Sunday 29 June 2014

Two ways to die (Phil 1:12-26)

Paul is crazy

Paul is crazy. This guy is either out of his mind or he is fooling himself into thinking that it’s better to die - and be with Christ, so he says - than to be freed from prison. People are making fun of him - no surprise why. And what is his reaction?

“I don’t care.”

Who are you kidding, Paul? Do you seriously expect us to believe it doesn’t bother you that pastors are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ with selfish ambition in their hearts?


Friends, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But I want to be honest about our reaction to Paul. I know we’ve all heard that sermon by John Piper; the one where he says, “To die is… gain!” All of us went, “Yes!” … in the comfort of our living rooms in front of our laptop screens.

A friend of mine has months to live. With each day he gets weaker. With each day the pain gets worse. Let me tell you: Death is grim, not gain. And, let’s be honest: We don’t know what it’s like to be in prison. We don’t know what it means to face death.

But here’s the thing. Paul wants us to know. He says, in verse 12:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
Philippians 1:12

Because of my chains

He says, “It’s become clear - it’s become obvious - that I am in chains for Christ.” Because of these chains, non-Christians are paying attention to this gospel. Because of these chains, Christians are opening their mouths to speak this gospel.

Paul wants us to know: that God uses chains - God uses suffering - to advance the gospel. But verse 15 tells us: Not everyone sees it this way.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry... (verse 17) They preach Christ out of selfish ambition, supposing they can stir up trouble for me (Literally, it says, ‘Supposing they can add to my chains’).
Philippians 1:15-17

Do you know why Paul is in prison when he wrote this letter? Acts 26, verse 32; King Agrippa says, “This man could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.” Meaning: If he’d kept his big mouth shut he wouldn’t be in situation. It’s his own fault!

What started out as a small incident in Jerusalem was now a big court case in Rome, it was threatening to affect the rest of us law-abiding, peace-loving Christians. “Thank you, Mr Apostle. Thanks, for nothing.” That’s what these guys were saying.

What Paul is saying is:, “Thank God. Thank God that you are finally talking about Jesus with your friends.” Verse 18:  “...whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

It doesn’t mean Paul wasn’t hurt by their comments. It means he sees the big picture. God uses suffering. God uses chains. God uses critical Christians to advance the gospel.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice

Verse 19:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
Philippians 1:19

Is he saying, “Thank you for praying. I think I’ve got a good chance of getting out”? Is that what he’s saying? No, it’s actually the opposite. It’s a quote from Job 13, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him… Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance.” Even if this court condemns me to death, I will appear before a heavenly court, before a heavenly Judge. And He will vindicate me to life.

Verse 20:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage (meaning: This is not easy) so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:20-21

I assume you’ve heard of something called Two Ways To Live; A way of telling people the gospel: You live God’s way or you live your own way. There are Two Ways To Live.

Today I am going to tell you Two Ways To Die. Brand new. You heard it first here at TEAM. Two Ways To Die. Get Rico Tice on the phone.

Two ways to Die

Two Ways to Die. It goes like this: It’s the day you die.

You are surrounded by people you love. You’ve lived a good life. You’ve been faithful, loving. You are a sinner. But you trust in Christ’s righteousness, not your own. And on this last day you say goodbye. You close your eyes and wake up to see Jesus embracing you into his kingdom. That’s a good way to die.

But there is another way. You die in prison. You die in agony and worse of all, you die alone. You know there are those who love you with a fierce love. But you also know there are those who hate your guts.

And your concern is for those you are leaving behind. If you had one more day, you would write one more email, one more text. You would say, “Hang on to Jesus. Keep on trusting in Jesus.”

But day has come when the silver cord is cut. You wake up and see Jesus. And something inside you says, “Gain.”


Now, both ways are good - good ways to die - if you’re a Christian. (If you’re not a Christian, we need to talk after this.) But Paul wants us to know that this second way is not a bad way to go. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed of this second way. God has given us a Saviour worth living and dying for.

What are you going to do after TEAM? Here we are learning to preach the gospel. What are you going to do with this knowledge? Join another course? What is the most risky - I’m not saying, foolish - but what’s the most risky thing you could do with your life - if you weren’t worried about comfort or approval or death? Where could you go? What could you do?

Paul says: It is my eager expectation and hope that I will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body. Whether by life or by death.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Killing Jesus (Mark 14:1-11)

Killing Jesus was going to be difficult. Not only was he popular with the crowds but the Passover was just two days away. Meaning: Over 150 thousand people would gather in Jerusalem for the bank holiday weekend. Hence, verse 1:  “The chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.”

“But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” The plan was to wait for the right time to kill Jesus.

Mark Chapter 14 is one of the darkest chapters in the bible. There is the betrayal of a friend; the abuse of power; the murder of the Son of God. Yet what we see at the heart of today’s passage is love. What we see shining through that darkness is the gospel.

While he (meaning, Jesus) was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.
Mark 14:3

The point of the alabaster jar is to say: Even the container was rare and expensive. What this woman did was break open the container in order to pour out its precious contents - an expensive perfume - on Jesus’ head. John’s gospel tells us that the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3). Everyone could see, or at least, smell, what she had just done.

But their reaction was less than positive.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.”
Mark 14:4-5

These guys knew exactly how much that jar cost. “More than three hundred denarii,” according to the footnotes in the NIV. These are the kind of guys who, unfortunately, make great church accountants. They are good with money. They are great at balancing the books. And not one of them could in good conscience approve of this woman’s foolish extravagance. “What a waste,” they said. “That money should have gone to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly, verse 5 says. 

