The Joy of Following Jesus

[This past weekend, I had the privilege of officiating the wedding ceremony of Nathaniel Lee and Brynna Sinyard. Below is my homily. It is a message I need to hear regularly. I assume you do also.]

For whoever would save his life will lose it, 

but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  

Luke 9:24

Nate, Bryana, it has been a joy getting to know you these past couple of years. And it has been a privilege shepherding you to grow in your love for God and one another.

I am sorry you are leaving Trinity. From the pictures you have taken, to the classes you have taught, you have been a true blessing to our church family. But, at the same time, I am happy for you as you begin this next stage of your life together.

I know from our many conversations the earnest zeal you share to present your united life as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable in his sight. And I know the plans you have made to that end.

I want you to know that, just as Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, my prayer for you is that God would fulfill your every resolve for good and grant to you the desire of your heart. And I am sure there are many here who join me in that prayer.

But, at the same time, I want you to know that not all your plans will come to fruition, not all your dreams will be realized. Some you will joyfully set aside as you take up better options. Others you will discard simply because they no longer hold your interest. But still others, despite your best efforts, for one reason or another, you just won’t be able to accomplish.

I think of Paul’s writing to the Romans. He  says,  “I long to preach the gospel in Rome, and many times have intended to come to you, but thus far I have been prevented.”

Imagine that. It was Paul’s ambition to serve God by taking the gospel to Rome. And many times, Paul made plans to do just that. But for one reason or another, he was never able make it there. He was never able to bring his plans to fruition. In fact, he only ever made it to Rome in chains, as a prisoner of the state.

You will experience the same thing. Life will not always go according to your plans or follow your script. In 10, 20, or 30 years, you will look back and be amazed at the path God has lead you down. You will marvel at the unexpected twists and turns, the detours you never expected, and the side-roads you never would have chosen.

As Proverbs says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

This is the reality of life in this present evil age. So, this is what I want you to hear and remember as you begin your life together:

  • Your joy is not tied to your plans.
  • Your happiness is not tethered to your dreams.
  • Your satisfaction is not bound to the script you have written for your life.

Now, it is good to have plans. It is good to have dreams. But, you must hold them lightly. For you plans are not your calling.

Your calling, or as our catechism says, your chief end, is to glorify God: to serve him fully and without reservation, to do whatever he gives you to do, day by day, year by year. You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. You are his servant. You are at his disposal. Your calling is not to execute your plan, but to serve your king. And sometimes that will mean letting your plans go.

Of course, this won’t always be easy. In Luke 9, Jesus said setting down your plans to follow him will sometimes feel like dying. It will hurt. You will grieve.

But, Jesus also said this. “The one who loses his life for my sake, will save it.” The one who loses his life to follow Jesus will find true life, and he will find it abundantly.

That’s why our catechism adds, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Man’s one, singular end is to glorify God AND enjoy him forever. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. It is as you seek the glory of God day by day, according to the opportunities he presents, with the resources he provides, in the strength he gives, that you will find true and lasting joy. Your joy is inseparably bound up with God’s glory.

The apostle Paul knew this and he called it the secret to being content in whatever situation the Lord placed him. I pray you will know it too as you begin your life together. May you always be able to say, “For to us to live is Christ.”

For, if that is the confession of your heart, then you will know joy inexpressible no matter what the years may bring. And because such joy can be ours in his service, that is one reason we call this good news. Do you believe this? I pray you do. And I pray this gospel will be the foundation of your life together.

 

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Woe to the Lawyers! (Part 2)

In Luke 11:37-54 Jesus teaches us about the nature of true obedience by way of contrast with the false obedience of the Pharisees and Lawyers. This past Sunday we considered Jesus’ second and third “Woes” against the Lawyers. Jesus rebuked the Lawyers for paying lip service to the prophets while actually rejecting them. As people who are confessionally committed to the absolute authority of God’s Word in all questions of faith and practice, we would do well to ask ourselves if there are areas in our lives where that commitment is little more than lip service.

You may listen to audio of the sermon and download a copy of the manuscript at www.trinityprescleveland.com/#/sermons.

Woe to the Lawyers!

This past Sunday I preached from Luke 11:45-54. These verses form the second half of a narrative which began at v. 37 when Jesus was invited to a dinner party at the house of a Pharisee.

Jesus’ table conversation with the Pharisees and lawyers at the party teaches us about the nature of true obedience. In the previous narrative, Luke 11:14-36, Jesus taught the crowds what it means to be with him. In sum, he said it is the one who hears the word of God and keeps it who is with him. But what does that mean? At the dinner party, Jesus teaches something more about what it means to hear and keep the word of God.

