I confess that in this series on Heroes of the Bible I have often simply lifted up the history of the hero, and left you to draw the lessons from his or her life. I myself have learned a mighty handful of lessons I want to share with you this morning.

1. Just because someone is a hero in scripture does not mean that they started life as the sharpest knife in the drawer.

God choose Abraham when he was old, and Jacob when he was weak. God choose Moses to be his spokesperson even though he had difficulty speaking. Jesus called Simon Peter not because he was a bible scholar but because he was a fisherman who knew the heights of victory, and the depths of defeat. Jesus was more concerned with Peter’s mental and spiritual toughness than with his pure intellectual ability. (Note 1:)

During our recent goal setting exercise, we learned that many members of our congregation were concerned with our youth, so I will finish with a word to those who are here.

That word is “Jeremiah,” a hero I hope to speak of in the future. Jeremiah writes, that he protested God’s choice of him, saying, “I am only a youth.” Then continues:

7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. 8 Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Jeremiah 1:7-8

God is more interested in our availability than our abilities. Even our lack of experience is not a handicap with God, for God is the author of all experience.

2. The heroes of the Bible are not always that likeable.

Some of them are downright intimidating. We saw how Moses advised people with disobedient children to deliver them up to the elders so that they might be stoned to death, so that the evil of their disobedience might not spread among the people of God. Admittedly this practice was pre-Christ and sub-Christ. Some people try to take the sting out of this practice by suggesting that it was a scare tactic—the ancient equivalent of parents telling their children, “If you don’t do so and so the bogey man will get you.” They say that few parents would have carried out such a threat. It still sounds ominous to me. As a child I often disobeyed my parents, and even as an adult, my dad and I have exchanged more than a few words.  I am quite sure that if I had lived, back in the day, and spent time with Moses, I would have been shaking in my sandals.

And what about Paul? Paul is my main man. I think he is often misunderstood and under appreciated. If ever I had had the chance to do a Ph.D. in New Testament I am quite sure that I would have done my dissertation on some facet of Paul’s life and work. Yet, if I had lived back in that day, I am not sure that I would have been completely comfortable around Paul. In Philippians 3 he talks about his life before Christ saying, “As to righteousness under the Law, I was blameless.” A little later he talks about his relationship to Christ and to others, saying, “Imitate me, and those who so live as you have an example in us.” It is one thing to wear a bracelet that says, “What Would Jesus Do?” It is quite another to wear a bracelet that says, “Imitate, because I am only doing what Jesus would do.” That is a confidence that few possess.

Personally, I like Paul when he calls himself—“the chief/foremost of sinners.” (1st Timothy 1:15) (Note 2:)

And what about King David? He is at the other end of the scale. He did some despicable things. I can forgive him his adultery with Bathsheba, but I have a harder time with his murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. Uriah was a Hittite, and a foreigner, but he was a real patriot in Israel, and one of the truly great men of the Bible. When I was in the Marine Officer’s Tactical Basic School, he was held up as an example because he refused to comfort himself when his troops were still in the field. Had I lived back in David’s day, and had I known the facts about David and Uriah, I suspect that I would have felt about David the way the most ardent Democrats felt about Richard Nixon after Watergate, or the way that the most ardent Republicans felt about Bill Clinton after Monica Lewinski and the lies he told about her.

That said, every time I even think about judging another, I am reminded that in Matthew 7:2 Jesus said, “the judgment you give will be judgment you get.” And how, in Romans 14:4, Paul challenged his readers saying, “Who are you to judge the servant of another, it is before his own master he stands or falls.”

And every time I even think of holding a grudge, I remember a story about a certain man and his use of The Lord’s Prayer. The story is told that this man was leading his family in devotions. Suddenly, right in the middle of the prayer, he stopped, left his house without explanation, and did not return for several hours. When he came back, his wife said, “Why did you leave so suddenly?” He said:

“Well when I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, I remembered that I was at outs with a man in the village. I decided that I dared not pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ and not seek his immediate forgiveness.”

3. The heroes of the Bible sometimes failed and failed big. Sometimes they directly disobeyed God. Yet, over and over again, God forgave their failures, and gave them the grace to go on.

When Moses was leading the People of Israel through a dry and parched land, God told Moses to command the rock at Meribah, and it would give water. Moses disobeyed. He added a flourish. He showed off. He took his staff and struck the rock. It was because of this disobedience that God would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. He was allowed to look in but not go it. (Numbers 20:24)

Given the example of Moses, the Lawgiver, it is no wonder that the ancient rabbis taught that the good work of a lifetime could be destroyed by a final disobedience.

Of course, the ancient rabbis also taught the reverse of that. They taught that at the end of a wasted life, a man could repent and throw himself upon God and God would accept him, and give him a future and a hope that was nothing more and nothing less than pure grace.

That hope was fulfilled in John 6:37 Jesus said, “He who comes to me I will not cast out.”

I think that Moses saw that kind of grace was coming. When Moses stood on top of the last mountain he would ever climb, and looked across into the Promised Land, he did not see just rocks, and hills, and trees, he saw the fulfillment of all the promises of God. To borrow a phrase from the Hebrews 11:13, Moses like so many of the Old Testament heroes, “… died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar.”

4. The heroes of the Bible stuck with the task that God gave them until they finished it.

At the end of his life St. Paul said:

4:6 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2nd Timothy 4:6-8)

A dying man once gave his family (and me) the best advice I ever heard for any one. He said, “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!” He was not talking about clinging to the last shred of life, he was talking about how to live it to the fullest.

When I was in seminary, Elayne and I used to rush home from Sunday services at the Nicholasville Presbyterian Church to watch “The Hour of Power.” I loved Dr. Schuler’s pithy and memorable saying. Most of all I liked his personal creed. I have used it before: I will use it again. Dr. Schuler said:

“If faced with a mountain of a problem, I will not quit. I will climb over, or find a way around, or tunnel underneath. Or, I will stay right where I am and turn that mountain of a problem into a gold-mine of opportunity.”

Another of my favorite non-Biblical heroes was a man named Dr. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision International, an organization that Elayne and I started supporting about the same time I started watching “The Hour of Power.” We still support World Vision in its efforts to relieve world hunger. Dr. Pierce often preached a sermon he entitled “God Room.” In it, he said that most of us accept some task as an assignment from God, and we work at it a while, until we get tired, or flummoxed, or loose interest, and then we quit. And when we quit, we go to God and pray:

“O, God, the task you gave me is just too much for me. I am tired and at the end of my rope. I have nothing left; I cannot go on. Can’t you give me a task more suited to my abilities?”

Dr. Bob says that it is a shame that we so often give up just as we have reached the end of our own abilities and endurance. He said that it is only after we reach the end of our own abilities and endurance that we enter “God Room,” which he defined as “that space in which only God can work.”

He said that God is not interested in making us look good because we have the natural ability and lots of resources. He said that God is interested in making ordinary people look great when he helps them to do something that was impossible for them alone.

My friend Douglas Peacock used to tell a story about God and Moses and God Room. You will find this story in the Bible, though you will look in vain for this bit of dialogue until you look into your sanctified imagination. It happened when Moses and the children of Israel were caught between the Yom Suph and the Armies of Egypt. They had run out of room, and they had run out of options. Moses went to God and prayer and told God that he had failed him. And God said, “Moses, Moses, Moses, I did not bring you here to drown you in the sea. And I did not bring you here to kill you with the sword. I brought you here so that I might reveal my glory.”

And you know the rest of that story. It continues today. During our weekend of goal setting we talked about organizations that go from “good to great.” I think a church goes from good to great when it starts doing bold things, and taking real risks, in the faith that God will bless our efforts when we give God room to work.

5. Finally, I would mention that all the heroes of the Bible reflected Jesus Christ. The Heroes of the Old Testament reflected what was to come. The Heroes of the New Testament reflected what had come. That is all that any of us can do.

Dr. Robert Schuler started the Garden Grove Community Church in a drive-in, and he preached from the roof of a snack-bar. He invited Dr. Norman Vincent Peal to be one of his first guests. They belonged to the same denomination, and Dr. Peal accepted. On the morning he was to speak, Dr. Peal stood with Robert Schuler on the roof of the snack bar, and he was flabbergasted by the invitation Schuler gave him. Dr. Peal reports that Dr. Schuler said:

“We have with us today the greatest positive thinker who has ever lived. His words have been heard and read by millions of people all over the world. He has changed more lives than can be counted. The greatest positive thinker who ever lived is here—with us—today! In person! His name is …Jesus Christ! And here to tell us all about him is Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.’”

