Unity

Bridging the Great Divide: The Gospel and the “isms” of Our Day

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A lot of things sort-of collided this week. First, of course, we’ve got this pandemic looming over us with all that entails – including the enforced social distancing rules that are making daily life increasingly stressful and depressing. Next, I had a few people texting me and asking about how we can have the Lord’s Supper, communion, as a church. Could we prepare it ourselves at home and then all watch the video and do it. Would that be ok? I also came across a bunch of people and posts – from people inside and outside Christianity – that kept saying that we don’t need to gather together as a church in order to be Christian. The general gist of the argument was that a person’s connection to God, their relationship with Jesus, was only an individual one and a Christian doesn’t need anyone else to have a full and healthy relationship with God. And then, mixed into all of this, came the explosion of riots and protests in the US and Canada, as a result of systemic racism.

As I processed all of these huge issues – social distancing, communion, the church, the riots – it occurred to me that there is an underlying, common theme. Essentially, at the heart of it all, is the problem of “division”. Humanity is divided. Social Distancing because of the pandemic has divided our communities and families. Don’t visit grandma, don’t go within 6 feet of any human being, don’t shake hands, don’t sing together, don’t give gifts, don’t share meals, don’t worship together. That alone is catastrophic for the human soul.

But, of course, human divisions have existed long before COVID-19 came along. The bigotry of racism, sexism, ageism, classism, nationalism has divided us since Cain and Abel. In our modern context, another “ism” has grown: “Individualism”. The idea that a single person is more important than the group, that people should work for their own advantage, and that their thoughts and actions are valid simply because they are their own – and no one has the right to judge them. This individualism has infected Christianity, which is where the people who say, “I don’t need any other believers, I don’t need the church, I don’t need accountability, or elders, or theology books, or a church family – it’s just me and God and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Right now, as I speak to you, humanity might be the most divided it’s ever been. It’s one thing to be sexist and think one gender is worse, another to be nationalist and think every other country is evil, another to be ageist and think every other generation is stupid, another to be racist and think that people with different coloured skin are somehow inferior – but when it comes to individualism – the belief that every other person on earth is worse, evil, stupid, and inferior, to you ­– I don’t think you can get a society more divided than that.

As I said, this moment in time might be the most divided humanity has ever been.

Origins of Division

Where did all this division come from?

God’s plan, which we see in Genesis 1 and 2, was a united humanity. God created Adam and Eve – who were probably brown people, by the way[1] – and placed them in the Garden of Eden. Already, at the very beginning, there was the potential for problems. God is Creator, Adam and Eve are creation. Adam was male, Eve female. Adam was first, Eve was second. But instead of division, there was perfect community, perfect unity, between God, Adam and Eve.

It didn’t last long. In Genesis 3 we see Adam and Eve rebel against God when they start to think that God is being prejudiced against them! So, in ignorance and jealousy, they fall for the devil’s lies and bring sin into the world. From that moment we were divided.

With sin came a curse. The results of sin caused cracks and fissures to form in every aspect of the universe. Humans would be divided from their Creator because God cannot be in the presence of sin. The earth would turn against itself and against humanity, as death and corruption entered the world, even the ground itself would work against us. The division would be between Adam and Eve too, men and women, who, even though they would be drawn towards each other, there would be endless strife. In Genesis 4 we see the story of Cain and Abel, two of the children of Adam and Eve. Cain wants to worship God one way, Abel does it a different way. Cain is enraged when God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not his and kills his brother. Then, by the time we get to Genesis 6, the hearts of men are completely corrupt as evil takes over the world.

Heart, soul, mind, body, creation, relationships all divided. Emotional walls, spiritual separation, intellectual disagreement, physical strife, a corrupted universe, destroyed unity – all because of sin. God sends a flood to wipe out the world but, in His grace, spares one family – Noah’s – because Noah was the only one who was listening when God sent the warning. After the flood subsides, humanity starts to spread all over the place, populating the world – creating civilizations, but also bringing sin, suffering, war, and division, wherever they went.

Regardless of if you’re an evolutionist, an “old-earth” person, or a young earth person, the agreement is that it was after a great dispersion, as humans started to settle in parts of the world that had different climates and vegetation, that we start to see minor variations in the human genetic code, as generation after generation develop differences in their skin colour, hair colour, eye shape, etc.

You see, God didn’t create many different races – He created one: The Human Race. You cannot use the Bible to condone any form of racism. It’s not in there. People have used a lot of evolutionary theory to defend racism – saying that some colours are more “evolved” than others – but you can’t defend racism from the Bible.

God didn’t create many races, He created one: The Human Race. God didn’t create many religions and “paths to Him”, He created One, faith in the Son of God, The Messiah, Jesus Christ. God doesn’t prefer one gender over the other. He made them equal and complimentary. God doesn’t prefer one age over another. He knits the baby together in the mother’s womb, loves and defends children, trains up and uses young men and women, and gives important work and honour to the elderly. Salvation through Jesus Christ came through the Jewish People, Jesus came as a Jewish Man, but it was to offer salvation to everyone, regardless of race, nation, age, or gender.

