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When in Rome-What are Christians to Do?

When in Rome-What are Christians to Do?

 by Al Truesdale
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Al Truesdale

The writings of the apostle Peter might have first been penned nearly 2,000 years ago, but as time passes, they become more and more relevant to believers seeking to serve Christ. For in many ways, our society is beginning to mirror the culture in which early believers lived.

The apostle Peter urged his audience to rigorously discipline their values and practices. Greco-Roman culture contrasted sharply with his description of Christian discipleship. For example, Greco-Roman society was honeycombed by polytheism (worship of many gods). The Romans even encouraged their citizens to worship multiple gods, as long as people recognized the supremacy of Rome and its central deities. The absence of hope, as well as fear of demons, death, and judgment, marked Greco-Roman culture. So one issue that made the gospel attractive was its promise of refuge from a pervasive fear of spiritual enemies.

Also, from a Christian standpoint, Greco-Roman society was morally rudderless. This was evident in Greco-Roman sexuality practices and entertainment. Laws placed few restraints upon sexual expression. Greeks saw human sexuality as only a pleasurable art. The Romans viewed it as that part of humanity where the animal still resided, and did not consider the idea that sexual intercourse should express a sacred bond of love between husband and wife. Between the ready availability of prostitutes and the presence of slaves in many households, sex was in plentiful supply.

Roman entertainment also depicted their lack of value for life and morals. The Roman Coliseum evidenced an expanding thirst for violence as the games degenerated into pointless massacre and the crowds became immune to cruelty and bloodshed. Claudius (A.D. 41-54) required that mortally wounded combatants remove their helmets so he and the crowd could better watch death’s agony.

Against this pagan backdrop, Peter called for Christians to conform to an entirely different way of life. Darkened passion, ignorance, and futility marked the old way. An imperishable hope, confidence in God, and holiness characterize the new. The Greco-Roman gods required strict attention to religious ritual, but they did not require strict moral conduct.

How unlike the holy God! The contrast between the promiscuity of many Greco-Roman deities and the holy discipline required of God’s children was unmistakable. No God like Him could be found among the Greco-Roman deities. Ransomed from futile ways, God’s children were now to express and share in His very nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Against this pagan backdrop, Peter called for Christians to conform to an entirely different way of life. (Design Pics)

Peter had no illusion about reconciling the kingdom of God with a pagan world. Neither should we. That doesn’t mean we should ignore or discount honorable conduct by those who are not Christians-many people display commendable efforts to lift the human spirit. But it does require us to vigilantly examine our social environment. Rigorous attention and discipline, as guided by the Holy Spirit, are as imperative today as they were in the first century.

The Western world is experiencing a “resurgent paganism” similar in many ways to the New Testament Greco-Roman context. As the light of morality and Christian practices dims, more and more people steer their lives by values and ideas that are “pagan” by first century standards. One of the greatest dangers Christians face today is that of subtly absorbing “pagan” values. Escaping this danger requires us to pursue the kind of alert and disciplined life in Christ that Peter urged.

Let’s identify three prominent characteristics of “resurgent paganism.”

1. The first is moral relativism. Society’s belief in moral norms that apply to everyone is decaying. Our shared Judeo-Christian moral fabric is fraying. This erosion has been described as a “fragmented moral universe.” No divine center is generally recognized as grounding morality. Our crumbling foundations are often replaced by the belief that “right” and “wrong” depend upon individual preferences. Morality is “relative” to a person’s social and temporal context. Its content can change from one circumstance and person to another.

Pop culture, advertising, and news and entertainment media regularly invite us to embrace moral relativism. The invitation is sometimes subtle, sometimes bold. Moral relativism contradicts the revealed character and will of God. Like acid, it will eat through a mind and life not disciplined by the Holy Spirit. Peter assures us that God has given us “everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3, NRSV).

2. The second characteristic of “resurgent paganism” is the idolatry of human sexuality. Billions of advertising dollars and an entertainment industry that knows no satisfaction drive the worship of sexuality. More and more ways are sought to exploit human sexuality. We are witnessing a revival of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexual rapture. Her temple in Corinth once housed perhaps hundreds of sacred prostitutes who “ministered” a steady stream of worshipers. Aphrodite’s “temples” are now prevalent in society. This feature of “resurgent paganism” measures the value of everything by how well it exploits sex. The standard applies to people, toothpaste, clothing, corrective lenses, and automobiles.

