DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Gospel Applied to Marriage, Part One (Ephesians 5:22-33)

For the months leading up to Easter, we were looking at the unfolding mystery. Jesus, we read, is on every page of Scripture. It all leads to him. We began to see many of the signposts that point to Jesus all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. The problem is that we often read Scripture and focus on the individual scenes, while losing track of the main storyline, which means that we lose track of what it's all about.

We're back in Ephesians now, where we've been since September for the most part. You'd think that we're back in the New Testament now, so there's no danger of forgetting the storyline. Jesus is literally on almost every page, so you'd think we would be okay, that we'd apply Jesus to everything. But you'd be wrong. This is especially true when we get to practical topics, like the one we're looking at today. It's easy to start handing out practical tips that are helpful, but have nothing to do with Jesus and the gospel. What do those have to do with marriage anyway?

It's here that the Apostle Paul comes along and says: Jesus has everything to do with your marriage. Jesus is on every page of Scripture. And in today's passage, Paul says that Christian marriage is all about Jesus. This blows me away. Do you remember how we said that the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is a picture of Christ, just like the Passover and the rock in the desert were pictures of Christ? Paul says here that your marriage is also a picture of Christ. It's a signpost. Just as all these stories and types point to Jesus, you are called to apply the gospel in such a way that your marriage points to Jesus.

Paul's not writing to ideal people who have perfect spouses and no stresses. He's writing to real people in the real world. He's applying the gospel to how we live our lives. And in the passage before us today, I'd like for us to see three things. First: what Paul says about Jesus. Second: how Paul applies this to marriage. Third: one way that we could miss Paul's message, and one way that we can get this really right.

So let's look at this. Let's begin with what Paul says about Jesus in this passage.

As we begin to look at what Paul says about Jesus, I want to tell you about something that's changed recently. The penny has dropped in my life so that I now understand something that I've never understood as clearly as I have before.

How in the world do we change? The surprising Biblical answer is that we change as we see Jesus and the gospel in new ways and apply that to our lives. Somebody has compared this to a Coke machine. You put the money in, and sometimes nothing comes out. You have to bang the machine a couple of times until the coins drop and the Coke comes out. It's that way with the gospel. We get it, but we don't always see the results. So what we have to do is to bang the gospel into ourselves until the coins drop, and we get the results. Our biggest challenge is to get the gospel to drop into our lives.

In other words, the best way for us to change isn't to focus on the changes; it's to focus on Jesus. It's to see and understand and appreciate who Jesus is and what he has done for us. When we have a vision of the loveliness and perfection of Christ, we'll long to be like him. When we understand that right now he is making intercession for us, and that the gospel changes us so that we have the power to obey, then we'll be ready to live changed lives.

So notice that when Paul begins to talk about marriage, he turns our focus to Jesus. The reason is that nothing will change our marriages like seeing Jesus and understanding what he's done for us. You could talk about the needs of men and women, and good communication skills, and all kinds of other good things. And they are good. But Paul knows what's going to change us. We're changed as the beauty and value of what Jesus did for us is grasped by our hearts and applied to our marriages.

So Paul gives us a vision in verse 23 of "Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior." If you read that and yawn, you haven't really understood what Paul is saying here. If you looked at the recipients of Paul's letter in Ephesus, they wouldn't have looked like much. To be honest, churches seldom look like much. But Paul says that the church is much more than we normally think. It's a new humanity, he's explained. It's a key part of what God has been up to for all of history: creating a people for himself. The church is part of the new creation that God is creating, experienced in advance. Here, Paul says that the church is actually the body of Christ. We've heard that term so often that we miss the significance of it. He's saying that the church is somehow the physical presence of Jesus Christ himself in this world. And Jesus has authority over the church as its head. He himself is the Savior of the church.

Then you see exactly what Jesus Christ has done for the church in verses 25 to 27:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Paul here is describing the extent of Jesus' love for the church, and it's amazing. He loved the church, Paul says. How so? He gave himself up for her. Jesus, who is God and is eternally praised loved the church so much that he came to offer up his life and die out of love for the church. He loved the church so much that he died for it. Hebrews 12:2 puts it this way: "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame." Jesus loved the church so much that he willingly suffered through not only the physical agony of the cross, but the agony of bearing our sins and the wrath of God, so that he could make us holy, setting us aside for himself.

You then get the beautiful picture of the results of this. What does it mean, this washing with water and the word? This may be, in part, a reference to baptism, and to hearing the and being changed by the word of the gospel. But it's probably also a reference to the Jewish custom of a bridal bath. Ezekiel 16 gives a beautiful picture of the Lord entering into a marriage relationship with Israel:

I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. (Ezekiel 16:8-9)

So you have this beautiful picture of Jesus loving the church so much that he dies for it, that he enters into a relationship so intimate and tender that it can only be compared to marriage. And the result is, according to verse 27, that we are going to be presented "to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." The church is blemished and wrinkled right now, but we will be presented to him at his return completely unstained, completely unwrinkled, completely unblemished. We will be dazzling because of what Christ has done for us. I love the way that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it:

The Beauty-Specialist will have put his final touch to the church, the massaging will have been so perfect that there will not be a single wrinkle left. She will look young, and in the bloom of youth, with color in her cheeks, with her skin perfect, without any spots or wrinkles. And she will remain like that for ever and for ever. The body of her humiliation will have gone, it will have been transformed and transfigured into the body of her glorification.