In Revelation 5:9-10, as the story of the end begins and the first scroll is opened, it says they sing,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

In Revelation 7:9-10, it says,

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

In the kingdom of God, there is no division.

All the division we see and experience has one source: the human heart. The corruption sin brings to the human heart is what divides nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. It is sin that creates every terrible “ism” inside us. That’s not from God – that’s our sin.

Racism, classism, ageism, and all the others are not just political or economic issues. It’s not because of a lack of education or a bad upbringing. Yes, they have political, economic, and social implications – but they are not the source or the solution. The source of the problem, the root of the weed, the thing you have to dig all the way down to in order to kill the problem – is the corruption of all human hearts because of the curse of sin.

The Solution

That’s why the only solution to the problem of racism, ageism, sexism, and all the other terrible “isms” is only found in Jesus Christ.

The Gospel, or the “Good News”, of Jesus Christ begins with the bad news. The first words spoken in the Gospel of Matthew are the angel telling Joseph not to divorce Mary, but that “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21) The first words of Jesus in the gospel of Mark are “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) In Luke we read that the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist’s whole job, was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus by telling people to repent “for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

The bad news of sin, the acceptance that we are sinners, must come first – and one really good word to describe the results of sin would be “division”. Sin divided us from God (Isa 59:2) and each other. It created a deadly, untreatable infection to come upon our souls, it built an unbreachable wall and dug an uncrossable chasm between humanity and God, and fractured humanity into an irreparable mess. Jesus came to cure the disease, smash that wall, take the judgment – the sinless one became sin, took the whole of it onto Himself, and then was judged and killed in our place – so He could become the bridge that allows us to cross that chasm, and to remake, reform, recreate our individual hearts, and humanity into being whole again.

Look at the life and ministry of Jesus. There was no barrier he didn’t cross. He loved men, women, Jews, gentiles, Samaritans, soldiers, slaves, Pharisees, prostitutes, tradesman, tax collectors, children, seniors, the sick, the possessed, the wealthy and popular, the poor and outcast – equally. He saw every one of them the same – as sinners.

When Jesus declared Himself to be the only “way, truth, and life” (John 14:6) He was calling us lost, lied to, and dead. We are all, as Jesus describes us, sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36), lost people who needed finding (Luke 19:10), sick people who need a physician (Luke 5:31-32), lawbreakers under judgment (Matt 12:36), spiritually dead people who needed resurrection (Rom 6:23; John 14:6). Jesus’ mission wasn’t merely to set a good example for us to follow – it was to, by his own death, to mortify (or kill) the sin inside us, and that has infected the whole world, so that we might rise as a new creation, just as He rose from the dead.

Take a minute and consider what happened at the very birth of the Christian church. Jesus gathers a diverse group of men and women, dies, rises again, ascends to heaven, and tells them to go and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So they do. About 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together in one room, praying, worshipping, talking together. Men, women, young, old, Pharisees, tax collectors, all gathered in the name of Jesus, waiting obediently for what He promised.

Then boom. Look at Acts 2, which we just read last week,

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1–4)

A diverse group in one place, and what does God do. How does he send the Holy Spirit? Audibly and visually. Everyone hears, everyone sees. Everyone in the room experiences the tongues of fire divide and rest upon everyone else. Not just the apostles, not just the men, not just the old people… everyone is given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in their hearts. And then everyone starts to speak in languages that they didn’t know before.

Unity upon unity. Jesus unites a diverse group in His name, demonstrates the seriousness of that unity with wind and fire, and decimates the division of races, languages, and nations by equipping His people to share the gospel with the thousands of people around them who were, as verse 5 says, “Jews… from every nation under heaven”.

Peter preaches a long sermon, and presumably, the other 119 take their turn sharing and interpreting, and the crowd yells out (in verse 37), “What shall we do?” Peter answers in verse 38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” First the bad news, then the good news, then the invitation to join the reunited, reformed, recreated, family of God. Who gets access to the Holy Spirit? Just the original followers? Just the people that heard Jesus teaching, and experienced the crucifixion and resurrection? Nope. Everyone. God reverses the curse of the Tower of Babel and unites the people under one banner. As Ephesians 4:4-6 says,

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Then in Acts 2:42-47 we see the Holy Spirit of God working in the hearts of the people as they devote themselves to worshipping together, learning the word of God together, and taking care of each other. Verses 44-45 we see the destruction of classism as

“all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Now, if you remember, Jesus’ command to the apostles right before he ascended was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” But they didn’t want to. They liked what they had going, so they stayed put. So God sent persecution to force a bunch of them to get out of Jerusalem and do what they were supposed to be doing.

Within a short period of time, there were churches all over the place – Macedonia, Galatia, Greece, Rome, Egypt – and it starts to freak the apostles out a bit. Racism starts creeping into the church. It had already been there during the first crisis when the Greek-speaking Jews and the Hebrew-speaking Jews got into a big fight (Acts 6), but now there were people from all over the place, every nation, tribe, tongue, colour… all claiming Jesus as Lord.