3. A third characteristic of “resurgent paganism” is that a person “is” what he “owns.” The more a person “owns” the more of a “person” he or she is. Contrary to what Jesus said, we measure humans as quantitative, not qualitative. For example, advertising tries to convince us that people who wear certain labels are valued more highly. Cable news programming commits endless hours to tracking the careless behavior of a wealthy starlet. Judging by the airtime given, she is more of a person than a faithful schoolteacher or dedicated foster parents.

So, across the centuries the Apostle Peter now speaks to us in a period of resurgent paganism: “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). Our unfailing resource is the power of God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

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Al Truesdale is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and Christian ethics, Nazarene Theological Seminary.

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Originally published in Holiness Today, March/April 2009.  Currently found at Holiness Today Online.

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The Parable of the Persistent Widow for Today

The Parable of the Persistent Widow for Today

(Photo from: http://access-jesus.com/Luke/Luke_18.html)As the future grows bleak and some wonder what it might hold or how bad it may get, it is important to remember that Jesus taught that just prior to His coming, things would get really bad, nothing like what we may experience in the next few years.  I’m not one who carries a sign and cries, “the end is near!”  I don’t even spend much time studying end-times prophecy.  I am one, however, who takes seriously Jesus’ admonition to watch and be ready; with “being ready” as the thrust of that admonition.

With that in mind, however, Jesus does offer some help for when times are tough. While Jesus was talking about really tough times- like when you don’t pause to gather your belongings before high-tailing it out of town, or you dare not attempt to go back to your house from the field before running for safety; I believe that the help He offers is also available today when Christians feel like things are bad enough to call on Him, really call on Him.  Let’s look at this parable to see how to access that help:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8, NIV)

To correctly understand this parable of the Persistent Widow found in Luke 18:1-8, we must be sure that we understand the preceding passage which has Jesus telling His disciples about coming trouble.  This passage in Luke 17:22-37 equates the days before Jesus’ return with the days before the judgment of the world in Noah’s lifetime and the days before the judgment of Sodom in Lot’s lifetime.  Jesus makes clear that life will be going on as usual, eating, drinking, marrying, etc.  This seems to agree with other statements of Jesus where He makes clear that people of the earth cannot fully know the day or the hour of His coming.

This passage in chapter 17, however, indicates extremely difficult times, from which escape will be difficult and those being plucked away in that persecution and/or judgment will be swift and apparently indiscriminate.  It is in these terrible days that Jesus says the disciples will be driven to long for the day when He was physically with them, offering His sound wisdom, comforting words, and powerful intervention.  His disciples of future generations will also long for days that they had not known, but will greatly desire Jesus’ physical presence.

It is to these fearful days that Jesus brings the teaching on prayer that we find in the parable of the Persistent Widow.  The Biblical author introduces the parable with his suggestion of why Jesus shared this parable with his disciples:  “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (v. 1).

The judge that Jesus describes is one likely not recognizable to Christians today.  21st century judicial systems, at least in the developed world, are generally fair and impartial so that someone bringing their case before the court can be reasonably assured of fair and just treatment.  Today’s Christian needs to try to imagine a judge who has no regard for the rule of law, no fear of personal retribution for his rulings and no real concern for people who come before his bench.  This is the type of judge which Jesus presents in this parable.

The widow who Jesus introduces could be more easily recognized by 21st century Christians.  Many people today know that little old lady whose husband died years ago and who either never had children or whose children don’t live near her and therefore offer her little assistance.  Before he died, her husband squeaked out a respectable, but meager, living which now barely provides for the essential needs of his surviving wife.

Now this widow finds herself in need of legal help, “justice” as Jesus puts it.  As she peruses the docket, she discovers that her deepest fear is realized.  Again, her case was assigned to the worst judge in the county, the one who seems not to care at all about her case and has little concern for how much she needs his help.  But again, just as she has done countless times before, she patiently pleads her case to the inattentive judge, hoping that maybe this time he will show some compassion and find in her favor.

