Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bethany Bullet - June 16, 2015

In 1667 the first edition of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost was published.  It is recounts the story of Adam and Eve, how they came to be, and how paradise was lost by their disobedience. 

In Paradise Lost, John Milton also paints Satan as the picture of everything the ideal person ought to aspire to be.  He is confident, daring, resourceful, and powerful.  He is well-spoken, clever, and talented.  He is, in a word, a hero.
Milton was not out to convince the world that Lucifer isn’t such a bad guy.  Milton knew firsthand what the wages of sin meant.  He had gone blind before he ever put pen to paper on his epic poem.  The same year he lost his sight his wife died in childbirth and his newborn son died six weeks later.  Two years after this his second wife and five-month-old daughter also died. 

Milton was under no illusion about what the devil’s tyranny means for our world. Yet Milton also knew the Bible.  He knew that the devil’s tyranny would one day come to an end.

Milton was also keenly aware of our human tendency and affinity to put in the hard work to try to get out of trouble, to solve problems and to be self-reliant. 

Humanities lust for control is powerful and can dominate our thoughts and our actions.  In Paradise Lost a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude is what would put Lucifer on is path to perceived success.  

Satan becomes the icon of perseverance, the embodiment of giving it all, the epitome of staying the course.  
And to sinful humanity, this sounds pretty good.  Each of us has a desire to change the world, to make it be the way we think it should be.  We each want to find deep inside ourselves the will and the power to refuse to let life be any other way.

But in our shortsighted way of thinking we have forgotten that this is what got humanity into trouble in the first place.  The devil ambushed Adam and Eve, fed them a lie of self reliance, of being like God.

It wasn’t just that Adam and Eve ate some fruit that was off limits.  It was that they believed that eating the fruit they would themselves become the source of their own, better goodness.  “You will be like God,” the serpent said.

To this day, despite all the horrors it has brought upon us, despite the sickness and death, the pain and suffering, the enmity an deception, we humans continue to idolize self-reliance as if it were somehow our one chance to find the source of every blessing. 

We seek to work @ God. In our search for self reliance from the pain, in the effort to survive the risks of death, with an inwardly curved gaze upon our pride we exhibit the same arrogance of Satan himself. 

We Work @ God in our emotions and seek to find God in our hearts.
We Work @ God in our vocations and seek to find God in our hands.
We Work @ God in our reason and seek to find God in our minds.
We Work @ God in material things and seek to find God in the world.
We Work @ God in religion and seek to find God in our churches.
We Work @ God in the idea of freedom and seek to find God in his absence. 

It is the lie that Satan wishes you to believe with all of your heart, that you can rely on yourself and therefore not need the God of the heavens. 

We scratch and scramble to discover a way out of the problems and sin of this world and into a world that is more like heaven, closer to the mark, a tighter picture of what we would have created if we’d gotten the chance to be God in the first place.

We work @ God until we are blue in the face as we attempt to lift up the broken pieces of the world in an attempt to set our world right, to line up the margins of our lives, to justify our existence and our actions.

This is sin!  And it’s not just something that we do; it is something we are thoroughly infused with.  Our hearts are rotten to the core and filled with filth.  “No one is righteous…not even one…no one seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11) 
This is what Scripture says. 

While defending our own pious thoughts and words and deeds, we play a charade, building up man made excuses that will not and cannot save us, or change the world we live in. 

In the Apology to the Augsburg Confession the Lutheran theologians speak about this.  “Human nature has been delivered into slavery and is held captive by the devil.  He fills human nature with a passionate desire for wicked opinions and errors…we cannot free ourselves from this slavery by our own strength…we will never be able to recognize Christ’s benefits unless we understand our evils.”  (AP II 47-51)

But Paul reminded Titus that God is at work in a different way, "He saved us, but not because of anything we had done to gain his approval. Instead, because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal."  (Titus 3:5)

The true value of a Christian is not what you do, but who you are in Jesus.  When we work @ God, we will fail, but when God is @ Work, we are fully forgiven. 

The more we try to create ultimate goodness from ourselves, the more ultimately worthless we prove ourselves to be.

In true reality we are dead in our sin! Our sin has killed us.  We are unable to make our own heart start to beat again. 

Paul said it this way to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins …But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1,4,5)

You see, God places a defibrillator on our chest in the person and work of Jesus. 

He is at work to shock us back to life with something the world could never conceive of, and the likes of which no poet ever dreamed.

Jesus of Nazareth…crucified under Pontius Pilate…dead…buried…and on the third day…and there it is…thump, thump…there is a pulse.  He is alive again.  In death, life comes to us.  When His pulse stopped ours was shocked back into existence and in His life, we too shall live.

That pulse is faith and it’s not something that you do.  It’s not something that you work at.  It’s something already done to you in Christ, that wakes you up to rise from the dead. 

Bursting forth from the tomb on the third day, it is the Christ in Christianity that changes everything. 

Because of Jesus, religion is not about doing but about being done to.

Because of Jesus you are freed to never need to find God, to never need to please God, to never need to explain yourself to God, to never need to work at being God.

In Jesus, God found you. 
In Jesus, God is already pleased with you.
In Jesus, God washes you, and feeds you with himself, purging you of your sin and buying you back from the devil, himself!

Although we are never free from the imperfections and weaknesses of this life, Christ creates in you; a you that is not longer only curved inward and focused on self.

Because of what Jesus has done for you, you do not need to spend your days and your nights justifying yourself to God. 

You can stop looking at me, take a gander around, and pay attention to where you really are, at the foot of the cross.

With eyes fixed on the work of Jesus rather on our own work at finding God, your eyes are opened to see you are not the only one kneeling at the foot of the cross. 

There are other sinners here too, men and women just like you, trapped in the inbred need to justify ourselves but freed by Christ to believe that we are justified in Him.

The object of Christian faith is not simply belief but it is the person, work, and words of Jesus. 

Jesus, the man born in Bethlehem, raised in Egypt and Nazareth, testified to us as a miracle worker by secular historians. 

Jesus, who was crucified by a real-as-you-or-me Roman governor, buried in a sealed tomb, and then three days later, seen alive and in perfect health. 

Jesus, still bearing the scars, was seen after his resurrection, not just privately, but in masse by over five hundred who heard him, who touched him. 

That Jesus finds you and by his wounds we are healed.

In 1671 John Milton published another poem, called Paradise Regained; another epic poem, this time about great reversals.  It follows the story of the temptation of Jesus and how in him paradise is found again. 

It is a fitting sequel to his former work for in Jesus we have been found. Our future of separation from God was reversed and in him Paradise is found.

All of the reasons you cannot find God in heart or hands or world or religion are because Jesus is the promise that God finds you.  He’s done it before, He’s doing it right now, and He’s going to keep it up forever.  This is God at Work!  

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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