Monday, May 26, 2014

Grace Foundation Part 2

This Sunday we continued the “Grace Foundation” series. In it, we are looking at the obvious foundation of God’s grace that flows throughout the Word – even during the time when the law “ruled” the people.  In this part we looked at the story of Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah declares that the law is to be read to all the people in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem. They have been living without the law for quite a while, and without God’s guidance and precepts, they were not getting God’s results. They were a shell of what they once were because they had fallen away from God’s ways of doing things.

When we disobey God and experience defeat, it is not God punishing us for disobedience, but simply us not getting God’s desired results because we’ve failed to operate within His systems. This was the case with God’s people in Jerusalem.  Some may believe that this is what we need today. The world is in disarray. What we must need is the law shouted from the rooftops. Nehemiah lived in the day before Jesus, however, before the Holy Spirit and before redemption. The law was all they had.


This reading of the law was a special occasion. Normally, a reading like this would be only attended by men, but we read that all the men, women, and any who could understand were present. It was important that everyone heard this. We have seen how sometimes even the husbands don’t do the best job relating what God has to say to their wives (i.e. Adam and Abraham).  The people stood for six hours as the law was read, and after it was done, they mourned and wept. That is what the law will do; it will condemn. The people became very aware of how far they had fallen short of pleasing God.

Now, all of this happens on the first day of the seventh month – which on the Hebrew calendar was New Year’s Day. It was called the feast of trumpets. It was a day where the people came together to bring offerings and to ask for God’s favor (grace) upon their soil as they began to sow seed for the next year. This is somewhat like what we do by attending church on the first day of the week. We bring praise and offering and bring blessing to our soil that we will be planting into – first the soil of our hearts and also the soil of the earth that we work in.

While the law was being read, the Levite priests were among the crowd to help them understand what was being read to them. This is a picture of the Holy Spirit. This is why I have the congregation physically ask the Holy Spirit to be their teacher at the beginning of every sermon. I do my best to be Spirit-led in my teaching, but the Holy Spirit is there to help you learn what the Word means. It is not enough to simply read the Word or listen to a pastor read the Word to you. You need the Holy Spirit to teach you what it means.

At the mourning, Nehemiah declares that they should not weep or mourn, but celebrate. He declares that they should eat the choice foods and drinks and then take some to those who were not there.

One thing I find very interesting about that declaration is that it also says a lot about the assignment of the church. Think about who it is that would not have already been there at the assembly – those who did not understand. Who is that to us? It represents the lost, who do not have the Holy Spirit who makes them able to understand. What were they to take to those people? It was not the law, but the choice food and drink from the meeting place of God.

The church then should be a place full of great joy and celebration and “choice food” that can be taken out to those who do not understand. If they weren’t going to understand the “law” from the “priest,” why do we think they will understand it when WE beat them over the head with it? They understand joy and celebration. That will draw them to the source of the celebration (If I be lifted up, I will draw all men…).  So, even at this reading of the law, God saw it important that there be a joyous celebration. Why do we celebrate even at the reading of the law? We do so because the blood of Jesus has justified us apart from our ability to obey the law!

In Matthew 12, Jesus had a confrontation with the Pharisees over the authority of the law. The Pharisees saw his disciples eating grain off the ground in a field on the Sabbath. This was against law. They accused Him because, if He allowed His disciples to break the law, they thought He must not be who He said He was. Notice that Jesus did not eat the grain. He was keeping the law for us, but the hunger of His disciples was more important than a rule.

He answers their question, like any good defense attorney (remember, that is one of the things He is for us), with a question. He points out the hypocrisy of their accusation with examples from the Old Testament – how David and His men ate food consecrated for the priests and how, technically, priests themselves break the law when they WORK in the temple on the Sabbath. He illustrates the problem with law. Law is black and white, and the world is not. The spirit of the Sabbath was rest, but their observance became work and it lacked grace and love.

They used the presence of a man with a shriveled hand to try and trick Jesus also. Instead of being concerned with the man’s healing or well-being, they wanted to catch Jesus breaking the law.  Remember what Paul said in Galatians 4 – law always persecutes grace. Jesus asks them if they would rescue one of their sheep that fell into a ditch on the Sabbath or let it die, as well as whether a man is not more important than a sheep.  Then He tells the man to stretch out that crippled hand and be healed. Was it a sin to heal on the Sabbath? Even this does not answer the question because Jesus is not the one who did the WORK of healing. The man stretched out his hand and received healing. In the man’s world, grace just superseded law. What an awesome picture.

Were the Pharisees amazed and converted? No. They then plotted how that might kill Jesus. Once again, this is what law does when faced with grace. Law sees grace as its death sentence and will fight it with all its might.  Let grace rule in your life!


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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Grace Foundation Part 1

Last Sunday I began a new series called “Grace Foundation,” where we are examining the threads that wind through the entire Bible that show that God has always made grace the foundation for all He does. 

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul creates the frame that we use to look at Old Testament story of Abraham. He helps us see what Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac all represent in a spiritual sense from the New Testament perspective. Ishmael was born of Hagar, a slave woman. He was born in the ordinary way, meaning there was nothing supernatural about his birth. His birth came without needing to trust in God in any way. Paul says that this represents the law. If you live your life trying to be justified by the rules you keep and the things you avoid doing, that requires no power from God.