I once stood behind the pulpit at Lititz Moravian Church. The congregation had place a sign there, which only the preacher could see. It read, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” That flows both ways. People still want to see Jesus, they still want to know him, and his touch. They want to know he cares about them. We are just here to talk about Him, but he is the One True Hero who puts the heroic spirit in those who seek to follow him. In the final analysis, all the heroes of the Bible are nothing more than planets spinning through life in the orbit of Jesus. That puts me in mind of an old Moravian Hymn:

Christian hearts, in love united,
 Seek alone in Jesus rest;
Has He not your love excited? 
Then let love inspire each breast;
Members on our head depending 
Lights reflecting Him, our sun,
Brethren His commands attending,
 We in Him, our Lord are one.


Note 1: Some object to Peter’s authorship of the both epistles associated with his name. They object that the 2nd Epistle of Peter comes from a time later in the history of the church and that may be true. They object to the 1st Epistle of Peter because it is way too polished to be from the pen of an ignorant fisherman like Peter. In my view, that makes way too light of the power of just being with Jesus, as Peter certainly was.

Note 2: Some think that the Pastoral Epistles reflect a church that is much too structured and developed to be from the pen of Paul, being instead from one of his “associates” who outlived him. Even so, no less an authority than Dr. Bruce Metzger, one of my teachers at Princeton Theological Seminary, maintained that they contain genuine Pauline material. No doubt, if Paul thought of himself as “the chief of sinners,” it was in the context of his persecution of the church.

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Following my sermon on Paul, a member of the choir approached me and said, “Don’t forget to preach a sermon on Peter, I can’t always identify with Paul, but I can identify with Peter.”

I knew exactly what he was saying. Paul set a high standard. Paul dedicated his whole life to religion. As a Jew Paul boasted that, “as to the law (he was) a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless,” and as a Messianic Jew and an apostle of Jesus, he called upon people to “be imitators of me, as I am an imitator of Jesus Christ.” Paul, or a close disciple, called Paul, “the chief of sinners.” That, I think, is a reference to his zeal as “a persecutor of the church,” but on the whole, Paul was a squeaky-clean, “holier than thou,” kind of guy.

The man who started life as Simon the Son of Jonah was on a different track. Before he met Jesus he was a fisherman. Fishing was in his blood and in his bones. He never overcame it. According to John, not long after twice standing face to face with the risen Christ, Peter said to the other apostles, “I am going fishing.” According to Mark, when Jesus called Peter and Andrew they were on a beach casting a net from the shore. Jesus used psychology to make Simon Peter his disciple. He knew that fishermen are always after bigger fish. That was true then; it is true today. This spring I joined Steve Jones on a fishing trip to Weldon, North Carolina, the Stripped Bass Capitol of the world. In five hours on the Roanoke River we caught more than 60 large stripped bass. At least they were large by my standards. We caught so many fish I got tired of reeling them in. Yet, we kept fishing, not because we wanted more fish—it was catch and release anyway. We kept fishing because we wanted bigger fish. Jesus snared Peter in his net, because he promised Peter and his brother a chance at bigger fish. He said, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Not only was Peter a fisherman, and not professionally religious, but John tells us that he was originally from Bethsaida. [Note: 1] Bethsaida was one of the places where Jews constantly rubbed shoulders with Gentiles. Each influenced the other. Peter’s brother was named Andrew, and another of their close companions, was named Phillip. Those names are Greek names, not Hebrew Names. Peter’s given name was Simon, but Jesus changed that to “Cephas,” which is the Aramaic form of another Greek name, “Petros,” which in English, means “Peter,” which means, “Rock.

The gospels differ as to when Jesus gave Peter his name. According to John 1:42, the first time Jesus met Peter he said, “You will be called Cephas.” According to Mark 3:16 Jesus gave Simon the surname of Peter when he appointed the twelve to be with him. Matthew calls Simon, “Simon Peter,” from the first mention of him, but he also seems to say that Jesus did not call Simon, “Simon Peter,” until the last week of Jesus’ ministry. This is a dramatic development. Peter receives a new name, and we would do well to pay special attention to this story in the 1st Gospel. Matthew tells it like this…

Jesus said to the twelve, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He then said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him:

“Blessed are you, Simon Son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19) [Note:2]

The text of Matthew declares that from that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

There are two points that ought to be made here.

First, we must not fail to know the awesome authority that Jesus gives to Simon in Matthew’s unique version of this story. He gives him a new name “Rock,” and tells him he is the “Rock” on which he will build his church. He also gives him great confidence and great authority. He tells him that the church that is built upon him will be victorious over even the powers of death, and he says to him:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you binds on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This represents awesome power and authority. The question is, does Jesus speak to “Peter the individual,” as Catholics say that he does, when they say that Peter was the archetypical Pope. Or, does Jesus speak to “Peter the confessor,” as Protestants say that he does, when we point out that Jesus builds his church upon Peter’s archetypical confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

I am as Catholic as I can be. I believe in one universal church. The history of the Catholic Church—up to a point, is our history. I take seriously the highly priestly prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17 in which he prays that we might all be one. My best friend for 35 years was a lay Franciscan in the Catholic Church. Yet I am as Protestant as I must be, for when it comes to deciding what we bind and loose on earth, I am much more confident in the wisdom of the many, than in the wisdom of One man who sits upon his Chair in Rome.

There is a second point that needs to be made this text. We must not pass lightly over this powerful story without noting that Jesus once called the one who was arguably first among the apostles, “Satan,” and pointed out to him that he was a hindrance to him because he was not on the side of God but of men. This is a caution for us.

I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we picture Satan with horns and a tail, or confine him to his roll as the Great Red Dragon of Revelation. St. Paul says that Satan masquerades as an Angel of light, and that is a proper picture. Jesus himself warned that our foes (Matthew 10:25) are often the people in our own households—whether relatives are friends. Sometimes there is active opposition, but sometimes the opposition comes from those who seek to protect us from risk and sacrifice, even when God calls us to undertake that risk and sacrifice.

When Peter tried to keep Jesus from Jerusalem, and certain death, he had the best of intentions, but he was wrong.

We sometimes make the same mistake. I will give you an example. When a young couple of my acquaintance announced to me that they would be going to a Muslim country to witness to the gospel, taking with them their small children. I cautioned that I wish they would not, because I feared they would be in great danger. The husband answered, “Yes there will be danger, but if we are sure this is where God wants us, and we would be in greater danger if we ignored God’s call. We would be in danger of missing a great blessing!”

Let me give you a little comfort: Most of the time, Jesus wants us to use reason. In Matthew 10:16 he urges his disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless and doves.” In Luke 16:8 he rebukes his disciples because “the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with one another than the children of the light.” Yet, Jesus teaches us by his actions that God sometimes requires the unreasonable of us.

To the Jews of Jesus’ day, it was unreasonable for the Messiah to suffer and die upon a cross. The law declared, “cursed be he who hangs upon a tree.”(Deuteronomy 21:23) St. Paul said that the cross was “a stumbling block to the Jews.” (1st Corinthians 1:23) But Jesus came into the world not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) Jesus came for the cross.

In order for Jesus to do what God sent him to do he had to face cross. He says that if we are to follow him, there is a cross for us to take up, too.

In 1st Peter 4:1, the apostle warns that we who follow Jesus must remember that Christ suffered in the flesh, and arm ourselves with the same thought. In 1st Peter 4:12 he warns we ought not to be surprised when we must go through some fiery ordeal as if something strange were happening to us. Look around you! Many have already passed through such on ordeal. Thankfully, even before he hands out these warning, he fills us with hope, and tells us that no suffering is without purpose. In 1st Peter 1:3 and following we read:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.

Though some doubt the apostle’s authorship of 1st Peter, I believe this passage to be the Big Fisherman’s best sermon! So, what else must we say about Peter? I would briefly add just three things.