Jesus does this by way of contrast with the obedience of the Pharisees and lawyers. In the first half of the narrative, Jesus shows us that the hypocritical, ritual-focused obedience of the Pharisees is not the sort of obedience he desires. In the second part of the narrative, Jesus shows us that the legalistic, casuistic obedience of the lawyers is not what he has in mind either.

He does this by way of three “Woes.” We looked at the first of these “Woes” on Sunday. You may listen to the audio of the sermon and download a copy of my manuscript at www.trinityprescleveland.com.

NOTE: I have now added manuscripts for all my sermons this year, so you can listen to and read previous sermons too by following the same link.

 

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

In the second half of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus identifies three things we need in order to live lives worthy of our callings in Christ Jesus. If we are to live to the praise of God’s glory, we need bread, forgiveness, and leading. In sermons previously posted I have discussed our need for bread and forgiveness. This past Sunday I considered our need for leading. I have posted my manuscript below. Unfortunately, the sermon was not recorded. Continue reading

Let Your Reasonableness Be Known

We sometimes think we are suppose to rejoice and give thanks regardless of our circumstances. After all, Paul said he could be content in plenty or in want, and he commanded us to rejoice always. However, being indifferent to circumstances is more Eastern than Christian. Paul never instructs us to be indifferent to our circumstances. Rather, he shows us that in Christ, our circumstances are always reason to give thanks. I explained this further in my homily at our Thanksgiving Service on Wednesday. The service was not recorded, but I have posted my notes below. Continue reading

Forgive Us Our Sins

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave them what we usually call the Lord’s prayer. This strongly suggests that Jesus expects his disciples to learn to pray by using the Lord’s prayer. This was my experience when I was first taught to use the prayer. I am confident it will be your experience too when you begin using the prayer regularly.

One reason the Lord’s prayer transforms our prayers is it forces us to put our priorities in order. When we pray the Lord’s prayer we begin with the honor of God’s name and coming of his kingdom. Only after making God’s honor and kingdom our first requests, do we begin to ask God to supply our needs.

This ordering, puts our needs in perspective. Why do we need daily bread? We need bread because we are physical beings who have physical needs that must be met in order for us to honor God as God and seek first his kingdom.

The same thing could be said about forgiveness. We need daily forgiveness of our daily sins in order to honor God as God and seek first his kingdom. However, the reason we need forgiveness is not as obvious as the reason we need bread. How does God’s forgiveness enable and equip us to honor and serve him?

That is the main question I wanted to answer in my sermon on the fourth (fifth in Matthew’s gospel) petition of the Lord’s prayer. However, I didn’t actually get to it. Before I could explain the reason we need forgiveness daily in order to daily walk in a manner worthy of our calling, I had to explain the reason we need forgiveness at all. If we have been justified, if all our sins, past, present and future, have been forgiven and we have been counted righteous in God’s sight because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed or credited to our account, why do we need to repeatedly seek God’s forgiveness?

That is the question I spent all my time on yesterday. The main thing I wanted people to see is that our daily sins have a real and detrimental effect on our relationship with our heavenly Father, and therefore must be dealt with daily if we are to fully experience the joy of our salvation. When we do not own and confess our sins, they break our communion with God.

The manuscript of my sermon is included below. The audio may be found at Trinity’s website. If you listen to the audio, you will discover that I was not able to cover the entire manuscript. I will pick up where I left off next Sunday.


Luke 11:1-4

Forgive Us Our Sins

Scripture Reading and Prayer

Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 11. Our Scripture reading this morning is again Luke 11:1-4, Luke’s account of Jesus teaching his disciples what we normally refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” although it might more appropriately be called “The Disciples’ Prayer.” If you are using one of the pew Bibles, you will find Luke 11 on page 869.

Luke 11:1-4. Listen to this. This is the very Word of God.

[1] Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” [2] And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
[3] Give us each day our daily bread,
[4] and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

That is the reading of God’s Word. Let’s pray and ask God for his blessing upon our study…

Introduction

I use an app called Flipboard to cull the vast recesses of the internet to find articles I might be interested in reading. One of the topics I tell it to look for is “productivity.” This week, one of the articles it pointed me to under the heading of productivity was an article espousing the importance of consciously setting your priorities in order each morning. If you want to make the most of the limited number of hours God gives you each day, then you must major on the majors, you must do first things first, you must be proactive rather than merely reactive, otherwise, you will be subject to what someone has called the tyranny of the urgent. You will stay busy, but you won’t be truly productive, because while you will get lots of things done, you won’t get the most important things done. So the experts say. And, when you think about it, it makes sense.

But, the idea of consciously setting your priorities in order each day in order to spend your best hours on your most important priorities is not a new idea. In fact, I would suggest to you that Jesus teaches us to just that when he teaches us to pray “The Lord’s Prayer.”