This is taking some work for the men, but that's okay. You can work at this picture of being the bride of Christ while the women work on the picture of being sons of God! What Paul is saying is that the church, which looks so blemished and imperfect here, will be completely transformed by what Jesus has done for it, that it will become and remain more stunning than the most beautiful bride you've ever seen.

Not only that, but verse 29 says that Christ feeds and nourishes the church in the present. Christ is providing everything needed for the nourishment and growth of his church. He wholeheartedly, tenderly, and completely cares for the church out of his love.

What Paul describes here has two implications for us. The first is that it really changes our view of the church. Don't ever make the mistake of devaluing the church. We're not much in ourselves. We sure don't look like much. But we are much because Christ loves us and is at work within us, transforming us so that we will one day be stunning. We need a much higher view of who the church is, not because of who we are in ourselves, but because of who we are becoming in Jesus Christ.

But this also means that we need to be amazed, stunned, by Jesus and what he has done for us. This is a picture of how much Jesus Christ loves us, and it leaves us amazed and speechless. When we see Jesus and what he has done for us, and when we really get it, then it leaves us speechless, amazed, and worshiping. "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." When we get this - when we really get it - it will change everything about us.

So that is what this passage tells us about Jesus. Paul goes in an unusual direction with this, because he takes what is true about Jesus and applies it to marriage.

So let's look at how Paul applies who Jesus is, and what he has done, to marriage.

The big picture is this: that our marriages, if we are his followers, are to become reproductions, in miniature, of Christ and his church. We are called to make our marriages reflections, types, parallels of the kind of relationship and radical love that Christ and the church have for each other. When we apply the gospel to marriage, we become models of the ultimate relationship we could ever have.

Remember that Paul isn't writing to ideal people with ideal marriages. This is more than just idealism here. Paul is saying that the way to transform our marriages is for us to see Christ clearly, so that he becomes not only the motivation but also the model for how we live in our marriages.

This gives incredible value to women. When Paul wrote this, women were viewed very poorly, just as they are still today in far too many cases. Jewish men at this time used to pray every morning, giving thanks that they had not been born "a Gentile, a slave, or a woman." Jewish law didn't see women as persons, but as things. They had no legal rights whatsoever. And it was even worse in the Greek world. Men were not always expected to be even be friends with their wives.

Paul comes along and turns this upside down. He says that marriage is a model of the ultimate human relationship, and that women are to be loved just like Christ loves the church. In fact, Paul spends most of his time here talking to the men about the way they are to love their wives, selflessly, sacrificially. Husbands are to be committed to the total well-being of their wives, especially spiritually, so that she becomes exquisite in her splendor, unsurpassed in her beauty. This is how Christ loves the church.

We're going to talk about this in a minute, but notice that Paul tells the wives, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). I know you have questions about this. We're going to get to those in a minute! In light of telling the wives to submit, what do you think Paul is going to say to the husbands? You would expect that Paul would say, "Husbands, exercise authority over your wives. Rule over your wives." But he doesn't! Not once. Not even close. Instead, he says, "Husbands, love your wives" (Ephesians 5:25). And then he gives the model: Jesus. Husbands are to love their wives just as much as Jesus loves the church. They are to give themselves to her, and the standard is Jesus. I hope you see how radical this is, how much it speaks to the value of our wives.

We usually choke on verse 22 that speaks of women submitting to their husbands. But notice carefully what it means. The word here does not speak anything of value, because Scripture clearly teaches that both men and women are equally valuable before God. It does not say that women should submit to every man, only their husbands. And it's given in the middle voice, which means that it is voluntary, not demanded. It's a free and voluntary choice, not a demand. And it's not a demeaning thing. It's so that the marriage relationship can reflect the relationships of Christ to the church, the ultimate relationship that any of us could ever have.

I realize that there's still all kinds of questions that you may have, and I hope we will get to some of them. But I hope you see what Paul is getting at here. He wants our marriages to be changed, not by trying harder or communicating better, although those are good. He wants us to be changed because we see how Jesus loves us, so that Jesus' love becomes the model and the motivation for our own marriages.

Let's look as we close at two ways we can miss what he's saying, and one way we can get it.

Our real challenge when we read the Bible, especially a passage like this, is to say all that it says without saying any less or more. I have to confess that I've fudged on this passage in the past, trying to soften what it says, especially because parts of it are hard to hear in our culture and our day. We miss out on what this passage says when we say less by softening it too much, or when we say more by saying things that aren't really here. I imagine I'm not alone this morning. There are some of us who want to take scissors and cut parts of this out. There are others of us who want to add parts that we think Paul missed that would give what's written here even more bite.

The real question for us this morning if we are going to have marriages that reflect this amazing relationship that Christ has with the church is this: will we listen to what God says through Scripture, even if it contradicts what we want him to say? Think of it this way: if God is God, wouldn't you expect him to contradict you at points? If God agrees with you on every point, then he's really not the true God. You've made him in your own image. Will you hear God speak, even when what he says is not what you'd like him to say?

There are parts of Scripture that don't say what we like them to say. They're out of step with the times. But here's what I know about the times: the things we're saying now are going to be embarrassing to your grandchildren one day. When we set up our times as the arbiter of truth, as the ultimate standard of truth, then we're setting something up that is going to be an embarrassment in fifty years. It's far better to allow God to speak, rather than to set ourselves up as the authority. What God says is above the currents and fashions that change. So please come prepared to hear what God says, even if it's challenging at times. If it's challenging, that's a sign that maybe it is God who is speaking.