First, I would have you to recall the question that Peter put to Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22. He asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Seventy times seven is 490 times. Jesus is not suggesting that we keep count. He is using a huge number to teach us that we human beings are to forgive one another as often as we find it necessary. I like that—not just because I am big on forgiving others, and big on having others forgive me, but because I cannot imagine that Jesus would ever require more of us than God would require of Himself. God is capable of infinite forgiveness. William Jennings Bryant put it like this:

“When a man repents to himself, he repents up a slippery slope. When a man repents toward his brother, he repents into the mouth of a raging lion. When a man repents toward God, he repents to the source of all love and forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is the most therapeutic idea in the world, and Peter wants us to know that God’s forgiveness has been won for us when “Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree.” 1st Peter 2:24

Second, I would have you to recall that, in Matthew 26:34, on the night when he was betrayed, Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock welcomed the morning sun. Then, in John chapter 21, Jesus allows Peter to affirm his love for him, three times, as if to wipe out the memory of this failure. (Note:3) There in we read:

John 21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter did indeed, “feed Christ’s sheep.” First, along with James the Brother of the Lord, and John the son of Zebedee, he was the head of the church in Jerusalem. Paul called him, “the Apostle to the Jews.” Then, according to tradition, when the church in Jerusalem was scattered, he took the gospel to Rome. Peter did not write a gospel; but Papias, writing in the mid 2nd Century, says that Peter is the authority behind the gospel of Mark, and that Mark handed on what Peter taught. Some find this hard to believe because Mark is not nearly as adoring of Peter as is Matthew, or Luke for that matter. I think that the gospels are a community exercise, but I think it is likely that Peter may have influenced Mark. Mark is certainly the earliest gospel, and it is fitting that the 1st Apostle should have had a say in the earliest gospel. If Mark did not show proper deference to Peter, it may be because, unlike Paul, Peter seldom boasted of his own achievements. Tradition says that Peter asked to be crucified upside down so that he would not be crucified in the same manner of his Lord. This modesty is not all that rare. I knew David Dease for more than forty years. For ten years I have been telling him he was my hero, for what he did during his Viet Nam service. Not once in all those years did David tell me that he received the Distinguish Flying Cross, a fact that I learned only after his death. David, like Peter, was a modest man.

There is one more incident in the life of Peter I think we should remember. It also occurs in John 21. When Peter said, “I am going fishing,” six of his friends went with him. They toiled all night and took nothing. Then as morning filled the skies, a stranger on the beach told them to cast their nets on the other side, and they did, and they took in a great haul of fish. And one of the others said, “It is the Lord!” And Peter did not wait to see. He left the other to bring in the great catch of fish. He immediately dived into the ocean, and swam for the shore. When he reached the beach, he found Jesus, the Risen Christ, waiting for him there.

I like Peter because he is bold, and brash, and impetuous. I like that he is ready to risk deep water to get to Jesus. I like that he quickly goes where more cautious people fear to go at all. I think that if Peter is a man of action, and if he were here this morning he would call us to action. He would tell us that it is always better to do something, in Christ name, than to do nothing. He would remind us that God is not only the source of infinite forgiveness, and but also the source of infinite power, and that if we have acted in good faith and fail him, God will forgive us, and help us to set things aright. How have you been bold or impetuous? How have you jumped out of your comfortable surroundings to wildly seek the Risen Lord? Have you ever done it?


Note 1: We know from the synoptic gospels that Peter later lived in Capernaum, and that Jesus visited him there, and may even have lived with him for a time.

Note 2: In Mark’s account, Jesus does bless Simon, and call him Peter, and tell him that he is the Rock on which he will build his church. Quite the contrary! Mark jumps right into Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, after which, Jesus calls Peter, Satan.

Note 3: In this passage Jesus twice asks Peter if he loves him using the Greek word for passionate love. He then asks him if he loves him a third time using the Greek word for the love of friendship. Some make much of the fact, saying that Jesus settles for a lesser love from Peter. I think this is too fine a distinction. The variation is merely stylistic, as is the way that Jesus varies his charge to Peter by saying, “Feed my Lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.” The important thing is that Jesus allows Peter to affirm his love for him three times, once for each of the three times he denied him.

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This morning I want to talk about one of my favorite heroes—Paul the Apostle. Let me begin by confessing that, unlike yours truly, some people don’t care for St. Paul, at all.

Radical Members of the Jesus Seminar don’t like Paul. They make a sharp distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith, and, in Paul it is virtually impossible to separate the two. Ignoring Paul is their loss! Great scholars everywhere, like Gary Wills, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian have recognized that the Epistles of Paul contain a great deal of information about the life and ministry of Jesus. No less a historian that Donald Harmon Akenson has called the Epistles of Paul “the skeleton key that unlocks the historical Jesus.” If the only thing we knew of Jesus was what we knew from the Epistles of Paul, it would be enough! Jesus would still be the son of David, the Messiah of Israel, who ministered among us, appointed twelve to be with him, instituted the Holy Supper, was betrayed, died for our sins, was buried, was “designated Son of God in power” by his triumphant resurrection “on the third day,” and promised his own return in glory.

Some women do not like Paul. They object that he put a lot of effort in making sure that women were subservient to men. There can be no doubt that Paul was a child of his times where women were concerned. In 1st Corinthians 11, he writes that the head of every man is Christ, and that the head of a woman is her husband. He then lays down rules for women who wish to speak in church saying:

4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (which is Christ), 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head (which is her husband).

It get’s worse. Later in 1st Corinthians 14:34-35 we read:

34…women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Now if you listened carefully, you realize that, seemingly, Paul has contradicted himself. First he says that when a woman prays or prophesies in church she should cover her head. Then he says that it is shameful for a woman to even speak in church, and that she should ask her questions of her husband at home. Which is it?

Many of the best scholars think that Paul did permit women to pray and prophesy in Church, and that someone who edited his letters at a later date inserted verses 34 and 35. The text of 1st Corinthians 14 actually reads better without verses 34 and 35! Read the passage for your self and you will see.

Still, we cannot avoid the fact that Paul was as much a child of his day with regard to accepting a subordinate role for women as he was with regard to accepting slavery. It is my personal conviction that he did not bother to change either, because he thought that the return of Christ in glory was eminent, and that all historical anomalies would soon pass away.

Elsewhere St. Paul shows his better self:  In 1st Corinthians 16:19 Paul pays tribute to a husband and wife team of co-workers named Aquila and Prisca or Priscilla. (Romans 16:3) They host a church in their home. Who would expect their hostess to keep quiet in her own home? Even better, according to the New Revised Standard Version, in Romans 16:7 St. Paul recognizes a woman Apostle, by the name of Junia, and points out that she was in Christ before him! (See Note 1:) An apostle was certainly allowed to speak in church. Most important of all, in Galatians 3:28, St. Paul makes the specific point that, in Christ there is no Jew and no Greek, no Slave and no free, no male and female, but “all are one in Christ.”

Ladies, I think Paul has been misrepresented to you. I think that were he alive today, he would be delighted to work with the Rev. Christy Clore, and he would certainly recognize the achievements of the late Mary Matz, the first woman ordained in the modern Moravian Church, and Bishops Blair Couch and Kay Ward.

There is a third group of people who don’t like Paul: Many Jews. One Jewish Rabbi put it like this, “Jesus, yes; Paul, Never!” Of course, he was speaking in purely human terms. Like many Jews he recognized Jesus as a great Jewish teacher. Yet, he refused to accept the teaching of Paul that Jesus is both “the Crucified Messiah,” and the One designated “Son of God” in power by his resurrection from the dead, to whom Paul often gave the divine name, “Lord.” The cross is still a stumbling block for the Jews (1st Corinthians 1:23), and they cannot apply the divine name to any but God, something that Paul was forced to do to Jesus the Messiah because of his experience of him.

I love my Jewish brothers and sisters. I try never to forget that my boss was a Jewish carpenter. However, I cannot pretend to love the Jewish people as much as St. Paul. In Romans 9:3 Paul said that he was willing to be “accursed and cut off from Christ,” for the sake of his brethren, his kinsmen, his race. That, my friends, is love, and dedication!

Now what must we say of Paul.