Weirdly, it seems the first instinct of the apostles is to say that non-Jewish people couldn’t have access to the Holy Spirit, couldn’t be a full part of God’s family. But God squashes that thought in a hurry!

In Acts 10 God gives Peter a vision of a giant picnic blanket full of every food imaginable – including all kinds of foods the Jews weren’t allowed to eat. God tells Peter, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” (v13) And Peter says, “No way, Lord! I would never eat anything ‘unclean’.” And God says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”(v15). Then it says that Peter saw this vision three times in a row as God hammered home the point, but Peter still didn’t quite get it.

So God used a non-Jewish, Roman Centurion named Cornelius to explain it to him. While Peter was standing in Cornelius’ house, sharing the gospel with a whole household of non-Jewish people, the Holy Spirit came again the same way He came the first time: he gave the gentiles the ability to glorify God in languages they didn’t know before that day.

Peter declares in Acts 10:27, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Well, I guess everyone really does get to be part of God’s family!”

It reminds me of my first church. I was a young man. 27 years old when I started. It was in Cleveland, Ohio and it was in rough shape. The building was beautiful. 3 story stained glass window, immaculate flooring, beautiful sanctuary, amazing kitchen in the big basement. Every room was stuffed with ministry material – but it was never used.

When I came to the church, the average age of the people there was 72 years old. The majority of them were German immigrants, who had left a post-World War 2 Europe, and had banded together to start a German church for all their fellows who were coming to America. And for decades the church grew. A boatload of German Baptists would come, and they would come to the German Baptist church. But after a while, there were no more boatloads.

Then the children started growing up. They were attending American schools where they spoke English. They had English friends. They spoke English at their jobs. The only place they spoke their native language was at home and at church. So the young people asked the older people to let them have an English service. Something a little more in their style. Something they could invite their friends to. The parents said “No, the old ways are better.” And family by family the children left – until all that remained was a handful of grey-haired old people who, in desperation, had changed to an English service and called a new, young pastor.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but there wasn’t just ageism in the church, but racism too.

I started to preach and have outreach ideas and God started to bless. But God is hilarious and very smart, so the first people that were saved and came to church were a couple named Senolia and Julio. Senolia was a black woman from the west-side of Cleveland, Julio was a Hispanic rapper full of tattoos. They first came to the church so I could marry them. Senolia said they had called 12 other churches but the pastors wouldn’t perform the marriage because of their race, or because it was a mixed-race marriage. I was more than happy to marry them, but I said that I wouldn’t do it unless they did a bunch of weeks of pre-marital counselling. It was during the premarital counselling that I was able to share the gospel and they were saved and baptised.

When they started coming to church, it was rough. By then a few others had shown up, and they were… shall we say… from a group that the congregation wasn’t used to seeing. For example, there was the young lady who “didn’t dress like a Christian”, her live-in boyfriend who would come to church in a tank-top undershirt to show off his tattoos, and their hyperactive little girl.

Right away I could see there was a problem. The new people sat in their own section, while many of the “regulars” wouldn’t even get up to greet them. The new people would chat with each other, while many of the “regulars” would ignore them, even going so far as to speak to each other in German so they couldn’t be understood.

God was showing me that within this church full of people who said they were Christians and had been attending church for—some of them, 75 years – didn’t know Jesus, didn’t understand His message, didn’t embrace His family, weren’t changed by the gospel. And in the end, and in very short order, only 3 years after I got the job – a year after I left – the church was closed.

Conclusion

The story of the gospel is one of unifying a broken world. The story of the church, when you read the New Testament, is a group of people who are being led by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus’ teaching and example and struggling to be a people who don’t have the barriers of racism, classism, nationalism, and individualism. The church had victories and failures, do good for a while and then do bad for a while, but the consistent message of the Bible, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, is one of unification in Jesus Name.

If you are hearing me today and you have one of those “isms” in your heart – repent and kill that sin right now.

If you’ve elevated yourself above others, believe that you are better and more valuable than others, that you have a special line to truth and connection to God that no one else has – get on your knees and repent because the corruption and darkness of sin has a hold of your heart.

If you have looked down on or talked badly about the opposite gender, stereotyping and jump to conclusions about a person before you even meet them – repent from that sin.

If you have hatred or bias against younger people or older people, valuing one over the other, or disparaging one or the other – you are in sin and need to repent.

If you’ve been watching the news and have been thinking or talking badly about “those people”, prejudging a whole group because of the colour of their skin, where they live, or how much money they have – repent and turn that sin over to Jesus right now. It is ungodly, unbiblical, unChristlike, and is poisoning you and everyone around you.

But you don’t need to listen to me. Listen to the words of scripture:

Romans 10:10–13, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

1 Corinthians 12:12–14, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

Colossians 3:8–14, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Galatians 3:26–28, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 4:1–6, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 2:14–19, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”

James 2:1–4, 8–10, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?… If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Do you get it? Do you see the heart of God? Do you see His hatred of racism, sexism, classism, nationalism, individualism…? Do you understand His desire for unity? I hope you do.