We're going to return next week to the practical implications of this passage for our marriages. But let me close this morning with one way that we can really get this: think about Jesus. Begin to think of all that he has done to save us. Think about the extent of his love, that he willingly offered up his life for you. Think of what you are becoming, what the church is becoming. He is changing us. C.S. Lewis said that "the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship." Think and meditate on the gospel and the extraordinary love of Jesus Christ, and it will begin to change you. And the more we'll want our own marriages to be models of that relationship, the ultimate human relationship we could ever have. The best way to improve your marriage is to become gripped with the love of Jesus Christ for the church.

Father, I pray today that you would help us see Jesus. Help us to see the extent of his love. May we truly grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.

And I pray that this love would begin to shape our marriages, as we become models of the relationship that Christ has with his church. May Christ's love begin to transform our marriages even as we think about it right now. And please help us as we come back next week and look at some practical applications of this in our lives. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

The Road to Recognition (Luke 24:13-35)

There are lots of reasons that people struggle with Christianity. I talk to lots of people who have all kinds of objections. How could a loving God send people to hell? If God is good and powerful, why is there so much evil in the world? Doesn't science disprove Christianity? How can Christianity claim to be universal truth? And why are Christians such hypocrites?

These are important questions, and they need to be answered. But although they are important, they are not the most important question about Christianity. The main question we have to answer is: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If he did, then that's enough to change our worlds and sideline all the secondary issues. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have to accept all that he said. But if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then who cares about any of the other issues about Christianity? The issue upon which everything hangs is whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. If he did, it changes everything. If he didn't, then you don't have to worry about the rest. We can live our lives however we want without worrying what the Bible says.

So today, we really have to pay attention to what the Bible says happened that first Easter Sunday. The resurrection is the ultimate vindication of who Jesus is and everything that he said. The resurrection, if true, means that there is a God, and that he as acted in history. It means that we no longer have to be afraid of anything. If Jesus did rise from the dead, it changes everything. So a lot rides on what really happened.

But we have to be honest. It's not so easy to believe in a resurrection. And it's exactly here that today's passage is going to help us. What this passage tells us is that it wasn't so easy to believe in a resurrection then either. In fact, some of us are going to really relate to the two people that we encounter in this passage.

So what I want to look at this morning is simply three things: first, at our doubts about the resurrection; secondly, at how these doubts can be resolved; and finally, the difference that it makes.

Let's first look at our doubts about the resurrection.

We sometimes have the crazy view that we are modern, scientific people, and therefore we are a lot more levelheaded than anyone else who's lived before us. C.S. Lewis called this chronological snobbery: the belief that the thinking of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present. But one of the things I love about Scripture is that there is every bit as much skepticism about the resurrection as there is today. It isn't just modern, scientific people who struggle with the idea of resurrections. The people in Scripture struggled every bit as much as we do today. They had the same doubts about the resurrection that we do.

There were dozens of accounts of what are called post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. But out of all the ones that Luke could have chosen to describe, Luke chooses three. And what all three have in common is disbelief. They know something has happened, but they are having a hard time making all the pieces fit. And they are certainly not ready to just believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. It's as hard for them to accept as it is for the most skeptical person here this morning. And these are his followers, his disciples!

So in verse 14 we meet two of his disciples. We learn later, in verse 18, that one of them is named Cleopas. We have no idea who the other person is, although some guess that it could have been his wife. If you're the skeptical type, you've got to pause here and ask why Luke mentions the name Cleopas. There's no real need for him to be named. There's an answer that really helps me. This was a rare name, and it's so rare that Luke is essentially giving us a footnote, so that the original readers can check the original source and verify the story. If you lived in Luke's day, and you wanted to, you could look up Cleopas yourself and verify that what Luke wrote was true.

So we get to verses 13 and 14, and we see that these two are walking to a place called Emmaus, and while they're traveling they're discussing all that happened in Jerusalem that Passover weekend. We learn what they were discussing in verses 20 to 24: about the crucifixion of Jesus; how their hopes had been shattered; how they had heard of the empty tomb, but were having a hard time coming up with a logical explanation for it. Again, we have to stop and recognize that this was big news. They said in verse 18 to this stranger who walks with them: "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" This was not something that a small group of people knew about. The crucifixion and even the empty tomb were big news, so much so that some 25 years later, the apostle Paul could stand before King Agrippa, the ruler over the temple in Jerusalem, and say, "The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). Agrippa didn't deny that he knew. He actually made an attempt at a joke to try to change the subject. And this was 25 years later. People knew the basic facts; the challenge was how to make sense of them.

So as you read about these two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus, you see that they're trying to make sense of things too. They were shattered. Even though they had heard about the empty tomb, they couldn't explain it. Don't miss the fact that they're leaving Jerusalem; they're not sticking around with any sort of hope that something world-changing has happened. They're going home. Verse 15 says that they're talking and discussing. There's a bit of a debate going on. They're trying to make sense of everything that's happened.

I don't know if you've ever noticed before, but when this stranger appears and asks them what they're talking about, verse 17 says, "They stood still, their faces downcast." They're not having a discussion like we have about how Cito is doing as manager, or what the Leafs need to do to rebuild. This is something that's really hit them. They had hopes for this Jesus, and their hopes had been crushed. And even though they had heard about the empty tomb, they weren't ready to believe that this could mean Jesus was alive again. They had doubts. They couldn't make sense of it all.