1. First, it must be said that Paul lived and died a Jew, who worshiped and served the God of Israel. Paul was preeminent among his own contemporaries. Thus in Philippians 3:4-8 we read:

4 If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, 6 as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:4-8

In Acts chapter 9, St. Luke tells us that Paul’s life was turned upside down, or, perhaps, right side up on the Road to Damascus when it pleased God to reveal the risen Christ to him. Many people call Paul’s Damascus Road experience his conversion. However, I do not think that Paul himself would not call his experience of coming to Christ a conversion. He would call it a fulfillment, the natural extension of the Jewish path that he was already on. Paul saw Jesus Christ as the “telos” or the “goal” of the Law. He considered the circumcision of the heart wrought by the Spirit of Christ as the natural extension of, and the natural replacement for the circumcision of the flesh wrought by a rabbi when a Jewish Child was 8 days. Paul said,

28 For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. Rom. 2:28-29

2. Though some of his contemporaries would have debated it, I think it must be said that Paul was an apostle. An apostle is “one who is sent.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus appointed twelve to be with him. Even during his lifetime he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God. After his death, they preached Jesus, as the king in the kingdom, predominately among the Jews. In the 1st chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and the other apostles chose a replacement for Judas who betrayed Jesus. The choice is between Justus and Matthias, both of whom knew Jesus in the days of his flesh and witnessed his resurrection. They used the lot to choose between them, and the lot fell on Matthias. (Acts 1:15-26) I think it is interesting that, in the book of Acts, we never hear the name of Matthias again. This contrasts smartly with the facts set forth in Acts chapters 9-28. The two-thirds of the Book of Acts is absolutely dominated by Paul.

We know from 2nd Corinthians 5 (See: Note 2) that Paul was not a companion of Jesus in the days of his flesh. His qualification as an apostle rested entirely upon his encounter with the Risen Christ. In 1st Corinthians 9:1 Paul writes: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

1st Corinthians 15:3-11 is the earliest eyewitness account of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It predates the earliest gospel by more than a decade. In 1st Corinthians Paul lists some of the appearances of the risen Christ to key figures in the church, including Peter, and James, the brother of the Lord, and the other apostles, and Paul declares his experience as the equal of theirs. In reporting each appearance, he uses the same Greek word, which is translated by the English phrase, “he appeared.” Thus, in 1st Corinthians 15 Paul writes:

15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1st Corinthians 15:8-11

Paul and the other apostles preached a common gospel, and St. Paul thought that God had appointed him “Apostle to the Gentiles,” in the same way God had appointed Peter, “Apostle to the Jews.” (Romans 11:13; Galatians 1:11, 2:9, etc.) John Wesley the founder of Methodism once said, “The World is my Parish.” In saying this he is merely echoing the Apostle Paul.

3. Paul did not have an easy life. Five facts speak to that.

First, Paul paid his own way. In 1st Corinthians 9:9 Paul points out that ministers should be paid. In 2nd Corinthians 12:13 he suggested to the Corinthians that they would have appreciated him more if he had received a salary. We know from Philippians 4:18 that Paul received gifts from the churches. Yet in 1st Thessalonians 2:9 he tells us that his aim is to pay his own way, so that he could preach the gospel free of charge. In Acts 18:3 we read that Paul paid his own way as tentmaker, and in 2nd Corinthians 4 and 5 his work finds its way into his theology. In 2nd Corinthians 4 and 5, he compares physical body with a tent, and the resurrection body, like the one Jesus has, with a house. He language is full of hope, and I am quite sure that I will think of it when it is my turn to lie down and die. He writes:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2nd Corinthians 4:16-5:1

Second, Paul was single. In 1st Corinthians 9:5 we read that Peter had a wife who traveled about with him, as did others among the apostles, as did the brothers of Jesus. Paul did not have a wife, and Paul did not seek a wife. He was not on Christian-Mingle.Com, for he considered his celibacy a gift from God. In 1st Corinthians 7:7, Paul goes so far as to say, “I wish that all were as I am.” Paul remained single, and he championed the single life for the same reason he accepted slavery and a subordinate roll for women, he thought that Jesus was coming back soon, certainly in his lifetime, and, at his coming, the form of this present world would soon pass away. (1st Thessalonians 4:13-18, etc.) In all this Paul was wrong, but he saw the possibility that he might be. That is why he writes in 1st Corinthians 13:9 saying that, “our knowledge is imperfect, and our prophecy is imperfect, but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.” Paul had looked on Perfection in the face of the Risen Christ, and he knew that all things were moving toward that Perfection, and that that Perfection would someday come to full fruition.

Third, Paul had a physical infirmity. Some have suggested he was an epileptic. Others have suggested that Paul was homosexual—though they admit Paul was celibate, and he did not engage in sex. Still others have suggested that he had bad eyes. I vote for bad eyes. We know that Paul was more a letter “speaker” than a letter “writer.” We know from the Romans 16:22 that he had an amanuensis or secretary, named Tertius, who wrote Romans as Paul dictated it. Paul did sometimes write a few words in his own hand. Thus, he concludes his letter to the Galatians saying, “See what large letters I am writing with my own hand.” Finally, in Galatians 4:15, he writes that if possible, members of the congregation would have “plucked out your eyes and given them to (him).” All this has led me to conclude that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his eyesight.

Like any of us, Paul wanted to be rid of his infirmity, but it was not to be. In 2nd Corinthians 12:8-9 he writes:

8 Three times I besought the Lord about this (thorn in the flesh), that it should leave me; 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Fourth, Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel. You have heard of the Perils of Pauline? In 2nd Corinthians 11:25-27 St. Paul outlines “The Perils of Paul.”

25 Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Nietzsche said that a human can bear almost any “how” if only we have a “why.” Paul had a why. He thought his suffering had meaning. In Colossians 1:24 St. Paul writes:

I rejoice in my suffering, for in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s suffering, for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Some debate whether the Epistle to the Colossians was wholly the work of Paul. Whatever we decide about the whole, I do not think anyone else in the early church would have been bold enough to speak words like those found in Colossians 1:24.

Finally, Paul died a violent death. In 2nd Timothy 4 we read:

6 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2nd Timothy 4:6-8

Though I think that the Pastoral Epistles certainly belong to a later stage of the church’s development than the early epistles of Paul, I believe they certainly contain genuine sayings by him, and I regard this saying as one. It reminds me of another. It was the great mathematician, Archimedes, who said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the world.” Archimedes died during the Roman siege of Syracuse for crimes he did not commit. One story says that when the Romans came to take him away he was working on a mathematical problem. Archimedes protested, “Can’t this wait a little while? Just let me finish this problem.” Archimedes was not afraid to die, because his life had meaning right up to the end. The same was true of Paul. We do not know from the New Testament how Paul died. Tradition tells us that he was beheaded, in Rome, during the Reign of Nero. It declares Paul was beheaded, not crucified, like Peter, because Paul was a Roman citizen. The truth is there is little of which can be sure concerning Paul’s death, save this: Paul’s character declares that he was undoubtedly preaching Christ right up to the very end. I have no doubt that when the jailers came to walk Paul to the chopping block he was still talking about Jesus Christ. Perhaps the conversation Paul had with them was not unlike the conversation St. Luke tells us that Paul once had with King Agrippa. After hearing Paul speak of Christ, Agrippa said, “In so short a time, you think to make me a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am — except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28-29) Paul would rather die, in chains, with his Lord, than live without him, for in becoming the slave of Christ, he had become absolutely free.


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

Note 1: The RSV translates “Junius,” a man. The name appears in the accusative case, and could be either male or female. The problem is that there are no men named Junius in any contemporary literature, and the women named Junia turn up everywhere. Most scholars today accept Junia.

Note 2: In 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21 we read:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. (Note: Paul himself points out that he did not follow Jesus in the days of his flesh. WNG) 17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become.

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I have enjoyed preaching this series of sermons on the Heroes of Faith, primarily because of the dialogue with many of you. Some of you are troubled by certain things in the lives of these heroes of faith.

