Jesus and Blindness (Mark 8:11-33)
Jesus and Blindness (Mark 8:11-33)

Marc Sims • September 20, 2020

Sermon Audio Recording

Sermon Manuscript:

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Mark 8:11-33

Draw three three circles on a piece of paper, with a dot in the center. These three circles represent three different types of “knowledge.” The dot at the center represents Truth, and the circle represents our distance from the truth. On the first circle, draw a line from the edge of the circle directly towards the dot at the center. This could be what we call “simple knowledge.” It is knowledge that comes about by a direct exposure to evidence. So, if you had never known that a kiwi was fuzzy because you had never seen a kiwi and then one day found a kiwi, you now know that a kiwi is fuzzy. 

On the next circle, draw a line that traces the outside edge of the circle. This could be called “relativistic knowledge.” This is the belief that it is impossible to ever arrive at the truth and that our own previous experiences, commitments, worldviews permanently blind us from ever arriving at Truth—all we have is our own relative perspectives. So maybe you have one perspective on systemic racism and police brutality and someone else has a perspective on Covid-19 and someone else has a perspective on how to vote this November, but because Truth is relative, all you can do is yell and intimidate one another because there is no concrete Truth that has sway over all of us, regardless of our perspectives and worldviews. 

On the last circle, draw a line from the edge of the circle that spirals in around and towards the center of the dot. We could call this “tempered knowledge.” This is the belief that acknowledges that we all are powerfully affected by our previously held commitments, worldviews, experiences, and those often create roadblocks that prevent us from having a direct access to knowledge (at least in the way “simple knowledge” does). But, this disagrees with “relativistic knowledge” in that it admits that there is such a thing as Truth, and we, from one degree to another, can move closer and closer to the Truth. And with each step closer, we realize what some of our baggage is that is limiting us from accepting the Truth, choose to set it aside, and move even closer, which reveals more limitations we were previously blind to, and can choose to set those aside, and so on and so forth.

As we look at our text today, we are going to get to interact with all three of these different perspectives as we ask the question: How can I arrive at the Truth of knowing and embracing Jesus Christ?

Total Unbelief

Mark opens up with Jesus being accosted by the Pharisees: “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” (Mark 8:11-13).

In Mark’s gospel the word “to test” is not a positive word. It can also mean “to tempt” and it is only used of the Pharisees accusations and of Satan’s temptations of Christ. It is not an impartial, unbiased evaluation of the evidence. It is motivated reasoning. It is an intentional effort to interpret Jesus in as negative of a light as possible. They are looking for ways to discredit Jesus as a false Messiah (cf. John 8:6). Like spiders weaving webs to catch their prey, the Pharisees are engaging in questions with Jesus only to entrap Him. 

Jesus asks why the Pharisees are even seeking a sign before curtly telling them that He will not give them any signs, and then promptly leaves. Why doesn’t Jesus perform a sign for them? The simple answer, of course, is that Jesus has given them signs. Repeatedly, throughout Mark’s gospel account the Pharisees have witnessed Jesus’ miracles, healings, and exorcisms. And what is the conclusion they have reached? In Mark 3, they are convinced that Jesus performs all these wonders because He is in league with Satan! They have already begun to plot out His death (Mark 3:6). Any other signs Jesus would have performed would have done nothing to allay their doubts. Even after Jesus is put to death and resurrects from the dead, what do they do? We are told that they pay off the Roman guards to tell everyone that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while they were asleep (Matt 28:11-15). That is a remarkable, willful resistance to accept the truth.

While I was in seminary, a certain professor was giving a lecture that a friend of mine and myself attended. I had read a book by this professor ahead of time that I disagreed with and I walked away from the lecture fairly unimpressed. But my friend, who is far smarter and far godlier than I am, went away raving about how enlightening the lecture was. Why didn’t I get the same experience? Well, likely because I went into the lecture predisposed to look for something to disagree with, and so I was blind to be able to receive anything profitable from him. My friend didn’t have that predisposition, and simply had a heart and mind that was prepared to receive, and this enabled him to glean fruit that I couldn’t. This is what the Pharisees are like—they do not lack evidence, they lack hearts that are willing to accept that evidence and all of its implications. They lack the ability to admit that they were wrong. And so they persist in their unbelief.

This is a sobering reminder for us: our commitments radically affect how we interpret reality. The woman who is in an unhealthy relationship which everyone can see but her; those on the extreme edges of the political spectrum who can see no wrong with their candidates; the self-righteous man who angrily denies he has done anything wrong. We all can be blinded by previously held commitments and can warp and twist any evidence, any information to the contrary so that the arrows of conviction that should wound us, should tell us we might be wrong, are blunted and bounce off of us. How do we guard our hearts from this? What should you do when confronted with a claim that seems to contradict a previously held belief?

This could turn into a lengthy rabbit trail, but it basically boils down to humility. Are you willing to admit you might be wrong? Are you willing to acknowledge that your understanding, the narrative you have been telling yourself may be incorrect? Perhaps you are a skeptic listening today, and I wonder if you are, in your heart of hearts, willing to admit that your previously held commitments might be wrong? Are you willing to extend the same skepticism towards your own worldview that you extend towards the Christian faith? Maybe there is a worldview with more explanatory power, more satisfying answers for the problems of this world that you have been cut off from because you have dismissed it out of hand. Can you be consistent with your skepticism and apply it just as much to your own previously held commitments?

The Pharisees could not, and so were left utterly blind to who Jesus was. But what of Jesus’ disciples? Surely, here there must be a deeper understanding, more accuracy of who Jesus is, right? Well, sort of.

Partial Belief

Jesus speaks a parable of warning to the disciples: “Watch out: Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod,” (8:15). Jesus is speaking, as He usually does, in the form of a parable—there is a spiritual truth cloaked behind the literal meaning of the words that requires spiritual eyes to discern its meaning. Jesus is not concerned about bread products that come from the Pharisees or King Herod. “Leaven” was a metaphor for the teaching, the lifestyle, the worldviews of the two: the leaven of rigid, cold hearted self-righteousness (Pharisees) and the leaven of a lawless, sensual worldliness (Herod). There are two extremes by which one can run away from God—religion or sensuality, the prodigal son or the elder brother, self-righteousness or self-indulgence. 

But the disciples completely miss this and think instead that Jesus is making a comment about their lack of literal bread. Jesus then launches into a barrage of critiques, piling up question after question: “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:17-21). The two words that Jesus begins his warning in verse 15 with are verbs for “see”—Jesus in effect says, “See, see!” only to discover that his disciples “having eyes do…not see.”

Jesus abandons his lesson of the parable and turns towards the profound unbelief of his disciples by asking them about the two feeding miracles. The disciples are worried about not having enough bread; they are consumed with their immediate needs and this has blinded them from being able to see the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching. So their unbelief is twofold—(1) their worried about running out of food, when they have just witnessed Jesus miraculously multiply bread and fish (twice!). Jesus is a walking grocery store, but they are still worried. And (2) this worry—setting their minds on the things of man—has led them to totally misunderstand Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is astounded at their unbelief.

Jesus disciples are not made up of sage gurus, mystical gnostics, or brilliant philosophers who have peered into the mysteries of the universe and discerned the beginning from the end. Mark has written his gospel account so that the reader is left somewhat shocked by the unbelief of the disciples—I mean, if you witnessed the feeding miracles, don’t you think you wouldn’t be worried about not having enough bread? Right?

Well, maybe. It is easy while reading to laugh at how dense the disciples appear to be, but I wonder if we were in their shoes if we would be any different. How many times has God answered prayer, come through, revealed His goodness to you, and yet we still doubt? I know God has gotten me through hard times before, but I don’t know about this, our hearts often tell us. Friends, we are very much like the disciples. 

Sight in Stages

Mark expertly places Jesus’ next healing account in his story for a very specific purpose. After marveling at his disciples’ unbelief, Jesus travels to Bethsaida where he is immediately met by a group of people bringing a blind man to him, begging Jesus to heal him. Jesus pulls the blind man aside and (just as we saw last week with the deaf man) uses his spittle to heal him. As odd as this is to us, saliva was often used in healings of the first century. But what is more intriguing about this healing is that it is the only healing recorded in all of the gospels that happens in stages. After Jesus spits and lays his hands on the man, he asks him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking,” (Mark 8:23-24). So, the man’s sight is restored—but only partially. “Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly,” (Mark 8:25). 

What is happening here? Jesus is showing us, and his disciples, a physical picture of what is happening to them spiritually. Remember, Jesus tells his disciples to “look, look!” back in verse 15, and then lamented, “you have eyes, but you do not see, you do not perceive” in verse 18. Blindness is repeatedly used by Jesus and the Bible as a metaphor for the spiritual state of those alienated from God. The disciples are like this man has had his sight partially restored. They are not like the Pharisees, who are totally blind. But they also do not see everything clearly. They see dimly. This is illustrated again by the immediately following story (which we will look at much more closely next week).

Jesus asks His disciples who He is, and Peter gives the correct answer: “You are the Messiah.” In Matthew’s account of this, Jesus praises Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” (Matt 16:17). God is at work in Peter’s heart, revealing truth to Him. “Flesh and blood” is a biblical idiom that just means what is natural and normal to mankind, apart from God. In other words, Peter could not have come to that conclusion on His own—God revealed it to him. If that isn’t a description of “seeing clearly” than I’m not sure what is!

Nevertheless, the great confession of Peter, is ironically almost immediately met by the great rebuke from Jesus. Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he will be killed and three days later, rise again. Mark tells us, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man,” (Mark 8:33).

Isn’t this astonishing? In one breath, Jesus is praising Peter and acknowledging that God has revealed truth to him, then in the next he acknowledges that Peter is thinking like Satan! Peter is somehow filled with God’s insight, and Satan’s thinking, simultaneously. This is Peter, the leader of the disciples, representing what all of Jesus’ disciples are like—seeing partially, but still blind; understanding in a way, but still confused; believing, but still filled with unbelief.

So, how should we apply this truth to ourselves today? What should we do when we come face to face with our own unbelief?

Do Not Despair

Jesus’ own disciples, the core team of the Jesus movement, the foundation on which the church is built, were filled with doubts, ignorance, and unbelief. And yet, Jesus still chooses them, still uses them, still calls them “friends” and “brothers,” still loves them. If you find within yourself unsettling depths of doubt, seasons of skepticism, or even the lingering thought do I really believe this? while walking the Christian life, do not despair. God rescues us from our blindness, but we only see partially. While in Jesus we are saved from the penalty of sin, and the power of sin, we are not yet delivered from the presence of sin, and won’t be till the day we die. So, we ought not despair when our sin still taints even the best of our good works with lingering doubts, unbelief, misunderstandings, or total misapprehensions about God. 

Two friends are skating on a frozen pond. One is under the impression that the I  ce will become thinner the further out you go, so he is anxious and timid as he skates towards the center. The other knows that when a pond freezes, the ice is actually the thickest in the center, so he skates at the center of the lake with a peace of mind. One of the skaters is filled with fear, the other with serenity, both have very different levels of faith, and yet both remain safe as they skate, because it is not their confidence in the ice that keeps them from breaking through, it is the strength of the ice itself that holds them up.

