Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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Security In Christ

Acts 9:32-43 and John 10:22-30

 Jesus is in Jerusalem at Hanukkah.  Now, what’s that? You might be wondering.  I mean, we probably all know that Hanukkah happens around the same time as Christmas, and it lasts eight days, but just what does it celebrate?  

 You won’t find the answer in the Bible.  This is most recent Jewish festival, and the only one not described in Scripture.  It dates from the time between the Old and New Testaments, and those writings are not included in most Bibles, unless you get one with the Apocrypha.  

 It is a festival to remember the rededication of the Temple in the second century BC.  At that time, Judea was under the control of a king named Antiochus Ephipanes IV.  He was a Greek, and he reigned over the Kingdom of Syria, which controlled Judea.  That whole region had fallen under the control of the Greeks in the 4th century BC when Alexander the Great decided that Greece was such a fantastic place that they really ought to conquer the rest of the world and make everyone and everything Greek.  He nearly succeeded, until he died.  After he died, his empire was split into four parts to be ruled by his generals.  Antiochus was one of the descendants of those Greek generals.

 And Antiochus also really liked the sound of this whole “make the world Greece” thing.  And he decided to stamp out all religions other than Greek religions, including Judaism.  He made it illegal to own a copy of the Torah, the Jewish Law, and illegal to circumcise a male child.  He turned the Jerusalem Temple into a house of prostitution.  He erected an altar to Zeus in the Holy and Holies and proceeded to sacrifice a pig on it himself.  

 That didn’t sit well with the Jews.  A man named Judas Maccabeus led the revolt, and they succeeded in driving the Greeks out of Jerusalem, and eventually out of Judea.  The Temple was rededicated.  The reason for the eight nights is that, according to the legend, there was only enough holy oil in the Temple to light the Menorah for one day, but by a miracle, it lasted for eight.  Thus the origin of Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

 Almost two centuries later, Jesus is in the Temple at Hanukkah.  He is in Solomon’s Colonnade, which was the covered porch to the east of the Temple.  And the Jewish religious leaders ask him, “Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?”  

 Now Jesus had told some people plainly who he was.  He told the Samaritan woman at the well that he was the Messiah.  He told the man born blind that he was the Son of Man.  At some point he told the disciples that he was the Messiah.  But those were all in private moments.  Was there a public declaration from Jesus that he was the Messiah?

 I think the answer is yes.  But not in words.  As Jesus says, “The proof is what I do in the name of my Father.”  Jesus taught with authority.  He taught with an authority equal to the word of God.  And he did miracles, miracles that only God could do:  healing a man born blind, feeding 5000 with five loaves and two fishes, walking on the water, calming the wind and waves, and so on.  

 Are miracles irrefutable proof of the divine?  I think the answer this time, is no, they are not.  And I say that because the person of faith will see them and be encouraged by them, but the person who is closed off to God will not see them or will not attribute them to God.  I think of the story of Paul on the road to Damascus, which we talked about last Sunday.  There were others with Paul when he saw Jesus and heard his voice.  But they did not see Jesus, and while they heard the sound of a voice, it seems that they did not understand it.  Sometimes, people who lack faith in God attribute miracles to chance or some other cause.  As I once read, “Our eyes are only capable of seeing what our hearts and minds are capable of receiving.” 

 Jesus says to them, “You don’t believe because you are not part of my flock.  You don’t hear my voice.”  To hear God’s voice was a Jewish way of saying to obey God.  The Jewish religious leaders, for the most part, refused to hear Jesus or submit to his authority.  They were closed off to him.  

 But Jesus says of his sheep:  “They recognize my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life.  They will never perish.  No one can snatch them out of my hand.  I can do this because my Father is all powerful, and the Father and I are one.”  

 What does it mean to have security in Christ?  Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that we will not have troubles or struggles or trials.  As a matter of fact, Jesus promised that we would have them if we follow him.  In John 16, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  

 And security in Christ certainly doesn’t mean that we will be protected from the death of our bodies.  But that does not mean that we do not have eternal life in Christ.  Biblically speaking, eternal life is not something we look forward to in the future.  Eternal life is something we have right now in Christ.  In John 5:24, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”  And in Colossians 2:12, we read, “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”  Notice that in both of those texts, the passage from death to eternal life is something that has already happened.  

Normally, when the New Testament refers to “life and death,” it is talking about spiritual life and death.  We are spiritually dead in our sins apart from Christ.  When we come to Christ, we experience spiritual life.  If we do not have a relationship with God, we are spiritually dead.  The idea is that spiritual life and death are more real and more important than physical life and death.  Our security is that if we are in the hands of Jesus, then nothing and no one can take us away from Christ.  That’s the idea of chapter 8 in Romans where Paul goes on and on about “What can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ?  Life, death, height, depth, angels, demons, etc, etc.?”  And the answer is nothing.  

One of the other Scripture texts for today is Revelation 17:9-17.  Revelation describes the great multitude who are sealed with the name of the Lamb and the name of the Father.  And it says that God shelters them.  God wipes away their tears.  God cares for them.  That all sounds pretty good.  But this great multitude is also described as those who have come out of the great tribulation, the time of persecution and martyrdom that precedes the return of Christ.  They have been persecuted, even put to death for their faith.  Their security comes in their relationship to God, not in the ease or comfort they have experienced in this life.

In Acts chapter 9, we hear the story of Peter healing Aeneas, who had been paralyzed, and raising Dorcas, also called Tabitha, from the dead.  These miracles confirmed the gospel message with divine power as it was spread in the region of Joppa, Lydda, and the Plain of Sharon.  The miracles were primarily to demonstrate the activity of God, not simply for the benefit of two individuals.  In the end, both Aeneas and Dorcas died.  But the miracles done persist in our memory to this day.  

Do miracles still happen today?  I think they do.  I’ve certainly heard of plenty of them in my time.  But a person whose mind is closed off to the work of God might say that they were just good luck or something that we simply can’t explain yet.  Some Christians argue that the kind of miracles we see described in the New Testament are much more likely to happen in “apostolic settings,” meaning when the gospel first comes into an area where it has not been proclaimed before.  

I think there is a contemporary relevance to this discussion.  In the last couple of generations, we have seen the rise in America of the “health and wealth gospel.”  The idea is that if you have enough faith, and if you do enough good deeds, then God will reward you with good health and prosperity.  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  

I think the prosperity gospel is rooted more in American values than biblical values.  American culture values youth, good health, and greed, the acquisition of material things.  Scripture makes it clear to me that God is far more concerned with our spiritual life than our wealth or comfort.  The health and wealth gospel just baptizes our cultural values and covers them up with a veneer of religion.  God’s wonderful plan for your life might include you learning to trust him through difficulty, or even to die as a martyr for your faith.  

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