 

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/racism/are-there-really-different-races/
https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/why-did-darker-and-lighter-human-skin-colors-evolve

Harmony & Unity

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Unity and Harmony

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Unity and Harmony are major themes in the Bible. The Triune God, existing for all time in perfect unity and harmony creates an orderly, harmonic, universe governed by natural laws. He then creates two humans, united with God and each other in love. After the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 we see that one of the results of sin is the breaking of that unity. God, who cannot be united with sin, who cannot work harmoniously with creatures that are now so badly out of tune, are separated. The unity between the man and the woman is corrupted as they blame each other for what went wrong. Their children go further into disunity as Cain kills Abel because his sacrifice was accepted by God, but Cain’s was not.

All along the way we see God interjecting, graciously holding back the full effects of the sin – warning and protecting Adam and Eve, warning and protecting Cain…. The world, in only a handful of generations, descends into an absolute cacophony of chaos. Genesis 6:5 says that by the time of Noah, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” causing Him great grief, bringing His judgment upon the world. In His grace, He saves one family, delivers them from the judgement, and makes a covenant with all mankind that He will never flood the world again. He gives them a promise, a warning, and protection.

The mud wasn’t hardly even dry yet when in Genesis 9 we see disunity and disharmony creep back into the world as Noah gets drunk, his son disrespects him, and the curse of sin rears its ugly head. We learn here that the problem of sin isn’t just in the world but in the heart. We sometimes think that everyone else on earth is the problem. If they would just disappear, if there was just us, just a few people of our own choosing, then we’d be able to live right. But no, the problem of sin is deeper than that. The solution to our disunity and disharmony with God and each other isn’t merely to change circumstances – the change must come inside us.

The pattern of disunity and disharmony continues throughout the scriptures, with ebbs and flows of times of unity and harmony and division and warfare. Sometimes humanity unites together, but they do it to spite and rage against God. Sometimes a group of people turns their hearts back to God, but they are swiftly attacked or corrupted and fall away.

God knows that the problem of sin is a problem of the heart and shortly after Noah died– perhaps 2 years – He calls a man named Abram out of his messed up, pagan world, to be the father of a chosen nation. This nation would be special to Him. It is not that they were better or worse than any other. God simply decided to give grace to one man and to one particular nation, eventually to be called the people of Israel, the Jews, through whom He would work His full plan of salvation.

He makes a covenant, a promise, with Abram that he will be the father of a great nation and that through his family all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He gives to Abram and his decedents a certain piece of land where they could flourish and prosper. But Abram’s heart is still a mess with sin. He lies, cheats, and disobeys, but God still keeps his promises and the nation of Israel is born.

This nation would be God’s greatest illustration to the rest of the earth for how He would work and bring about His salvation from the problem of sin. He would show Himself to be greater than any other power, any other nation, any other false-god as He works great miracles to deliver His people from their slavery in Egypt, the most powerful, pagan nation in the world.

Today people say, “All our problems would be solved if we could just have a great leader. Just one great person we could all follow.” God proves that wrong as He raises up Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time, and Israel continuously rebels against him, eventually even missing out on entering their own Promised Land.

People say, “We need more order, more rules, a perfect set of laws to govern people. If we only had a stronger government, harsher penalties. If only it was written in the laws that people had to be generous, kind, obedient to their parents, respectful to each other, then we’d have peace on earth. If God would inflict punishment on all the bad people, force them to do what is right, then we’d have peace on earth.” God proves that wrong as He brings His people to Mount Sinai, gives them His Law, and they spend the next few hundred years discovering new and terrible ways to disobey every single part of it. God curses their disobedience with death, poison, war, famine, sickness, plague, corruption, even being totally removed from their land for an entire generation, and yet they continue to disobey. There is nothing that motivates them to obey for any length of time. Why, because the problem of sin isn’t solved by Law. All law does is show us what we’re doing wrong – it doesn’t motivate us to do right, it doesn’t solve the problem of sin, of disunity, of disharmony with each other and God.

Along with the Law, God institutes the method by which people would be made right with Him. The penalty, the consequence, the payment for sinning against God is death, and therefore every human since Adam has had to die. But, God would make it so that it would be ok, for a short period of time, that another being’s blood could stand in the place of the sinner.

Just as when they were in Egypt a spotless lamb would be killed and the blood smeared on the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass-over, so it would be written into the law of Israel that in order to atone for their sins, in order to gain freedom from the wrath of God for one more year, there would be a time of sacrifice. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (or Temple) and atone for all the sins of Israel. To “atone” means to “cover”. The separation between God and man would be covered over as the High Priest, clothed in white linin, killed a bull calf, who would die in the place and take the punishment of the sin of the other priests and himself. Then, he would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle some of the blood on the mercy seat, the throne of God, and on the floor before the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s promises to His people. He would then cast lots over two live goats. One would be killed as a sin offering for the nation, and the blood would again be taken inside and sprinkled as before. He would then take the live goat, place his hands on its head and confess the sins of the nation. This live goat, called the scapegoat, would be sent into the wilderness, symbolizing that their sin had been not only covered by the blood but carried away.

