Monday, August 16, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:24-26, for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Reproach of Christ"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Each of the readings today share a strong theme. The difficulty of holding firm to God’s Word and to Christ’s cross in the face of persecution, difficulty, and opposition. Moses provides a positive example of holding firm in faith against trying circumstances. It says in Hebrews 11, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Anyone who leads you to believe that being a Christian, a believer in God, is an easy life, free from trouble has plainly misled you, as the readings today show. Being a follower of Christ, and holding to God’s Word in the Bible—not just hearing it, but doing it—is filled with challenges and obstacles. It will lose you the “friendship of this world,” because to be a friend of the world makes one an enemy of God (James 4:4). This may even result in divisions as close as our own family. So no, its not true that following Christ by faith is an easy road. But this “road less travelled” leads us to a far greater blessing than other paths.

Moses faced just this sort of test in life. He had to choose between living in the palace of the Pharaoh, as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and living as an Israelite slave. Moses was born with the silver spoon in his mouth. Secretly taken into the house of the Pharaoh by the Pharaoh’s daughter who found him hidden in the basket in the Nile, put there by his parents so that he wouldn’t die. Moses could’ve easily kept his life of comfort. He could’ve lived a lie, pretending that he was an Egyptian, worshipping the gods of the Egyptians—and he would’ve probably kept great wealth and power. He wouldn’t need to suffer or live as a slave like his own people. He could’ve enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of sin by having the best of a worldly life. But he would’ve been turning his back on his own people, as well as on the God of his forefathers.

But Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and chose instead to be mistreated with the people of God. It says that he considered the “reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” He went from being a member of the royal house to a slave, then lived as a fugitive from Pharaoh, before becoming the deliverer of the Israelites from their slavery. He chose the hard path of following God’s Word and His call. We have the same challenge and call against all the difficulties of life to follow after Jesus and His Word. Jesus warns us that it will be no easy road, and that even division in our family can arise from following Him. When these difficulties arise, will we bear the reproach of Christ, or will we take the easy road?

The temptations are plentiful. The Christian’s path is surrounded by pitfalls. We may hear God’s Word and like it—we may desire the love and forgiveness of God—but decide to continue walking in the fleeting pleasures of sin. We become hearers of the Word, but not doers. Open disobedience to God’s Word betrays a desire to stubbornly follow our own heart. The easy way of the world tempts us to despise God’s Word. There lies a great temptation both for you as hearers, and also to me as a preacher. The temptation for hearers is to decide that we know better than God’s Word. To think in our hearts that what God says really isn’t so, or anyhow, we’ll go our own way. Then the temptation for me as a preacher is what Jeremiah described the false prophets doing: telling people who despise God’s Word and stubbornly follow their own hearts, that everything will go well with them, and that they’ll face no disaster. Basically the temptation to ignore sin’s deadly power, and just give gentle reassurances that everything is going to be ok. To pretend that God ignores it when we flaunt our sin and disobedience to His Word.

But this is to ignore the anger of God against sin. This is to teach you only Gospel or good news, without also teaching God’s Law or commandments. This is to be a doctor that never diagnoses illnesses, but always pretends that all is well—even when the situation is fatal. But a proper doctor diagnoses the illness and prescribes the cure. In the simplest explanation, sin is our diagnosis, and Christ is our cure. God warns us never to listen to the false prophets who fill us with vain hopes, telling their visions and dreams, rather than God’s Word. There is always a tendency to downplay the danger of false prophets, or to act as if there are none. We don’t wish to be divisive or critical of others. But from Old Testament till New, from thousands of years before Christ till thousands of years after, there are false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing who would draw us away from God’s Word. How dangerous are they? God says that they intend to make people forget His name. To turn away from God Himself.

Whether for personal gain, or for popularity, notoriety, or whatever reason they ran—God did not send these false prophets. But the true prophets, Moses and Samuel and rest that you’ll find in Hebrew chapter 11—the true prophets who spoke God’s Word—they faced difficulty, persecution and even death. The Word of God that they preached was not popular, but they did as God called them to do: they proclaimed God’s words to His people, and turned them away from their evil deeds.

In the face of so great a task, and all the temptations as a preacher to subtly alter God’s Word or favor my own dreams or ideas over what God has spoken, I can only call out in repentance to God for the wrongs that I have done knowingly or unknowingly. I pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any [wicked] way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). Lord have mercy on me for any time that I have put my own thoughts forward and not God’s pure word. Search out any error and bring your truth to bear in all my life.