But relief, yet again, eludes her.  Once again the judge denies her request and once again she goes home discouraged, hopeless, alone.  But still, as often as she can get her case on the docket, she goes back to the courthouse.  And just as often, she gets that same judge who continuously denies her request.  Until one day, after countless retellings of her complaint and repeatedly hearing the “whack” of the gavel accompanied by the angry word from his lips, “denied!” she hears the unexpected.  The judge relents; he gives in to her request and grants her relief.

The judge readily admits that  he has little concern for her case, that he does not care whether she gets the help she needs or not, but he is sick and tired of her constantly coming before him and wasting his time with the same old complaint, week after week.  So to finally be rid of her, he grants her request.

In our passage, Jesus contrasts this judge who “neither feared God nor cared about men” (v. 2) to the Heavenly Father.  All of the original readers would understand that the Heavenly Father is nothing like this unjust judge.  Christians today, with the benefit of the rest of the Bible, know that God cares about all of His creation.  He cares about the needs and burdens of His children, His disciples.  Everyone who knows God knows that He hears their prayers.  In this contrast Jesus asserts with His ratorical question what should be obvious to all who believe, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (v. 7)

But Christians should be careful not to confuse this loving and caring God with a judge similar to one I came before once as a teenager during my wild oats-sewing days.  I found out after I got off with a minimal fine that he was known as the “freedom judge” because he so often lets people off, or with only minor fines.  God will not give to those who ask Him anything they want.  He will not just be the go-to-God for any whimsical desire or shallow plea.  To see the answers that God wants to provide, believers need to seek, as they  pray, the divine will of God in their situation.  It could be deliverance, healing or rescue.  Or perhaps it could be grace to persevere in the midst of trials or inner peace that allows one to live within  a society without peace and full of turmoil.  It may be  healing, deliverance or rescue that is provided by the passing from this life to the next.  Or, sometime in our future, it may mean martyrdom, dying for your faith.

So Christians today need to be aware that there are difficult days ahead.  They may feel that after the recent election that this country is in the midst of those days, but rest assured that this is nothing compared to the days that are coming just before Jesus returns to the earth.  There will be persecution; there will be great fear as everyone wonders who can be trusted or who may be watching who to report to the authorities for their Christian witness.

When these days come, or even when Christians experience difficult days in their lives today, Jesus wants them to remember that God will hear their prayer for help.  He will see as they earnestly come to Him with their request, praying for the will of God to be accomplished in their lives and their world.  But as this parable reveals, it is those who pray persistently, who come to Him “day and night” (v. 7) who will receive His sure and effective answer.

Jesus concludes this parable with the rhetorical question, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (v. 8) The Christian’s faith grows with every answer to prayer that God provides.  The Christian’s faith grows as he or she observes God’s hand at work.  The Christian’s faith grows as obedience and holy living produces the promised results of an abundant and full life.  So as Christians live their lives as the Scripture teaches, their faith will ultimately grow and this faith, along with that of millions of other Christians around the world who have also persevered, will greet Jesus when He comes in the air to receive them unto Himself, answering His question with a resounding, “Yes, He will find faith on the earth!”

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(Sermon by Daryl Densford)

The Mission of God for the People of God (A Sermon on Luke 4:14-21)

Introduction

Jesus used much of the time He spent with His disciples both telling them and showing them why He came to Earth.  Beyond His salvific mission there is the broader Mission of God or Missio Dei that was first declared by God in Genesis and has continued throughout the Old and New Testaments and continues with His Church today.  The mission is that the nations or peoples of the world would be blessed.

This blessing ultimately is a restoration of the relationship between God and man that was lost in the Garden.  But the blessing, and thus the mission, goes beyond just having a personal relationship with God.  It includes a meeting of the simplest –and yet most profound—needs of the poorest and most oppressed people as well as those of the richest and most powerful.  This mission has a global initiative.  It includes our own communities, yes.  In the United States, however, even though the needs are great, they pale in comparison to the needs around the world.

As the Church has been called and commissioned to continue the Missio Dei; the Church, you and I, need to be familiar with all that it entails.  Our passage this morning goes a long way in helping us understand a little better what this mission is and what it means to us.