You are not saved by the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith. Jesus is willing to take you, forgive you, embrace you—even if you are still filled with some measure of unbelief. He is not scared by your doubt. I think that is hard for us to really come to grips with because we often think, Well, if I was in God’s shoes, I wouldn’t put up with this, I wouldn’t stand for this flighty, mixture of doubt and faith, and so we assume that, in our darker moments when we realize just how much unbelief lies under the hood, we assume: Surely, God couldn’t want me! But friends, praise God, God isn’t like you! Hear this good news from Isaiah 55:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9). Perhaps you are familiar with that verse; I’m guessing that you have heard it used at times to describe when God does something that just doesn’t make sense to us, whether that be not answering a prayer the way we would like or sending some strange season of suffering into our life. Why would God do this? we think, and we often hear, “Well, God’s ways are not your ways.” And that is, of course, true. But have you ever read the verses right before that passage? Let’s read it all:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD,” (Isa 55:6-8). What is the most baffling, confounding heavenly mystery that makes God’s ways so unlike our ways? God’s compassion for the wicked; his abundant mercy towards the unrighteous. So, friends, do not project your own human limitations of forgiveness onto your heavenly Father. He is not like you. You may wrestle with how you could love and forgive someone who is as inconsistent and disingenuous as you are—but God doesn’t. He has an abundance of forgiveness that He is eager to dole out upon his stumbling, wayward children, even as they harbor suspicions that maybe He doesn’t really care for them. Rest in the sweet thought that your God is not like you. Paul reminds us, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful,” 2 Tim 2:13. Do not despair.

Accept Rebuke

Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, and gives Peter one of the most stinging rebukes in all of history. But this is precisely what can happen when you realized just how radically God loves you. When you know that you are not accepted on the basis of your performance, by the strength of your faith, then you become far less protective and sensitive, you become far more open to accepting correction, even criticism. You will even see brothers and sisters who bring correction to you as an act of love. If we are to love one another as Jesus loves us, then we must speak the truth to one another as Jesus does to us.

While Jesus accepts us and loves us as we are, He has no intention whatsoever to leave us as we are. Unbelief is a terrible plague on our joy, on our faithfulness, on our consistency. We no more want to maintain our unbelief than we would want to keep poison in our system. So, friends, lean into the rebukes from the Lord. Remind yourself that you are not justified by your performance, so when your performance is exposed to be lacking, your salvation is not in danger! This means that when a brother or sister points out areas in our life that seem to reflect a lack of faith, don’t become defensive! Don’t ignore it and tell yourselves a bunch of lies about how awesome you are (so they must be wrong), or how abysmal you are and don’t deserve to be called a Christian (so there is no hope for you ever changing). Both of those responses show that you do not really believe that you are saved apart from your works. Both of those responses say: I am saved by how good of a person I am, therefore I will either defend my righteousness intensely against any assaults, or I will admit that my righteousness is insufficient and will collapse into a pit of despair. Both are a rejection of the gospel, and both will keep you from ever actually changing. 

Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Prov 27:6), so let yourself be wounded so that you may recognize your persisting unbelief, repent, ask the Lord for help, and grow.

Long for Heaven

There will be a day when you will be freed from all unbelief. Paul explains, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known,” 1 Cor 13:9-12. When Jesus returns, He will remove all of the scales on your eyes. He will pull all of the venom of sin from your heart, all of your cravings for the flesh, all the worldliness that has polluted your mind. And your knowledge, your faith will flower into full maturity, the way a child grows into a man.

So, as we labor on the way, beset with sins, temptations, and unbelief, as we mourn our lack of faith, remember—a day is coming when it will not be so. We will behold our God with our eyes, and He will dwell with us, forever. Long for that day, hope for that day, rest knowing that day will soon come.

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Jesus and Outsiders (Mark 7:24-8:10)
Jesus and Outsiders (Mark 7:24-8:10)

Marc Sims • September 15, 2020

Sermon Video:

Sermon Manuscript:

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. – Mark 7:24-8:10

One interesting cultural dimension we regularly come across when reading the Bible is the distinction of “clean/unclean.” It seems foreign to us modern Westerners because our society simply doesn’t have this same emphasis. At least, we don’t think we do. While we may not have official, political and religious clean/unclean distinctions (as some countries still do today), we have unofficial categories of individuals, groups, and types of people whom we would never want to associate with. Today, with the political tensions in the air, that may come across political divides. But it is easier to see when looking back on history. 

Just this last week, on September 8th, was Ruby Bridges 66th birthday, the first African-American student to integrate an American elementary school in the South, at the tender age of six years old. Ruby and her mother had to be escorted by US Marshalls on their way to school in New Orleans every day of the year, as they marched pass protestors screaming slurs and threats at them, at one point seeing a woman holding a small coffin with a black baby doll in it. The entire school board assumed that Ruby, being black, would simply not be academically capable of keeping up with the other white students. There was only one teacher who was willing to take Ruby on as a student, and the rest of the students in that class were removed by their parents to other classes or pulled entirely from the school—Ruby spent every day of that school year eating lunch alone. Ruby’s father lost his job, her mother was refused service at grocery-stores, and her grandparents, share-croppers, were evicted off their farm. 

Today, as we look back on the bravery of a young six-year-old girl and her parents and are appalled at such overt racism, we are given a helpful analogy for how the people of Jesus’ time would have viewed those who were deemed “unclean.” Why did parents pull their children from being in Ruby’s classroom? While there was no law or religious code enforcing it, they all felt, in some degree, that being around an African-American was somehow detrimental to their children. Of course, this is not a perfect analogy for the clean/unclean of Jesus’ day—which was not exclusively race based (Jews could make themselves ritually unclean), but the posture that ardent Jews of Jesus’ day felt towards outsiders, non-Jews, was very, very similar. As we look at the story of Jesus we will see, time and time again, that Jesus seems to always go out of His way to push against this mentality. Jesus works intentionally to show that with His coming, those who are on the “outside” are brought in.

A Gospel Recap

As Christian preached last week, Jesus has come as the long expected Jewish Messiah, “from the right line at the right time.” However, He also wasn’t what anyone expected. Jesus is extremely popular with the common people, but He associates with individuals and does things that lead the religious elites to become incredibly skeptical, even to the point of being convinced that He needs to be put to death.

At the beginning of Mark 7, Jesus enters into another debate with the religious leaders, who note that His disciples do not follow their traditions of ceremonially cleansing their hands before they eat. This was not a teaching from the Bible, but was an additional practice that they had built around the Old Testament’s purity laws. After Jesus exposes their hypocritical adherence to their own traditions at the expense of the clear commands of the Law (Mark 7:6-13), He then shockingly explains that ingesting the wrong food is not what makes you ceremonially unclean, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person,” (Mark 7:15, 20-23). Where does defilement come from? Certainly not from eating with unwashed hands—Jesus says that there is “nothing outside a person” that can make him unclean. Rather, impurity is buried in our hearts and is made manifest by our sin and sinful desires. 

The problem is not “out there,” friends, but “in here.” The source of sin is not in ideologies, people groups, politicians, or Hollywood. We can certainly see its effects there. But the nuclear reactor of sin lies within the heart of every human being—we are the problem. When a fog or smoke lies thick, you notice that it always looks like it is forms a thick wall just a few hundred yards ahead of you, but right next to you it appears that there is no fog, no smoke, when really you are just as much in the smoke as those far away from you. That is what sin is like; it looks like it is always out there, far away from you, when in reality you are just as mired in it as everyone else. 

Mark, as he is relaying this account, provides this concise editorial comment: “Thus he declared all foods clean,” Mark 7:19b. What does that mean? It means that Mark is understanding that Jesus has brought about a cataclysmic, watershed moment in the history of redemption. The old covenant prescribed a number of specific laws that marked God’s people off as distinct and unique from the surrounding nations, the non-Jews. God’s program with His people in the Old Testament was to create a gathered nation-state that was marked off by God’s laws of morality, purity, and civil codes. One of those distinct laws was the kosher laws surrounding food: certain foods were off-limits for Israel to eat. When Jesus pronounces that all foods are clean, He is signaling that there is now coming a change to God’s covenant with His people—and that is precisely what Jesus has come to do, to bring about a new covenant. This means that the civil laws of Israel and the purity of laws of Israel are now set aside. But this also means that God’s people are now no longer required to adopt many of the traditional Jewish customs in order to be included in God’s family—which means that a relationship with Yahweh, something that primarily has been with Jews, is now open and available to non-Jews, Gentiles.

Remember, Jesus says that “nothing outside a person defiles him”—not just food, but there is no-thing that can make someone unclean, and that includes other people too! This was Peter’s lesson he had to learn when he was told to go preach the gospel to the Gentile, Cornelius. 

Now Mark is going to show us the same truths that Peter learned: that if foods can’t be unclean, then people can’t be unclean either. Mark sandwiches three stories of Jesus interacting with Gentiles immediately after this declaration of all foods being clean: the Syrophoencian woman, the healing of the mute man, and the feeding of the four thousand. All of these are showing what Mark has been laboring to show all along in his gospel with Jesus’ interactions with women, lepers, demon-possessed, sinners, and tax-collectors: Jesus has come to turn outsiders into insiders, and to reveal that those who thought they were insiders are really outside (See Mark 3:22-35). Let’s look at these three accounts in reverse order

The Four Thousand (Mark 8:1-10)

We are told that during Jesus’ time of being in a Gentile territory (“In those days” 8:1), He is teaching to a great crowd out in a desolate area for three days and they are left with nothing to eat. Jesus then performs play by play almost the exact same miracle we saw a few chapters earlier where he fed the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44). But the five thousand He fed then were five thousand Jews, and in John’s gospel Jesus explains the symbolic significance of this feeding by comparing Himself to Moses who gave the Israelites bread from heaven (manna) in the wilderness (John 6). However, here, Jesus is performing the same miracle, acting as a new Moses to Gentiles. A new Moses to Gentiles? How could that be? Well, Jesus has come, as Paul tells the Ephesians, to take Gentiles who were once estranged from Israel and to unite the two together into one new man (Eph 2:11-22).

The Deaf Man (Mark 7:31-37)

While Jesus is in the Gentile region of the Decapolis (7:31) a deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus and we are told that those who brought him “begged Jesus to lay his hand on him,” (7:32). While “laying your hand” on a Gentile was not as outrageous as laying a hand on a leper or a woman with a discharge of blood, it would was still culturally not proper to touch a Gentile (see John 18:28 where the Pharisees refuse to even enter Pilate’s headquarters lest they become defiled). Here, however, Jesus not only lays His hands on them but He thrusts his fingers into the man’s ears and places his spit on the man’s tongue! 

Jesus’ use of spittle to perform a healing appears totally baffling to us—especially because thus far Jesus has healed people exclusively with His words or at times laying His hands on them. Why use spit here? Well, we aren’t sure. Apparently spittle was commonly used at that time for medicinal purposes, so perhaps Jesus was just accommodating to popular customs, perhaps He wanted others to know that He wasn’t casting a demon out of this man, but merely healing an infirmity. We aren’t sure exactly, but we know that Jesus’ physical interaction with a Gentile would have certainly raised some eyebrows. 

Even more surprising, the word used to describe this man’s speech impediment is only used one other place in the entire Bible. It is the prophecy of Isaiah 35 where God promises that when Israel’s exile ends, He personally will come and deliver them and He will transform the world into the glorious New Creation: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy,” Isaiah 35:5-6a. What does this mean? It means that Jesus is bringing about the end of His people’s exile—but, wonder of wonders, He is including Gentiles in the promise of new creation!

The Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30)

Certainly the most surprising of the three stories rests with the account of the Syrophoenician woman. This is surprising, first, because of the region that Jesus travels to: Tyre and Sidon. Tyre (formerly known as Phoenicia) had been the home of Jezebel, the wife of the pagan king Ahab. Together they were the most wicked power couple of the entire Old Testament; they represent Israel when it is at its worst. There is a reason that no one names their son Judas, and there is a reason that no one names their daughter Jezebel. Tyre is repeatedly decried for its wickedness by the prophets in the Old Testament (Ezek 26:17; Zech 9:3) and was also a bitter enemy of Israel, who sided with Seleucid armies against Israel during the Maccabean revolt. Furthermore, Tyre was infamous for their extreme and gross pagan worship. 

Nevertheless, Jesus journeys to what would have been seen as a region that no faithful Jew should ever venture. And there He finds a woman who “falls down at his feet,” (Mark 7:25). The last person to fall down at Jesus’ feet was Jairus in Mark 5:22. Jairus could not be in a more different social class than this woman—he was a man, a Jew, and a ruler of a synagogue. In 7:26 we read what one commentator calls a “crescendo of demerit,” “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth and she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” She is (1) a woman, (2) a Gentile, (3) not just any Gentile, but a Syrophoenician, and (4) her daughter has a demon. Nevertheless, she literally throws herself onto Jesus and pleads for His help. Even Matthew the tax collector would have been scandalized by this woman.

Jesus response is surprising. He speaks to the woman in a parable: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” Mark 7:27. What does Jesus mean by that? He seems to be echoing a common Jewish sentiment—Gentiles were unclean, like dogs. They were not “God’s children,” that is, Israel. So why should Israel’s Messiah be consorting with or helping those outside of Israel? But look at the woman’s response: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter,” Mark 7:28-29. In Matthew’s account of this, Jesus responds to the woman: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done as you desire,” Matt 15:28. Jesus at first appears cold and disinterested, but then immediately flips and commends this woman’s faith and grants her request. What happened? 

First, notice that this woman with such a shameful social standing is the first person in Mark’s gospel who understands one of Jesus’ parables. She answers back to Jesus from within the parable itself, knowing exactly what Jesus means by it—Jesus’ own disciples don’t even understand the parables without Jesus’ special help. Earlier, as Jesus is laboring to explain the true source of defilement, He cries out: “Hear me, all of you, and understand,” (Mark 7:14). In Mark’s gospel, a true disciple is marked by someone who hears Jesus’ words, understands them, and applies them (Mark 4:20). Here, we have the first example of someone hearing, understanding, and applying Jesus’ words—this woman is, at this time, somehow more of a disciple of Jesus than His disciples are. 

But what is it that she understands? As the text says, she understands that Jesus’ evaluation of her is correct: she is a dog, she is unclean. She doesn’t deserve anything from Jesus. And yet she comes, asking for just the crumbs from His table, unclean though she be. And it is this acknowledgment, this confession of total spiritual bankruptcy which turns Jesus’ loving heart towards her. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3). This is exactly what Jesus is wanting to teach His disciples, wanting to teach us all: what makes us unclean isn’t something out there but what is in here. It is not certain human beings who make us unclean, but rather our own human nature, our sin, which makes us unclean. As the prophet Isaiah tells us: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags,” Isa 64:6. 

After Lady Macbeth goads her husband into killing Duncan, she eventually becomes haunted by her guilt, by her uncleanness. She sleepwalks to the sink and manically scrubs her hands: Out, damned spot! What is she doing? Lady Macbeth is desperately trying to wash her hands clean of symbolic blood that stains them, but nothing eases her agonized conscience. Not all the perfumes of Arabia could sweeten this little hand, she tells us. That’s what Isaiah is telling us. No righteous deeds, no good works, no amount of charity, no donations, or activism, or penance will make us clean. Not even coming from a religious background, being raised a Jew, will make you presentable before God. And it is only when we recognize that truth that we can have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ.

Admit Your Need

Do you remember the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9? After Jesus heals the man he explains: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains,” (John 9:39-41). The only people who are kept from seeing Jesus are those who see no problem with themselves. Non-Christian listening today: your doubts are not keeping you from Jesus, your past sins, your guilt, your burdens are not what are preventing you from coming to Jesus. In fact, they are the very things that qualify you to come. Jesus has come for the sinners, not the righteous. For the unclean, not the clean. And if you will merely admit your need, admit your sin, and like the woman fling yourself at Jesus’ feet for mercy, you will find it. He is gentle and lowly, a merciful high priest who will in no way shut you out. He is eager and able to save you to the uttermost. His death on the cross has secured every means necessary to provide cleansing, forgiveness, and restoration. Did you feel like an imposter wearing white on your wedding day? Do you feel like a phony leading your family in prayers? Do you feel like if any of your closest friends were to find out how deep your doubt, greed, and lust were they would be repulsed by you? Jesus is here, with open arms for you today.

Nothing in my hand I bring

Simply to the Cross I cling

Naked come to thee for dress

Helpless look to thee for grace

Foul I to the fountain fly

Wash me Savior, or I die

Check Ourselves

Dear Christian, recipient of grace, do you treat others the way Christ has treated you? Are there “outsiders” that, in your estimation, don’t deserve the time of day? In our day, the biggest divide might be across political barriers. Would you be able to sit down and share a meal with someone you strongly disagreed with politically? Would you be able to see how Christ may invite them in, or already has, to be a part of His family, to be your sibling in Christ?

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Your Brother's Keeper (Matt 18:15-20)
Your Brother's Keeper (Matt 18:15-20)

Marc Sims • September 09, 2020

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Sermon Manuscript:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” - Matt 18:15-20

We have spent the last number of weeks examining the calling and responsibilities of the church. We have been saying that the Bible assumes that to be united to Christ is to be united to His body, the church. The passports of the church, as we considered last week, are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are meant to symbolize and display what the gospel is and our response to that gospel in repentance and faith. That life of repentance and faith is then played out on the canvas of the local church. We saw in Hebrews 10 that active participation in the local church is one of God’s means to keep Christians from unbelief. We saw in 1 Corinthians 12 that the life within the local church is meant to be a life of mutual dependence and unity, the same way a body is comprised of many different members. And we saw in 2 Corinthians 4 that the engine that is fueling the growth of the church is not gimmicks and salesmen techniques, but simple and plain proclamations of the gospel. 

Friends, do not be mistaken—God cares deeply about the church. The church is God’s program by which the Great Commission will be accomplished, by which disciples are made, individuals are baptized, Christians are matured, use their gifts, taught by gospel preachers, and are thus kept from false teaching and error. We are the salt of the world, a city on a hill, displaying our deeds of righteousness so that the watching world may glorify God (Matt 5:13-16).

But, brothers and sisters, what happens if that salt loses its saltiness? What happens when someone who has been baptized, receives the Lord’s Supper, a citizen of the Kingdom, begins to live like they are a citizen of the world? If you are not a Christian here today, perhaps you can think of someone in the church who claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but then hypocritically participated in some egregious sin—maybe, you have told yourself, that is why you aren’t a Christian. I’m sure many of you who are Christians here today can think of someone who has taken the name of Christ, and then acted in such way that brings shame and dishonor to the name of Christ. Just this week the leader of the largest Christian university in the world was fired after it came to light that apparently he and his wife participated in some scandalous sexual affair with another individual. So now, all over the news, we are hearing about a person who was supposed to be a model of Christian virtue now bring shame and dishonor to the name of Christ. There are few things more detrimental to testimony of church than people who take the name of the Lord in vain, living like they really are a child of the devil. 

This brings us to our final consideration as we think about our responsibilities to one another within the church: the issue of church discipline. I am, in many ways, opening up a can of worms with a sermon like this. This is an issue that is very rarely talked about or taught on in the church, and is even more rarely practiced. But it is clearly taught in the Bible and assumed to be practiced in the local church. So I will provide an overview of what the Bible teaches about this, but will by no means answer every question. So if after hearing this sermon you are left with some serious questions, then please come up afterward and bring those to me. I’d be more than happy to talk through this more. 


What is church discipline? Church discipline is where a congregation responds to a fellow church member who is walking in persistent, unrepentant sin, by formally removing that person from the membership roles as a way of showing that they can no longer affirm that individual’s profession of faith. It is a way of saying: We cannot understand how you can continue to walk in this sin and be genuinely filled with the Holy Spirit. 

In our text we saw in Matthew 18 we see one example of what church discipline looks like. Matthew 18 describes the dilemma of interpersonal sin within the church. One person sins against another member in the church. When this happens, Jesus tells us: “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” What a great model for us, church. How should you respond when someone sins against you? You go directly to that person—you don’t start talking to a bunch of people about it first, spreading salacious gossip about how this person has sinned against you. You lovingly confront them. “If he listens to you,” Jesus continues, “you have gained your brother.” This is how 99% of the conflicts in church should be handled.

But, if he refuses to listen to you, you are two bring two or three others with you. If he refuses to listen to them, then you are to “tell it to the church,” that is, the entire congregation. And if this brother refuses to listen even to the church, then you are to treat him as a “Gentile and tax collector.” All of Jesus’ immediate hearers would have known that Gentiles and tax collectors were not members of God’s covenant community. Why can the church do this? Because Jesus has given the keys of the Kingdom to the local church (18:18, see Matt 16:19): “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Here “binding” refers to the congregation receiving people into membership in the church, and “loosening” refers to dismissing people from membership. 

So, church discipline is the sad action a congregation must take when one of its members no longer has any credible grounds due to their unrepentant sin to bear the name of Christ. Of course, interpersonal sins as laid out here in Matthew are not the only reasons one may be put under discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5 we see an example of unrepentant sexual sin. In Titus 3:10-11 we see unrepentant divisiveness in the church as an example of church discipline. Gal 1:6-9 shows believing a false gospel warrants discipline. In 2 Thess 3:14 shows rejecting the authority of Scripture as an offense worthy of discipline. But, of course, these are not intended to be exhaustive lists of the only sins that warrant discipline. Church discipline, rather, is intended for any kind of outward, visible sin that is persistently unrepentant, even in the face of repeated pleas from the congregation to repent. It’s ramifications then are that the person is removed from the membership roles and is to no longer be treated as if they are a Christian, and, as we see in Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 5, they are prohibited from partaking in the covenant meal of the covenant community, the Lord’s Supper.


Who is liable to this kind of accountability structure? Well, Paul makes this fairly clear in 1 Corinthians 5: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.””

This means, at a bare minimum, that the accountability structure is reserved for “those who bear the name of brother,” that is, a Christian. We don’t expect non-Christians to live and act like Christians. But, again, we must remember what the Bible assumes is normal for a Christian life—the Bible assumes that anyone who is genuinely a Christian is someone who has meaningfully attached themselves into a local church. Paul’s language of “insiders” and “outsiders” nods in this direction. It is those “inside” the church who are accountable. But how do we know who those people are? Is it just the people who show up on Sunday? And the “outsiders” are people who don’t come to church? No, because later in 1 Corinthians 14, we see Paul use this language of “insiders” and “outsiders” again, and assumes that “outsiders” will be present at the worship gathering on Sunday (1 Cor 14:22-25). So the “insiders” are more than just people who are attending on Sunday morning, but have, in some way, made themselves known to the leadership of the church and the rest of the congregation, and consented to live their life in accountability to the rest of the church—to “associate,” or “fellowship,” or “formally partner”, to use Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 5:11, with the other members of the church. So, this accountability structure of church discipline is then reserved for those who have become members of the church—not just people who might show up (even regularly!) on a Sunday. 

