Friday, June 15, 2012

Imitating Jesus

The following has been written in preparation for preaching on June 17 at Crossroads.  On June 24 we are planning a special service of healing and prayer.  I hope you will be able, and willing to join us on those days.

Christians understand that God sent Jesus into the world to save it.  Do we also understand that God sends human beings to this world for the same purpose?  Certainly there is at least one thing "ordinary" human beings cannot do - we cannot die to save sinners.  That has already been done once for all.  But otherwise we are sent like Jesus.  "As the Father as sent me," he commissioned us, "so I send you."

Human being(s), a.k.a. "mankind" ("man") was created to represent God in a world that had already experienced brokenness and corruption and sin.  We human beings were created with work to do!  "Subdue the earth" God commanded.  "Rule over" the other living creatures.

This shows us that man was not a rebel from the first, nor was he the first rebel.  It was the devil who rejected God's authority "from the beginning" (see John 8:44).  All was not right in the universe when human beings came on the scene.  (See Genesis 3 - the first lies did not come from Adam and Eve.)

We do not know the details, but we know that a battle has been going on in creation since the first day.  When God said "let there be light" in Genesis, He did so in when darkness and chaos were present.  The Genesis 1 account of creation seems to be one of imposing order upon a creation that had become chaotic.  Perhaps this chaos came about because of the rebellion of the devil and his angels.  We do not know.

In any case, it is clear that we human beings were never just here for our own sakes.  We were sent to this earth with a mission, a mission summarized in those words "subdue" and "have dominion."*

Sadly, we human beings rebelled against our creator.  We have done so since shortly after we were created.  In this way man has become an agent of evil.

God, however, is great and full of love.  God is so good!  From the beginning God started on a long term plan, a divine plan, a holy plan, a spiritual rescue mission.  God intended from the beginning to redeem us, to rescue us from our own sin and to wrench us out of the hands of the Devil.  God's plan was revealed through Abraham and Sarah, through Moses and Joshua, through David--until finally the time had come for Jesus.  God was always working to restore us to the position we had as his representatives and ambassadors on earth.

This work of restoration was made possible, once and for all, through Jesus and his obedient self-sacrifice.  We remember this Unique Work on Sunday as we share the Lord's Supper together.  We are to always remember Him and be thankful for what He has done!  Jesus is our One Lord and Savior.  All Glory to His Name Alone!

There is, however, so much more to what Jesus did.  Last Sunday at Crossroads we looked at Matthew 4 where Jesus went out to teach, preach and heal "every disease and sickness among the people."  This was wonderful and it drew people to Him like flies!

Jesus preached "the good news of God's Kingdom" and made practical application of that good news.  Just like God had originally sent human beings into the world to "subdue" it, to bring good order back to it, so he sent his Son to do the same.  The task was God sized because God's original representatives had become rebels.  But through Jesus, God did not wait until he had completed his saving work to recruit some of the rebels to his cause.  That's why so much of the Gospel story involves followers, men and women like you and me.

We see this in Matthew 4:18-22.  Right after Jesus received God's power through the Holy Spirit, he started gathering his disciples.  He first called Peter, Andrew, James and John.  He announced his plan.  He would make them to be "fishers of men."  Like Jesus, they would "fish" (think of net fishing) human beings out of chaos and, through the power of God, they would be involved in the process of remaking men and women into new creatures.  Through God's Word and Holy Spirit active in their lives, they would be filled God's passionate desire.  Jesus reassigned them to their original purpose -- to be God's representatives in this broken world.

How did Jesus do this?  Immediately after recruiting his first disciples, Jesus began a ministry tour of the area that he and those first followers knew best (Galilee).  With the disciples in attendance, Jesus preached and taught and healed.  The people of all the surrounding areas brought to Jesus "all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them."  He did this with the disciples watching everything that he did.  He did this so they would learn to do the same.

Read Matthew 10.  Notice how Jesus equips his disciples and then tells them that they will be like him.  He “gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (verse 1).  He told them to do what he had done previously, saying “preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (vss. 7-8).  He warned them not to expect a great reception everywhere, but assured them that they would never be alone.  Then he said this: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” (vss. 24-25).

You and I are to be LIKE JESUS!  We are to IMITATE him!  Not to the extent that I am to die for the sins of the world, of course.  That was done "once for all" by Jesus.  But other than that I do not see any sense that we are to be "unlike" Jesus.  Can you?

All my life, ever since I was a child, I've been taught to learn from Jesus, and, in a limited way, I've been told that, we, as Christians, can be like Jesus.  All my life I've believe that, like Jesus, I am to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.  Like Jesus I am to love my neighbor as myself.  Like Jesus I am to forgive and tell the good news of God.  Like Jesus God wants me to go out and preach the good news.  Like Jesus I am to spend time with my Father God and I am to call God my "Abba," my "daddy."  And all of this is very good.

But, for some reason, I was never taught that Christians could, or should, imitate what Jesus did in his earthly ministry, other than, as I mentioned, loving others, promoting goodness, working against injustice, forgiving and declaring forgiveness, etc.   I don't think there was a total rejection of the other things Jesus and other "miracle workers" did in the Bible.  I can't remember anyone ever teaching me, in so many words, that "Bible miracles didn't happen."  The Biblical studies circles that I was connected with just relegated those things to the distant past.

