Sunday Sermon Notes: February 18, 2018

Title: And Then it Happened!

Text: Genesis 3

We all know the story of Genesis 3 when Eve and then Adam ate from the tree that God had placed in the Garden next to the Tree of Life; God forbade them to eat of that tree. Yet, after consultation with that famous serpent, they went for it anyway. As we have already seen, their having eaten from the forbidden tree did not change the fact that they were bearers of God’s image, but it certainly changed how they viewed it, and of course there were consequences to their actions.

They now knew both good and evil; that will certainly change one’s thinking about a lot of things, in fact, it might just make a person’s thinking evil.

In this chapter, we find out why 2:25 is there; it turns out that it wasn’t as random as it seemed at first. They had been unashamed, and then they disobeyed God and were ashamed. Exactly what they were ashamed of is something that is open for debate, and many have indulged in that debate over the centuries. Personally, as I view this chapter I see several apocalyptic elements, and if this were a study of Genesis per se, I would get into them in detail, but since this isn’t a study of Genesis, I will only say here that naked or not naked is one of those elements, and that nakedness is a powerful metaphoric component in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, representing our having been created in God’s image on the one hand, and our separation from Him on the other.

God goes searching for Adam, who has made for himself a covering of leaves, and hidden in the trees, along with Eve. Of course, you can’t hide from God, who finds them, and has a little chat with them. As a result of this chat, God pronounces curses on the serpent, the woman and the man, and has them removed from the Garden forever. Interestingly, another one of the apocalyptic elements is found in 3:15 which is the first messianic prophecy.

While this is all very interesting, it doesn’t explain why they suddenly found themselves ashamed. Here’s what I think happened:

When the two ate from the forbidden tree, they were ashamed of what they had done and sought to hide themselves. It would appear from the text that they went into the bushes and shrubbery of the garden to hide, and they made clothing out of leaves to hide from God− since they had made a covering of leaves, they were not naked when God came looking for them, as Adam claimed in 3:10. Eating the fruit was the first sin, this lie was the second.

Obviously, this view fits with the Genesis 3 text, yet we still have the traditional teaching that they hid their shameful naked bodies from God…

Even so, we saw at the very beginning of our study together that the entry of sin into the world did not alter the fact that we are made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6), so I must respectfully ask how the human body can be shameful?

That simply cannot be, unless we are prepared to tell God that His image is shameful or unclean… and I really wouldn’t recommend that. Sometimes however, we behave shamefully. Yet our poor behavior has nothing to do with whether or not we are dressed; think about it… Not very many crimes are committed by naked people. Thus, in today’s culture we might rightfully say that nakedness is frowned upon in public, that it might be socially awkward, even that it violates the predominant social conventions, but not that a naked person is shameful or sinful simply because they are naked.

But they might well be shameful for their behavior…

A 150 years ago, there wasn’t much confusion about the meaning of sexual immorality, the same was true 100 years ago, even 50, but today; that’s a whole different story. We have names for sexual practices and proclivities that none of us had even heard of when I was in my 20’s, and things that were frowned upon in society then are now matters of human rights and Constitutional protection, even though the authors of the Constitution would be mortified to hear of it.

Maybe these are the ramblings of someone who is just past his prime… you can judge that for yourself.

Not too long ago, a preacher friend of mine was telling me that he has people, mostly on the young side as he is, who ask him questions about sexuality, questions for which they seek answers, but which he has a hard time answering because they are asking about things that aren’t in the Bible, and even when they are in the Bible, he feels like the answers he gives are sounding very hollow in light of the changes in society, changes that have come upon us very quickly.

So, what exactly is sexual immorality?

It strikes me that this might be the wrong question; maybe we should ask what sexual morality is, rather what sexual immorality is. In our investigation of the image of God and its significance, we have already found that answer, and it is such a significant answer that it is actually a central part of God’s eternal purpose from the very beginning. We have seen that God made us in His image, our bodies, souls and spirits comprise His image in both male and female. We have seen that because of this, a man leaves his parents and unites as “one flesh” with his wife in the ultimate expression of their love for one another, and that their physical union is symbolic of Christ and the church.

God’s love is expressed in His giving life to us; our love is expressed in giving life to new image bearers, so that in each case life is the result of love.

It is altogether fitting and proper for a man and woman to become one flesh in marriage, and their sexual union is a gift from God: It is also sexual morality, and we have already cited the Scripture to support this.

Sex outside of this relationship, whatever you might see fit to call it, is not the exercise of the gift as God intended it to serve His purpose and makes a mockery of His image, which is why the Bible makes such a big deal about it.

