Jesus: The Miracle Worker

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Our walk of faith is grounded in the miraculous, but grows through ordinary means of grace.

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How much emphasis do we place on this world? What percentage of your prayer life is petitioning for health or income? How much of your political decision making is rooted in economy or “equity”? Are there realms where we are blind and need to be awakened? Are there realms where we are too polarized and need to be reformed?
Today’s text involves Jesus’ instruction to those who were closest to him following a discussion with someone whose priorities were keeping him from the life God intends.
The modernists at the dawn of the 20th century had a very similar problem to RYM (we’ll call him Richard) in the first century who approached Jesus. As the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, Richard will illustrate the first condition in this sermon, George the Gnostic will illustrate the second condition, and Dwayne the Dual Citizen sill illustrate the third.
Transition: Those who fixate on the current, often deny the greater realities.

RichardNeglects the Eternal (Spiritual) Kingdom (Matthew 19:23-30)

Earthly goods (Luke 12:15)

Luke 12:20 describes as a fool, one who places too much priority on the things of this life.
Matt 6:32-33 separates the things we need in this life, which our Father knows about, from the passions of this life which Richard pursued to the exclusion of God’s work to the rest of humanity.

Earthly comforts (1 Kings 3:11-13)

1. The same Solomon who requested wisdom of God also wrote Ecclesiastes. I don’t know when Ecclesiastes was written, but I’m convinced it was experiencedbefore 1 Kings 3.The book is introduced and concluded with the same phrase, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity”
2. What brought Solomon to this conclusion was a pursuit of all the comforts of Earth: Philosophy, Self-indulgence, disciplined living, career, wealth, and honor/power. These all left him empty and lacking compared to seeking God and His righteousness.

Earthly results (1 Corinthians 3:12-13)

1. Career and toil are part of the experiment that brought Solomon to the Ecclesiastes conclusion.
The emergence of something called media influencers in recent years still baffles me. The heiress to the Hilton hotel dynasty, began to think that because she was wealthy, her opinion mattered. She was just the first in my recollection of someone who pretended to be someone, even though he or she had done nothing. TV and social media have since tried to make “influencers” out of people who have accomplished nothing, but fame: Kardashians, Real Housewives, those who live on the Jersey Shore, and some man named Dylan Mulvaney have all been leveraged to sell products to Americans.
2. The Bible claims that eventually all effort and results will be testing. The fire of judgment will determine if results will last.
Transition: While Richard (the young rich man) reveals the shortcomings of a life that is 100% earthly, George (the Gnostic) exposes the wisdom of physical reality.

GeorgeDenies the Earthly (Physical) Kingdom (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

Much like the cult of so-called “Christian Science”, there have existed for millennia people who are so other-worldly, that they claim this life is evil, meaningless or to be discredited. These are the folks who read 1 Tim 4:8 then take the word that modern translations call some and KJV calls little; and interpret to mean none.
1 Timothy 4:8 ESV:2016
8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Jesus Physical body (Luke 24:39)

1. Last week we discussed the miracle of God in the 2nd person temporarily laying aside his glory and limiting himself to the form of humanity.
2. If the Gnostics are right that physical body is undesirable, why did Jesus take on this form?
3. I believe the physical nature of God’s incarnation (taking on human flesh) is not only good, but necessary for our atonement (that we will study next week)

Jesus’ Embodiment in this age (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

1. The body of Christ is the manifest presence of the mind of God in this age.
I throw no shade on educators who did the best of their ability with the best of their skills as they had been trained. But zoom classrooms have proven to be an inadequate substitute for face-to-face interaction between teacher and student. All of my master’s and doctoral studies have been via hybrid teaching methods. Pre-course and post class reading and assignments that supplement personal interaction with colleagues and professors.
2. I value those who join us via Facebook, YouTube or Podcast downloads! These tools are great blessings to us as a supplement to personal time in the Word and Prayer as well as shared outreach and mutual ministry. But at best these are aids during a season of life until we are able and blessed to participate bodily in the life of a local church.
3. Ever since Second Life became a virtual meeting place, I have been aware of Christians trying to proclaim the gospel in these spaces. The pandemic brought to the surface all the questions of embodied church. Can VR glasses substitute for a physical testimony through baptismal waters or the breaking of bread and wine together? I’ve seen bathtub baptisms that are shared on social media as a testimony of personal faith. But I’ve also experienced a different level of support when a person comes out of the water and is cheered by family and friends in real time.
4. Your life circumstances may restrict your participation in an embodied worship or service environment for a season, but the normative expression of the mind and work of Christ today is through cooperative and corporeal bodies.