Introduction of the Text

Not too long into His public ministry, Jesus returned to His home town of Nazareth.  Being the Sabbath day, he went to the Synagogue as any good Jewish man of His day would do.  Perhaps because he was there as a guest or maybe because word had spread all over Galilee about what He was preaching and doing, He was asked to read the days Scripture reading.

I’m not certain if the reading for that day was actually Isaiah 6:1-2 or if he scrolled through the scroll a bit to find it, but what He read was a powerful message.  Let me give you the entire Luke passage in context:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:14-21, NIV).

I remember when I was younger; I used to wonder why He sat down.  If he was going to preach, get behind the pulpit and preach!  Well my worldview was from a Western, Protestant standard.  In that religion in that time, the guest would read the passage then sit down to discuss it.

OK, fine but His introduction sure seems like it would have been off the wall.  Imagining myself as a Jewish man sitting in that synagogue in the 1st century, hearing that passage from Isaiah, and then the first line of His discussion, I think I would be scratching my head saying, “huh?”

But looking back from the 21st century, having read the rest of the story, it is clear to us that Jesus realized, and was trying to communicate to the Jewish men in that group, that He was that anointed one on a mission mentioned in Isaiah.

Our service this morning doesn’t allow me time to delve into the whole of the Missio Dei that runs through the Bible from nearly the beginning clear through to the end, but let me briefly say that God’s mission was to bless the nations, the peoples, of the world first through Israel. This continued through His new covenant people, His Church.  Jesus was announcing that He was continuing that mission.  I want to look more closely at what this mission is, but first let’s consider why it’s important for us to understand what Jesus’ mission was.

We see all through the Gospels and the first part of Acts, Jesus preparing the disciples to take on His ministry.  In John chapter 17 Jesus prays for Himself and His disciples.  In verse 18 He prays, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus sent His disciples into the world with the mission that the Father sent Jesus into the world with. His disciples have been sent.  Now the question for you today is, “are you His disciple?”

In John 14: 12 Jesus told His disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  What works had He been doing?  Well for one, He had been doing what this text in Isaiah said He was anointed to do.  He then said His believers would be doing those works and more!  Another question for you today is, “Are you a believer?”

Finally in Matthew 28 and again in Acts 1 His disciples (that’s you and me, right?) were told to “go.”  To go be His witnesses, to go make disciples, to go baptize and teach them to obey.  We are called to go and continue His mission, the Missio Dei, the mission of God.

So when we speak of what Jesus was anointed to do, I believe that we can safely say thatHis mission is our mission, that we are a part of the Missio Dei.

Now on to Jesus’ mission as described in this passage.

I. The first aspect of the mission is to “proclaim good news to the poor.”  

I used to spiritualize this passage when I would preach it.  I would equate the “poor” with those who were spiritually poor because they didn’t know Jesus and our mission was to share with them the Gospel message so that they could experience the riches of God’sspiritual Kingdom.  I now think that was at least partially an incorrect interpretation.  Sure, we are supposed to share the Gospel with those who do not know God in a saving way, that is clear all through the New Testament.  But I don’t think that is what this particular passage is talking about, not completely.

You see, there are some 2000 verses in the Bible that talk about the poor.  Did you realize that?  The poor are all around us.  I think many of you, like I was, are a part of the remnant of a bifurcation that happened in the Church around the turn of the century. If I may, I would like to give you a little bit of a history lesson about that.

As you probably know, the Church of the Nazarene started in Los Angeles with Phineas F. Bresee; and the big thing that he was concerned about was reaching out to the poor.  It was sharing the Gospel, but it was also meeting the needs of the poor.

And that is what the Church was about.  From the early Church, we can see that.  It was about reaching the poor.  But as the church went on, and as things happened in our country, things in the Church began to change.  Maybe you remember or at least remember reading about the “Scopes Monkey Trials” in the twenties.  In Tennessee they passed a law that it was illegal to teach evolution in the schools (haven’t times changed!).  So it was illegal in Tennessee but this teacher taught evolution in his classroom anyway and he was brought to trial for it.  He was charged with teaching evolution.

Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) during the Scopes Trial in 1925

Clarence Darrow, a famous lawyer of the time was the defending attorney and William Jennings Bryan was the prosecuting attorney.  Bryan was a popular evangelist; he was what we might call the “Evangelical Right” today and Darrow would be on the other side.  This made news.  Probably the closest thing today that we could relate it to would be the O.J. Simpson trial.  Remember: every day, every time you turned on the news, they were talking about what was going on in the O.J. Simpson trial:  “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” and all of that.

This is the way it was for this trial, the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Scopes was the teacher’s name.  This was an American phenomena and it helped to solidify the separation between the Mainline Church and the Evangelical Church.  So the Evangelical Church saw anything having to do with this liberal theology as taboo.  One of the things that the “left” was active in was reaching out to the poor, it was “social justice,” it was “social action,” it was taking up the causes of the oppressed.  Since this was part of liberal theology, Evangelicalism went the other way and started to focus nearly exclusively on personal evangelism, on winning souls for Christ, on sharing only the Gospel of Jesus as it applies to personal salvation.

Now clearly, in many parts of the world, the missionaries didn’t make this separation and in fact, for the most part, around the world except in the United States, the Church didn’t have this “bifurcation.”  They realized that there was a need for sharing the Gospel message as well as the need for evangelism and often times missionaries, even from the United States, saw needs and they met the needs.  The Gospel was part of it, but the “meeting of the needs” was part of it, as well.

In the United States, though, there was this bifurcation, this separation, and it went on for decades until probably late eighties, early nineties.  Then people started reading the Scripture, Scriptures like our text today, and realizing that the Church is missing it and losing out on part of their ministry.  The Evangelical Church started to realize that there was more to the Gospel than just the Gospel.  Then the Church started coming back around.  The Church of the Nazarene has been a part of this return:  in the early eighties they established Nazarene Compassionate Ministries as a separate Department which “represented an intentional, organized effort to alleviate human suffering caused by global poverty” (NCMI website).  They also developed Nazarene Disaster Response, which is involved bringing relief to tragedies or disasters.  So we have come back around.   But this bifurcation has been so much a part of our thinking that anything having to do with “Social Justice” has been considered liberal and taboo. So, here we are today.

If you were poor, (and this is the first thing Jesus read, “To preach good news to the poor”); if you were poor, what would be “good news” to you?

Let me pause for a point of clarification here:  Jesus said to preach “good news.”  He does not say to preach the good news, it is not translated “Gospel” here, it is “good news,” to preach good news to the poor.

OK, so if you were poor, what would be good news to you?  I mean really poor, not just not having enough money to get anew car every two or three years, or not being able to take European vacations or Caribbean cruises every year.  Really poor.  The kind of poor where you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.  The kind of poor where you don’t know whether you will get a bed in the shelter or will have to sleep outside.  The kind of poor that means you have to suffer with that disease that is killing you without medical care.  I’m talking about the kind of poor where you don’t feel like you have any hope.  If you were that kind of poor, what would be good news to you?

Do you think some guy coming along and promising that someday in the future you can live in Heaven with God if you receive His son into your heart and life today, would that be good news? Now, that is good news for us, we are Christians.  We are in the Church.  We have got (clearly) plenty of food to eat, a roof over our head, a car to drive.

But if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, something that is going to happen fifty, sixty, seventy years from now . . . is that good news?

Now again, I don’t want you to think that I’m one of those who say the Gospel is not all that important, we just need to take care of physical needs.  That is not what I’m saying.  The Gospel is our ultimate priority!  The salvation message is our ultimate priority!  But do not think though, that you can give someone a meal and that is your ticket to share the Gospel with him.  That just rings hollow.  If you are going to feed the poor, you need to feed the poor just because they’re hungry, not because you may have a chance to witness to them.

Thinking more about his good news, even if you said, “but look, this isn’t just about the future-you can have joy today, you can be happy today . . .” I don’t think that is good news, not the good news that they want to hear because they will still have to scrounge for food and look for a place to sleep and suffer with their health . . . but they could be happy!  Would that be good news?  I don’t think so.

I think that the good news the poor want to hear is news of how they can get food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads, a place to live, and medical care.  I think the good news that they want is a relief from their poor-ness.