There is the information, simple and clear as it is; the real question before us is, “What will we do with the information?”

Next time, let’s think about that, and talk about it a bit…

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Paul, Romans and Legal Rights

Acts 22:22-29

As Paul addressed the mob, things went along for a short time in calm, and then he mentioned taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the mob went wild, demanding Paul’s murder. The Roman commander ordered Paul taken into the barracks where he ordered Paul to be interrogated.

At this point in the story, it is interesting to note that in the Roman worldview, the victim of a violent attack by a mob is arrested and interrogated, while the perpetrators of the violence are not; obviously this Paul guy did something, let’s make him tell us what he did.

Paul was to be encouraged to be forthcoming by flogging. This was the same kind of thing done to Jesus before His crucifixion; Paul was stripped naked, and his hands were tied to the top of a high post. If the post was high enough, his feet would actually have been off the ground, and then he would be struck repeatedly with a leather whip that was weighted down on the ends with bits of bone and rock that would rip his flesh apart… while being asked questions. This would have been by far the most severe torture he had ever endured up to this point, and it would likely result in lifelong injury or death if it went on long enough.

I have often been accused of having a rather odd sense of humor, and with that in mind I tell you that what happens next strikes me as one of the funniest scenes in all of Scripture; there is naked Paul tied to this post, his feet probably off the ground, and he asks a question…

“Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (22:25b)

The centurion who was tasked with getting a confession from Paul got a bit of a shock with that innocent little question and went straight to his commander, who received a shock of his own, and went directly to Paul:

The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. (22:27-28)

The commander’s comment in 22:28 can be taken more than one way, but for me it looks like kind of an insult, as though he were saying that he had to pay a lot to become a citizen and now anybody can be a citizen. Whatever was going through his mind, Paul had the higher status, having been born a citizen. Notice that the men who were about to commit a serious crime got out of that room “immediately” and Luke tells us the commander himself was “alarmed”− this had been a close call for all concerned.

Now the Roman commander had a call to make: What was he going to do with Paul? We’ll find that out next time…

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After the Purification

Acts 21:27-22:21

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

Acts 21:27-29

With these words, the riot begins. In reading them, we cannot but notice that what served as the catalyst to all that would follow was no misunderstanding, for what we have here is a bald-faced lie, followed by a substantial misrepresentation. In fact, if you look closely, it isn’t an appeal based upon a religious difference, it is an appeal based upon national pride and cultural identity; no sir, this is no mere doctrinal dispute.

The crowd goes berserk, and Paul is beaten with intent to commit murder in cold blood.

The Roman commander on duty responds quickly and leads his soldiers into the fray. As one might expect of Romans, they quickly place Paul under arrest, and with great difficulty, they manage to get him out of the crowd’s grip. As they proceed away from the mob, Paul asks to be allowed to address the crowd, and remarkably, the commander agrees…

Luke records his words in 22:3-21; he tells the people of his birth and heritage as a Jew among Jews, of his training, and of his bloodthirsty pursuit of Christians. He tells of his mission to Damascus to persecute in that city, and of how the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road, telling them all about that experience and of his call to bring the good news to faraway places; the crowd remained silent up to this point, but Paul would never finish telling his story…

It would seem that there was a spirit in play on that fateful day, a spirit that was not at all a holy one. What happened next?

For that dear reader, we will have to wait until next time…

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Paul’s Arrival in Jerusalem

 

Acts 21:17-26

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem he was warmly greeted, and the next day he reported to James and the elders of the church about his adventures among the Gentiles. They received his report with joy, and no doubt were also happy to learn that he was not guilty of the things that were being said about him in Jerusalem, for it would seem that many Jewish Christians had been told that Paul was telling Jews in faraway places that they should not observe the Law of Moses.

We know from Paul’s letters that he often spoke highly about the law, we also know that he often spoke harshly about Jews who insisted that Gentile believers be circumcised, and that Paul himself claimed that he was not under the law as a Christian, but that he observed the law when dealing with Jews, and not when dealing only with Gentiles. At no point in his letters or recorded remarks does he advise Jewish Christians not to live according to the Law.

As you see, there are some fairly fine lines here, and one might understand how a Jewish Christian might misunderstand Paul’s position… especially when his position was deliberately misrepresented by those who sought to discredit him.

James proposed a solution to this problem: Paul could join in a purification rite which would be a very public demonstration that Paul had not rejected Jewish law or custom; surely this would convince anyone who harbored a genuine misunderstanding about Paul’s teaching that he had not done the things he had been accused of. Paul quickly agreed to this and participated, in accordance with Jewish practice.