I think, among some of my teachers and Christian mentors, there was a general understanding or presupposition that "enlightened" or "intelligent" or "modern" people would not see or experience miracles in the same way that the "ignorant" or "superstitious" would.  Perhaps, they would speculate, that if you and I were at the scene of Jesus' feeding of the 5,000, we would see people sharing their lunches with one another.  Or if we had been present at a healing or the driving out of a demon we would see that Jesus possessed a deep intuitive sense that certain people just needed encouragement or love to regain their senses or get up and walk.  That was the liberal perspective.  I'm sure some of my college and seminary professors would be in that camp, together with some pastors I have known who have been faithful to their duties for many years.

I never was able to buy into that liberal line.  Christianity is a miraculous thing, based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  To deny miracles is to deny God.  I have done spiritual battle about this over the years.  The liberal judgment that "God can't do miracles" removes such people from the faith.  You cannot be a Christian and eliminate the supernatural.  It is horrible lie when some people call themselves "believers" or "Christians" and just believe, more or less, that Jesus was just a good teacher, a good man, an example to follow.  No.  That is NOT the Christian faith.  Christian leaders who do not accept the miraculous are liars.  And the devil is the father of lies.  (See John 8:44 once again.)

But though I've never gone that far, I think I have been, together with many "Bible believing people," more or less in the camp of the "cessationists."  I recently read a quote from Jonathan Edwards in which he said that once the Bible was completed, and once the Christian church was "fully founded and established" that "these extraordinary gifts have ceased."

History would say that is true for many within the church.  Many church people would never dream of truly calling on God for a miracle.  In all my years of preparation to be a pastor I never once had a class in "how to pray for a miracle."  The denominations I served as a pastor did not sponsor continuing education events where we could learn how to cast out demons, heal the sick or raise the dead.   And I was tempted, usually, to look on "faith healers" as fake-healers.  There was always a degree of scoffing that went along with names like Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, and Benny Hinn.

As for myself, I could never dismiss present day miracles entirely.  Over the years I have experienced God's supernatural intervention and protection.  And I have known people who have experienced healing that could not be explained by medical means.  In recent years I've been amazed at the faith of young people, including particularly my son Daniel, who step out in faith and seem to get remarkable results.  There was even a testimony given by a young woman I talked with in May who was given a 4 carat diamond as a gift from God.  I have a picture of it on my phone if you are interested in seeing it.

It seems to me that God is on the move in remarkable ways and I am ready to receive and give more of what God has to offer.  I have seen God's work as I have prayed for people who have needed healing.  There was one woman, several years ago, before I came here to the Cokato area, who God chose to rescue from the very brink of death as we gathered to pray for her by her bed.  And there was a man who felt inhabited by a demon--a demon that left his body after he had repented of his sin and received the prayer of faithful men.  And there have been others, many here in the D-C area, who can testify to supernatural healings.  O Lord, let me trust you for more.

Mindy Bak, a pastor at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills and Roseville, wrote something like this recently as she was preparing to preach there on June 3.
We are not cessationists.  We do not believe that the power of God was only for a particular time and place.  We do not believe that God's gifts stopped being given.  Instead, we know that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have been available for use by the church ever since Pentecost.  True, gifts do cease in churches and among Christians who do not use those gifts.  Not because of God, but because we have been unable or unwilling to receive those gifts.  It's like having keys to the car but never taking it out of the driveway.  The tires get dry rot, oil clogs the cylinders, rust corrodes the steel and iron, locking them down.  The fact is, however, that we have the keys!  It's time to get in and drive!
Yes, it's time for us to confidently trust God, ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit, and imitate Jesus.  It's time for us to start trusting and cease our doubting and our human ways of putting limits on what God can do.  That's what needs to stop.  That's what needs to cease.  It's time to release control and step up boldly in prayer, asking God to do what only He can do.  It's time for us to share faith-building testimonies to the supernatural power of God in our lives.  It's time for us to step out in faith.

Imagine if the first disciples would not have trusted Jesus command to "preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give."  Imagine if they had said, "O Jesus, we're not you, we can't do those things."  What would we have called that?  Faithlessness.  Rebellion.  Rejection of God?

And what is there in scripture that says things have changed?  We have just the opposite:  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

We were told, in the great commission, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).  Do you read a limit to that, as if the "everything" we have commanded does not include steps of supernatural faith?  Or are we just making excuses and being unwilling to truly imitate our Lord.

God is calling us to do what we can.  And what we can do is to call on him in prayer, in praise, in thanksgiving.  Let us pray for one another and trust God for the results.  Let us come to the Lord asking for healing, asking for peace, asking for love and joy.  Let us confess our sins and call for experienced Christians to pray for us, so that we may be healed.

When we do this, we will be blessed beyond anything we could ever imagine.


* I encourage you to read the book When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson.  The statement above marked with an asterisk is amplified in that book... see page 30.

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