Further, if church discipline is removing someone from the membership roles, it becomes practically meaningless, if not impossible, to be carried out if that person is not even a member! And, friends, churches that do not practice church membership, when they get stuck in a nasty situation that requires church discipline, they are either left with a toothless warning, or they inappropriately use their authority and warp church discipline into something like intimidation by force by physically barring the person from entering the church. That is not what church discipline is. 


What is the purpose of church discipline?

1.     Church discipline protects the glory of God and the testimony of the church

a.     When a man is repeatedly cheating on his wife, being dishonest in his business dealings, or is feeding an addiction to alcohol, all with a stony, unrepentant heart, and comes to church each week to receive the Lord’s Supper, God’s glory is being besmirched. We are telling the watching world: this is what God is like, this is what a life under the power of the Holy Spirit looks like. It robs God of His glory and sours our community’s perception of our church.

2.     Church discipline preserves the gospel

a.     A large stumbling block to practicing church discipline is the difficulty of how we can reconcile it with the gospel of free grace! God accepts us as we are and loves us unconditionally, right? Doesn’t church discipline make it seem like we are saying the opposite? That you have to be a morally good enough to be worthy of God? Doesn’t that twist the gospel? No, it actually does the exact opposite. It is true, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone—but it is never a faith that remains alone. The 1853 New Hampshire confession of faith explains that faith and repentance are “inseparable graces” both given by the Holy Spirit. To claim to have faith, but to evidence no repentance, is to present a different gospel than the one the Bible presents. James warns us that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). When we come to believe in the gospel, we are banking on what Jesus has accomplished on the cross and that alone to make us right with God. But God also gives a new heart with new dispositions that desires to obey God, to turn from sin, and to walk in holiness. When we as a church continue to affirm the spiritual state of fellow church members whose lives are not giving any fruit of repentance, we are actually proclaiming a perverted gospel.

3.     Church discipline protects the health of the church

a.     A church without church discipline is like a body without an immune system. Paul warns the elders in Ephesus that wolves would arise in the church, looking to devour the other sheep. Church discipline can help identify those wolves and protect the rest of the sheep from being destroyed. Further, churches that permit unrepentant sin to run rampant in the life of its members are not loving the church. Paul warns the Corinthians in chapter 5: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (5:6). When church members know that member so-and-so has a gambling addiction and other member so-and-so is living with his girlfriend, and that other member so-and-so only attends Sunday worship once or twice a month, but they are still active members, serving, taking the Lord’s Supper, raising their hands during worship—they begin to think that maybe they don’t need to take their own sin that seriously. It breeds a posture of casualness towards sin, rather than the needed deadly seriousness. But, when church discipline is brought forward, it has a salutary, awakening affect on sleepy Christians 

When I was in seminary, while attending a member’s meeting at my church, there was a case of church discipline brought before the church. There was a case of church discipline brought forward that woke me up. It was a member who was currently at the school I was attending, getting his PhD studying the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards—a personal hero of mine. However, it was revealed that this man had been in an extramarital affair for two years. His wife had been suspicious and had repeatedly asked him, even bringing in pastors from our church to discuss this matter with him, but he denied that anything wrong was going on, lying about the affair for two years. He only finally confessed his sin because he had gotten the other woman pregnant and couldn’t hide it any longer. His confession, however, lacked any signs of genuine repentance and still was marked by self-defense, deceptiveness, and an unwillingness to own up to his sin. So, he was being brought forward to be put under church discipline as his wife wept in the front pew. The pastor who was conducting the meeting eventually paused and looked at the congregation, “All of you seminary students out there: don’t think this couldn’t happen to you. This is exactly where your sin wants to take you, that little flirtation with lust is wanting to steer you to this place.” And I felt this intense, somber weight land on me then and there that I had never experienced before. And I knew: I never want this to happen to me. I saw the danger of sin in a way I never had before.

4.     Ultimately, church discipline is done for salvation

a.     Paul commands the Corinthian church to remove the brother caught in unrepentant sexual sin from their membership: “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord,” (1 Cor 5:5). What’s the end goal of taking a member out of the citizenship of the Kingdom and handing him over to the world? We want that person to be saved! Church discipline is the final, tragic, but necessary means by which God may shake a lukewarm Christian to wake up to the eternal peril their soul is in. Sometimes, someone who has been nibbling at the edges of forbidden fruit needs to just go out and fill their belly before they will realize how putrid and rotten it really is. The prodigal didn’t return to his father till he was eating pig slop. So, friends, as painful and heartbreaking as it is, we want to do the most loving thing we possibly can for someone in this state—we want their soul to be saved.

But this should inform how we go about this process. 

                                               i.     Church discipline should be done slowly, following the procedures laid out in Matthew 18

                                             ii.     It should never be done solely on the account of one witness

                                            iii.     It should be done with mourning and weeping (1 Cor 5:1)

                                            iv.     It should be done in a “spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1), not regarding the person as an “enemy” 2 Thess 3:15

                                              v.     It should never be done out of a spirit of self-righteousness, but rather with the humility that admits that we are likewise just as susceptible to stumbling into sin (Gal 6:1).

                                            vi.     It should be done in such a manner that communicates both the severity of their sin and the real danger their souls are in, what repentance would look like, and the free gift of grace that is always available in Christ to any and all who will repent of their sins.

                                           vii.     It should never be done without the knowledge of the entire congregation. Elders should conduct the congregation through the manner, but should not hide the issue from the congregation and should never dismiss someone from membership without the congregations knowledge and approval.

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Displaying Death and Life: Baptism and Communion
Displaying Death and Life: Baptism and Communion

Marc Sims • August 24, 2020

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Sermon Manuscript:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:1-5

The title of my sermon today is near Puritanical length: Remembering and Displaying Death and Life: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It hinges on the idea that the Christian practices of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper function as a means of remembering and displaying both death and life. Let’s think for a moment on remembering and displaying in the way I will refer to them in the sermon.

How do you remember important moments in your life? Maybe you keep a photo album (do you remember photo albums?), mementoes, or maybe you have a special celebration each year to remember some significant event, like an anniversary or birthday. My wife and I keep a shoebox under our bed filled with letters we have written to each other from the time we have been dating till now. Every now and then we will pull that shoebox out and read through some of them. It’s a sweet (and sometimes embarrassing) ritual. The further back into our letters you go, the more obvious it becomes that I am trying really hard to sound interesting and deep: I saw the sunset this evening and begun to meditate on the brevity of existence... yikes. (But, somehow it worked because now we’re married!). A more helpful analogy for the sake of the sermon would be our wedding rings. Hillary and I wear wedding rings as a way of both remembering the covenant that we made with one another and also as a way of displaying that covenant to the watching world. Our rings are a memento of sorts that broadcasts to others that we are united to each other, that our status has been permanently altered. This is similar to what Baptism and the Lord’s Supper does for the church. It is a means by which we remember and display the gospel, our response to that gospel, and who God’s people are.

Displays the gospel

How do baptism and the Lord’s Supper display the gospel itself? Well, before we can answer that we need to know specifically what the gospel is. We could helpfully summarize the gospel into four major movements: God, man, Christ, response.

God: In the beginning, there was God. Before there was anything created, God eternally existed within the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, infinite in power, love, and holiness. And out of the overflow of that holiness, love, and power, God created the heavens and the earth the share and display His goodness with His creation, namely with the crown jewel of His creation: man.

Man: Mankind was made in the image of God, made to be in a loving and obedient relationship with their maker. When the Bible says we are made “in the image of God,” that means that we intended to reflect that character and nature of God in our lives the way a mirror reflects your image back to you. Human beings were designed to live moral, pure, selfless lives and so reflect God. But, in the beginning, shortly after God made the first human beings, they were quickly deceived by God’s enemy to rebel against God. And now all of their descendants are born with a nature that is spring-loaded towards rebelling against God’s design.

Thus, while we still bear God’s image and are thus called to reflect God, instead we live selfish, immoral, impure lives. And while we may always be able to find someone else who is failing much worse than we are, if we are honest with ourselves we know, in our heart of hearts, that we too have failed to measure up. We do not live as we ought to, but often are motivated out self-interest, are hypocritical, quick to anger, cowardly, controlled by lusts, lazy, addicted to the praise of others, arrogant, unwilling to admit fault, and always seeing the problems in others more than we see the problems in ourselves. This heart does not reflect the purity, excellence, holiness, and righteousness of God. This is what the Bible calls “sin” and it is what every human being has been actively participating in since the creation of this world, as Romans 3:23 tells us: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 

And this sin, not only brings the consequence of a frustrating, painful life here, but it brings about eternal consequences. Sin brings about an eternal separation from us and God—Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death.” And, of course, “death” entails physical death, it also entails a far more severe and far more perilous death—a spiritual death, that is an eternal death. Sin is a rebellion against God, a rejection of God, a desire to be at war with God. And if we persist in sin, God will give us what we want—war with Him, separation from Him, and finally, judgment from Him.

So mankind has been called to a high and glorious calling, but the story of the Bible is a story of man repeatedly failing to measure up to that calling, and choosing instead to plunge himself into sin. Which leads us to wonder: what will God do in response to this? Will He simply consign all of mankind to destroy themselves? The rest of Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”

Christ: Who is Jesus Christ? Many people today imagine Jesus was a fantastic teacher of love and altruism, pointing people to God—which is true. Others imagine that He was some sort of healer, miracle-worker of sorts who helped out the disadvantaged and the poor—which is true. Others think of Him as a renegade of sorts, courageously challenging the religious hypocrites in power and exposing their dead faith—which is also true. But is that all He is? Was Jesus someone like a prophet Mohammed or Joseph Smith, who taught people a new pathway to please God and earn a place in Heaven? Was He like the Buddha, who taught how an individual could achieve nirvana? Was He just another Mahatma Ghandi or a Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for the disadvantaged and oppressed? 

No, Jesus was something else entirely. According to Jesus’ own teaching, He understood that He was actually God in the flesh. The same God who made the heavens and the earth, who had made man in the beginning. This God had now condescended to His creation, and took on a human body, becoming a real person in human history. Why? Two reasons: (1) so He could live the life we were supposed to live. The Bible describes Jesus as the image of God (Col 1:15)—meaning, Jesus, because He was God, was without sin. He always did what was right, just, holy, loving, and selfless. He perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the Law of God. (2) So He could die the death we all deserve to die. God took on flesh so He could die. When Jesus was put to death on the cross, He was not merely lynched by the religious authorities of His time, but He taught that His death was going to be a “ransom” or a “substitute” for His followers (Matt 20:28). This means that on the cross, Jesus was not only accepting the physical punishment for our sins, but also the spiritual punishment as well, and absorbed the eternal death, the eternal separation into Himself for all of the sins of His people. But, three days later He rose from the dead, He resurrected. Jesus, being God Himself and infinitely holy and infinitely powerful, could not remain dead, since death had no power over Him. So He resurrected, and then ascended up to heaven and now dwells in heaven to intercede on His children’s behalf.