I think it's significant that Luke chose three stories about the resurrection, and all of them are about doubt. The Bible is not sentimental at all. It's not telling us some fairy tale that we're expected to just swallow, or some story that is not literally true but that warms our hearts. What it's saying is that it is hard to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. If you find it hard to swallow, you're in pretty good company. So did everyone else who heard the news that Easter morning.

But something happened to change their doubts. So let's look at that. We've seen their doubts.

Now secondly, let's look at how these doubts were resolved.

Now everybody is different, and the fact that we have three stories here means that there is going to be more than one way to respond. It means that our stories are going to be different. But out of the three accounts, this one just may be the most meaningful to us today. What happened in the other two accounts will never happen to us. We'll never stand by the empty tomb and see angels. We'll never see the resurrected Jesus suddenly appear in a room with us like the disciples did. But what happened to these two followers can, in some sense, happen to us today.

So what happened that moved them from disillusionment and doubt to belief? Jesus appeared to them on the road, even though they didn't recognize him. That's the part that won't happen to us today. But two things happened with these disciples that moved them from disillusionment to belief and joy, and these same two things can and do happen today. In fact, it's my prayer that they will happen this morning.

First, they came to a new understanding of Scripture. You know, these two disciples had the same problem that we do. They read the Bible, and they had formed certain beliefs about the Messiah. Jesus had fit their beliefs until he died. Their problem is that they had read selectively, but they had never understood fully who the Messiah was going to be and what he was going to do. They didn't have a category for a suffering Messiah. This is why Jesus said to them in verses 25 and 26, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"

Aren't you glad that we're better than they were? Actually, we're not. One of our problems is that most of us have read the Scriptures, and we've found the parts that we like about Jesus, but then we leave out the rest. We have this tendency to domesticate Jesus, and the problem is that Jesus doesn't fit the boxes that we try to fit him into.

So Jesus does something that helps these two, and it can help us as well. Verse 27 says, "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." Jesus helped them see that the whole Bible, from start to finish, is about him. The storyline of all of Scripture - indeed, all of history - converge in Jesus Christ. Every page of the Bible is about him - not just the explicit prophecies, but much more. The historical patterns, the promises, symbols, blessings and curses, the pictures of salvation, the shadows and types, the ceremonies - all of them point to Jesus. He's on every page of every Scripture.

So Jesus that day may have covered some of what we've been covering. He may have talked about Abraham, who led his son up Mount Moriah to die, just as God led his one and only Son up the same mountain. He may have talked about the Passover, and how that pointed forward to himself as the true Passover Lamb. He may have talked about the rock that was hit in judgment by Moses in the desert as a picture of what happened when Jesus was struck in judgment on behalf of his people on the cross. He may have talked about the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness, and about David's victory over Goliath as a signpost pointing to Jesus' victory as our representative over death and sin. Every page - the ceremonies, the stories, the psalms, the prophecies - point to him.

When these two looked back on what Jesus taught them about Scripture, they said in verse 32, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Something happened within them as they began to see Jesus on every page of Scripture. The same thing happens today. When we stop seeing Scripture as a set of unrelated stories, or a set of fables and examples almost like Aesop's Fables, and when we start to see Scripture as about Jesus Christ, something begins to happen within us. Our hearts begin to burn. We begin to see Jesus not in the little box we've created for him, but as the climax of all of Scripture, the resolution of every storyline, and the revelation of all of Scripture.

Something else happened to turn them from doubt to belief and joy. Verses 30 and 31 say, "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight." We don't know what exactly happened when Jesus broke the bread - more on that in a minute - but somehow, something changed. All of a sudden they saw things they hadn't seen before. In verse 16 it says that they were kept from recognizing him, but all of that changed now. Their eyes were opened.

You may say, "That's not very useful to me. That's something they had no control over. It happened to them." And you'd be both wrong and right. I've been reading a short biography of Jonathan Edwards, a brilliant theologian and philosopher who lived in the 1700s. He lived during a new era of scientific progress in which people were leaving Christianity behind. He wrestled with it. He wanted to believe, but he couldn't seem to overcome his doubts. But one day he found that the certainty and clarity that he had been searching for was there. One day God gave him the spiritual eyesight, just like he gave these two disciples, and it changed everything.

If you are wrestling and seeking, then this is evidence that God is already at work. He's already opening your eyes. You may feel like you're all alone, but like these two disciples, you may not realize until later that Jesus has met you on the road of doubt, and he's already walking with you. If you seek, you will find. God has to give you the gift of spiritual eyesight, but he meets us, and he gives it to those who search for it.

Well, we've seen the doubt, and we can relate to it. We've seen what changed them: that they began to see that all of Scripture points to Christ, and that they were given spiritual eyesight to see what they couldn't see before, just like God gave spiritual eyesight to Jonathan Edwards and to all those who seek him.

As we close, I want to look at the results.

As we close, I want to look at the difference it makes when we move from doubt to belief about Jesus, and about the resurrection.

At the surface level, it's clear that this made a huge difference. We read in verses 33 and 34 that they had certainty, so much so that even though they had settled for the night, they got up right away and made the round trip to Jerusalem.

But there's something else that happened that's a little below the surface. Do you remember when their eyes were opened? Verse 35 says, "Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread." Why did they recognize him in the breaking of the bread?