It’s my prayer that you also as hearers are diligent to examine every word I
preach and teach to see if it stands up against the scrutiny of God’s Word. It’s my prayer that as you hear God’s Word that you too are turned away from any evil way, and that by God’s strength and patience you would daily resist sin and temptation. That we would together resist the temptation to water down God’s Word, to sanitize it or take away difficult parts so as to refashion God’s Word to suit the shifting winds of the culture. We live in a time when God’s Word is constantly being chipped away at…casting doubt on God’s work of creation, casting doubt on whether we can know right from wrong, casting doubt on the meaning and use of our sexuality and the definition of marriage and family, casting doubt on the way of salvation, casting doubt on whether all life is worthy of our protection. To stand strong against all these eroding forces, we must build on the foundation of God’s Word, and be prepared for reproach or disgrace for the sake of Christ. Many will reject God’s Word and message that we bring.

Where will we stand? Will we stand with Christ, and be divided from the world, even from family? Will we risk hardship and difficulty for the honor of bearing Christ’s name? While Jesus’ primary mission on earth was to bring salvation to all humanity, the flipside of salvation for those who trust in Him, is condemnation for those who don’t. Jesus didn’t ignore this fact, however we might be tempted to do so. He said that He came to cast fire on the earth. Jesus shows how passionately He felt about these words when He describes how earnestly He longs for this to be finished. He was greatly distressed until it was accomplished. The baptism that He was anticipating, the baptism that He was distressed about was His upcoming death on the cross for our sins. He had already been baptized by John before He spoke these words, but now He was facing the baptism of His death, the spark that would “kindle the fire” of His kingdom.

Because it was His cross that would be the point of division for so many. It was His cross that would separate His followers from those who stood against Him. Christ bore the reproach, the disgrace, the insults and taunts of all who rejected Him on the cross. He faced much greater hardship for the sake of God’s Word than we ever will. He like Moses, and like us, could have chosen an easier road. He could have chosen to avoid the path of suffering, to withhold from speaking the difficult and challenging Word of God that called people to repentance. He could have pretended that He belonged to the world, and made a life of ease and popularity for Himself. But instead, Jesus identified with us, a people enslaved. He took the form of a slave and turned away from the fleeting pleasures of sin. He was scorned and mocked for it. He bore up under insults, and answered back with love. Because He sought a heavenly treasure for us. He despised the reproach and shame of the cross for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2).

Because Jesus faithfully bore those reproaches, insults and death, because Jesus faithfully spoke God’s Word, God raised Him from the dead. God gave Jesus new life, and the power to all who believe in Jesus to become children of God (John 1:12). So whatever opposition we face for the name of Christ; whatever difficulty we endure for the cross; whatever division affects us in life, consider the reproach of Christ a far greater treasure. Consider what He endured so that you do not grow weary or fainthearted. Consider it worth more than all the treasures of Egypt. Pyramids stuffed with gold and jewels, pharaoh’s tombs overflowing with earthly wealth are counted as dust in comparison to Christ. For His reproach purchased us salvation.

Though we may face the scorn, reproach, and ridicule of the world, this is nothing in comparison to hearing the words of Jesus giving His commendation to faithful believers entering into heaven. For all who walked that hard and narrow road, for all who were carried by the grace of God and lead by the Good Shepherd through the valley of the shadow of death with all its pitfalls, Jesus will say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23). For those words alone, it is worth it all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. What would be the two different outcomes of Moses identifying as an Egyptian ruler or an Israelite slave? In the short term? In eternity? What was the challenge about it?

2. Do Jesus and the Bible teach that the Christian’s life will be easy? Reread Luke 12:49-53; James 4:4; Matt. 10:16-42. Why then do we believe? Cf. Hebrews 10:24-26; Matt. 10:39.

3. Explain these pitfalls on the Christian’s road: to be a hearer of the Word but not a doer (James 1:19-27; Ezek. 33:30-33); to stubbornly follow our own heart (Jeremiah 23:17; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:18-19); to ignore God’s anger against sin and teach that all is well (Jer. 6:13-14; 23:17-22; Hebrews 12:5)

4. What does Scripture warn about false prophets? How dangerous are they and what can they lead to? Reread Jeremiah 23; Matt. 24:23-28; 1 John 2:18-27; 2 John 7-11; How should we examine and test for false doctrine? (see previous passages) & Acts 17:11; 1 Tim. 6:2-10; Titus 2:1; 2 Tim. 4:1-4;

5. Explain the temptation to water down or “sanitize” God’s Word. Why must this be resisted? 2 Tim. 4:3-5; John 17:17; 1 Cor. 1:17

6. How did Jesus identify with us who were enslaved? How did He bear reproaches for us? What reward was He seeking? John 1:12. What is Jesus’ commendation, and why is it worth it? Matt. 25:23

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