Some of your were troubled that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had more than one wife. Deuteronomy 17 said that a king should have few wives, but David had seven wives. Solomon exceeded his father 100 fold. According to 1st Kings 11: 3 Solomon was said to have over 700 wives and 300 concubines. This did not please the Lord, for these wives turned Solomon’s heart to foreign gods, yet God still permitted Solomon to build the first temple in Jerusalem. Over the years, many people have questioned me about the polygamy in the Old Testament. In my studies, I have been forced to conclude that the Bible does not have a single sexual ethic. Some have suggested this ambiguity extends even into the time of the New Testament. For instance, we read in 1st Timothy 3 that anyone who serves as a bishop (elder) or a deacon should be “ the husband of one wife.” Some commentators suggest this means that officers of the church must be a married man. Others suggest that they must not be divorced and remarried. Still others suggest that officers of the church must not practice polygamy. I would remind you that even today at least a small percentage of Mormons accept polygamy, and they can manage at least some scriptural support, especially among the patriarchs, David, and Solomon. This question is especially complicated if you read the Bible as equally inspired from Genesis to Revelation, each verse having the same measure of importance as every other. I long ago decided that Martin Luther’s understanding of scripture was better than Joseph Smith’s. Luther maintained that the Scripture is inspired in direct proportion that it preaches Jesus Christ. This means that Revelation is progressive, and Jesus is God’s last and best word, and that any future word must be in harmony with Him. Given what Jesus said in Mark 10 about a man leaving his mother and father and becoming, “one flesh” with his wife, it is difficult to imagine Jesus accepting polygamy.

Likewise, some of you are troubled by the harsher sayings of Moses. Many of you were shocked that Moses commanded that consistently disobedient children should be put before the elders of the city, and then stoned to death alongside adulterers, and homosexuals. Others would be shocked to learn that Moses barred men with crushed testicles from entering the assembly of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 23:1). Today that would include many men who have served this nation in combat. So, too, Moses forbad any born out of wedlock from entering the assembly of the Lord, or his descendants, even to the 10th generation. (Deuteronomy 23:2) That is like saying that one of us could not come to church because we were born to a single-mother. I myself have always regarded these texts, and others like them, as not only pre-Christ, but also sub-Christ. They do not measure up to Him! I cannot imagine Jesus Christ advocating that we stone people to death—he did not offer cheap grace, but he did offer real forgiveness, and he left judgment in the hands of God. Nor can I imagine Jesus refusing to allow someone to join the church because of a mistake that his mother made, much less because of a mistake made by his great-grandparents, nine-times removed.

King David also comes in for his share of criticism. He may have ended his life, “a man after God’s own heart,” (Acts 13:22) but David did some things that cause us to blush, and other things that cause us to hang our heads in shame, especially the way he dealt with Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba whom he murdered to protect himself. (2nd Samuel 11:14-17) Indeed, David is every bit as flawed as our modern heroes. Dwight Eisenhower was a great president, my absolute favorite, because he was the first I really knew, but he let his wife Mamie down when had an affair with his driver, Kay Somersby. Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of California’s most popular governors, but he let his wife Maria down when he fathered a child by his housekeeper of twenty years. I could go on to name other prominent people who slipped—people like Bill Clinton, and several of the Kennedy’s and dozens of other politicians. In fairness I have to say that preachers have had our share of negative headlines. Jim Bakker was caught up in a sex scandal with Jessica Hahn. So, too, he defrauded a lot of people out of a lot of money. When the authorities went in to arrest him for fraud, they found him lying behind a couch in a fetal position. Perhaps, his position was a profession. Perhaps he wished he had never been born. It puts me in mind of the question of Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night: “Can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be reborn when he is old?” No! But Jesus said a man can be “born from above,” or “born again” by the Spirit of God. I am happy to report that Bakker has made a confession and a comeback, and this time, he is far less concerned with fame and notoriety. I don’t agree with all that he is doing—but I am impressed that he is doing it!

What am I saying—only that the heroes of the Bible are flawed, like all our heroes are flawed, and like you and I, are flawed. The heroes of the Bible are fully heroes only when they, like the Scripture itself, reflect, and proclaim Jesus Christ.

And that brings us to Isaiah, the priest who was also a prophet. In Isaiah, at last, we have found a hero in whom there is no guile. Like just a few others before him, he is keenly aware of God’s holiness, and like almost no one before him, he is even more keenly aware of God’s grace. (Footnote: 1)

In Isaiah 6 we read about the true foundation of his faith—-it is nothing more, and nothing less, than a dramatic encounter with God.

In Isaiah 6 we read Isaiah’s personal testimony. He tells us about a powerful vision. He writes:

1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the foundation of the threshold shook at the voice of him that called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am lost and undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. 6 Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged. 8 (Then) I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here am I; send me.”

I love that phrase, “Here am I; send me.” Oswald Chambers said that God is more interested in our availability than our ability. God can give the available all the ability they need. Isaiah was a hero primarily because he was available! Let us put Isaiah’s lasting value into context.

  • The name of Moses appears 80 times in the New Testament, almost always as the Lawgiver. It is impossible to calculate the number of times the New Testament makes reference to something that Moses taught. Yet the New Testament makes a sharp contrast between the time of the Moses, and the time of Christ. In Galatians 3:24 St. Paul says that the Law of Moses was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified through faith in him. (KJV)
  • The name of King David appears 59 times in the New Testament. Jesus is often called “the son of David,” and he is to “sit upon the throne of David.” The plot thickens in the book of Revelation, which declares that Jesus is both “the root (the ancestor) and the offspring (the the progeny or descendant) of David.” (Revelation 22:16) The former in the time before the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in the Man Jesus, and the latter after the Incarnation.
  • The name of Elijah is mentioned 29 times. All three synoptic gospels agree that Elijah appeared alongside Moses at the transfiguration of Jesus. Elijah stands for the Prophets as a whole as Moses stands for the Law as a whole. The Jews referred to the Hebrew Bible as “the Law and the Prophets,” as did Jesus. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus reveals a new, higher authority, greater than Moses and Elijah. Thus the voice of God declares, “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him!”
  • Elijah is an important figure in the New Testament, yet, in many ways, he is overshadowed by Isaiah. Elijah is the hero of many stories, but the author of none—though he may have sent a letter to Jehoram a king of Judah. (2nd Chronicles 21) By contrast we know little about who Isaiah was, but we know a great deal of what he said. His greatest claim to fame is the book, which bears his name. Some say that one man is responsible for the whole book, but the prophecies span more than a single generation. Therefore some attribute various divisions to multiple people, all writing in the Spirit and tradition of the man we know as Isaiah. (Footnote: 2) The New Testament mentions the name of Isaiah only 22 times—fewer than it mentions Elijah, but it refers to texts from the book of Isaiah more than 60 times!

Let me give you a handful of examples.

1. In Isaiah 7:14 we read, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

In the context of Isaiah chapter 7, it is likely that Isaiah was referring to a situation in his own life; the child to be born was to be his child. However, it is hard for us to read the narratives telling about the birth of Jesus that are found in St. Luke or in St. Matthew without thinking that Jesus himself reveals the deeper, and true meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy.

2. In Isaiah 40:3-5 we read:

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all call attention to this text. And all four declare that John the Baptist was that voice crying in the wilderness who came to smooth the way for the coming of God Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

3. In Isaiah 9:2 we read, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah says that the light comes out of Galilee.

Matthew alone quotes this text directly, but the contrast between “light” and “dark” fills the pages of the New Testament. The word light occurs more than 120 times. The word dark and its derivatives occur more than 70 times.

In John 1 we read that Jesus was the true light who was coming into the world. In verse 5 we read:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In John 8:12 Jesus himself says:

“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

4. In Luke chapter 4: 16-21 Jesus applies yet another prophecy of Isaiah to himself. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

The text declares that when Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

And when Jesus had finished reading, he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

5. There are many, many more texts of Isaiah that are incorporated into the matrix of our New Testament. There is one other text that I absolutely must mention. I refer, of course, to Isaiah 53, which is printed in your bulletin.

Though not many Jews considered the text as “messianic,” (Footnote: 3) and most thought it applied to the whole nation of Israel, I am quite sure that this text about “the suffering servant,” informed the thinking of Jesus alongside Daniel 7, which is about “the Son of Man who receives the kingdom from the Ancient of Days.” Jesus blends both together when he says, “The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Certainly, the early church saw this text as descriptive of what Jesus Christ accomplished in his person and ministry. A primary example is found in Acts 8. There we read about the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, a minister of the Candace or Queen of Ethiopia.

The text indicates that the Ethiopian was a God fearing Gentile who had gone up to Jerusalem seeking further insight about the God of Israel. Unfortunately, as a eunuch he was barred from “the assembly of Israel,” (Footnote: 4) and he missed the 11:00 o’clock service of the 1st Church of Jerusalem. Yet, God had a plan for this man. Philip the Evangelist was over in Samaria, where he was the primary agent in the spread of the gospel in that place. It was a big job, and he was doing it well. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza; it is a desert road.” Philip obeyed God went down to the desert road. He saw the Eunuch seated in his chariot, and prompted by the Holy Spirit, Philip ran to him, to join him. As he drew near he heard the man reading from Isaiah the prophet.