There are three times that Jesus broke bread in the book of Luke: one when he fed the five thousand; one when he broke the Passover bread for what we now call The Lord's Supper; and here. Scholars who have studied Luke have identified a major theme that develops in the book of Luke: that of a Messianic banquet. In Isaiah 25, the prophet had said:

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine--
the best of meats and the finest of wines....
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people's disgrace
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.
In that day they will say,
"Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."
(Isaiah 25:6-9)

Luke keeps pointing us to this Messianic banquet, in which God defeats sin and death, saves his people, and feeds us with the best food and wine. And when Luke says that they recognized Jesus as he broke the bread, I think he's pointing us to this theme again. He's saying that these two doubters became guests at the Messianic banquet that God has prepared for us, in which God triumphs, evil is defeated, and the world is set right.

We're coming this morning to our own foretaste of the Messianic banquet. The food we're about to eat is a pointer to that day when we say, "Surely this is our God;

we trusted in him, and he saved us." God still welcomes people who've been on the road of disillusionment and doubt to meet him at this table and feast with him.

Let's pray.

Father, we thank you that Jesus met these two doubters in the middle of their doubt. I thank you that before they even knew it, Jesus was with them, teaching them and us that all of Scripture is about him. I thank you that you opened their eyes.

I pray today that you would open our eyes. I pray that we would see all the story-lines and symbols of Scripture converge in Christ. I pray that you would allow us to see the risen Christ as someone who changes everything. And as a result, I pray that you would allow us the privilege of feasting at your table with you this morning, and fill us with hope that we will dine at the coming banquet you're preparing for us. Grant us this I pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21:4-9)

When you go to a doctor, or when you go to a pharmacist, you will probably see a symbol with one or two snakes wrapped around a staff or a rod. One of these symbols is called the Rod of Asclepius. It's used by the Canadian Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and countless others.

Where did this strange symbol come from, and how did it ever get to be associated with medicine, with healing? There are a few theories, but you'll notice that the account we just read includes a snake, a staff, and healing. There are some who think that the medical symbol we used today has its origins in the account that we just read.

But this raises even more questions. What in the world is this passage about? It's incredibly strange. At first glance it looks like some primitive magic from ancient times. It also looks at first glance like there's a drastic overreaction to a pretty common problem. There are many passages in Scripture that are hard to understand. This one's easy to understand, but it leaves us scratching our heads.

But as we look at it again, we're going to see that this passage tells us three things that we need to know. First, what's wrong with us. Second, where things start to turn. And finally, how we are healed of what's wrong with us.

So first let's look at what's wrong with us.

If you've read the books of the Bible that recount the wanderings of Israel on the way to the Promised Land, you know that it wasn't smooth sailing. They kept grumbling and complaining the whole way through. But when we get to Numbers 21, we've reached a turning point. Right before the passage we just read, Israel defeats a Canaanite king. This is the first victory over the Canaanites, and many more are going to follow. It really looks like things are finally turning around for them.

But some things don't change. In verse 5, we encounter a problem that stayed with the people of Israel, and that if we're honest it stays with us today. Verses 4 and 5 say:

But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

Now what's going on here? When Israel wandered through the dessert, there obviously wasn't a lot of food. But we read earlier that God miraculously provided for them. Every day he gave them what they called manna, which was a fine, flake-like frost. It was like a coriander seed, white, and it tasted like a wafer made with honey. They ground into a meal, boiled it in pots, and made it into cakes.

When you think about it, it's amazing and miraculous that God provided so well for such a great multitude in the middle of the dessert. But here we read that the people are impatient. And if you notice, they don't really complain that they're hungry or that they lack food. What they do say is that they "detest this miserable food." The manna that God provided for them, they begin to see as worthless, good for nothing, and miserable.

Now, that doesn't look like much, but that's probably because we suffer from the same problem that they had. It's a problem that really doesn't look too serious, but as we're going to see in a moment, it's fatal, and there are very few cures.

What is the problem? Do you notice when this sense of dissatisfaction hit? It hit right after a victory. Israel had just achieved a great success, and right after they're complaining. They're empty.

The New York Times ran an article of some successful people. One of them, Diane Knorr, a former dot-com executive, said, "The first time I got a call way after hours from a senior manager, I remember being really flattered." She thought, "Wow! I'm really getting up there now." But eventually her work and family life became a blur with hours that were hard to scale back. Back in college, she had set the goal of making a six-figure salary by the time she was 49. She had reached her goal at age 35, years ahead of schedule, and yet she said, "Nothing happened; no balloons dropped. That's when I really became aware of that hollow feeling."

Do you know the problem with us? Inside of us, there is this hunger, this longing. And we think, "If I just get this" - a marriage, a job, children, an achievement, this house, this car, recognition - "If I just get this, then I'll be satisfied." But it never happens. We reach our goals, we achieve success, but we're still left wanting more.

Brad Pitt starred in Fight Club, which is about a man who has the American dream and yet remains unsatisfied. Rolling Stone interviewed him. Listen to what Pitt said:

Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us--the car, the condo, our version of success--but if that's the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness? If you ask me, I say toss all this--we gotta find something else. Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don't want that.

Rolling Stone asked him what we should do to avoid this dead end of dissatisfaction despite all that we have, and he said:

Hey, man, I don't have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. I'm sitting in it, and I'm telling you, that's not it. I'm the guy who's got everything. I know. But I'm telling you, once you've got everything, then you're just left with yourself. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it doesn't help you sleep any better, and you don't wake up any better because of it.

