Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lord's Day Message: The Best Thing in the World


            There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
            You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
(Romans 8:1-11 ESV)

Preface
We have arrived at the critical moment.  This is where the rubber really meets the road.  This is the message our entire ministry together hangs or falls on.  And I don’t mean that this message is any more important than all the others we have shared because it is my last.  God willing this will not be the last time I stand in your presence and open the Word of God with you.  I hope and pray that in the days to come the relationship we have built will lead to many creative interactions between the people of Immanuel Community Church and the people of Poquonock Community Church as I go to Windsor and Randy comes here. 

This is the critical moment because of what Paul is talking about in Romans 8.  You will want to have your Bible open to Romans 8 this morning, and I want you to keep staring at these two paragraphs as we go and meditate deeply on them after we part this morning.  What they have to say to you about your life with Christ is absolutely critical.  As the old saying goes, “don’t worry, everything depends on this.”

Resurrection is the best thing in the World
Romans 8 begins with a bold statement that Paul makes: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  This is not merely a bold statement.  It is an audacious statement.   The gods of the ancient world all had to be appeased and placated.  They were all like the proverbial mother-in-law.  They had to be sacrificed to and catered to in order to keep them happy.   That’s what is so different about the ministry of Christ.  And I don’t know how or when our faith became all about believers needing to know and articulate the right doctrines in order to be saved, but isn’t that just another way of placating the mother-in-law god?  The reason the church at the beginning of the 21st century is in trouble is because people finally woke up and said, “Faith has to be simpler than that.”

And it is.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  That is the core of the gospel.  That is all you need to know.  You don’t even need to know what it is Jesus is saving you from.  You just need to know that There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

When I came to Christ when I was 19 I had heard theology.  I had been in church since I was in grade school.  My mother was the church secretary.  I had practically lived in the church.  And I can tell you that it was no great putting together of theological truth that led me to Christ.  I came to Christ because my sister faithfully pushed the “record” button on a tape recorder in Greenwich, Connecticut one evening, and because some engineer in a studio in Newark, New Jersey pushed the “play” button on his tape deck, and played a message that was available to him because some kid in a conference center in the hills of California had pushed the “record” button on his tape deck the previous summer and happened to catch a pastor from Palo Alto say, “but God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

That’s the “therefore” in Paul’s statement that begins Romans 8.  Because God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

But, you say, I’m still going to die some day.  How can I know that is true?  How do I know that God is everything Jesus advertised him to be? 

Paul began by making an audacious statement: there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  He had a habit of starting to say one thing and then interrupting himself along the way.  What he started to say was “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.  But then he thought, I’m not sure they’ll really understand what this is all about.  I’m not sure they will really get that the best thing in the world is Resurrection unless I explain it to them first.  And so he lays out for us what resurrection is and what its effects are. 

The first thing we need to know in order to understand why resurrection is the best thing in the world is something the ancient Jews understood that our modern world has completely lost.  The Jews understood that each of us is a Trinity, and God is Trinity.  The Shema Yisrael, in Deuteronomy chapter 6 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)
They said, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  But if there is one god who has but one expression, then why does the most important Old Testament Scripture, the core of everything they believed about God, go on to speak of the heart and the soul and the might?  The reason is that to the Jews the three are inseparable.  The heart cannot operate separate from the soul; the soul cannot operate separate from the body; the Body cannot operate separate from the heart.  What Paul calls in Romans flesh, mind, and spirit is the same. 

The flesh represents everything we do in and with the body.   Deuteronomy calls this “the might,” our physical will.  The spirit or the soul are undifferentiated in Deuteronomy or here in Romans.  Today we talk about the “essence” of personhood as if a person’s spirit was in some way different from their eternal soul.  The Jews didn’t see any such difference.  The heart in Deuteronomy is what Paul calls the mind.  Remember Jesus’ words, “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks?”  Think of all the great teachers you ever had.  The thing they all had in common is that they taught with passion.  In the Shema Yisrael, the heart speaks while sitting in the house.  The best teacher is one who is not on the move.  They have put all other concerns aside for this moment and have sat down to teach you from the heart. 

The heart speaks the love of God.  The soul or spirit meditates on the love of God, as the Psalm 1 says, “lying down.”  And the strength or the body loves God when it rises and walks.  

You are one and yet you are three.  Listen to the language Paul uses to talk about resurrection:
 
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Resurrection is the best thing in the world for your body because nothing else you can do in the body will meet the righteous requirement of the law.  No act of worship, no self-denial, no asceticism will accomplish this.  Only resurrection will.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Resurrection is the best thing in the world for your mind and for you passion.  Toward the end of a life dedicated to trying everything he could of what life had to offer, at the end of a life spent experiencing every passion his heart could conceive, Solomon said that it was all vanity and a chasing after the wind.  But to set the mind and the passion on God is life and peace.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness

Resurrection is the best thing in the world for your spirit, because resurrection testifies that you belong to God.  The Jews understood that whatever we do in the body our spirit and our mind or heart do also.  And whatever our heart, our mind, our passions lead us to do, our bodies do as well.   Most importat, the Jews understood that whatever the spirit or soul does, the mind and the body will do as well, and that caused a huge problem for the Jewish leaders of the First Century. 

In Luke 20:27-33 it says, “There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.