Consider our own visceral, instinctive reaction to this. We today in North America keep death and blood far from us. We fear both and therefore do everything we can to avoid them. But here it was, right in front of everyone. The bleating of the little calf as it’s led to the altar, the knife in the hands of the priest, the blood spilling on the ground and his white robe, his hands covered in it as he spreads it and sprinkles it, the smell of death.

Our natural reaction is to recoil when we hear about or see something like this, and that’s a good thing. It affects us on a deep level. We cut ourselves, or see someone hurt, and see blood and we know it’s a big deal and need to do something.

This is the feeling we are meant to have when it comes to sin too. It should cause revulsion, disgust, urgency in us. The suffering of the animal shows us how sin brings suffering. Its blood and death show the penalty for our sin, and how seriously God takes it. And it shows how serious the solution to sin must be.

What does it take to reunite God and mankind? What does it take so that we are once again harmonious with Him? What does it take to repair our broken relationships with each other? What does it take to bring unity to a destroyed marriage, the rift between child and parent, broken friendships, enemy nations?

Humanity gives all the same answers… “wipe out the bad people”, “a powerful leader”, “more laws”, “more consequences”, “more education”, “better technology”… but those are topical, external solutions that don’t actually solve the real problem.

The solution is the gospel, the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned”. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Hebrews 9:22 says, “…under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Our sins have not only brought physical death into the world but spiritual death. Division, disunity, the corruption of disharmony everywhere. The just wrath of God, the perfect judge, is upon us, and He demands our sins be paid for. Why? Because He is cruel? No, because He is just. He not only gives us the grace we don’t deserve, but He gives us what we want, justice. All sins must be perfectly paid for, accounted for, atoned for, made right. No one will get away with anything.

A calf’s blood would not suffice for a human sacrifice. The only one who can die for a human must be a human. But everyone has their own sin problem. Their blood can only pay for their own sins. Their punishment can only be for their own sins.

So, what must be done? A human must come who does not have to die for His own sin. Someone must come who has never and will never do anything wrong. He must be tempted in every way, but still, live a perfect life. And this perfect being must willingly offer Himself in place of sinners.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a being of infinite worth. He has always been in unity and harmony with God. There has never been a moment of disunity, disharmony, or rebellion in Him. And so, for a time, God sent Him, and He chose, to set aside His infinite glory and take on the form of a servant, to tabernacle, to take on the tent of the flesh of humanity, so He could live as One of His creations – and then be willingly sacrificed for them. His blood would be shed just as the Passover lamb’s, just as the bull calf’s was. This was the only way for God’s demand for atonement, to cover all sin, to repair everything that went wrong, to make amends, to be accomplished, the only way that perfect justice could occur.

The only way we could be saved from Hell, a place of punishment and permanent separation, permanent disunity from God – the place where the disharmony of sin would be paid for through suffering – the place where sinners deserve to be, would be for someone else to take that punishment for us. Someone would have to take the wrath of God.

It was not the Romans nor the Jews who put Jesus on the cross, it was God the Father. Jesus, the one who walked on water and calmed storms with a word, had the power to come down from the cross at any time. But His mission, the culmination of His life and Mission was to take the punishment we deserve. So He went through Hell, took the beating, the humiliation, the stripes, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the cross – shedding His own blood.

And then, according to Matthew 27:45-46, from midday to midafternoon, an unusual darkness fell over the land. As the shadow descends over Jerusalem so the shadow of sin fully descends upon Jesus. For the first time ever, the perfect unity, the perfect harmony of the Trinity is broken as God the Father places the weight of the humanity’s wickedness on His perfect Son, and can no longer commune with Him. Jesus cries out with the words of Psalm 22, “’Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Within a few short hours, Jesus would be dead, sin completely atoned for. Then the earth would quake and the temple curtain would be torn in two from top to bottom showing that the separation between God and man had been repaired. The earthquake also broke open tombs and cemeteries all over the city and some of the dead rose, showing that consequence of sin was changed as well. Three days later, after being crucified and stabbed through the heart, Jesus Himself would rise, proving that He had, in fact, conquered Hell, sin, and death, and had now made a way for anyone who would believe in Him to be once-and-for-all saved.

The unity and harmony of the Trinity were renewed and the invitation was given that anyone could be part of that harmony if they would admit they are sinners and ask forgiveness of God, accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their behalf, believing in Him alone for salvation.

Now, instead of enforcing the law through external punishment, God would change our hearts, our consciences, our motives, to line up with His, so that the motivation for good would internal. Instead of waiting for some human leader to rise and solve our problems, we would look to Jesus as our Lord. Instead of putting our faith in increasing our knowledge, or better medicine, or better technology, we would put our faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who affect a change at the very core of our being.

Conclusion

Now, when we feel far from God, we don’t have to wait for the Day of Atonement or shed blood, we can simply pray, “God, forgive me. Jesus already did everything, so please bring me back to you.” and He does.