Response: This gospel message, this news demands a response. We either laugh at this Jesus as a crazy person, an imposter, or we fall down at His feet as our Lord and God. The Bible describes the right response to Jesus as “repentance and faith.” Repentance means to turn away from our life of rejecting God and living for ourselves. Faith means to turn towards God in allegiance and trust; trusting that Jesus’ death on the cross has secured the forgiveness of your sins, and committing yourself in allegiance to Jesus as the Lord and King of your life. We now follow Him.

God, Man, Christ, Response. God is holy, man is sinful, Christ is an all-sufficient savior, and a response is required. This is a synopsis of grand and majestic story of the gospel. 

Now, what does all of this have to do with baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordinances that Jesus commands His church to regularly practice. Baptism is the entry sign and symbol of someone who has believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and turned in faith towards Christ. The Lord’s Supper is the covenant renewal sign of that same truth. These display the gospel in their dramatic reenactments of the gospel itself. Romans 6 tells us that when we go under the waters of baptism, we are being baptized, (submerged) into Jesus’ death. The book of 1 Peter compares the waters of baptism to the flood waters of Noah, the waters of chaos and destruction. So when we see the water in the baptismal, we should think of death, destruction. This is what our sins have earned. But we not only go under the waters of baptism, we come up out of them (praise God!). Just as Jesus did not remain in the grave, but resurrected with a new life, so too do Christians emerge from the baptismal waters to newness of life! Though they have gone under the waters of death, because they have put their faith in Jesus, they follow Christ their captain up out of the grave! Their destiny is no longer to be consigned to death, to absorb the penalty of their sin, but to inherit the gift of eternal life. So, there is nothing mystical or magical about the waters in of themselves. Rather, the act of baptism is a dramatic reenactment of what has spiritually already taken place within the souls of those who are participating in it.

But what about the Lord’s Supper? Well, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, He met with His disciples one last time and celebrated a special, Jewish feast called the Passover. But, that night Jesus inaugurated a new feast to be celebrated in its place. He took the bread of that meal and told His disciples: “This is my body, broken for you,” and He broke it and handed it out to His disciples and commanded them to eat of it. Then He took a cup of wine and said: “This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins, take and drink.” He then taught everyone that they should regularly eat this special meal of bread and the fruit of the vine, and when they do they should remember the broken body and shed blood of Jesus for our sins and to look forward to His second coming. So, when we take this meal, as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we perform a mini-drama of the crucifixion itself. As our teeth crush the bread, and we drain the cup, we are reminded: my sins destroyed Jesus, it was my sins that shed His blood.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are tactile, visual tokens by which we remember the glorious, old, old story of the gospel. But they don’t only help us remember, they also display something.

Displays God’s People

Just as my wedding ring not only reminds me of the covenant vows I have made to my wife, it also displays for all to see that my status has been permanently altered—I am no longer a single man, but a married man. So too do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper display a permanent alteration of all who participate in it. Baptism, as the entry sign into this new life, and the Lord’s Supper as the covenant renewal ceremony, display those who have responded truly and fully to the gospel message. But this isn’t exclusively an individualistic encounter. Rather, these signs, these dramatic displays display a people, not just an individual. 1 Cor 12:13 shows us that when we are baptized, we are actually baptized into the body of Christ, the church, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” So baptism isn’t just a way of displaying our personal response to the world, but is also a way of publicly associating ourselves with God’s church, with His people. So too with the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor 10:17 we see that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are binding ourselves together as the body of Christ, as the church, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” And then later in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul sternly reprimands the Corinthians for misusing the Lord’s Supper because they are failing to wait for one another, and not taking it together collectively as a church.

So, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper mark off who God’s people are. They are the objective, concrete markers that say: this person has believed in the gospel and submitted Himself to Christ as King. But these markers are administered through God’s church so we do not participate in them apart from the church. 

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We Get to Heaven, Together (Heb 10:19-27)
We Get to Heaven, Together (Heb 10:19-27)

Marc Sims • August 18, 2020

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. – Hebrews 10:19-27

How does someone keep on in their Christian life? What keeps a person from having their faith diminish, dwindle, and eventually flicker? Surely we all know of people who started well in their faith, began with passion, with fervor, but over time their faith simmered, cooled, and eventually ossified into a relic of the past. 

But here is the question: how do we know that won’t happen to us? What will keep us from doing the same? Anyone here who is honest with themselves realizes that they have enough sin in themselves that they too would be just as capable of shifting spiritually into “neutral” and coasting into a place of nominal, cold, dead faith. I know I am capable of doing that. I feel that pull constantly. 

What does God give us to combat these pulls? He gives us promises, commands, and warnings. Precious, soul-assuring promises; life-giving commands; and sobering, serious warnings. You need all three, the way a stool needs three legs to remain standing. If your Christian life is only built on one or two of these, you will quickly topple over.

An Analogy for the Christian Life

Let’s imagine that the Christian life is road trip. At your conversion, Jesus Himself climbs into your car and He tells you: No matter what, you are going to make it to Heaven. My Father’s election of you, my death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in you have guaranteed that you will make it—and I will be with you the whole way. And as you drive and at times feel lost, overwhelmed, and uncertain, He keeps reminding you: you’re going to make it. These are the promises of God. Promises like Phil 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” 

But as you are driving, you see signs along the way that Jesus keeps pointing out  to you that say “Keep driving this way to make it to Heaven”—those are commands; they ensure you that you are living a life of someone who has been truly redeemed, filled with the Spirit, and living for the Kingdom of God. Commands like Col. 3:13, “If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” If I am sinned against and I forgive that person, I am assured that I am one who really has been forgiven by God. 

But, if you veer off of that highway and begin to speed towards the cliffs of judgment, you will see signs warning you, “Turn around or you will die!”—those are warnings; they make you aware of the eternal danger that awaits you if you do not repent and turn from your sins. Warnings like Matthew 6:15, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Woah! If I don’t forgive someone else God won’t forgive me?! That’s a warning, and it isn’t a fake warning. The text really means what it says.

So how do we reconcile these warnings with the promise of eternal security? Didn’t Jesus promise that we would make it to the end? Don’t these warnings seem to put that assurance in question? No, not at all. The warnings and commands in Scripture are one of the means by which God is going to sovereignly ensure that His children make it to the end. In other words, God guarantees that those who are actually His will heed the warnings, they will not flippantly ignore the commands lightly. Certainly, we can leave the road, break commandments, and even plow through a couple of warning signs for some time—but God will not let His children careen off the cliff. They will eventually see the danger they are really in, and will return. And if they do not, if they barrel over the edge of the cliff then they will have revealed that they actually never were one of God’s children; Jesus was never with them in the car to begin with. We see this clearly in John’s first letter as he tries to comfort a church who is troubled by many who seem to be abandoning the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us,” 1 John 2:19. If these individuals really had been “of us,” according to John, they would have remained in the church. But, the fact that they have left and abandoned the faith and denied Jesus has made it “plain” that they “were not of us.” They were never Christians to begin with. So, a Christian needs a balanced diet of promises, commands, and warnings to bring finish the race of our faith.

And we see all three of those in our text in Hebrews: promise, commands, and warnings.


We are promised 10:19-22 that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we now have direct access to God. Under the Old Covenant, one priest, once a year was permitted to enter into the holiest place in the temple, only to quickly offer a sacrifice for sins, and then leave. That was the closest you got to coming into the presence of God under the temple system. But now, through Jesus’ sacrifice, He has opened up a “new and living” way into the presence of God that is open and accessible to all who put their faith in Him, at any time, as much as they want. Not only that, we can draw near “with confidence” into God’s presence. We don’t come cringing into the presence of God, but boldly—NOT because we think we have earned it or we are just so impressive that we deserve to swagger into God’s presence. No, our confidence is not about us and our merits, but is about just how powerful and sufficient Jesus’ sacrifice was. He has blazed the way for us so that right now we can commune with God because our sins have been forgiven, our guilty conscience has been washed, our guilt has been atoned for. So, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you have done, there is an open door in heaven waiting for you if you will but come to Jesus. Any who come to Him will never be cast out and will never be turned away. This is a glorious promise. But, with that promise, we are then immediately given a command.


“23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

We are told to hold onto what we believe in “without wavering” because God is faithful, He can be trusted. Earlier in this letter, the author told us how we can hold onto our faith and not fall into unbelief, “12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end,” Hebrews 3:12-14. How do you keep yourself from not having an “evil and unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God”? You “exhort one another every day.” In other words, you will “hold fast your confession without wavering” through other brothers and sisters encouraging you, reminding you of truth, and lovingly challenging you when you veer off. And that is exactly what the next command in our text tells. We are told positively to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The word for “stir up” is an unusual verb to use here. It is usually used of an argument being “provoked, incited, or stirred up” (see Acts 15:39). In other words, stirring one another up to love and good works doesn’t happen by accident, but requires serious intentional effort. But the author helps us by giving us a concrete way to pursue this by the next phrase. 


We are given this warning, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Let’s work through that backwards. What is the “Day” that the author is referring to here? It is referring to what is commonly called the “Day of the Lord” in the Bible. It is the day of climactic, final judgment where everyone’s works will be judged, and those who are genuinely in Christ will be ushered into the New Heavens and the New Earth, and those outside of Christ will be sent to eternal destruction in the Lake of Fire. So, we are given these commands and warnings because the “Day” is drawing near—this is why the author turns to his severe warning immediately afterwards about the danger of continuing in sin, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” If you keep on plowing through those warning signs and do not heed them whatsoever, you will eventually plunge yourself into eternal destruction as the Day of the Lord comes upon us.

So, how do we prevent that from happening? We “encourage one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This is what Hebrews 3:12-14 showed us—your perseverance to the end is a community project. God keeps His children from unbelief through their encouragement of one another. We are the “rumble strip” on the side of the road for one another; we warn each other when we begin to veer off course. And we encourage one another, we provoke, pester, and incite one another to love and good works. This is the calling of our church, brothers and sisters. We are called to love and serve one another, not just for the heck of it, but as a real, genuine means by which we will keep each other walking in the faith.

This brings us to our last command, “do not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.” You cannot encourage and stir up people that you do not see. Christians are commanded to regularly meet together for many reasons—to hear the preaching of God’s Word from gifted teachers, to participate in the ordinances, to sing together, to set aside tithes and offerings, to enjoy the covenantal presence of God in the collective body gathered. But here, in Hebrews, we are commanded to meet together so that we can spur one another, encourage each other, and so keep one another from temptation.

Now, what kind of “meeting” is referred to here? This probably includes any kind of meeting of Christians—small groups, Christian families, Christian friends gathering for prayer and accountability, etc. But the primary application that it refers to here is the Christian gathering of corporate worship. What we are doing right now. The word used for the “meeting” in Hebrews refers to a formal, Christian assembly for worship—not just you and a friend meeting in a Starbucks on a Tuesday morning. So, one of the primary ways we can apply this text is by prioritizing regularly attending Sunday morning worship together as a church. By attending our weekly gathering, according to this text we can encourage one another and provoke and stir one another up to love and good works. This means that the flavor of our gatherings should be one of encouragement, of intentionally seeking one another out to pray for, encourage, and edify one another. But friends, I wonder if you have ever thought about your regular attendance and participation on Sunday morning as a means by which you are encouraging your fellow church members? By your being here, your singing, your attentive listening to the preached and read Word of God, by your prayers, by your celebration in the sacraments, by your confession of sin, and on and on it goes—you are encouraging your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ!