“As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.”

Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the Eunuch responded said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” He wanted to know if the prophet was writing about himself or another, and he invited Philip to join him in his chariot. The text declares that Philip accepted his invitation, and then he opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture—the heart of Isaiah 53, Philip told the Ethiopian Eunuch about the good news of Jesus. The text declares that he professed his faith in Christ, and immediately asked for baptism. Tradition says that this Ethiopian was the first convert from Africa, and carried the gospel back to that continent where he was at the heart of a great evangelistic movement, and ultimately became a Bishop of the church.

This text is particularly dear to Moravians. When Zinzendorf sent out the first missionaries, he told them to look for “Candaced Souls” saying, “I want you to speak to those to whom God has already spoken.”

I think it is interesting that this text is associated with evangelism in our church, because it begins with a text from Isaiah, and Isaiah is the most evangelical and evangelistic prophet of the Hebrew Bible. His prophecies certainly remain foundational to the New Testament experience of Jesus Christ.

Several times over the last year I have immersed myself in a book of the Bible. Last fall it was the Revelation. I read it more than 20 times, learning a little more after each reading. Thus far in July I have read Mark 15 times, and want to read it several times more by the end of the month. In the not too distant future, I hope to submerge myself in Isaiah. I am willing to bet that when I have read it through over and over, I will still regard Isaiah as a work by one (or more) of the real heroes of faith.


Worth Green, Th.M., D. Min.


1. Admittedly, Isaiah’s appeal may be that we know him primarily from his prophecy, and have very little real biographical information about him. It may be that he is more flawed than we are aware. Nobody’s perfect, except, of course, the One.

2. Scholars generally divide the book of Isaiah into three sections: 1) Chapters 1 to 39 deal with the time before the Babylonian Exile, 2) Chapters 40-55 deal with the time of the Exile itself, and 3) Chapters 56-66 deal with the time immediately after the exile. For example, one of my absolute favorite texts is found in Isaiah 65. It dates from after the Babylonian captivity of Israel, and it speaks to the future that is coming to the people of Israel. God speaks through his prophet to his people saying:

20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their children with them. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”

Scholars are divided about this text. Some say they apply just to the nation of Israel. Some say that they represent an end-times vision for all God’s people. There are a number of paintings that all try to capture the meaning of these words, almost all of them entitled, “The Peaceable Kingdom.”

3. In 1st Corinthians 1:23 St. Paul says that the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews. This was so because the idea of a suffering Messiah was completely foreign to them. They expected a victorious and triumphant Messiah who would lead the nation into a new era of prosperity and influence among the nations.

4. I will bet that the Ethiopian Eunuch loved this text from Isaiah:

Isaiah 56:3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.

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Heroes of Faith: King David

Picture “David shows Saul he spared his life” from Dore Bible Illustrations—Used with Permission.

David is one of the most endearing, enraging, magnificent, pathetic and intriguing characters in Hebrew scripture. He is also one of the most interesting men ever to walk the face of the earth. If David were suddenly translated by time machine into our era, and forced to make a new life for himself, he would have a number of really attractive choices.

David could be a musician. According to 1st Samuel 16:23 when an evil spirit from the Lord visited Saul, David played upon his lyre, comforting Saul until the evil spirit departed.

David could become a hymnist, or perhaps a poet. In times past more than half of the 150 Psalms have been attributed to David. Few poets or hymnists have ever equaled the beauty of Psalm 23, the confidence of Psalm 139, or the pathos of Psalms 51, all of which were a part of our responsive reading this morning.

David could become a dancer. David once leaped and danced with joy before the Ark of the Lord with such vigor that his performance has become a permanent part of Israel’s history. According to the text of 2nd Samuel 6 David started out wearing a linen ephod, but he must have had an equipment failure. After his dance, David returned to his house, and his wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul, greeted him with displeasure. She told him that in her eyes the King of Israel had dishonored himself, uncovering himself before the eyes of the young women “as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself.” (Footnote 1) I am reminded of a story about a certain cast member in the rock musical “Hair.” After seeing the play his mother said to him, “I knew I would see you in the play, son, I just did not know that I would see so much of you.”

David could become a hunter. In the Golden Age of White Hunters in Africa, fearless hunters faced down charging lions with powerful, double-barreled rifles, shooting slugs weighing a quarter pound or more. By contrast the Masai often hunted lions armed only with a spear. David did even the Masai one better. When he was just a boy, watching over his father’s sheep, he killed lions and bears with a primitive sling, that he twirled around his head before loosing a stone with great velocity and accuracy.

Likewise, David could become a soldier. When he was not yet out of his teens, David refused the loan of Saul’s armor and armed himself with only his sling and five smooth stones he carefully selected from the bed of a stream. He then killed Goliath of Gath, the champion of the Philistines. David did not stop at single combat. He went on to become a great General, so that he quickly eclipsed the record of his predecessor, King Saul. The people said, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands.” (1st Samuel 18:7)

There aren’t many monarchs left in our world, but, certainly, David would make some nation a great king. And if David should somehow be translated across the centuries to America either party would be proud to place him at the top of their ticket. The Republicans once boasted that not even Santa Claus could defeat General Dwight D. Eisenhower for the presidency. Eisenhower was the architect of the allied victory in Europe, and the last General to serve the United States as President. Eisenhower was elected twice and served eight years. David ruled over Israel for more than forty years.

Of course, I may be over optimistic about David’s ability to be elected. His family life was the stuff of major scandal. His problem with Michal was perpetual. His children were equally difficult. David’s son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar, and then despised her for it. The text says that “he hated her with a hatred that was greater than the love he once had for her.” (2nd Samuel 13:15) Another of David’s sons, Absalom, heard of what Amnon had done to his sister, waited two years, and then had Amnon murdered. Absalom cut quite a figure. He had long flowing locks, and was regarded as the most handsome man in the kingdom. He was a popular favorite with the people. Ultimately, he tried to usurp his father David’s throne. Civil war broke out, and it lasted until the death of Absalom. He was killed the battle of Ephraim’s Wood when his long hair got caught in the limbs of a mighty oak. (Footnote 2) “That’s not all, folks”. That is just a sampling of David’s tragedy.

Obviously, there are ways in which David is a poor role model for us, and for our children, and for our children’s children. Yet, in other ways, David is one of the greatest roll models of all time.

1. David could be quite chivalrous, and unlike some of us, he never tried to force the hand of God.

Once when King Saul was pursing David, and intent upon killing him, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. David and his men were hiding in the back of the cave. David’s men urged David to kill Saul, saying that God had delivered him into David’s hand. David slipped up on Saul in the darkness of a cave, and he cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe, but that was all he did. Despite the urging of his men, and despite that Samuel had anointed David in Saul’s stead, David refused to put out his hand against the Lord and his anointed.

2. David also had a model friendship with Jonathan, the son of Saul.

Perhaps you have heard that, “Marriage is two souls living in one body, whereas friendship is “two bodies sharing a single soul.” The first part of that statement was inspired by Genesis 1, wherein we read, “a man shall leave his mother and his father, and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The second part of that statement was inspired by 1st Samuel 18:1 wherein we read, “the soul of Jonathan was knitted to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved David as his own soul.” David returned Jonathan’s love and friendship. When Jonathan was finally killed in battle, alongside his father, Saul, David sang a lament:

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
Greatly beloved were you to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women.

3. David possessed great faith, and he always had total confidence in God, despite the odds against him.

David was just a boy when he went out to meet Goliath of Gath. The text declares that Goliath stood over nine feet tall, and that his spear was thicker than a weaver’s beam. David faced this formidable foe and said:

You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 1st Samuel 17:45

It has been rightly said that one man, one woman, plus God is a majority in any situation. Few people in the history of our planet illustrate this truth better than David.

4. David was intimately acquainted with the depths of sin, and with the heights of God’s grace.

Perhaps you remember the details of that affair between David and Bathsheba. How David was standing on the roof of his palace when he saw Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop, and he desired her. Acting on his desire, he wooed her, and bedded her. She became pregnant with his child. David feared discovery. He summoned Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battle under a pretense, and then sent him home so that Uriah might have sex with Bathsheba, and be fooled into thinking that the child she carried was his own. But Uriah slept outside the door of David’s house. He refused even to sleep in the same house with his wife when his men were still at war and in harm’s way. David then acted despicably; he sacrificed one of his best soldiers, sending Uriah to the forefront of the battle, so that he might be killed. It was after the death of Uriah that David took Bathsheba to himself.

