Mark
16:16
 Anyone who believes and is baptized
will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
Baptism is the first point of obedience in
your Christian life.  Believe and be
baptized.  And I’ve said before, if you
find it hard to be obedient in an act as simple as baptism what are you going
to do when the big stuff comes along? 
And don’t worry about getting everything right before you get baptized,
it marks the beginning, not the end.
Here is the bottom line, and you can disagree
with me if you like, but you will be wrong, if you are a Christ Follower and
you haven’t followed him into the water of baptism then you are disobedient.
Baptist preacher and evangelist John R. Rice summed it up when he wrote “God’s people should be baptized because God
commanded it, not because some church requires it.”
Because ultimately the decision to be
baptized is a decision of obedience.
So let’s go back to the story,  Matthew 3:16  After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water,  Jesus’
Baptism Happened in the Water 
There
is no question that Jesus’ baptism was a water baptism.  But there are different opinions about how
the water was applied.  Some would insist
that John would have simply poured water over the head of a standing Jesus,
others speculate that Jesus knelt and had water poured over him, while still
others argue for full immersion.
We don’t know, but again we can look at
what we are told.  In this scripture we
are told that Jesus came up out of the water, which would imply that Jesus had
gone down into the water.  In John’s
account we read John 3:23  At this time John the Baptist was baptizing
at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept
coming to him for baptism. 
And so John wasn’t looking for a little bit
of water, he was looking for plenty of water. 
Which would lead me to believe that whatever method he was using
required plenty of water.  And if you are
just going to pour water on someone then all you need is enough water to
pour. 
And so if you are unfamiliar with
Cornerstone, we baptize by immersion, figure you were good and lost so you
ought to get good and wet.  Is that
engraved in stone?  Probably not.  In 2010 I was in Northern Ghana and while
there our team performed 89 baptisms, many of them were performed in rivers but
at one church we were way too far from the closest body of water for that to be
a reality, so we poured water on the candidates, and I believe that they were
just as baptized as those who had been baptized in the river.
But when it can happen by immersion, I
believe, this is Denn talking, that it should be by immersion.  And I know that entire denominations disagree
with me, and that’s ok, and I’m not saying that if you were baptized by
sprinkling or pouring it doesn’t count, I’m just saying that I believe that
when it can happen by immersion, it should happen by immersion.
And the result of what happened that day is
spelled out in,  Matthew
3:16-17
 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the
heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and
settling on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved
Son, who brings me great joy.”
Jesus’
Baptism Testified to the Trinity 
The concept of the Trinity goes clear back
to creation, when we read in Genesis 1:26  Then
God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.”  He didn’t say “Let me
make human’s in my image, to be like me.” 
He said   “Let us make human beings in our
image, to be like ourselves.” 
And while we get hints throughout the Old
Testament with talk of all three persons separately here and there it is in
this scene at the beginning of the New Testament we see the Trinity,
together.  The Son has just been
baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on the Son and the Father speaks from
heaven.  
Sometimes people will ask me if I can
explain the Trinity, the answer I usually give them is “No.”   There
are all kinds of things I can’t explain. 
I can explain how the solar system on the
roof of our house makes hot water but I can’t explain how the solar system on
the roof of the church makes electricity. 
I can’t explain E=mc2, I can’t explain where the white goes when the
snow melts, I can’t explain women and I can’t explain the Trinity.  But even though I can’t explain them the
solar system on the room still produces energy, E still equals mc2, the white
disappears with the snow and the Trinity exists.
 Augustine
wrote a book called “On the Trinity” and he couldn’t explain it.  In 1953 in their book “A Handbook of
Christian Truth”, Harold Lindsell and Charles
Woodbridge wrote “The mind of man cannot
fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the
mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose
his soul.”
And while we may not be able to articulate
the “how” of the Trinity we see each of them at Jesus’ baptism, and through the
Gospels we see Jesus refer to himself as the Son we listen to Jesus pray to the
Father and and we hear Jesus promise the Spirit. 
When Jesus was giving the apostles their
final instructions he tells them in Matthew 28:19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It was Thomas
Adams, a Puritan Preacher, who was sometimes called “The Shakespeare of the Puritans” who
wrote, “”Baptizing them
in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost: there are three distinct persons: in the Name, not names;
there is one essence.”
Ten years ago we had a lady who asked me if
I would baptize her just in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  And I said
“No.”  And she left Cornerstone, because
there are somethings I don’t move on, and that’s one of them.  
And at that moment, when Jesus stepped out
of the water he was declaring that he was stepping into obedience.  He closed the door on one chapter of his life
and opened the door on another chapter.  
When we choose to follow Jesus into the water of baptism that’s what we
are doing, we are proclaiming that we are made new.  We aren’t just taking Christianity for a test
drive we’ve signed on the dotted line, Max
Lucado is
one of my favorite writers, and he sums it up when he writes “Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car
buyers.”
Swiss theologian Hans Urs von
Balthasar
explains 
“The Church does not dispense the sacrament
of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in
order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the
divine gift of birth from God.”
So, where you at? 

Good Bye Mrs. T

The other day I attended the funeral of a lady I had known for over forty years.  During my teen years,Mary Thomas was the mother of my best friend and my second mom.  I am sure that there were times that I was at the Thomas house more than I was at the Guptill house.  And for those of the right age, Mary Thomas was my Mrs. Cunningham.  I thought of myself as the Fonz but in reality I was probably closer to Potsie. But I digress.
And so last week I travelled to Fredericton to support my best friend Reg, and to say goodbye to a gracious lady who had a profound impact on me when I was as a teen.
As I listened to her sons and grandson speak, I realized how little I knew about Mrs. Thomas and my respect and admiration for her grew. 
It was a reminder, yet again, of how little we know of each other’s stories, what formed and shaped those around us and what they were able to overcome to become all that God wanted them to be.
And I remembered smiles, words of encouragement and plates of homemade chocolate chip cookies. And I was thankful that Mary Thomas had always found a place for me.   Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.