Did you know that you are commanded to regularly attend corporate worship? Now, we are aware that in our Covid-19 world that we are living, that there are some of us who are not able to gather because of a serious health risk. One of our elders, for example, has pulmonary fibrosis and is on an oxygen tank. He and his family have to stay home right now. We would never seek that elder out and reprimand him for failing to attend out Sunday worship service. That isn’t what this command is applying to. This command is applying to those who have intentionally neglected the Sunday worship for selfish reasons, whether that be laziness, poor planning, or fear of what others might think of them or do to them. The original audience that the author here is writing to were likely beginning to avoid the worship gathering because they were being persecuted as Christians, being thrown in jail (Heb 10:32-33), and attending on Sunday was identifying them as Christians. And the author of Hebrews is saying, Don’t neglect to keep gathering together, even in the face of persecution. So, friends, if that was the temptation the original hearers were facing, how much more should we be prioritizing our Sunday worship? So, as you plan your week, your weekend, as you think about what you’re going to do on Saturday night, what soccer teams you are going to let your kids participate in, what jobs you take, ask yourself: how will this affect my ability to continue to gather for worship on Sunday morning? The consequences are not light; weighty things hang in the balances, friends. So let’s prioritize gathering together, encouraging one another, stirring up one another to love and good works, so that we may all arm in arm reach the gates of the New Creation together.

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The Body of Christ (pt. 3)
The Body of Christ (pt. 3)

Marc Sims • August 11, 2020

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21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor 12:21-27

There is no one more perfect than Jesus. He has never sinned, which means He has never done anything wrong, never thought anything wicked, never desired something that was impure, never acted out of selfish agendas, but always in every circumstance at every minute from all time done what is right. Jesus is very unlike us in this regard.

But, what do you think Jesus thinks about you? As He sits on His throne in Heaven, receiving the praise and adoration of the angels, sovereignly governing the affairs of the world, and His eyes “ablaze with fire” (Rev 1:14-15) turn towards your life…what does He think? What does He think about what you are like in public, around your friends, at work, talking to your kids, when you’re all alone and think no one is watching…? The question is, in a way, unsettling because we realize that much of our life is filled with sin and realizing that all of it is being done before the eyes of a holy God. 

And, as we think about our life we see a lot of sin! What could Jesus possibly think of us? Dane Ortlund, in his fantastic book Gentle and Lowly, asks that question:

“How do you think about Jesus’ attitude toward that dark pocket of your life that only you know? The overdependence on alcohol. The lost temper, time and again. The shady business about your finances. The inveterate people-pleasing that looks to others like niceness but which you know to be fear of man. The entrenched resentment that burst out in behind-the-back accusations. The habitual use of pornography. Who is Jesus, in those moments of spiritual blankness? Not: Who is he once you conquer that sin, but who is he in the midst of it?” p. 91

Ortlund then cites 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” John writes his letter because he wants the church not to sin—sin will bring nothing but misery into your life. But, when we do sin—which we all do—who is Jesus for us? If you have not trusted in and submitted to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, Jesus will be your judge, doling out the precisely perfect, fair and just punishment for your sin. But if you will come to Jesus now and will submit to Him as King, finding forgiveness for your sins in His death and resurrection alone, then what does Jesus become for you? An advocate. What is an advocate? It is someone who stands up to defend another. And John tells us that it is when we sin, not after, not before, but when we sin that Jesus stands up before the Father and defends us. 

Isn’t that amazing? In the midst of your sin, your failure, your compromise, your shame, Jesus not only loves, not only accepts you, but actively defends you! As Satan accuses you before the Father for your sin, Jesus stands and pleads your case. Yes, Marc totally blew it. He was selfish, lazy, insincere. But he has trusted in me and my work on the cross to forgive His sins. Total honesty, no blame-shifting, no excuses. But total acceptance, forgiveness, and pardon because of the great work of our Lord and Savior. Friends, Jesus is not tapping his foot, waiting for you to clean your act up before He will take up your case before the Father. It is in your sin—not after, in your failure—not your success, in your weakness—not your strength, when you are dead to rights guilty and Satan accuses you before the Father as one who is vile and worthy of Hell, that He stands up and says, “I will defend his case.” Why? Because your acceptance before God the Father has nothing to do with your righteousness and everything to do with Jesus’ and the sufficiency of His work. So, you are loved, you are accepted, you are stood up for. That is why the gospel is such good news!

Jesus is not waiting for you to clean yourself up before He will embrace you. Whatever murky bog of sin you have plunged yourself into, whatever pit of addiction, He wades into our filth, into our guilt, and picks us up, washes us, forgives us. Jesus is not worried that you will stain His white robes. Rather, His purity isn’t sullied by our impurity, but His righteousness cleanses us of our unrighteousness and makes us pure, though our sins be as scarlet, He will make them white as snow (Isa 1:18).

Blistered, leprous, filthy lips may touch the stream of divine love; they cannot pollute it, but shall themselves be purified. - Spurgeon

Now, that was all just my introduction. Here is the question I want to aim at: what kind of community does that gospel create? We have been discussing for the last few weeks how the gospel does not just create saved individuals, but a saved people: the church. We have been saying that the New Testament expects and requires Christians to be meaningfully attached into a church, the same way a member of a body is attached to the rest of the body. We today call that “membership.” If you are not a member here and would like to know more about it or how to become a member, feel free to talk to me or any of our other pastors here. But today, I want to spend the rest of our time thinking about what this community, the church, should feel like. When we have a group of people who all believe this truth, what does that community look like? 1 Corinthians 12:21-27 tells us that it looks like a community that relies on each other, honors each other, and loves each other.


21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

What is this saying? You don’t have it all together. You cannot do the Christian life on your own. There are issues, sins, problems, temptations, trials, tasks, joys, and sorrows in your life that you will not be able to navigate on your own. If you do, you will be like an eye without a hand, or a head without feet. No, you need the whole body to walk through life. We need each part, performing its own unique function, with its unique skills and experiences. Even if we look at some people in the church and think: I don’t need them in my life. I can’t see how they would help me or this church. Paul goes so far to say: those people are actually the most crucial! They are indispensable! What does this mean for us? This means that we practice church membership as a way of identifying who our local body is. Remember, in the metaphor here you as an individual are not the body; the whole church is the body, and you are individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27). Membership is a way that we can identify who those individuals are and is a way to make a commitment to those members. 

There are going to be issues in the church and in your own life that requires the gifting, perspective, and experience those other members have. So rely on each other. Expect other members in this church to serve one another. The gospel has baked into it all the humility we need to realize that we aren’t so impressive and so talented that we don’t need help. 


On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body.

As we look at the body and see those individuals in it who are different than we are, we don’t merely realize that we need them, but we honor them. We respect them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, heirs to the kingdom of God who will one day, with you, be made fully resplendent with glory of the new creation, scrubbed clean of sin, and shining like the stars in the heavens. Lewis tells us, “It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship,” (The Weight of Glory). 

Paul tells the Roman church to, “outdo one another in showing honor,” (Rom 12:10). There is Christian competition! We are working hard to go further and further in honoring each other. And when we do this, there are no divisions in the body. There is no such thing as the “elite Christians,” like the Navy Seals. There is no club of important church members who deserve honor, while the regular chumps have to grind it out at the bottom of the ladder. In fact, Paul makes it sound like the weaker you are, the more honor should be shown to you. This means that in the church there should be no superiority, no flippancy with one another, no presumption. We don’t grumble and complain about so-and-so behind their back because they are weaker. We honor them. Consider this verse that Paul applies earlier to divisions in the church in Corinth: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 1 Cor 4:7. 


that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

What an amazing command. The church relies on one another, honoring each other, avoiding all divisions…why? Because we love one another. We are to have the same care for one another. So, my goal as a member of this church is to aim at caring for all of the other members—not playing favorites or only caring about a few. We are to share such a united beating heart that when one of us suffers, we all suffer; if one member is honored, we all are rejoicing together! We weep and laugh together. 

What does this look like?

This looks like a young married couple with no kids who have been saving up for a vacation to Europe choosing instead to give that money to another couple in the church who are trying to raise money to adopt a little boy from China.

This looks like one couple with several children, weeping with and praying for years for another couple who has struggled with infertility. And this looks like the infertile couple rejoicing through tears when the other couple announces that they are pregnant again.

This looks like inviting that really socially awkward church member regularly over for lunch and game night, not because it is easy or comfortable, but because you are fellow members and are called to honor and love one another.

This looks like church members rallying around another church member in the church when her husband suddenly leaves her, providing her a home to live in and a shoulder to cry on, professional counselors and lawyers in the church providing help that would normally cost thousands of dollars.

This looks like Acts 2:42-47:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

So friends, here is my encouragement to you: this kind of community does not happen accidentally. It is something that is brought about a group of people who have seen the magnitude of what God has done for them in Christ Jesus in loving them, accepting them, inviting them into the family, despite the fact that they don’t deserve an iota of that kind of love. And now, out of the overflow of that profound love, they now look to others who are different than them, maybe weaker than them, maybe stronger than them, and extend the same kind of love, acceptance, and commitment that they have been given in Jesus Christ. So, brothers and sisters at Quinault: jump in with both feet. Rely on each other, commit to each other, prioritize your relationships with one another. Outdo one another in showing honor. Love one another. Weep with one another. Rejoice with each other.

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The Church in a Postmodern World
The Church in a Postmodern World

Marc Sims • August 05, 2020

In the ancient and classical world, the universe and cosmos were seen to be a fixed, orderly system designed by the Creator. Your task was to discover how your life fit into the cosmic structure, the design that had been divinely given to you. This meant that the “good life” was found in a life of virtue—you conformed your life to submit it to God’s design. With the coming of the age of Enlightenment (modernity) in the 1700’s and the scientific revolution in the 1800’s, the goal of man was no longer to submit himself to the God-given design, but instead was to only submit so far as seemed reasonable to him. God was no longer the final court of appeal, but man’s reason (Descartes) and sense-experience (Locke) became the measuring stick that would prescribe the measure of our consent to God’s design. So, the “good life” was found in a life of rationality—you lived life in accordance with what your reason and sense-experience told you was a good life. 

As the tumultuous and bloody 20th century tumbled forward the West began to move beyond the scientific and rationalistic confidence of modernity. Two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and a whole host of other scandals led the intelligentsia to begin to be skeptical of the Enlightenment’s promises and moved into what is now known as postmodernism.

What is postmodernism? If the classical worldview (or premodernism) said that something was true because God had revealed it to be so, and modernism (or the Enlightenment) said that something was true because our rational faculties and scientific method had determined it to be true, postmodernism says that the concept of universal “truth” itself is suspectThe question for a postmodern isn’t, “What is true?” but rather, “What is true for me or my community?” There is no grand metanarrative of religion or science that can give us absolute truth about morality, identity, or even logic.

In premodernity, truth was revealed.

In modernity, truth was discovered.

In postmodernity, truth is created.