“Isn’t that what welfare is for?” you ask.  ”Aren’t the soup kitchens and compassionate ministries there for them?”  “Isn’t there some ministry to do that?”  If all these things were good enough, we wouldn’t have many poor left, would we?  Remember what Jesus said: “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”  He wasn’t anointed to point the poor in the direction of the nearest soup kitchen.  He wasn’t anointed to write a check. He wasn’t anointed to sit back and let someone else do it.  He was “anointed to preach good news to the poor”!

II. The second aspect of the mission is to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”  

How many of you have ever been in jail . . . let me rephrase that:  How many of you have ever visited a prison or a jail?  How many of you have spent time with prisoners?  I’ve been on both sides of the bars.  Mostly, I’ve gone in as a pastor to state prisons and county jails, as some of you have.  I have gone in to visit with prisoners and to minister to them and I can say that for a prisoner behind bars (unless they are counting down the very few days until their release) the good news for them is not something that is going to happen fifty or sixty years away.  Sure, it will help them through their incarceration and we can make a compelling case that if they give their life to Christ, it won’t be so bad, and Jesus will help them through it.  I’m not against that.  I hope you hear me, salvation is essential!  I’m not giving up on salvation.  But sometimes there needs to be more.

That prisoner in jail, in prison, what he wants is freedom!  Jesus was anointed to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”  Now that does not mean a big “jail-break!”  I don’t know that I can give many details on how to do this.  How do we bring freedom to the prisoner?  I’m not sure but that is what Jesus was anointed to do.  Maybe this one is more of a spiritual application, but I don’t think so.  I think that there is something more here.  We just have to discover what it is.

So we have the poor, we have the prisoners.

III. The next aspect of the Mission is to “proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.” 

Have any of you seen a blind person healed?  All though Scripture we see Jesus healing the blind.  Now that is not always the way God works. That is not always necessarily the way that we are going to work.  But imagine being blind, that is hard for us to do, I realize, but imagine being blind.  What is good news for you?  That you will be able to see.  Now it could be that healing is in your future as a blind person.  It is possible.  But maybe there is some other way to bring sight to the blind.

At one of the churches that my wife and I worked at many years ago, we somehow got an inroad into a blind residence inCincinnati.  We would pick up some of the residents who would come to church.  There was one blind woman who came pretty regularly, though I do not remember her name.  She had this blind stuff down pretty well, though.  I don’t know if she was blind from birth or not but she could pull out her wallet and give you a five dollar bill and know that it was a five. She would arrange the bills a certain way and fold them a certain way.  She had that blind stuff down, but when there was a church dinner, it would get a little more difficult.  You have all of those selections, and then once you get it on your plate it gets more difficult.  I remember one dinner my wife got a plate for her and had to describe where everything was:  “OK, at 12:00 are the potatoes, at 3:00 are the green beans, and at 6:00 is the meat loaf.”

In a way, that was giving her sight but I don’t know it that is enough.  I’m not sure that is what this passage is referring to.  But there has to be a way of bringing sight to the blind.  Maybe it is physical healing; maybe we just don’t have the faith.  But that is part of the mission:  recovery of sight to the blind.

IV. The fourth aspect of the Missio Dei in this passage is to “set the oppressed free.” 

Pull out any newspaper, go to the “World” section and you can read about the oppressed around the world.  You can see how people are treated, you can even see in the laws that exist around the world that there is oppression.  People who are being held down, people who do not have an equal opportunity, people who because of maybe the color of their skin or their ethnic background, or their parents just don’t have the same opportunities.  So you go to one of them who does not feel like they have a future or hope and you give them “good news.”  What do you think that good news for them would be?  Again, I don’t think that it is something that is going to happen for them way down the road.  I think that good news for them is some way of being released from their oppression, being set free.  We need to help them, but what do we do?

V. Jesus continues with the fifth aspect of the mission, which is to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor.” 

This phrase that is used here is referring to the “Year of Jubilee.”  In the nation of Israel, in Judaism, they had this every 50 years.  It is what they called “The Year of Jubilee,” when everything was renewed.  Those who had debt, it was cancelled.   Those who were sold into slavery were given their freedom.  Anyone who had to give up their property or had to sell their property, it reverted back to the original owner or their heirs.  This was a renewal of everything, a “making right” of everything, a getting back to the way things are supposed to be.