In the first half of this prayer, Jesus teaches us how to set our priorities in order. He teaches us to pray first for the honor of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom, because the honor of his name and the coming of his kingdom are to be our first and foremost priorities. To glorify God and enjoy him forever is our chief end, that which we are to desire and pursue and work toward above and before all else. In fact, it is not just that these are to be our first priorities. They are to be our only priorities. Our exclusive priorities. Everything we do is to be unto the Lord, for the sake of his name, to the praise of his glory, in the service of his kingdom.

It is this understanding of the exclusive priority of the first two petitions that allows us to properly understand the three petitions in the second half of the prayer. In the second half of the prayer, the focus obviously changes. In the first two petitions, we pray for God’s name and God’s kingdom. In the last three petitions, we pray for our bread, our forgiveness, and our protection. But, the two halves of the prayer are not unrelated. It is not as if, after praying for the things God wants us to pray for, we are then allowed to move on and pray for the things we really want or need. Not at all. Rather, the second half of the prayer gives voice to requests for the things we will need in order to be pursue the things we asked for in the first half of the prayer.

So, what is it that Jesus thinks we need in order to serve his honor and kingdom? He lists three things: bread, forgiveness, and protection or deliverance. If we are to be agents of God’s honor and kingdom, we need each of these.

Last Sunday, we looked at the first of these: the request for daily bread. We saw that bread represents the material provision we need in order to glorify God and serve his kingdom — whatever that provision happens to be.

This morning, our focus will be on the request for forgiveness. First, I want to look more closely at our need for forgiveness. If we have been justified in Christ, if all our sins have been pardoned, covered by his blood, and if his perfect righteousness has been credited to our account, why do we need to ask for forgiveness each day? I know we sin. But, haven’t our sins already been taken care of?

Second, I want to look at the necessity of forgiveness. It is not hard to understand why we need material provision in order to glorify and serve God. But, why do we need forgiveness? How does forgiveness enable and equip us to seek God’s honor and serve his kingdom?

Then, next week we will look at the conditionality of forgiveness. I want us to try to understand in what sense our forgiveness from God is conditioned upon our forgiveness of others. We know that we don’t earn or merit God’s grace. If we did, it wouldn’t be grace. Why then do we ask God to forgive us because we forgive others?

Our Need for Forgiveness

So, first, our need of forgiveness. It has been said, “A little theology can be dangerous.” Most of the false teachings that have plagued the church over the centuries were the result of a teacher, often a well-intentioned teacher, taking one Biblical truth and developing it in a way that seemed logical to finite human minds, but was nevertheless out of accord with the whole counsel of God. For example, an emphasis on the oneness of God led some to deny the Trinity; an emphasis on Jesus’ deity led some to deny his humanity, and an emphasis on his humanity led some to deny his deity; an emphasis on God’s sovereignty led some to deny man’s freedom, and an emphasis on man’s freedom led some to deny God’s sovereignty.

One such error, that results from a seemingly logical, but ultimately unbiblical development of a Biblical truth is known as “antinomianism.” The word “antinomian” simply means “against the law.” But, it does not properly apply to those who simply refuse to honor God as God and therefore refuse to obey his law. The Biblical term for such people is unrighteous or ungodly. An antinomian is different. An antinomian honors God as God. He knows himself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving of his holy wrath and condemnation. He knows he is without hope except in his sovereign mercy. He knows Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God and savior of sinners and he receives and rests upon him alone for his salvation. He knows he justified in God’s sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to his account and received by faith alone.

All this is true. And the antinomian knows all this and believes all this. But, the antinomian takes the Biblical truth of justification by faith alone, justification on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed or credited to the sinner and received by faith alone–the antinomian takes that glorious Biblical truth and develops it in an unbiblical way.

The antinomian says that because the sinner is justified in God’s sight on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness, from that moment forward when God looks at the sinner all he sees is Christ’s righteousness. God never sees the justified sinner’s sins again. They have been blotted out, covered over, removed as far as the east is from the west, forgotten forever. Therefore, God is never angry with his child, he is never displeased, never grieved. He never has anything but joy and delight in him, because when he sees him he sees only the perfect righteousness of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The justified sinner’s sins have no effect on his relationship with God because they have already been taken care of.

I am sure you have heard this sort of thing. It is common teaching, especially in Reformed circles. I won’t name names this morning, but there are those in our own denomination who come perilously close to teaching this sort of thing.

And, I must admit, it seems logical to our finite human minds. What’s more, those who teach this sort of thing are often well-intentioned; they intend to magnify the glory of God’s grace in Christ. But, despite their good intentions, it is false teaching. It is unbiblical. It is not in accord with the whole counsel of God.

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than right here. Jesus teaches his disciples, those who had believed in him and been given the right to be called children of God–Jesus teaches them to pray daily for the forgiveness of their sins.