The French existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, summarized the worldview well in his pithy maxim: “existence precedes essence.” That is, since there is no “essence” (no design) innately given to us at birth by some Creator, we are now free to simply decide what we want our essence to look like; what we want to be “true”, who we want to be, and what we believe is right or wrong is ultimately up to us. And no outside standard can tell us otherwise (unless, of course, we consent to let it do so). This worldview has been immortalized by supreme court justice Anthony Kennedy in his 1992 majority opinion in the Casey vs. Planned Parenthood case: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Therefore, in the postmodern world, the most important virtue to be pursued is that of self-expression, self-discovery, and self-love. 

Friends, this is omnipresent in our culture today. This is in our children’s movies, our music, our schools, our concept of justice and morality, and our political discourse (on the right and the left). Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be, you have to decide that for yourself, be true to yourself, believe in yourself, love yourself. You, more or less, are an island to yourself—and you will allow different ideas, worldviews, or people into your life so long as they help you on your path of finding/loving/expressing yourself. 

What should a Christian think about this?

Paul warns the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ,” Col 2:8. He also explains to the Corinthians, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” 2 Cor 10:5. So how has the church in the West done in responding to a drift into modernity and postmodernity?

While the church might blanch at the moral relativism of postmodernism, it has in many respects co-opted much of its worldview through its appropriation of pragmatism. What is pragmatism? It is, to put it crudely, a worldview that determines “truth” by whether or not something is deemed to be useful. Whereas philosophers and theologians of yesteryear were committed to reorienting their life and priorities around what they deemed to be universal, inviolable truths that were timeless and unchanging, pragmatists view “truth” to be a more flexible term. “Truth” is determined by something’s cash-value, marketability, functionality, or persuasiveness. Does it get you what you want? Does it work? Then it must be “true.”

Now, of course, this is a dramatically oversimplified perspective on pragmatism. If you crack open your philosophy textbook from college and study John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism or John Dewey’s pragmatism (or *gulp* Rorty’s neopragmatism) you will find a much more nuanced explanation. But most of the pragmatism that is practiced in America today—and especially in the church—is not coming from a disciplined study of philosophy. It is just the byproduct of living in a highly commercialized, market-driven, corporate America that worships the bottom line and hates being told “no”. 

So how has the church fallen prey to this ethos of postmodernism and pragmatism?

1.     By preaching a gospel of self-love, rather than self-denial.

2.     By (functionally) denying the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in conversion, the power of prayer, and the sufficiency of the gospel.

3.     By allowing the priorities and values of secular culture set the church’s priorities and values.

4.     By assuming the Bible doesn’t set guard rails for the church’s methods of ministry. (Asking “what works?” before asking “what does the Bible require?”).

5.     By emphasizing feeling over truth.

6.     By emphasizing technique over virtue.

7.     By ignoring the horrors of Hell and the splendors of Heaven.

In time I hope to write at length on each of these points, coloring each one in with more clarity. But for now we can rest assured that although the world around has been saturated with the fog of postmodernism, God’s truth still stands, and He honors those who will not be conformed to the thinking of this world (Rom 12:2). Though others claim that they are the potters, and “truth” is their clay, we know better. Our true joy and satisfaction is not found in creating our own meaning, but in submitting to the divine design our loving Maker has laid out for us.

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The Body of Christ (pt. 2)
The Body of Christ (pt. 2)

Marc Sims • August 05, 2020

Sermon Video Here:

Sermon Manuscript:

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. 13 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.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor 12:12-27

How do you build “community”? Our church’s mission statement is “building a covenant community who worships Christ above all.” But, let’s say you just want a community, ready-made, pop in the microwave and *boom* its done—what do you do? Well, the world teaches us that we can build a community around three things:

1.     Attract people with something entertaining or appealing

a.     Football, book club, wine tasting, etc. “You like this too? So do I!”

2.     Call people to action to some noble cause

a.     Activists, PTA, politics, etc. “This mission is so important that you must join with me…”

3.     Invite people with shared problems for a group of mutual dependence

a.     A.A., support groups, mom Facebook groups, etc. “We all are struggling through the same problems together…”

If you can hit any one of those three, you can create some kind of community together. But here is what this depends one:

1.     You find other people who are like you, who have the same interests as you, the same personality as you, care about the same things, etc.

2.     The commitment of each individual, which is largely dependent on their own comfort.

Is this the kind of community that the gospel creates? Why do all these Christians around the world gather together into these communities called churches—even in circumstances that can make it inconvenient, uncomfortable, even dangerous to do so? Is it because we have created a community like we have seen above? Well, yes and no.

We are attracted by the good news of the gospel and the glory and splendor of our God. God is the most interesting, beautiful, and pure being in the universe and He has the best possible news for mankind. Jesus Christ loves sinners.

If you thought you could earn, demand, and fight your way through life on the basis of your own entitlements and cleverness, but now you find within yourself not light but darkness and denial, not freedom but impasse; if you have shocked yourself with the evil you’re capable of and have given up on yourself in despair, the God of love waits for you with open arms today. – Ray Ortlund. How could you not be attracted to that?

We are given the most noble mission and cause on the planet: go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that Jesus has commanded. Further, we are now called to live a life of holiness, a life that we were originally intended for as image bearers of God. 

And, lastly, we all are far too weak, far too prone to not follow through, far too sinful to try and do this life alone, so we need the support, love, and encouragement of one another.

Attraction, mission, and support. That is a great recipe for a meaningful community. But, here is where the community that the gospel makes is different than the community that the world makes: the community that the world makes relies (1) finding other people who are like you and, (2) the commitment to it is largely decided by the individual. The gospel, on the other hand, creates a community that (1) draws in people from all walks of life, all kinds of personalities, all kinds of cultures, all kinds of nationalities—not just other people who are like you. And (2) the gospel creates a community that calls people to a commitment that is not determined by their comfort level, but by the calling that God has placed on them. It is a calling-based commitment, not a comfort-based commitment.


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. 13 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. – 1 Cor 12:12-13

This is the passage we considered last week. This passage shows us that when someone becomes a Christian they are not only reconciled to God, but they are then placed in God’s family, the Church, the body of Christ. Last week we looked at what happened when we believed the gospel: (1) we have our sins forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit, (2) we are baptized, and (3) we become a member of a local church. This is what is assumed is what happens to every Christian in the New Testament. It is within the local church that we find the arena to obey so many of the commands of the New Testament. The “one another” commands in the Bible (love one another, pray for one another, be patient with one another, forgive one another…) are not meant to be exercised to some faceless mass of humanity in general, but to real, actual people. It costs nothing to say, “I love my city.” But when you love people in particular, then you are required to actually put that love into practice. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov, he warns about how easy it is to slip into this fantasy of imagining that you love humanity in general, but cannot love actualpersons:

“I love humanity…but…the more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams…I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity…yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together…As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men; one because he’s too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose.” – Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamozov 

The local church is intended to be the ecosystem in where the commands of love are to be primarily practiced by Christians. We don’t love a theoretical group of people; loving hypothetical people doesn’t require me to change, to bear any one’s burden, to ask for forgiveness. But real, living, breathing people who step on my toes and ask things of me that make me uncomfortable—those are the people I am called to love. 


14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The unity of the body does not come at the expense of its diversity. The gospel is just too good, God is too glorious, and the danger of hell too serious for us to only welcome other people in who are like us. God commands all people everywhere to repent and believe in the gospel (Acts 17:30), and because belief in the gospel entails becoming a member of that gospel community, the church, this means that churches will be full of a diverse group of people. This is where Paul’s metaphor of the body reveals itself to be so brilliant—each body part is wildly different. A foot is nothing like a eye. Yet, both are vital, integral parts of the same body and share the collective identity of “body.” 

The diversity that Paul is referring to here is primarily a diversity of spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor 12:1-11; 27-31). God has given supernaturally empowered gifts to His people upon their reception of the Holy Spirit, and each of those gifts is very different. For some, it is the gift of teaching, for others it is the gift of administration, for others it is the gift of encouragement. But, since Paul just mentioned right before this that in the body there is Jew and Greek, slave and free (vs. 13), he also is likely thinking about the diversity in ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic class. The body is diverse! And no one is permitted to count themselves unworthy of belonging in the body because they are different. Each member’s own estimation of their usefulness is not the grounds upon which they are a part of the body. Rather, their inclusion in the body is based on the fact that God has made them a part of the body—He has divinely ordained that they be there, with their unique personality, gifting, culture, and status.

What does this mean?

·      Our body should be diverse

o   Pray that our church would reflect our community.

·      Your being here is not an accident—God put you here.

o   Guard your heart against the temptation of thinking that you don’t deserve to be a part of this church because you don’t look like someone else.

·      You are needed

o   21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  - 1 Cor 12:21-22

o   The previous verses warned of someone deeming themselves to be unworthy. This verse warns against one member looking down on another. 

o   But, if the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” then that means that the eye needs the hand. Which means each member is absolutely needed. Put another way, your participation in the life of the church is not, in God’s eyes, optional. If my hand decides to stop cooperating with the body, the whole body suffers. Worse, if my hand decides to sever itself from the body, the whole body will suffer tremendously and will be incapable of fulfilling all of the required tasks—and the hand will soon begin to die.

o   So, what is the verse teaching us? It is assuming that each Christian is meaningfully attached to one another in the body of Christ, the church. This is why our church practices “membership.” Church membership is a way that we are trying to obey what Paul is teaching here about being committed to one another. Most Christians today treat their relationship with church on a comfort-based calling; they attend, participate, and engage to the degree that they feel like it. Similar to how someone might treat a football team, or a fan club. But the church, in the Bible, is described as a family. Which means that we are committed to one another and our commitment doesn’t flow out of our shared interests, but out of our identity as a family. 

o   And this family, bound together by God’s covenant, has been divinely brought together, each member with a specific role, a specific task. 

o   So, friend, you are needed. This is your church and God has brought you here for a reason. Why not begin to pray: God, how might you use me here? What role might I play? 

§  Serving in the nursery

§  Helping set up for Sundays

§  Calling our members who are unable to gather and encourage them

§  Invite new faces over for lunch after church

§  Participating in a small group to help encourage others in their faith

§  Turn that savings account into a gift to help another member who is struggling to make ends meet

The gospel is too glorious, the mission too great, and our need too dire for us to do this alone. So let’s link arms with one another, and walk forward in unity.

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The Body of Christ (pt. 1)
The Body of Christ (pt. 1)

Marc Sims • July 29, 2020

Sermon Audio here:

Sermon Manuscript:

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. 13 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.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor 12:12-27

What does the gospel do? When someone believes it, really and truly, what happens to them?

The Bible teaches us that when we come into this world we are naturally self-centered; what matters most to us is our happiness, our goals, our dreams, our priorities. But when God opens our eyes to trust and believe in the gospel, suddenly our center of gravity shifts vertically upward towards God—He is now our highest our priority. Becoming a Christian is not acknowledging that we need God to come into our story, but it is to actually see that we are in His story. We are reconciled with Him and filled with His Holy Spirit to be empowered to live for Him and walk out the role He has apportioned for us in His great narrative. And anyone who is in Christ here today knows what that is like—to find your life suddenly reoriented off of “self” to “God”—this is one of the fundamental aspects of what we call conversion. 