Now, when Christians feel like we are out of step with the world, like aliens in a strange culture, confused by our culture, we can understand that it is because we are no longer resonating at the frequency of sin and sinners, but are being tuned to the harmonies of the kingdom of God.

Now, when we want to repair our broken relationships we no longer start with new rules, promises, bribes or threats, but we turn to God, asking Him to do the work on our hearts, realizing that our issue is sin and only He can fix it.

Our unity, with God, as Christian couples, Christian families, with our Christian church both locally and globally, is a miracle given to us by God and represents so much of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Which is why pride, arrogance, argument, division, and disunity brings such dishonour to God and His people. He died so we could be reunited with Him and each other.

My encouragement to you this week is to read the Word in the light of the message of the Gospel of Unity and Harmony. Read 1 Corinthians again and see how their disunity from God and each other brings shame to them and the name of Christ – and then look inward at your own heart to how you are disunited, disharmonious with God and others. Repent of it, ask God’s forgiveness and forgiveness of those you have divided from, and, as an act of worship and thanksgiving to your saviour, do everything you can to restore unity and harmony between you, God and others.

 

5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce in Your Marriage and Promote Unity in Your Relationships (Mark 10:1-12)

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GOM 35 - 5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce

“And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:1-13)

Jesus is very clear about his teaching about divorce. It happens as a result of sinful, selfish actions and hard hearts. Like too many people I’ve talked to, the Pharisee came to Jesus looking for all the loopholes in God’s law that would allow for divorce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that. I think I’ve been asked, “What does the Bible say about the reasons to get divorced?” more than “What does the Bible say about how to prevent divorce?” They come thinking, “Is this thing my spouse did a biblical grounds for divorce?” rather than “How can I find forgiveness, restoration, counselling and healing for this relationship now that my spouse has done this thing?” People are looking for the way out of their relationship– not the way to fix it.

And I don’t begrudge them the question. When “the D word” starts to come up in our minds, it comes from a place of great pain and hurt. No one goes into a marriage thinking they will one day get divorced. No one wants the anguish, shame and cost of divorce. But it’s happening more and more today.

We all know people, and perhaps we are this person, that can’t sleep at night because of disagreements both past and present. People with broken marriages – or who have come close – and who don’t know where to start to repair the relationship. We know people who have left churches, left home, left their jobs or schools, or even their home town, because they didn’t know how to resolve conflict. The hurt was so bad that they felt their only solution to end the pain was to leave. But that’d doesn’t solve the problem, does it? Many of us carry deep scars from unresolved hurts.

Now I don’t want to go into a diatribe against divorce or the pornified, messed up, hook-up culture around us. I also don’t want to talk about the ways that God allows for divorce, because when Jesus was asked the question He didn’t answer it with “Ok, here’s what the Law says: If your spouse cheats, or abandons you because of your faith, and a good case could be made that spousal abuse is a reason too… if they didn’t do that then you’re stuck.” No, He got to the heart of the issue… literally talking about the heart of the person asking the question. He essentially said, “The only reason that this was put into the Law at all was because you have irredeemably hard hearts. Listen, God gave you to each other so you would ‘hold fast’ [which is literally the Greek word for “glue”] and become “one flesh”, a singular person, and looking to tear apart that flesh is a terrible thing that is going to cause amazing amounts of damage. Marriage is meant to glue two people together so they do not come apart again, and looking for excuses to get divorced misses the point completely!”

Our Heart First

Today I want answer the question I get asked less: “What does it take to stay together when something bad happens in a relationship?”

The principles I’m going to share today are important for married couples, but they also apply to every other relationship we have. These aren’t “how to fix the other person” type principles or even “the steps to go through to reconcile a relationship”. What I want to talk about is how to fix our own heart first, before we even get to talking to the other person. Jesus was very concerned about the heart of the individual asking the question, so that’s where we’re going to park today.

Blowing the World’s Mind

I was listening to an Albert Mohler talk this week where he spoke about the normalization of sexual sin in the church. A secular writer in the New York Times had written that all homosexuals have to do is just wait a little while because very soon all the churches who are against homosexuality will eventually come around. His evidence is that this has happened already with divorce. Churches don’t even talk about it as a problem anymore.

When divorce was on the rise, the same thing happened as we see today with homosexuality. First, churches were shocked, then many mainline, liberal, churches and religions started to accept it. Then, as the culture began to see more and more divorces around them, more and more churches started to redefine their position on divorce. They started to reinterpret scriptures and emphasize Jesus’ “Judge not as ye be judged” removing any interpretations that were hard for divorced people to listen to. Then more and more elders, deacons, pastors, missionaries and Christian celebrities started to get divorced (just as more and more are coming out as gay).

Then, as it became normalized, churches started to talk about how important it was not to ostracize or disrespect or exclude divorced couples. Let me quote from the article by this secular writer:

“A generation ago, many Christian churches followed these biblical admonitions and would not sanction what they viewed as ‘adulterous’ second marriages. Today, in large part because of the power of changing social norms, it is no longer common for most Protestant churches to refuse to marry a woman to a man who had divorced his previous wife. And few churches would exclude or disrespect a couple because either spouse had married before.”