What follows demonstrates to us very clearly that there was something much more sinister afoot than a simple misunderstanding…

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Hope in the Midst of Winter

I took this photo this past Monday afternoon and I think that it is the first I’ve posted of my new front yard. Yep, this is where we now live, after moving from our old home in Rock Island. As I mentioned at the time, we wanted to downsize, and that we have accomplished.  As you can also see from the photo, I have spent quite a bit of time recently out in the frigid cold with my trusty shovel.

I haven’t kept track of how many times I’ve shoveled snow recently and I don’t know how many tons of the stuff I’ve picked up, but suffice it to say that the process has become… how shall I say it?… Tiresome.

Winter is getting old here in the America’s Heartland.

It isn’t just the weather. The news is also getting old with constant name calling, endless accusations and a general reality TV atmosphere of children behaving badly. Then yesterday another absolute outrage in Florida followed so quickly by the usual suspects trying to use it to their political advantage…

Winter is getting old in metaphorical terms as well as literal ones.

Yet even now in the darkest part of winter there is reason for hope because this is also the week that pitchers and catchers report for spring training. I am heartened by this every year, for soon the boys of summer will be back out on the field− and life will spring forth across the landscape. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure there is a metaphor in that too.

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Paul Sails to Jerusalem

Acts 21:1-16

After the long farewell to the elders in Ephesus, Paul and his party returned to the ship and set sail. Much of this passage tells of the ports of call along the way, and in some instances of ports where Paul and his party were able to meet with other believers while the ship was loading or unloading cargo. It would seem that everywhere they went; Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem.

Luke has not told us why Paul was so intent upon visiting Jerusalem as opposed to returning to Antioch and reporting to the elders there in the church that had actually commissioned his journey; we can only speculate about his thinking. Yet whatever his reasons were, he was determined in spite of the warnings that the Holy Spirit was giving him.

They arrived in the port city of Caesarea where a prophet by the name of Agabus gave Paul yet another warning with a dramatic illustration of what would happen to him in Jerusalem and everyone begged him once again, not to go:

When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” (21:12-14)

Looking at this moment in purely human terms, it would be easy to conclude that Paul was acting rashly, that he was just being stubborn; we might even wonder if he had some kind of martyr complex. Oh, I know that we really won’t confine ourselves to this moment, since we have all read further in the story of Acts, not to mention through Paul’s letters, and we know that the ultimate result was that the Gospel would go to places it might not otherwise have been, and that letters were written that are now part of the Scriptures, that might not have otherwise been written.  Try to step back from all of that and ask yourself a question: If the Holy Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem, then why was the Holy Spirit warning him not to go there?

At this point in the story, in spite of all the nice little “Sunday school” answers we have heard over the years, there really is no way for us to know; perhaps Luke will give us some clues in the chapters that follow… or perhaps Paul was making a big mistake, and God used him to spread the Gospel anyway…

One thing however is certain, Paul’s companions finally gave up trying to talk him out of the trip, and left everything to God’s will, for they were willing, when all was said and done, to place their faith in God.

I would suggest that this is a pretty good lesson for us to learn as well.

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One Last Thing Before I Go…

 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ 

Acts 20:32-35

With these words, Paul concludes his farewell to the elders of Ephesus. By committing them to God and “the word of his grace”, Paul is reminding them that it is only through their relationship with God and the truth of His Gospel that they will grow and prosper spiritually and thus be sustained through the challenges they will face, and so it is with us today…

Then he turns to an area of temptation that cannot be avoided for those who find themselves in a position of leadership; he reminds them of the fact that at no time over the past three years has Paul or his companions ever asked for any enrichment financially. Rather, he reminds them that it was by the work of his own hands that all of his party was sustained. Notice that he says that it is by “hard work” that they help the weak. In this, Paul is not referring to those who are poor or disadvantaged in monetary terms, but rather it was the elders themselves who were the “weak” ones, for this is not a monetary admonition as much as it is a spiritual one. In fact, the really interesting, and frankly significant aspect of this admonition is that it was by his hard work to pay his way that he supplied the spiritual needs of his (spiritually) weak brothers, for he took the earthly element of money completely out of the picture by hard work.

I mention this because it is entirely counter-intuitive for most of us today, for so great is our attention to money and material things. Once again, notice that throughout the entire farewell, Paul’s emphasis has been entirely on spiritual concerns, and not those of this world.

Luke ends the section in vv. 36-38 with their last tearful moments together, and then Paul heads for his ship, never again to see these dear ones. Luke picks up in chapter 21 with Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, where a whole new set of adventures await his arrival.

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