This isn't a new problem. It goes as far back as Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were in paradise. Everything was good. They could enjoy everything - everything! - except for one tree that God placed off limits. And even though they were in paradise, it wasn't good enough for them because they wanted more. They wanted what they couldn't have. They got it, too, but instead of leading to satisfaction, it led to disaster and disintegration, and the world has never been the same since.

In fact, the apostle Paul says that this dynamic is at the heart of what we call sin. In Romans 1:21 he says, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." Sin is essentially looking to other things besides God for meaning and satisfaction, thereby rejecting God and refusing to give thanks to him. And the results, as we're going to see it, are disastrous. One author put it this way:

It is the desire for God which is the most fundamental appetite of all, and it is an appetite we can never eliminate. We may seek to disown it, but it will not go away. If we deny that it is there, we shall in fact only divert it to some other object or range of objects. And that will mean that we invest some creature or creatures with the full burden of our need for God, a burden which no creature can carry. (Simon Tugwell)

And this leads, ultimately, to not only a rejection of God, but to enslavement and deep dissatisfaction. You see this in what happened in response to this problem in the passage.

Some have wondered why God responded so severely to this problem. We read in verse 6: "Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died." The word venomous literally means fiery. The snakes would bite, and the result was this burning inflammation. This would probably lead to other symptoms - paralysis, blindness, thirst - and ultimately to death. Why so severe? Tim Keller has pointed out that the physical symptoms here are merely a mirror for the spiritual symptoms. When we're bitten by this dissatisfaction of the heart, a dissatisfaction that is ultimately a rejection of God, a very similar thing happens within our souls, and the ultimate result is death. We think it's not a big deal, but our spiritual condition is just as fatal as these snakes.

So what do we do, then? We've seen our condition, and how serious it is.

Let's now look at where things begin to turn.

We read in verse 7:

The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

You see what's happened here? One minute they're complaining. The next moment, they've realized what they've done wrong. There's no blame-shifting going on here. There are no excuses. What there is is a simple confession of sin, a recognition of what's gone wrong.

The biblical word for this is repentance. One of my favorite authors, Jack Miller, says that repentance is a form of sanity. He says that "Repentance is a return to God as my center...What a simple thing it is to humble the heart and return to sanity by repentance and praise."

We know that repentance itself is a gift of God. It may be that God is giving some of you this gift this morning. Most of us are scared to death of repentance. We have this picture of a traumatic experience, or some dramatic experience. Repentance is something we think we're going to hate. But repentance is actually just a return to sanity, a recognition that we've put other things at the center of our lives that just don't belong there, and that can kill us. Repentance is coming to our senses and returning to God as our centers, which leads us to the cure for our disease.

That's the last thing I want to look at this morning: the cure for what's wrong with us, or how we can be healed.

Verses 8 and 9 say:

The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

This is the last thing you'd expect. Shouldn't there be some medicine, some treatment? When you're being bitten by venomous snakes, the last thing that you want is to look at a bronze version of that snake. And you certainly wouldn't expect that this would save you! You would at least expect a list of things to do in order to get better. But here you have the simple cure: that anyone who is bitten and about to die can simply look to this bronze snake, and they live.

The poet and composer Michael Card wrote a song about this passage, and he got it right when he said, "the symbol of their suffering was now the focus of their faith, and with a faithful glance the healing power would flow." What does this mean? It's a paradox! They're saved by looking at the very embodiment of what had bitten them.

And that's exactly how we are saved as well. In one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Jesus explained to Nicodemus and to us what why he came to the world. And, amazingly, Jesus talked about this snake. Listen to what he said: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him" (John 3:14-15).

Do you see what Jesus was saying here? Three times in the book of John, this phrase "lifted up" appears. John tells us later in chapter 12 that this "lifting up" image was given to show us "the kind of death he was going to die" (John 12:33). In other words, Jesus was saying that he was like this bronze serpent. That's shocking! He was going to be lifted up and placed on the cross at Calvary, and that everyone who believes and simply looks will be saved.

On the cross, Jesus became the very embodiment of what was killing us. He became the curse; he became the embodiment of our sin; he absorbed the venom. And Jesus became the source of our healing, so that all who look upon him live. When we look at the cross in faith, our sin and God's wrath are taken away, and we live. We are healed by looking at what has been lifted up on the tree. We are healed by looking to Jesus. All we have to do is to look.

In 1850, Charles Spurgeon was a young 15-year-old boy. One morning he was walking to church in a snowstorm. The snow was so bad that he never made it to his destination. He turned into a little Primitive Methodist chapel. Only a dozen or fifteen people were there.

The minister never showed up at that church; he probably was snowed in. A thin man who was a shoemaker or a tailor, but not a preacher, was called upon to preach. Spurgeon describes what happened:

He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 45:22]."

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: "My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, 'Look.' Now lookin' don't take a deal of pain. It ain't liftin' your foot or your finger; it is just, 'Look.' Well, a man needn't go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn't be worth a thousand [pounds] a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

"But then the text says, 'Look unto Me'. . . . Many of ye are lookin' to yourselves, but it's no use lookin' there. Ye will never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the father. No, look to him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, 'Look unto Me.' Some of ye say, 'We must wait for the Spirit's workin'.' You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, 'Look unto Me.'"