Oh, they wanted faith to be so complicated, when their own history told them it was so simple.  They wanted to deconstruct the ancient trinity of soul, mind, and body and make the question of resurrection about the passions.  If there is a resurrection, they said, which of the men who had her in this life will have her in the next?   They also wanted it to be about possessions.   Remember that in their world the woman was property.  As the old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.”  But that’s exactly what the Sadducees were getting at.  If I can’t have my property in the resurrection, I’d rather not go.  And so they were willing to chuck the whole thing and trust in the sacrifices they were making – and I don’t mean things they were giving up – I mean they were willing to trust in their ability to appease and placate the mother-in-law god as the basis for their faith.  And so they kept going through the revolving door of sin… sacrifice… placate the god… feel better for a time.  Sin… sacrifice… placate the god… feel better for a time.

That’s why Paul says that the law was weakened by sin to the point that it had nothing to offer us.  And that’s why he concludes what he does in Philippians 3:

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)

Paul has decided he’s not going to get trapped in the revolving door.  His thinking is linear, not circular.  In some ways, it is a simple equation: Knowing Christ + His Resurrection + His Sufferings = My Resurrection.  But what Paul is saying in Philippians 3, and what he says in Romans 8 is no simple thing. 

The sufferings of Christ do not confirm that God is judge.  They confirm that man is sinful.  The sufferings of Christ do not confirm that God is wrathful.  They confirm that God is unfailingly tolerant.  The sufferings of Christ do not confirm that there is a Hell to which sinners go when they die.  They confirm that there is a Kingdom worth dying for.  Christ’s sufferings and death in fact, by themselves prove nothing.  Many, many people throughout history have died for noble causes they believed in.  Some have even died through non-violent resistance at the hands of men who thought they were doing God and the people a favor.  This is how Jesus died.  And many, many people who have died that kind of righteous death have thereby improved the lives of millions.  Without a literal, bodily Resurrection, Jesus would have merely been a man who identified with the poor, the broken-hearted, and the outcast.  Many, many people throughout history have done that.  WITH a literal, bodily Resurrection, Jesus is responsible for raising the poor, raising the broken-hearted, raising the outcast, and by this we do not mean in some pie-in-the-sky spiritual sense.    Romans 8:11 says, “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” 

There is a present tense to resurrection.  Paul is not making a promise here simply for the future.  He is making a promise for all who place their trust in Christ, because Romans 8:10 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you… he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  I don’t know how else we are to read this.  And this was nothing new to the experience of the people of God.  God raised Abraham from the dead when Sarah gave birth to Isaac long after having a child was possible.  God raised Joseph from the dead after his brothers beat him and left him in a pit.  God raised the people of Israel from the dead when they had their backs to the water and the entire Egyptian army was upon them.  God raised David from the dead over and over.  How many times in the Psalms does he cry, “Out of the depths I cry to thee my God?”  And when David’s sin overtook him in a public way that should have ended his reign as king and seen him put to death for his crime, God raised David from the dead.  God raised Job from the dead after he lost everything and everyone who was dear to him, and God raised Jonah from the dead and sent him to preach to Nineveh anyway.  God raised Elijah from the dead after Jezebel the queen of Israel swore she would kill him.  God raised Daniel from the dead after he was thrown to the lions.  God raised Isaiah from the dead because no sinful man can see God face-to-face and live, and yet he did.  Listen.  He is not the God who raised the dead once in the past.  He is also not the God who we hope will raise us from the dead one day.  He is the God who raises the dead here.  He is the God who raises the dead now.  If God has a purpose for Immanuel Community Church and the people gathered in this room this morning obey his voice and apprehend that purpose, it doesn’t matter that many of you are old.  It doesn’t matter that you are not many people.  It simply matters that the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.

What losses has Immanuel Community Church had to suffer in order that you, as a people, might gain Christ?  I’ve listened to the stories.  I’ve heard the narrative of your history together.  Oh, the church was full.  There was community here.  There were children and suppers and building programs and then the numbers weren’t so good and one by one people left or died.  But can it be that in God’s economy these losses, these deaths were nothing more than the heralds of the resurrection to come?  Can it be that in God’s economy these are the best days of this church? 

Wait for the resurrection when you obey him.  Watch for the resurrection as you move in faith.  And live the resurrection when it comes. 

And what must you lose in order that you may gain Christ and his kingdom? 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want those words on my tombstone.  I want those words as a banner over my life. 

I want to know him and the power of his resurrection.  And if what it takes in for me to experience the resurrection is the loss of a son, like Abraham, it is worth it.  If what it takes for me to experience the resurrection is the loss of family, like Joseph, it is worth it.  If what it takes for me to experience the resurrection is the loss of home and security, like the people of Israel experienced when they left Egypt, it is worth it.  If what it takes for me to experience the resurrection is public embarrassment and the death of my pride, like David, it is worth it.  If what it takes for me to experience the resurrection is my preaching to people I don’t feel comfortable with in a place I do not want to go, like Jonah, it is worth it.  If what it takes for me to experience the resurrection is taking a stand for what is Godly, like Elijah or Daniel or Isaiah, it is worth it.   If what it takes for me to experience the resurrection is the loss of all things, like Job, then it is worth it. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Beloved, resurrection is the best thing in the world.  I can’t prove to you that one day your body will be raised from the dead or that there will be a great gathering of all those who have been raised from the dead who will sit at the marriage feast of Christ and enjoy a great banquet in celebration of the ultimate victory over death.  I can’t prove to you that Christ will raise the fourth cup of Passover, the cup of completion, and drink of it on that day when he sets all things right.  But you can test it for yourself.  If Christ is in you, although your body is as good as dead because of sin, your Spirit is alive because of righteousness.  Beloved, live the trinity that is in you.  Beloved, resurrection is the best thing in the world.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 

Beloved, trinity that you are, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

AMEN

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