In other words, all the world has to do is wait for us to compromise, and we will. And we have. Divorce among Christians is normal, church splits are normal, grumpy business meetings are normal… every day the Christian church grows to be more and more like the world.

If we get this right in our church, it is going to blow people’s minds. For the world, seeing people get angry, separated, divorced, fighting, back bighting, seeking revenge, gossiping, slandering is normal. It’s how things usually go. But when they see believers respond to relationship problems with grace and forgiveness, treating enemies like friends, humbling ourselves and doing the hard work of reconciliation, it blows their minds. We show how different we really are.

None of us want to be in a church that acts like the world. We don’t want to be in a church with collapsing marriages, power struggles and worldly garbage. We’re supposed to be different – and anyone who comes to our doors should expect us to be different.

It is my hearts deepest desire that when people come into this place they will find people who are full of grace, who love Jesus and the church, who speak words of love, kindness, and encouragement. Whose eyes are filled with compassion and joy, and who are turning to Jesus and pointing others to him.

5 Commitments to Cultivate Unity

So let’s talk about the five commitments we must make in our own hearts so that we can cultivate unity in our marriages, relationships and church. (These points were taken from the book/website, “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande)

We’ve all heard that “many hands make light work”, or “there is strength in numbers”, or “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12). They are all simple ways of saying that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and that we are stronger when we stay together. We can do more when we work together.

The same is true in marriage, friendship and in the church. The depth of our relationship increases the strength of our abilities. A committed, married couple is stronger than two friends doing the same thing. Two friends working together are stronger than two workmates. A church, united under Christ, is stronger than any group united by a simple cause.

The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “The devils are united as one man in their infamous rebellion, while we believers in Jesus are divided in our service of God, and scarcely ever work with unanimity.” Unfortunately for many Christians and churches, Spurgeon is right – including in our marriages. We aren’t working together very well.

So, how do we get to working well together as a church and with our spouses? Here are the five commitments we need to make.

Commitment 1: To love Jesus Christ above all things and sacrifice our mini-agendas for His sake.

First we need to commit ourselves to loving Jesus Christ above all things, and sacrifice our mini-agendas for his sake. What does that mean? It means that we need to realize that unity in marriage, friendship or in the church isn’t something that we do ourselves. The Bible reminds us of this over and over – that it’s God who unites us and keeps us together, through the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirt.

  • When the bible talks to husbands about how to love their wives it says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:25)
  • When he talks to the wives he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col 3:18).
  • To the church he says we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21).
  • In Ephesians 4:3 it says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
  • In Philippians 2:2 it says, “…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

In all our relationships we are encouraged to always be connected to Jesus first and then others. Our relationship with Him is the foundational relationship for all others. If we are not forgiven by Him, how can we know to forgive others? If He doesn’t show us how to love sacrificially, then how can we love others that require our sacrifice?

Christian unity originates in God: The Holy Trinity of Father Son and Spirit is always united, and invites us to be united to them. The unity we have as Christians is remarkably different from anything the world has to offer. Non-Christians rally around politics, causes, moral issues, environmental concerns, and can built their unity around a singular cause. But the Christian church is not built around a cause, it is built around a person – the Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit inhabits all believers. And so as we commit ourselves to His name, His will, His promise, His model, His teaching, in His power, that we are able to put aside our mini-agendas.

What do I mean by mini-agendas: I mean setting aside our own desires and preferences because we see the relationship as more important. Yes, we want the dishes done, the food warm, the money situation fixed, our career to take off, the bedroom more exciting, our parenting better, the house cleaner, the toilet seat up or down, the toenail clippings and socks picked up, our in-laws dealt with, and finally get to choose the movie for once… but we set that aside for the sake of unity and because Jesus has told us to stay committed. We don’t let the bitterness take hold, and we ask God every day to help us with it.

Commitment 2: To obey the Word of God in all things.

Our second commitment that will help us maintain unity in our marriage and our church is to realize that God has given us commands and doctrines that we must be committed to. He never sacrifices the truth for the sake of a relationship, but He will always prioritizes a spirit of grace. Truth with Grace.

We commit our hearts to Jesus and our heads to the word of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Some people think that in order to avoid relationship problems, we have to avoid controversy and hard topics. They think that in order to avoid breaking up, we have to coat our conversations with little, white lies, for the sake of the other person. That’s absolutely wrong.

The Bible says that we need to know where we stand, be honest with God and one another, and then work towards an agreement about our faith, practices, theology, decisions, and everything else we need to work together. Lying causes bitterness and resentment, the truth sets us free.

Now, it’s impossible to consider a relationship, even a marriage, where everyone agrees about everything all the time. That would be amazing, but that’s not the whole point. No, what God wants us to do is be in the life-long process of growing in our knowledge of God and one another. God built differences into us, and that’s ok. It is for our benefit and growth that we bump up against, and marry, people that are very different than us. And lying to ourselves and others about who we really are sidesteps that gift.