At some point in the sermon, with only a small congregation present, the preacher noticed the young Spurgeon there. Spurgeon said:

Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, "and you always will be miserable--miserable in life, and miserable in death--if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved."

Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a primitive Methodists could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said--I did not take much notice of it--I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me.

I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have almost looked my eyes away.

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him...

And Spurgeon's life was forever changed. Let's pray.

We've seen this morning what's wrong with us. We've seen that it's far more serious than we expected. But we've also seen that things begin to turn as we come to our senses and repent.

And we've seen that we are healed as we look to the cross and believe. We have nothing to do but to look and live.

I pray, Father, that we would look to the cross, that we would see what Jesus has done for us in absorbing the venom, and that we would live. Because whenever anyone is bitten and looks at what was lifted up, they live.

May everyone here look to the cross today, and live. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

The Greater David (1 Samuel 17)

We've just read about one of the most well-known and inspiring events in all of Scripture. Even if you've never been to church before, chances are that you've heard the story of David and Goliath. It's a story of fear and courage, of the triumph of the underdog. I did a quick search in Google News this week and found dozens of articles that mention David and Goliath in relationship to sports teams, even about Facebook and Microsoft (the Goliaths) fearing young, upstart companies.

You have to admit that it's a bit strange talking about David and Goliath on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday marks the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before he was killed, and was welcomed as the king who came to save his people. But as we're going to see today, it's not that unusual a passage after all.

If you've ever been to the eye doctor, they've do all kinds of things to you to test your eyesight. And then, near the end, they put this contraption in front of your eyes with different lenses. They make you look through the lenses and they ask you, "Is this one clearer, or this one?" I'm always scared of giving the wrong answer! The result, though, is that they end up finding the lens that allows you to see the chart on the wall most clearly. You may have been living with the wrong prescription for years without even knowing it, and it's only when you see through a better lens that you realize what you've been missing all along.

I'm going to suggest that many of us need a new lens through which we can see the account of David's defeat of Goliath. The lens we have right now is okay, but we may not be seeing what we're supposed to be seeing as clearly as we should. So today I'd like to flip some lenses before you and and ask, "Is this clearer, or this one?" And I want to begin with the normal lens through which we normally view this story.

Our Normal Lens: Facing the Giants

You may have seen a movie a couple of years ago called Facing the Giants. The movie is about a football coach and team that has to stare down the giants of fear and failure. He challenges his players to believe God for the impossible on and off the field. It's a modern day story of facing obstacles that are much bigger than ourselves, and digging down deep to overcome them even though the odds are stacked against us.

This is the lens that I think most of us use when we read the account of David and Goliath. We begin chapter 17 with the Philistines and Israel nose to nose and ready for battle, each on a mountain looking at the other side, and with a valley in the middle. Then you have this fearsome man coming out repeatedly. When I say fearsome, I'm not kidding. His height is reported as 9 feet, 9 inches. Some later versions have been found which say that he was only 6 feet, 9 inches - still tall! This may have been an attempt to tone down the height. This guy is huge!

And not only that, he has other advantages as well. They had a huge advantage in military technology. You read in verses 5 to 7 that he has all of this equipment on: a bronze helmet, a coat of mail, armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze. The coat of mail alone weighs 125 pounds. The shaft of his spear is compared to "a weaver's rod." Some scholars think that this is because the technology in the spear was so new that the Israelites didn't even have a word for it yet. They had to compare it to something they already new. This was the beginning of the iron age, and the Philistines had an advantage not only in the size of Goliath, but in their military technology as well.

So you can understand why the people of Israel were terrified. Verse 16 tells us that Goliath came out every day, twice a day, for forty days and took his stand, taunting the nation of Israel. And everyone was terrified, including Saul. We read in verse 11 that they were "dismayed and terrified."

And then David comes along. David is not even supposed to be there. He's not even in the army. When his brother sees him, he completely dismisses David and why he's there. But David, the most unlikely of people, refuses to wear Saul's armor. He refuses to accept that someone is defaming God's name. Instead, he responds to Goliath's taunt by promising to defeat Goliath. As he goes out to battle, he cries out: "The whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands" (1 Samuel 17:46-47). And then David kills Goliath with a sling and a stone.

It's hard not to be moved by what happened. And it's not hard to look through this lens and make application to our lives. This is the normal Sunday school application of this story. You are going to face giants in your life. You don't stand a chance against these giants. You're probably going to be afraid at times. But don't forget: the bigger they come, the harder they fall. You may not be big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can face the giants in your life.

I'm going to suggest to you this morning that this lens is letting us see the story at some level, but it's really not the best lens through which to view the account of David and Goliath. It's leaving some things blurry that really should be clear, and it's probably making some things clear that really aren't even there in the first place.

The flaw in this approach is that it assumes that the author of 1 Samuel 17 gave us this story so that we would emulate the example of David. There is no question that David is worthy of emulation here: he alone acted in faith and trust in God when everyone else reacted in fear and doubt. He alone trusted the promises of God when everyone else chose to see the obstacles as bigger than the promise.

But you have to ask yourself: did the author write this passage to lift David up as a moral example for us to follow, or did he have some other purpose?

The problem with this lens is that we start to read the Bible as a set of moral examples to follow. You start to see the Bible's message as "God blesses those who live morally exemplary lives." And this approach starts to make people the hero of the text, rather than God.