“Silly girl.” 

Three hundred denarii in today’s money is twenty thousand pounds. You could run TEAM for two years with twenty thousand pounds. In some countries, you could send the pastor to seminary - build a new church building, even - for twenty thousand pounds.

What you would not do with twenty thousand pounds is spend it on one bottle of Chanel Number 5  only to pour it out on your pastor’s head while he’s having lunch at McDonald’s. But that’s what this woman did. Not just a few drops, mind you. She poured everything out on Jesus’ head.

According to Jesus, this woman did something beautiful.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”
Mark 14:6-7

Jesus is defending the woman. “Why are you bothering her?” We get that. Jesus is speaking up against the bullies in her defence. What we struggle to understand is the basis of that defence. He says, “The poor you’ll always have with you but you won’t always have me.” Is Jesus seriously saying he is more important than helping the poor?

What he is doing is quoting from the Old Testament. Deuteronomy Chapter 15 reads, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, be open-handed.” God is commanding Israel to be open-handed. To be generous with the poor.

The interesting thing is how that same passage begins with these words: “There should be no poor among you... in the land. He will richly bless you.” (Deuteronomy 15:4) Now, hold on. God says, “There should be no poor people in the land,” only to say, “There will always be poor people in the land”!

The problem is not the land. It’s not because the economy is in recession or that there’s been a famine. For Israel, poverty had nothing to with the land. It had everything to do with the heart. It’s not enough to have enough. God’s knows our hearts. It was not enough for God to simply bless Israel. He has to command Israel to be generous with their wealth; to be loving with their wealth.

So when Jesus quotes this verse from Deuteronomy, he’s not saying, “You shouldn’t help the poor.” He is saying, “You haven’t been helping the poor.” 

Verse 7: “You can help them any time you want.” “But that’s the problem. You don’t want to.” Jesus is speaking at the level of our desires. We think: If only I were Bill Gates, I’d give millions to the poor. “You are kidding yourselves,” Jesus is saying.

What we lack is motivation, not money. This woman was reckless in doing what she did. She held nothing back. If we’re honest, that scares us. We give out of excess; out of what we can afford; out of the leftovers. This woman poured out everything she had.

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my funeral. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.
Mark 14:8-9

Now what Jesus says here has special significance for us here at TEAM learning to preach the gospel. Do you realise what Jesus is doing? He is giving us a sermon illustration. “Wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will also be told.”

It’s important to see that this isn’t an illustration on giving - though there are applications for that. It’s an illustration for the gospel. Jesus says in verse 8, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” He knows what the religious leaders are planning. He knows what Judas will do. And he talks about his body being “prepared for burial”. The cross is not a surprise; it’s a certainty. And he is saying to us, “Do you realise what this woman has done? Do you see what makes her offering so precious? She has made my death look good.” 

Friends, when we preach the gospel, that’s what we are called to do: We are to make his death look good. Paul calls this the fragrance - or the aroma - of Christ (in 2 Corinthians Chapter 2). To some, the gospel smells like death. To others, it will smell like life. But the point is, preaching the gospel means pointing people to the cross. The gospel is good news that emanates from Jesus’ death.

Again, this means that some people are going to be put off by the gospel. It’s a stench! But to others, it’s a fragrance. And this fragrance is precisely what is going to draw them to Jesus. It’s his sacrifice. His beauty.

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
Mark 14:10-11

It turns out that killing Jesus wasn’t that difficult after all. The religious leaders were so worried about Jesus’ popularity but here comes Judas, one of the inner circle, offering to betray Jesus into their hands. They were worried about the Passover. “Wait,” they said. But Mark 14 ends with Jesus arrested that very night of the Passover. 

Everything was going according to plan.

What happened? The cross was never a surprise for Jesus, but a certainty. Jesus Christ had to be betrayed. Jesus Christ had to die. And all this was God’s plan to save the world through the death of his Son.

2 Corinthians 8, verse 9 says:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus Christ became poor so that we might become rich. It’s not talking about wealth but something more important than wealth. It’s salvation. Isn’t that interesting? Jesus Christ was the ultimate poor man - that’s what it’s saying.

If you remember, Jesus himself used this illustration when he said, “The poor you will always have with you… but you won’t always have me.” To our ears, that sounded so offensive! Because Jesus seems to be implying that helping the poor is not as important as helping him. But you see, here is the ultimate poor man - Jesus Christ - come to help us. The only way that Jesus Christ could save us from our sins was not by coming into this world in power, prestige and splendour; no, but by coming as a slave. He came to serve us. He came as a lamb to the slaughter. He submitted himself unto death.

The religious accountants couldn’t understand this that but this woman did. I don’t know how, but she did. She poured out her life savings on Jesus - 300 denarii; 20K - and Jesus said, “She did a beautiful thing,” yes. But what else did Jesus say in verse 8? “She did what she could.” Meaning: If she had more, she would give more. This woman knew that no amount of money compared to having Jesus.

I want you to understand that coming to Jesus means more than giving him your money. You and offering him your life. You are saying to him, “Jesus, my PhD is nothing compared to you.” “Jesus my career is nothing compared to you.” 

Because it is through his poverty that God makes us rich. It is through his death that we receive eternal life.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9