A couple needs to be solidly united on the most important things in life: Our faith and theology about Jesus, the authority of scripture, what church we will attend together, whether they want children, where and how you plan on living… but the rest can be up for discussion and compromise. “Are we going to have a TV in the bedroom?”, “Do you put the forks in the dishwasher pointy side down or up?” or “Who makes the bed?” are not critical issues. They can be worked out – or discussed for the entirety of the marriage.

But the couple, and the church, must do the hard work of discussing the critical things in the relationship in an open, honest and Godly way. So your commitment, before you ever step into the conversation with the other person, is that you will be directed by the Word of God, honest in all you say, and gracious about everything that is non-essential.

Commitment 3: To develop Christ-like humility and submission.

Now, the third commitment we have to make before we can have unity in our marriages and church is the commitment to develop Christ-like character: especially humility and submission.

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much fun – because it isn’t. But I’m convinced that this is where so much of what we are trying to do falls apart. There are many believers who are theologically sound and love Jesus, but they refuse to humbly submit to someone else – whether it be their spouse or a brother or sister in the church. These folks want to be right and see that their mini-agendas get moved forward.

Their pride is what keeps the relationship from being united. They are right, and they will argue with, shout down, manipulate, nag and publically embarrass the other person as much as it takes until they cave. That’s the opposite of Christ-like humility and submission. Philippians 2:3-4 says to each of us – me, the elders, deacons, servants, teachers, musicians, sound guys, husbands, wives, children: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

If we want strong marriages and a strong church then we need to be willing to put our agenda aside as less important than the other’s. A relationship where your ideas are as good as, if not better than, mine. A relationship where you want to listen first and talk second. One where you desire to hear what the other person has to say – all they have to say – because you value them. A relationship where we set aside our own wants and desires because what we want might negatively affect someone else. Even if we really, really want it – and it’s totally within our grasp – we don’t get it or do it because the other person is more important. We show up when we don’t want to because we love the other person and want to support them. Where we spend as much time thinking about the other persons needs as we do thinking of our own.

Commitment 4: To respect and pursue God given diversity.

The fourth commitment we must make is to respect and pursue God given diversity. Just as Jesus accepted us, so we are to accept others. In our marriages this means we realize that we don’t need to turn our husbands or wives into someone else, but respect and love who God created them to be. In the church this means that we love and thank God for the fact that people are different. God doesn’t want us to be the same, but He does want us to work together for the same goal.

Throughout scripture, especially the New Testament, we are reminded that God made us different on purpose. Romans 12:4-8 says it this way:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This is certainly true in the church, but also in marriages. It’s a good thing that one is a free-spirit and the other a control-freak. It’s good that one is a spender and the other a saver, one likes action the other drama, one reads the other likes music, one emphasizes quality the other durability, one wants intimacy more often than the other, one a crier the other stoic, one an adventurer the other a homebody. Those are good things – and we need make the commitment before God that we will respect the differences in our spouse, thank God for them, and then allow God to help us become better people through them.

Diversity in marriage and in church can lead to amazing things. God purposefully puts different people together so He can better grow His kingdom. We need to experience diversity so we can see God work in new ways. It makes our lives, and our church, more interesting, more creative, and stronger.

The other side of this is that instead of envying people’s differences, we embrace our own uniqueness and thank God for it. Romans 15:7 says we need to “accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Our mutual respect for each other brings praise to God! We don’t accept each other’s sins, but we do embrace our differences. God treats us like an orchestra – each instrument of unique individual value and beauty, but blending together under one Conductor, playing complimentary parts of one glorious composition.

Commitment 5: To NOT GIVE UP.

And finally, the fifth commitment that you have to make within yourself, before God, is that you won’t give up. That you will earnestly strive to prayerfully pursue peace, resolve your conflict, preserve the relationship, and stay stuck together like glue, no matter what. The key word is commitment.

Remember the words of the traditional marriage vows – words that people aren’t using anymore because they seem to hard-core:

“I, take you, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.”

Those are words of strong commitment before God, and they represent the commitment that Jesus made to you. They almost sound like Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Satan is always sowing seeds of doubt, conflict, offence and division among people. He wants our joy diminished, our worship of God to be lessened, and our witness for Christ destroyed. He wants to make our lives difficult so that we won’t be able to work together against his demonic kingdom.

The best way to deal with these seeds is to be committed to being humble and gentle with one another and pursue, pursue, pursue everything it takes for peace! Forgive the little irritations, overlook minor offences, bear with those who disappoint is, and lovingly correct and deal with the sins are too serious to overlook.

Conclusion

As we make these commitments in our own hearts before God we will be able to say:

“Yes, we have conflict in [our marriage and] in our church – who doesn’t? But Jesus has transformed the way we deal with conflict. We discuss our differences candidly and fervently, but we refuse to let them divide us. We will not walk away from our marriages or from our friends. And we will not leave our church just because we’ve been offended or things are not going exactly as we want. Our relationships are a testimony to the reconciling power of the gospel of Christ, and we will strive with every ounce of our strength to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (From Peacemakers.net)

Let’s work together in this to honour God with our marriages, our relationships and our church.