Yet this sordid tale was far from over. God sent the prophet Nathan to David to pronouncement judgment on David. Nathan began with a story. He said:

1 There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat (from his plate)(Footnote 3), and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him. 2nd Samuel 12:1-4

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan:

5 As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. Bring the man before me and I will kill him. 2nd Samuel 12:5-6

Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!” And it was then that Nathan pronounced God’s sentence upon David. Acting in secret, David had stolen Bathsheba from her husband, Uriah, and destroyed Uriah by the sword of the Amorites. God would spare David’s life, but God would publicly bring calamity after calamity upon him. Ultimately, David suffered the death of three of his children, and the loss of several of his wives. To David’s credit, he immediately confessed his sin to Nathan saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to him, “Put away your sin that you may not die.”

Many scholars believe that Psalm 32 reflects this difficult period in David’s life. Therein he writes:

3 When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
And I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
And then you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

One of the most hopeful lines in scripture is found in Matthew 1:6 There, in the midst of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, we read that “…David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” No text of scripture is more honest nor more grace filled than that! It is honest about David’s failure. Yet it declares that David’s failure did not prevent him from carring out the tasks God had assigned to him. Thus it was said that David was “a man after God’s won heart.” (Acts 13:22)

5. David was no summer soldier or sunshine believer. When the Dark days came, and there were many, he continued to trust God.

When his son by Bathsheba lay ill, David fasted and lay all night on the ground. He went like that for seven days. Then David learned that the child had died. It was every parent’s worst nightmare. Yet David did not quit. He did not close up shop. He did not throw in the towel. He did not abdicate his throne. He did not abandon faith in God. He arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD, and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he asked for food to be set before him, and he ate. When his servants called him out for his radical change in behavior, saying, “When the child lived, you fasted. Now the child is dead, and you eat.” David responded:

“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2nd Samuel 12:22-23

I do not think this little vignette from his life tells the whole story of David’s loss. I am quite sure David grieved the loss of the child for the rest of his life; but he did understand that life has to be lived forward, not backward. David knew that his life would never again be the same, but he had the confidence that it could still be good, and he lived for the good that was left. We must do likewise. No one who lives to old age does so without experiencing great loss. If, after a loss or a disappointment, we try to live in the past, we become no good to anyone, especially ourselves. Consider the case of Lot’s wife. When, at God’s direction, Lot led his family out of Sodom, Lot’s wife looked back to her pleasant life in that place, and she considered her present unhappiness, and she turned into a pillar of salt. Take this literally if you want, but do not miss the lesson it for all of us. Every time we look back, we risk becoming equally lifeless. When we look back we risk isolating ourselves from the people we love and all the good that still remains to us. We live in the present, as we anticipate the future that comes to us from God.

6. Finally, we should note that David was the most famous king of Israel. Because of this Christians have always regarded David as the ancestor and prototype of Jesus Christ. Note this comparison.

In 1st Samuel 16:13 we read that, at God’s direction, the prophet Samuel took a horn of oil, and anointed David King over Israel in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily from that day forward. In Mark 1:10-11 we read Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, and when he came up out of the water he saw the heavens torn open, and the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove, and he heard the voice of God saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

God promised David that he would never lack a son to sit upon the throne of Israel. (2nd Samuel 7:16) That promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus did some very un-messiah like things, like getting himself crucified. The New Testament declares, “He died for our sins.” A sign was placed over his cross that said, “The King of the Jews.” That sign was intended to be ironic; it was anything but. Jesus was crucified, killed and buried, but on the third day God raised him from death, and seated him at his right hand, that he might make his enemies a stool for his feet. Jesus reigns as King forever. He wants to rule over us. It is to our advantage. He can help us overcome our mistakes, and mend us at the broken places, and put us on the path back to God.

Let me leave you with a riddle. Jesus asked the question and did not answer it, so neither shall I. In Mark 12 we read that as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” If you can answer that, you are well on your way to becoming a Christian theologian. Let me give you a hint: Read John 1. The Christology of Mark is very nearly as high as the Christology of John.


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.


1)  2nd Samuel 6:20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” David rebuked Michal, told her that God had made him king, and that he would make merry before the Lord as he pleased. The Scripture records that, “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.” 2nd Samuel 6:23

20)  David’s general Joab thrust three “darts” into his heart while he was still alive in the oak. Ten soldiers then surrounded Absalom and killed him.

3)  Literally, “eat of his morsel.”

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Moses 1 Audio of the Sermon, 1st Half.

Moses 2Audio of the Sermon, 2nd Half.

I hope you have taken the time to read the short “biography” of Moses that we put into the bulletin.  If so you know that his appeal is two-fold.

On the one hand, Moses is “The Deliverer.” If Marvel Comics does not have “The Deliverer” in their stable of super-heroes they should have. Moses is much more interesting than Spiderman, or any of the Avengers. It was Moses to whom God spoke from the burning bush saying, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Ex. 3:14) It was Moses whom God sent to Israel, saying, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” And it was Moses whom God sent to Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go.” It was Moses who brought down the 10 plagues upon Egypt, and it was Moses who led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, and to the borders of the Promised Land, helping God to destroy the Army of Egypt in the process. (i)

On the other hand, Moses is “The Lawgiver.” It was Moses who gave Israel the Ten Commandments. It was the late Martin Buber who observed that Moses gave Israel just the right number of commandments to be remembered using the ten fingers of our two hands.

Of course, Moses did not stop with the Ten Commandments. The Law of Moses—the Law of God—the Torah, includes c. 613 commandments. They run from the humdrum, to the sublime, to the downright shocking.

The most sublime commandment is found in Leviticus 19:18. There we read, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” When, in Romans 13:9, St. Paul says, “The commandments…are summed up in a single sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” he is quoting Moses.

One of the most shocking commandments is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. (ii) There we read that if a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey his father, or his mother, even though they chastise him, then they will take him to the elders of the city and say to them, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” And then the men of the city shall stone him to death stones.

Now I doubt that any of you have ever considered bringing a stubborn and rebellious child before the elders to be stoned to death; but it is not impossible. A man who ran for the state legislature in Arkansas in the last election proposed that we ought to enforce this Law, and others like it. He calls himself a Christian. When I read that, I found myself wondering if that man is a Christian or a father. A Christian would know the story of Jesus and the woman taken in Adultery—we will take that up in just a minute. A father would know that children often pass through times of rebellion before becoming the people that parents know they can be. I remember a time when my son was so head strong that we had a hard time living under the same roof. He would say the same. Now, I regard him as one of my best friends, and I confessed to him not long ago that he has become a far better father than I ever have been.

In the 18th century Bishop Spangenberg had good advice for parents of rebellious children. He said the children of Christian parents often enter a time of rebellion. He said that as Christians we have promises for our children, especially those we have presented to God in baptism. He said that in almost every case, they would eventually put aside their rebellion, and return to their roots. As the Proverb 22:6 declares, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old (Maybe not immediately—but when he is “old” or “mature”—WNG) he will not depart from it.”

I am willing to bet the law that permits the stoning of rebellious children took some of you by surprise. I wonder how many of you have read all 613 laws set down by Moses? If we read through the Law of Moses we invariably make two significant observations, and then, having made those observations, we ask two very important questions.

First, we observe that a great many of the 613 commandments still make perfect sense, and we still live by them today.

Most of you are perfectly happy to keep the Ten Commandments, and you are not ashamed to display them in your homes. Using your ten fingers, some of you can name them from memory. Even if you can’t you keep them, for you have a highly developed conscience, and you know them intuitively.

Second, we observe that a great many of the 613 commandments no longer make sense for us, and wittingly or unwittingly we ignore them.

All of us who are here this morning have already violated the Law of Moses in a number of important ways even before entering this sanctuary. I will name three. First, unless you were in church yesterday, you already missed the Sabbath. This is Sunday, the first day of the week, not the last. Second, some of us had sausage or bacon for breakfast, which is in direct violation of the law against eating the flesh of an animal with a cloven hoof. Likewise, the vast majority of us are wearing a blended fabric, and that, too, is in direct violation of the law. In James 2:10 we read, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” Yet few of you are troubled by what you ate for breakfast or by what you are wearing, or by any of the other laws of Moses that you break on a regular basis. The very fact of our personal indifference gives rise to two questions.