Jesus is talking about this renewal; He says that this is part of His mission, to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  I think that of all the aspects of the mission in this passage, this one may be the aspect that offers hope for the future.  In the Kingdom of God, there is a sense of the “already” because Jesus said, the Kingdom is here.  There is the sense that as we become a believer, a follower of Jesus, that we become a part of His Kingdom and this Kingdom of God is active in the world.  So there is that “already” aspect of the Kingdom, but there is also the “not yet” aspect because it is not completely fulfilled.  If the Kingdom was fully come, we wouldn’t have poor among us, we wouldn’t have blind among us, we wouldn’t have full jails and prisons, there wouldn’t be the oppressed.  But the Kingdom of God is not fully here.

So the idea of this restoration, this renewal, this making everything right is a hope that we have for the future, hopefully the near future.  It is a hope for a “making everything right.”   But I think that even with that, it involves more than just the future, more than just the “not yet.”  There is an element of the “acceptable year of the Lord” that should be “already.”  That is the mission that Jesus, in this passage, was saying that He was on:  part of the Missio Dei, the Mission of God.

Now, remember what we said earlier that as His disciples, as believers, we are called and commissioned to continue the Missio Dei.  So what are we going to do with this?  What are we going to do with the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed?  Well, Jesus said to take them the good news, proclaim freedom and recovery of sight, set the oppressed free.  Again, these are not just words that He is taking them, I hope you understand.  We are to take the good news, to proclaim freedom, the recovery of sight, the year of the Lord.  How are we going to do that?

Remember a few weeks back whenGovernor Mike Huckabee called on believers to eat at Chick-fil-a one particular day to show support for therestaurant owner’s stand on Biblical values? My wife and I and our kids did that.  We had to drive about an hour to get to our nearest Chick-fil-a, but we did it.  We waited in line for a while and finally got our chicken.  We felt good showing our support for this Christian business-owner.  I posted pictures on Facebook.  We did our part.

As I read different posts about this event over the next couple days, I read things (mainly from opponents to the owner’s statements) about how that was such a waste of time and money, how it didn’t really help a real cause, or even the poor. It hit me that while we did show support for something we believed in, the owner of Chick-fil-a probably didn’t need our money.  I think my goal was “I’ll show them!” instead of actually doing good.

That Friday as I was online ordering pizza for my family, I was invited to “share a slice of hope” and donate a dollar to World Hunger Relief.  I did it, and I felt good.  The next time I ordered from Pizza Hut I did it again.  Then the next time I gave 2 dollars!  So now I’ve given $4 for world hunger, but how has that helped the family downtown who just got evicted with nowhere to go?  How did that help that homeless vet who doesn’t know where his next meal is going to come from?  How did that 4 bucks really help anybody?

I’m not saying there is no value in that; I’m still going to do it.  But it is not enough.  It wasn’t a sacrifice for me.  It didn’t hurt a bit.  I need to do more.  I think you need to do more.

So what do we do?

VI. A further understanding of the Mission of God.

Matthew 25 goes into this mission a lot and I think will give us a better understanding of our text.  This is a bit of a lengthy passage, but I think that we ought to look at it here.  It gives us more of a clue as to our responsibility.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life(Matthew 25:31-46, NIV).

When we look at this passage we see that they were being judged, not according to how long they had been a Christian or even if they were Christians, though it is assumed they were, or at least thought they were.  They were not being judged according to how many times they went to church or how much their tithe was.  Not according to how many dollars they gave to “share a slice of hope.”  They were judged according to how well they accomplished the mission of God.  Whether or not they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, cared for the sick.  Those who didn’t were allowed to continue on their path to eternal punishment while those who did, to eternal life.  I think this gives us a glimpse of the seriousness of this mission of God.

Application

The significance of the Missio Dei should drive us on to be more a part of that mission, but what is our part?  What can we do?  There are a few things that all of us as believers should definitely consider:

First, we should all pray.  We should pray for the Mission of God around the world.  We should pray for those who have answered God’s call and are serving in particular ministries around the world, accomplishing the mission of God.  We should pray specifically, by name, for missionaries and ministers both in the United States seeking to live out today’s passage, as well as missionaries around the world who are doing the same.