David is praiseworthy here, but as we're going to see in a minute, it's for a reason. And I can't be like David. I don't have the power. If you tell me to walk out of here and "Be like David!" I'll last until Tuesday at the latest before I fall apart in fear again. Not only this, but this lens obscures the message of the Bible, which isn't that God blesses those who get their acts together, but that God showers his grace on unworthy people who don't deserve it, and who let him down over and over again.

I'm not saying that we should throw out this lens completely, but I'm going to suggest that we try another lens to see if it will help us to see this passage more clearly.

The Lens of a Greater King

Let me give you a new lens for a minute. This lens may seem strange at first. It may take a bit of time to get used to, but let's see how it works.

There are a couple of details that are fairly easy to miss, but that really help us grasp what this passage is really about. The first is the wider context. What in the world was the author trying to prove by giving us this account?

As you look at this passage, you realize that it's not an isolated account buried among other random events that took place. The author has arranged these skillfully in order to communicate a message.

If you look earlier in 1 Samuel, you see that Israel didn't have a king. But they began to cry out to God for a king who would reign over them so that they could be like the other nations. God granted their request, but before he did so, he said to his prophet Samuel: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king" (1 Samuel 8:7).

As you read 1 Samuel, you know that God gave Israel their first king. His name was Saul. And he shows some promise early on. It's not too long, though, before Saul begins to get himself into all kinds of trouble. Saul does things his way instead of humbly obeying God's commands. And there's a mounting sense of tension in chapters 13 to 15 as Saul makes one bad decision after another, as he does things his way even if what he does is a complete rejection of God and his ways. It gets so bad that the prophet Samuel eventually said, "Now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command" (1 Samuel 13:14). And even later: "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you" (1 Samuel 15:28).

So there is a sense of mounting tension that God has rejected Saul, and that Israel needs a better king. And then you get to chapter 16, and you discover that God has selected this new and better king. David is anointed as king, but he hasn't yet taken the throne.

And then you get to the story of what happened with Goliath, and where do you find Saul? Verse 11 says, "On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified." It should have been Saul's job to accept the challenge on behalf of Israel, but instead he was cowering in fear. And then David comes in and responds, as God's anointed, in faith and trust in the Lord. See if this lens makes sense. The author is not saying, "All of you should muster the courage you need to face giants." Instead, he's saying, "Israel needs a better king." David is that better king.

But wait. There's more. There's another detail that's easy to miss. Verse 4 says that Goliath is - what? - a champion. What does that mean? In ancient times, rival armies would sometimes agree to let selected individuals from each side decide a conflict. This reduced casualties and other costs. I almost wish we did this today! The two would be called champions, and they would represent all the people. Their victory would be attributed to the whole army, and so would their defeat. For obvious reasons, they would normally pick their strongest person to go to battle.

Back then, many of the cultures believed that the god of each nation would be present in that champion, and that god would go to battle along with the representative. Whichever champion won, that god would be vindicated.

And so David went into battle as a representative of all the people, as their substitute, winning the victory that they couldn't win for themselves, so that God would be vindicated and the forces of evil defeated. He was their substitute. But you see, David came in weakness. He was so unimpressive that nobody would think God would triumph through him. He went almost as a sacrificial lamb. But God used his apparent weakness to destroy the enemy, and David's victory was imputed to all of them. David stands in the place of many, and through his obedience God brings salvation to Israel.

If you see the story of this chapter through this lens, things look very different. It's no longer saying that you need to get your act together so that you take on the giants in your life. Instead, it's saying that we need a better king. We need someone who can take on the battles that we can't win, so that his victory becomes our victory. We need him to fight on our behalf as our substitute, and as our champion. We need a king like David. We don't need to try harder so that we triumph! We need a substitute who will come in weakness and trust, and who will win the victory that we couldn't win ourselves.

That's a much better lens through which to view the account of David and Goliath, I think. It's a bit bewildering at first, only because we're so used to seeing this account through the other lens. It's much more in line with the structure of the text, I think. We need God's anointed king who will triumph and win victory on behalf of his people.

But there's one more lens that will help us see even more clearly.

The Lens of Jesus Christ

On Palm Sunday, two thousand years ago, an even greater King arrived. We read in Matthew 21 that the crowds that followed him shouted:

"Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

(Matthew 21:9)

Israel needed a better king, and that king was David. And now an even better king has come, a Son of David, to win the victory that we can't win ourselves. Jesus comes as our champion, our substitute. God's anointed king arrives, and although, like David, he appears weak and insignificant, he fights for his people, knowing that the battle is the Lord's. Jesus is the true and better David. He stands alone as our substitute, the one in place of the many, and through him God wins salvation for his people.

When we see the account of David and Goliath through the lens of Jesus Christ, it's not about trying harder. It's about the King who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and went to the cross in weakness, who triumphed over sin and death in our place, and vindicated God's name. It's about God's anointed king who has triumphed on behalf of his people.

Father, as we enter this week, we're overwhelmed with what Jesus faced as he entered the streets of Jerusalem that Palm Sunday almost two thousand years ago. He came as a greater King, as a true and better David, to win the victory that we could not win for ourselves.

He came not in strength, but in weakness. But through the weakness of the cross he triumphed over evil, and his victory has become the victory of all who trust in him.

As we enter this week, may we do so seeing Jesus as the true and better David, the one who stood alone in the battle that nobody else could win, and through whom you have brought salvation to your people. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.