First, we might well ask, “Why did God lay so many burdensome commandments and ordinances on the Jews?”

What did it matter if the people of Israel ate pork, or wore blended fabrics, or violated any one of the hundreds of little details in the Law? I think it mattered for two reasons.

On the one hand, it mattered because God chose the Jews to be his people in the world. They were to bare witness to him, and the odder they were in the eyes of the rest of the world, the more dramatic their witness. That is still true today. Not long ago my son met with a team of Orthodox Jews from a business in New York to discuss a design project that the firm he works for was doing for them. He said they were dressed in black, and wore skullcaps, or kippahs, and their sideburns dangled in tight coils well below their chins. He said, “Dad, I was tempted to laugh, then it occurred to me that these people take their faith very seriously. They are a powerful witness to God.”

On the other hand, it mattered because it was the odd and distinctive appearance and behavior of the Jews dictated by the Law of Moses that enabled the Jews to survive as a people for more than 2,000 years even though, for much of that time, they did not have a land to call their own. They had a constitution without a country, but it was enough. Jews were often regarded as the dregs of society. Many countries forced them out of their homes, stole their wealth, and asked them to leave. Other countries herded them into ghettoes and prison camps. The inquisition killed thousands of them. Hitler killed more than six million of them. Yet, because of the Law of Moses, and because God still has a plan for them—-and both Testaments testify to this, the Jews have survived.  (iii)

Of course, a second question arises. That question is, “Are we still bound by the Law of Moses?”

We are and we aren’t. We are certainly ruled by the Ten Commandments, and by the Moral Laws. Though it has not always universally recognized, God always intended that the moral law be universal. We neglect it to our own peril. It is not so much that we break the moral law of God as we break ourselves upon the moral law of God. We are bound by the moral law, however, we are no longer bound by what the New Testament calls “the law of commandments and ordinances.” The law of commandments and ordinances was specific to the Jews. It was the Law of commandments and ordinances that made the Jews a people apart, and made them distinctive, and helped to cement their sense of identity. In Ephesians 2 the apostle says that the time for that kind of distinction has come to an end. He writes that the Jew was one man, and the Gentile was another man, but that Christ “…has abolished in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances that he might create one new man in the place of the two, making peace and reconciling us both to God on the cross.” (iv) Today, our relationship with God is not marked by our obedience to the details of the Jewish Law, but by our relationship with Christ.

Christians have freedom under the Law that the Ancient Jews did not, and the primary example of our freedom is found in Jesus himself. Some people are amazed how much freedom Jesus exercised with regard to the Law. Let me give you a few examples:

First, Jesus saw through the law to the Spirit and reason behind the law.

Let me illustrate with a story from Mark 2:23-38. One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields with his disciples. And the disciples began to pluck heads of grain, and, given the context, to eat them. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are your disciples doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus said to them:

“Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him. He entered the temple…. and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

And Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus was referring to the 4th commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.” He said that man was not made to keep the 4th commandment, but the 4th commandment was made to keep man. That is true of all the commandments. God gave the Law through Moses to protect human beings from our selves and from one another. This truth gives rise to one of the best definitions of sin I have ever heard:

“Sin is anything that we do, or fail to do, by which
we hurt ourselves or another.”

Second, Jesus set some laws completely aside.

Take the laws of clean and unclean foods. In Mark 7:14-23 (v) we read how Jesus called the people to him and told them that it was not what goes into a man that defiles him, for what he puts into his mouth enters not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on. He said that it is what comes out of a man that defiles him, for it is the from the heart (vi) that evil thoughts arise, including fornication, theft, murder, adultery, slander, pride, and foolishness. It is these things that defile a man. The text declares, “Thus (Jesus) declared all foods clean.” If you have barbecue for lunch, or if you go down to the beach this summer, and order Fried Shrimp, or eat a Po’ Boy Sandwich made with fried oysters, and lettuce, and tomatoes, on a hamburger bun slathered with Duke’s Mayo—I am hungry, you can thank Jesus for that freedom.

Jesus also refused to carry out one of the Laws of Moses that required a person to be stoned to death. In John chapter 8, some people brought to him a woman taken in adultery, and said to him, “Moses said that we are to stone such as her. What do you say?” And Jesus set the commandment of Moses aside when he said:

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a
stone at her. John 8:7

Her accusers melted away. Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Does no one accuse you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” He said, “Neither do I accuse you, go and sin no more.”

Jesus did not reject the moral law. He left judgment in the hands of God, but in point of fact Jesus often raised the law to a higher power. In Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that, in the eyes of God, lust is the same thing as adultery. He says that we are to love our enemies, not hate them as some concluded from the Law and made a tradition. He says that Moses was absolutely wrong in his casual approach to divorce. Most Scholars agree that St. Matthew presents Jesus as a new Lawgiver, one who is far superior to Moses. Moses received the Law on a mountain. Jesus taught the Law on a Mountain. Likewise, on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples of Jesus suggest building three booths, one for Jesus, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-8)

Third, Jesus changed other laws laid down by Moses by the very fact of his life, death, and resurrection.

Take for instance the laws of sacrifice. Moses made provision for many different types of offerings, chief of which was the sin offering, by which the priest made atonement for the sins of the people. Without the system of sacrifice laid down by Moses, we could scarcely understand the sacrifice of Jesus. Yet we are no longer bound by the system. The author of Hebrews (vii) writes that every priest stands daily at his serving, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. He continues:

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (i.e. “set apart by him”).”

Does the fact that Jesus changed so much of the Law mean that our faith is somehow radically different from the faith of the ancient Jews? Yes, No and Yes.

Yes, we are different for we are not bound by the laws of commandments in ordinances that Christ abolished by his body on the cross: We wear blended fabric; we eat pork.

No, for in some ways, especially touching morality, we are very much the same.

Moses bore a faithful witness to God in his time, and the Jews have never been without witness. Let me illustrate with a story from the Rabbis. It took place just before the time of Jesus. A non-Jew came before Rabbi Shammai. He said to him:

“I will convert to Judaism on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one leg.”

Shammai did not like the conditions, so he hit him with a rod, and drove him away. The same man came before Rabbi Hillel, and made the same promise and the same appeal. Hillel said to him:

“What you hate, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Law of Moses, and all else is its interpretation. Go and learn.”

In point of fact, Jesus said the same thing, putting a positive spin on it, rather than negative. In Matthew 7:12 we read, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. “ That is also the Golden Rule that binds God’s people together in all times and in all places, and contrary to popular opinion, it is in the Bible, not once but twice, once in Matthew 7:12 and once in Luke 6:31. No doubt this saying is rooted in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Finally, yes we are very different in our total approach to the Law.

We do not live by the Law; we live by the Grace of Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:4  St. Paul says that Christ is the “telos” of the Law, meaning its “goal” or its “end.” In Galatians 3:24 St. Paul says that the Law was just a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ that we might be justified through faith (in Him). Finally, to establish it all in context, in John 1:17 we read:

The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came
through Jesus Christ.

Moses was a great man, the greatest man of his generation. He was the Lawgiver, but he was not God’s Messiah. He gave us the Law, but Jesus Christ gave us grace, and truth. If we have broken the law in one point, we are guilty of all. The law has the power to condemn us, but no power to restore us. Jesus has the power to forgive us, and to restore us, and to set us right before God. If we have joined ourselves to him in faith, when the world condemns us, he stands before us and before the world saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And when no one can, Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. “



i If Moses had a weakness it was his sense of drama. God told Moses to command the Rock at Meribah to yield water for the people, but Moses struck the rock with his staff, twice, and it yielded water. It was because of this small act of disobedience that God allowed Moses to look into the Promised Land, but not go in. (Numbers 20:7-13)

ii 18   “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21

iii By the way, in his book, “This Is My God,” Herman Wouk says that one of the chief reasons he believes in God is the miracle of Jewish survival. He says that the very existence of the Jews shows the hand of God at work in the world.

iv 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.

v “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him…” “Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean). “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 21 For … out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

vi In the Bible the heart is thought to be the center of the mind, emotions, and will.

vii 11   And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Hebrews 10:11-14


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