Second, we can give financially.  I’m not talking about the buck or two that doesn’t hurt, but sacrificially giving to help the mission of God around the world.  In our church that means giving to the World Evangelism Fund that supports our missionaries that are in over 150 world areas.  It means giving to the Alabaster Offering which helps to build buildings in mission areas around the world.  It means sponsoring a child throughNazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) to help meet the needs of impoverished children around the world.  It means giving to NCM to help alleviate poverty around the world, as well as right here in the United States.  It means giving to Nazarene Disaster Response as they seek to help those who have experienced some tragedy or disaster.  It includes giving generously for deputation offerings when missionaries visit our church or our district.  The list really could go on and on.  The point is to give sacrificially as God directs you.

Third, we should all be willing to personally go if God calls us.  Yes, there are many needs right here in our community, in the places where we work and live.  But there is also great need for people to serve the cause of Christ around the world, both taking the Gospel message of salvation, as well as the good news to the poor, blind, imprisoned and oppressed.  There is a need for people to follow God’s call cross-culturally to help ensure God’s mission is accomplished to “the least of these.”  We all need to be willing to go and need to listen for God’s call.

Finally, now what are you going to do?  Where are you going to go?  I can’t tell you specifically what you are supposed to do.  But I do know who does know and it is in our text in Luke.

In Luke 4:14 we read, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.”  In verse 18 Jesus read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me . . .” I think this is the key to finding the answer of “how?” of what we are supposed to do: the Holy Spirit.

We read in the Gospels how much the disciples bungled their ministry until after Acts 2. What happened in Acts 2?  Let’s go there:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4, NIV)

Do you see that, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”! Then their ministry took off! Then they were able to preach, they were able to heal, they were able to continue the Missio Dei. We notice later in that chapter what else that infilling of the Holy Spirit did for them:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

Do you see what they did?  The apostles taught, they had fellowship, they broke bread and prayed.  They performed wonders and signs, they had everything in common, they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  They continued to meet together; they broke bread in their homes and ate together.  And they grew.

All that they did is great and it is what the Church should be doing, but I want to zero in on more than just what they did, and it’s not really written in the text but is clearly implied:

They knew what to do!  

This was all new to them.  For the last three years they always had Jesus to tell them what to do.  This whole “Christian Church” thing had never been done before, so they couldn’t read the stories of the pioneers who had gone before them. They were the pioneers!  They were on their own. It was sink or swim!

Now I Know that the Scripture record doesn’t give us every thought and detail but I believe that it gives us what we need to know.  And I don’t see a struggle here among the believers about what they should be doing.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then the Holy Spirit guided them and helped them to know what to do.

We could go beyond the 2nd chapter of Acts into the rest of recorded Scripture and see them doing it over and over again:  preaching, healing, providing, continuing the Missio Dei!

Conclusion

So let’s get ourselves back to the 21st century.  We are told to take good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  How do we do it?  What do we do? Where do we go?  We let the Holy Spirit guide us.  More than His guidance though (or as a prerequisite of His guidance) we need His filling!

If you haven’t been filled with the Spirit, you are just a believer without power.  If the Spirit hasn’t filled you, you’re just a disciple who doesn’t know fully what to do for the poor. I want to encourage you today to seek the Holy Spirit!  Ask Him to fill you!  Open yourself up to Him!

As we come to Him beyond salvation for His filling, we need to first consecrate our all to Him.  We need to be willing to give to Him all that we are, all that we have, and all that the future holds:  our families, our lives, our careers, our riches.  We need to not just be willing to; we need to give those to Him.  Lay them on the altar, consecrating our all to Him—not holding anything back.  When we give Him our all and invite Him to fill us, that is when He fills us.  It may be instantaneous or it may take time, but He will fill you fully and that is when you can know how to accomplish the mission of God.  You won’t have to wonder, the Holy Spirit will guide you!

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(Sermon by Daryl Densford.  Preached at Lebanon, Missouri Church of the Nazarene on October 21, 2012)