Disembodied Souls yearn to be clothed (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

1. As good as it is to one day be freed from the frailties, weakness, sickness and scars of human fallenness, Paul states unequivocally that souls set free from the body yearn for something more.
2. Some read of a new Heaven and a new Earth and reason (contrary to the Eden mandate) that we should “use up” or are permitted to destroy the current earth. They read 1 Cor 15:44 that describes the promise of a spiritual body and reason that the present body is an enemy of grace.
I will admit that I the majority of my life, I have fallen into shades of this Gnostic heresy. I once had a friend claim, “Drive it like a rental!” With the assumption that a rental can be mistreated because it will be returned and long term usefulness doesn’t matter. Too much of my Dr. Pepper habit that contributed to my diabetes was due to thinking like Gnostic George.
3. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I was challenged with the reality that Jesus’ resurrection body possessed continuity with his crucified body and that our future eternal body will (I have concluded) have some sort of continuity with our current reality.
Transition: The weakness of George’s current situation makes a wise person want to be like Dwayne, with both a current covering AND a future hope.

DwayneEmbraces Dual Citizenship (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

Augustine’s theory in practice (Philippians 3:20)

1. St. Augustine developed Paul’s idea of present/absent into an idea of living in one city (earth) while being citizen of another city (Heaven).
2. It just may be that a wise and omnipotent God knows what He is doing when He places each human in time and space. He is aware of the capacities of our brothers and sister who are persecuted around the world and He is aware of your capacities when He placed you here at the dawning of the 3rd Millennium since Christ.
I have enjoyed being in Russia, India, Costa Rica, and a few countries of Europe, but those places weren’t home; I was just a visitor. As a visitor I was respectful of their cultures, and did nothing to rebel (other than privately eat a piece of beef jerky while surrounded by Hindus).
3. Dual Citizen Dwayne lives on Christ’s mission on Earth while maintaining Citizenship in the eternal city.

Put on a cover (2 Corinthians 5:3)

1. Part of dual citizenship is realizing both eternal and present expectations.
2. Ever since Eden, unclothed bodies need to be clothed and Paul describes the soul as unclothed and desirous of covering.

Reordering priorities (Matthew 19:28, 1 Corinthians 10:31)

1. Our goal is not abandonment – as dual citizens we cannot afford to be destructive of the world where we are placed. When Jewish people were living as refugees, they were instructed to seek flourishing wherever they found themselves. (Jer 29:7)
2. Our goal is not Utopia – as dual citizens we cannot try to make this city into that city, that only happens after Christ returns!
3. Our purpose is Soli Deo Gloria
Paul’s conclusion is that whether absent or present, he would seek God’s glory above all else.
Transition: Richard couldn’t look beyond this world. George vainly attempts to escape this world. Dwayne seeks to thrive by walking in faith from this world into the next.

Conclusion:

EVERY single person who ever observed or received a miracle eventually died. Every earthly blessing/benefit gave way to eternal reality.
I neither deny the earthly miracle, nor seek it as my greatest solution to my greatest need.
While some looks to signs and wonders as the normative experience of living by faith, I’ve spent some time this week reflecting on the ordinary means of grace.
Our walk of faith is grounded in the miraculous, but grows through ordinary means of grace.
Google that phrase and you will get several ideas of what is ordinary. Some preach good works as ordinary ways of experiencing God’s blessing. Some ignore the role of Scripture in God’s extension of grace. Some add sacraments of church authority to those which communicate the Gospel.
I find comfort in the Westminster Confession, a document that is older than our country, that helps me understand what believers in another time and place concluded was the ordinary means by which God expresses His grace to conform believer into the image of Christ. The Westminster Standards reads, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
Consider with me Mary at the wedding in Cana. Besides the conversation with Jesus, we have no record of any messages from God in over 30 years. We have no record of Jesus doing any signs or wonders (besides impressing the Rabbis at the age of 12). Yet she informed Jesus of the lack of Wine. I don’t know what she expected, but I know what Jesus did. Did Mary expect water into wine? Did Mary expect her oldest son to go to the vineyard for more wine? Whatever she expected, the miraculous happened.
I believe in miracles AND I pursue the ordinary means of God’s purpose being accomplished in me and our world.
Will you join me in prioritizing listening to the Word(privately and in community), obedience to the ordinances that tell the gospel story, and faith in the transformation that only happens through prayer.
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