But, here is my question: does the gospel leave you there—receiving the benefits of reconciliation with God and a call to live a holy life…all by yourself? My encouragement to you today is to see that the gospel not only restores your vertical relationship with God, but also establishes your horizontal relationship with God’s people. Or, to put it another way, my aim is for you to see the truth of 1 John 4:20-21, “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen…whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Or, to put it one more way, to be united to Christ is to be united to everyone else who is united to Him. When God saves an individual He does not leave that person as an individual, but brings him or her into the family of God, the Church.


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. – 1 Cor 12:12

A human body is comprised of many, many different parts, but it all functions together as one collective unity (when I walk all of those hundreds of different body parts work in perfect harmony) and share a collectives identity (I don’t think of my body as a summary list of each appendage, I just think of it as “my body”). So it is with the Body of Christ; we share a collective identity and function together harmoniously as one. Why?

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. – 1 Cor 12:13

We have this remarkable unity because we all have become partakers of the same Spirit. Our unity doesn’t just come from shared interests or cultures or similar places in the socioeconomic bracket. Notice how Paul specifies that Corinthian congregation was comprised of Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. Do you have any idea how much Jews and Greeks hated each other? Do you have any idea how suspicious they were of one another and how culturally distant they were from each other? The animosity between the two of them would have been similar to a Union and Confederate soldier after the Civil War. Or, for a more contemporary example, it would be like the animosity between an illegal immigrant and an American who wants to deport all illegal immigrants. What on earth could possibly bring these two groups of people together into the same church? They have believed the same gospel and have been filled with the same Holy Spirit—though they come from very different cultures and have very different preferences, they now both share the most important thing in common, so they are unified. 

Friends, think of a member here that you know least or maybe don’t get along with that wellNow, think of a friend or family member that you know very well and get along with, but isn’t a Christian. This is teaching us that you actually have a much more significant relationship with that church member than your unsaved neighbor or relative. Why? Because you both have believed the gospel, both been filled with the Holy Spirit, and both have been “baptized into one body.”

Now, what does that mean—in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body? When the New Testament describes someone becoming a Christian, it assumes that multiple things happen simultaneously: (1) you believe the gospel and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2) you are baptized and (3) you become a member of a church. In Acts 2, after Peter’s sermon, he gives this offer to the listeners, “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,”… So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls,” Acts 2:38, 41. Added to what? Added to the church in Jerusalem. Do you see the three cords intertwined together there? (1) Believing the gospel and receiving the Holy Spirit, (2) being baptized, and (3) becoming a part of the church. This is what Paul is referring to here in 1 Corinthians—we have received the Spirit, been baptized, and by our baptism we have been added into the body of Christ, the church. And, of course, to the Church can refer in the Bible to every Christian across space and time—but it most commonly refers to a local congregation (“the church in Corinth…the church at Rome, etc.). Theologians refer to that first understanding of the church as the Universal or Invisible Church (all Christians) and to the second understanding as the Local or Visible Church. But here is the question: is Paul referring to the Universal, Invisible body of Christ when he says the Corinthians were “baptized into one body,” or is he referring to the Local, Visible body of Christ in Corinth? Is Paul assuming that being filled with the Holy Spirit and being baptized means that one is an individual Christian, or does it mean that person is a member of a local church? Now, one cannot be a part of the local church without being a part of the universal church, so the question basically boils down to whether or not Paul is referring to the local church.

As we will look at the rest of the passage we will see that Paul’s reference to being baptized into one body refers, of course, to the universal church, but also to the local church in Corinth.

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QBC Elder's Statement on Gathering
QBC Elder's Statement on Gathering

Marc Sims • July 28, 2020

Delivered July 26th, 2020

As many of you have been made aware, there has been a change in the policies of our local health department in regards to local churches being permitted to gather inside their buildings. Our governor had made an adjustment back in early June that permitted churches to meet indoors during phase 1.5, so long as they met under a 25% room capacity of their sanctuary and practiced safe masking and social distancing practices. We, and all of the other churches in our area, immediately pursued this upon our county entering into phase 1.5 back in the first week of July.

There is some confusion as to whether our local health department has changed their policy, or had maintained this policy from the very beginning of phase 1.5, but it would appear that the Benton-Franklin Health District has been given the authority by the state office to decide its own protocol for what is allowed to be open during this modified phase we are in. And in this phase, apparently due to the continuing rise in Covid-19 infections in our county, the health district has determined that churches are actually not permitted to gather indoors, but must continue to gather outdoors as we were when in phase 1 (see red section here). Further, though anything can change in a few days notice in this pandemic world we are living in, the document that was sent to us by the health district makes it seem like this restriction will remain in place for the foreseeable future (until phase 4).

This has been an arduous, painful season for us all and having the proverbial rug ripped out from under us once more has made this feel even more deflating. So, though your elders have been made aware of this for the past two weeks, we have spent that time thinking, praying, meeting, discussing, and looking to what other like-minded churches in our area and across the country are doing. We want to approach this decision wisely remembering that we elders are responsible…

1.     To be obedient first and foremost to our Lord at whatever cost that may bring.

2.     To love our neighbor as ourselves, and to especially love our fellow church members, preferring their needs over our own, and showing special deference to weaker members.

3.     To make decisions that serve our congregation’s spiritual well-being as we strive to feed Christ’s sheep who are entrusted to us.

4.     To submit to the governing authorities so long as they are not prohibiting gospel ministry or coercing us to sin or violate our conscience.

So, in light of those responsibilities what are we to do as a church in light of this new restriction? Some churches have decided to continue to gather indoors (as we have these past few weeks) and some churches have decided to move outside, or cancel their corporate worship entirely and just produce a video to be sent out over the internet. We, Quinault Baptist Church, will respond to this new change with caution. What do I mean by that? I mean that we will, starting next week, gather outside for our worship gathering—but, we will not do so indefinitely. We will continue to gather outside so long as weather will permit us to do so. However, once there is extreme heat, cold, rain, or any other form of inclement weather that would normally prohibit us from gathering, we will then move our corporate worship inside and proceed to do what we have been doing these past few weeks. 

We are doing this because

1.     We will not forsake the regular gathering of fellow Christians for corporate worship. Christians are people who gather. Our religion is not one of private experience or monk-ish solitude, but of fellowship, of hospitality, of singing together, breaking bread together, praying together, worshipping together. And while our fellowship is not limited to what happens on Sunday morning, our corporate worship on Sunday morning is the crown jewel of that fellowship. The very word for “church” in Greek literally means “assembly, gathering.” And we are commanded in Hebrews 10:24-25 to not forsake gathering together as a church. Jesus tells us that it is in our physical gathering as a church that His presence is made manifest in a unique and distinct way (Matt 18:20). This is not something that can be reproduced through an online streaming service; you cannot have “church” online any more than you can hold your wife’s hand online.

We initially cancelled our corporate worship gatherings and produced sermon videos for family’s to worship at home because there was much unknown about the virus, its mortality rate, and our hospital’s capability to keep up. Further, we were under the impression that this would be a temporary pause needed to slow the infection down for a few weeks. However, those few weeks stretched into months. And, as our elders have been reaching out and checking in on our members throughout this season, we have seen the emotional and spiritual toll exacted on our people by the loneliness, isolation, and separation from the body during the quarantine. It is not good for man to be alone, and Christians are intended to live in community with one another. And as we all are currently calculating the potential risk of going to stores, gatherings, and restaurants, we should likewise be calculating the risk of what extended isolation from Christian fellowship will do to us.

This does not mean however, that our members who are unable to gather with us because of health concerns are walking in sin—the command of Hebrews 10 refers to willful neglect of the church gathering; that is, not coming because you just don’t feel like it or your weekend just got too busy or you just wanted to sleep in. That would be a willful violation of this commandment, a sin; but staying away from the gathering because you, or someone you are in regular close proximity with, are at a high-risk of catching a virus that may be deadly for you or those in your home would never be understood to be willful neglect of gathering by our elders.

And, of course, our whole church should be diligently praying for those who are not regularly gathering with us: look around and take note of who is not able to be here with us and diligently pray that the Lord would sustain them through this season, and maybe even reach out to them, check in on them, see how you might be able to encourage and edify their family.

2.     “If the worship gathering is so important, than why move outside?” Because while Hebrews 10 tells us to not forsake gathering, it does not specify that we must gather in a building. The "church" is not a building, but a people gathered together. So, we are able to continue to gather and obey Hebrews 10:24-25 by gathering outside on our lawn. We have even had members who have been staying home tell us that if we were to gather outside, they would actually be able to attend. It is objectively safer to gather outside in regards to virus transmission. Further, by moving outside that gives us an opportunity to comply with what our local government is asking of us, and likely helps preserve our gospel witness to our unsaved community who might interpret our gathering indoors as an unloving action. There will likely be a time where we will need to disobey the government and risk how others may perceive our church, but those are issues that we do not want to risk flippantly.

3.     “But, you said you would gather indoors if the weather didn’t let you gather outdoors? Won’t you be disobeying the government or risking your testimony by doing that?” Well, the short answer is: yes and yes. From the beginning I have said that a Christian is required in Scripture to submit to the governing authorities so long as they are not (1) requiring us to sin or (2) prohibiting gospel ministry. Once the government begins to intervene in the ministry of the gospel they have transgressed their God-given authority and have no legitimate grounds for their actions. We are happy to submit to the government when and where we can: for instance, the government requires our church building to meet its safety standards and fire codes. We are happy to comply with those requirements and see how that helps us love our neighbors well by creating a safe place to gather and does not hinder the ministry of the gospel. 

But, while Romans 13 calls Christians to submit to the governing authorities, Revelation 13 portrays the governing authorities like a beast who devours and gobbles Christians up. So, we submit, but we do so with caution, always remembering where our highest allegiance lies, and always aware of the potential danger. We are alarmed at the way that the government appears to have so easily cast aside the importance of church gatherings, both locally and across our nation—permitting businesses to operate with patrons indoors, but prohibiting churches from doing the same. Particularly while politicians and medical professionals enthusiastically encourage and protect the rights of citizens to gather in protests, citing the first amendment of our constitution, but do everything they can to limit, throttle, and discourage attendance at religious gatherings--which is also cited and protected in the very same first amendment--smacks of hypocrisy and discrimination. 

We do not believe that our local government is intentionally seeking to persecute Christians or have any particular animus against churches. Rather, it is my assumption that our governing authorities are simply ignorant to the importance of Christian fellowship. So, while it is very clearly important to them to get businesses to open up to drum up the economy, prioritizing churches just does not bear the same weight. It has the same importance of a baseball game or concert: a large gathering of people for something non-essential that could just be reproduced online. So, we are simply here to remind them and our community that actually what happens here is essential, is necessary, and is worth it. So, short of some dramatic information coming to light, if the government tells us we can no longer gather together, indoors or outdoors, we will, with the apostle Peter say, “we must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29).

So, in closing, we want to encourage all of our members to trust the Lord’s inscrutable wisdom and unfathomable knowledge as He unfolds His sovereign plan. God is in control and He is good. It is our duty to day-by-day walk in immediate obedience to Him and let Him worry about tomorrow. Please be diligent in prayer for one another and for your elders through this season. Your elders love you, are praying for you, and are striving to faithfully shepherd you through this perplexing season we are all walking through.

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

On behalf of the elders,

Pastor Marc

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