Isaac was born of the promise. Yes, Abraham and Sarah had to do the physical “work” required to conceive a child, but they both did so when they knew their bodies were incapable of producing a child without God’s intervention. You will only receive the promise that comes from living in the grace of God by believing and receiving what He promised, apart from your works.

After they received the promise, it was time to throw out the slave woman and her child. With these things in mind, now let’s look at what it says in Genesis 16. Hagar actually leaves twice. The first time was by her own choice, and the second was by Abraham’s demand. Each has spiritual significance for the New Testament believer.

In Genesis 16:2, we find that Sarah (Sarai at the time – God had not yet changed their names yet) was frustrated that they had not received the promise. She decided it was because God had chosen not to fulfill that promise. It is important, whenever you read the Bible, to not just treat everything that is said as truth. I know that sounds odd. But you must know WHO is talking and TO WHOM they are speaking.  There are many beliefs people have about God that are based on things that HE did not say. The book of Job contains many of these. GOD didn’t say, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Job’s friends said that. In Genesis 16, God did not say He was keeping Sarah from having a child. Sarah said that. Now, let’s not get upset with Sarah for her unbelief. I think Abraham has a role to play.

If you read the previous chapter carefully, you’ll find that the promises were made by God to Abraham. It would have been up to Abraham to make sure his wife understood what God said. I think this is the same error that Adam made in the Garden. God told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and what would happen if they did. When the serpent tempts Eve, it becomes clear that she didn’t have the information quite right. Eve may have eaten of the fruit first, but she was deceived because Adam may not have properly informed her. So, communication issues between husbands and wives are no new thing!


Let’s look at this first time that Hagar leaves. After she becomes pregnant with Ishmael, it says that she began to despise Sarah. Most of the translations use the word despise, but the New Living  Translation uses the word contempt, which is closer to the Hebrew word originally used. Contempt is a strong word with a meaning that gives a clearer picture of what was happening between Sarah and Hagar.  You would think that it would be Sarah who despised Hagar – being jealous that she was carrying her husband’s child. Why would Hagar be bothered? When we see the word contempt, it explains it. Remember, in Galatians 4, Paul said that law persecutes grace. Contempt is not just anger or bitterness but involves a feeling of superiority. Hagar saw herself as superior to Sarah because she could produce what Sarah could not (or at least what Sarah did not believe she could produce).

Law minded believers look at those who profess to live by grace with superiority and contempt. They feel superior because they work way harder than you do at “pleasing God.”  They believe they can produce something others cannot – righteousness, but their righteousness is a SELF-righteousness and actually produces nothing. Paul said that the child born of the slave woman cannot inherit the promises.

Sarah then begins to mistreat Hagar until she can take it no more and decides to leave. So Hagar is gone, right? No. In Genesis 16:7, God tells Hagar that she must go back and submit to Sarah.  There is great spiritual significance to this act. Remember how Paul told us to look at what each character in this story represents. Hagar (law) was required to go back and submit to Sarah (grace). This was only for a season, because later God wants them to cast her out.

I believe this span of time of Hagar being required to submit to Sarah represents the time between Moses and the Cross. Law was going to come, but it was required to submit to grace. Once the true promise came, it was to be cast out.  The law came through Moses and was in effect as the means of justification until Jesus, the promised seed, came and established a new covenant. Then the law was cast out as a means of righteousness.

Even when the law reigned, it was set aside for grace. King David is a prime example. He had committed at least two sins that, under the law that ruled in his lifetime, were punishable by death. He committed murder and adultery. So, why did God not enforce the written code regarding David? I believe it is because David had a revelation of grace.

God is silent for a while after this.  When we create messes by our effort, it is our job to maintain them.  BUT God was silent because Adam never consulted Him or asked for help.  If we cry out, like David did, God will always come to our aid and walk us through it back into grace.

I’ve taught previously that grace is not a free pass to sin but a true means of dealing with sin. Under law, when you sin you feel condemned and you hide from God. When you are truly under grace, you run TO God when you sin. This is what David would do. The fact that he did shows us that, while he lived under the law, he was not law minded. Something bigger than the law showed him that running TO God was the thing to do.

When you look at the things that made Jesus angry during his time on earth, you find that it is always in some way related to man putting rules over love and grace. Healing on the Sabbath? What was more important? Even the clearing of the temple of the money changers related to this. They were essentially using man-made law as a way to control the people and profit from the law.

Finally, in Exodus 20, immediately following the giving of the ten commandments, God has the people do something remarkable in its ability to show that grace was still the principle thing. The first order of business was to build an altar, but there were a couple specifics about this altar that demonstrate how God values man’s works.  In verses 25-26, He instructs them that the stones used for the altar cannot be touched by man’s tools. They were to be left as they found them – as God made them. Once they used their tools on them they would not be holy because they would be tainted with man’s works. Then He also instructs them that there cannot be any steps made to get to the altar because it would cause people to be able to see up someone’s cloak and view their nakedness.  There were many other things God had instructed them to do that would run the same risk of possible immodesty. Why was this one so important? He wanted no “man made” steps to be made, anything that people would be required to do to get to His presence. Doing so would reveal nakedness.

So many people complain that Christians are such hypocrites. They establish all these rules and restrictions, and they don’t even do what they preach, or they keep rules but don’t love people. We set up all these steps to being qualified to be near God and pretend we’re holy by our works. All the while, we only reveal our nakedness. None of our works will ever make us worthy of God’s presence!

 To listen to the entire sermon go to  To learn more about Living Word Ahwatukee, visit