Now, admittedly, the word daily is not in the fourth petition. But, that this petition is part of a prayer in which we ask for our daily bread, it is generally understood that this is a prayer Jesus intended his disciples to pray daily. So, Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray daily for the forgiveness of their sins. Obviously, Jesus thinks his disciples sins need to be dealt with each new day. They are justified, yes; but each new day they need to ask for forgiveness.

How are we to make sense of this? If all our sins, past, present and future, were forgiven when we believed in Christ, such that Paul can say in Romans 8, there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ, why do we need to ask for forgiveness again and again each new day?

One possible answer to this question is to say that justification, God’s declaration that we are righteous in his sight when we believed in Christ, only took care of our past sins, the sins we had committed up to that point. But, that any sins we commit after our justification need to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches something like this. But, this teaching has been repeatedly rejected by Reformed theologians as decidedly out of accord with the Biblical teaching regarding justification. Justification is not simply a clean slate, or a fresh start, that we might mess up after the fact with future sins.

Think about what Paul says in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For, if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

Notice the phrase “much more.” Paul sees justification as something that guarantees and secures our final salvation. If we have been justified, much more shall we be finally saved.

He says something similar in Ephesians 1, when he calls the Holy Spirit, whom we received in union with Christ, the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.

So, it will not do to say that justification dealt only with our past sins. When we were justified, all our sins, past, present and future, were dealt with decisively, once and for all time.

But, how then do we explain our need to ask daily for the forgiveness of our sins? I think a number of illustrations can help us at this point.

Think about a young man who marries his college sweetheart. The moment he says, “I do,” he is married. At that moment he becomes his wife’s husband, till death do us part. But, I promise you, there will be times when he doesn’t act like a husband to his wife. There will be times when he puts his own interests before hers. There will be times when responds to her with anger or bitterness. There will be times when he does not love her well. When he sins against her in these ways, he doesn’t have to get married again. He is married. He is her husband. But he does need to seek her forgiveness. Because his sins have harmed the relationship. His union with his wife is set, but his communion with her has been broken.

We could say something similar about a child’s relationship with his father… When a child sins against his father, he doesn’t need to be adopted again. He is already his father’s son. That relationship has not been undone. But, he does need to seek his father’s forgiveness.

The parallel is not exact, of course. No illustration is perfect. But, I think these examples help us understand why we need to ask for forgiveness again and again, each new day. Simply put, we need to deal with our sin on a daily basis because our sin has a real and detrimental impact on our relationship with our heavenly Father. Let me say that again. We need to deal with our sin daily because our sin has a real and detrimental impact on our relationship with God.

If we have believed on Jesus Christ, if we have received and rested upon him alone for salvation, then we have been justified. We have been declared righteous in God’s sight. There is therefore now no condemnation for us, nor can there ever be. As Paul says in Romans 8, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?”

You need to understand this. If you have believed in Jesus, you have peace with God, you have an inheritance in his coming kingdom, you have a sure and certain hope of glory, because the perfect righteousness of Christ has been imputed, or credited to your account. He who knew no sin became sin so that you might become the righteousness of God. That is the glorious truth of the gospel.

But, while we have been justified, our salvation is not yet complete. Luther used the phrase, “Simul iustus et peccator.” That is, simultaneously justified and sinner. We are justified. But we are still sinners. And our daily sins grieve our heavenly Father and incur his fatherly displeasure. Our sins cut us off from the joy of his salvation, the joy of our fellowship with him, the joy of his blessing.

Our union with Christ, which is the ground of our eternal hope, is not undone by our sins. But our communion with God is affected. Our union is unchanged. Our communion is harmed.

Many of you feel cold and empty, you feel dry and weary, your hearts are not filled with love, you know nothing of true and solid joy, peace is elusive. God seems to you distant. You are afraid to admit it, but your relationship with him seems anything but persona, anything but intimate. Your Christianity seems rote, perfunctory, external.

I do not want to suggest that if this is the case, it must be because of unconfessed sin. However, I do want to say that it is possible. I think many, many Christians fail to experience the joy of their salvation and the sweetness of communion with God because of personal sin left unconfessed.

This may mean an obvious sin like sexual immorality in the form of pornography or an illicit relationship. If you are living in obvious, unconfessed, high-handed sin, you cannot be living in true fellowship with God.  

But, the sin that separates us from God isn’t always so obvious. it also may be something more subtle.

Think about what sin is. Jesus teaches us to say, “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” We will talk about the significance of this condition next Sunday. For now, I simply want you to see the parallel Jesus draws between sin and debt. Whatever else sin is, sin is a debt.

Sin is a debt we owe to God. Sin is a failure to give to God what we owe him, what is rightfully his. Yes, we sin when we violate one of his explicit commands. But, we also sin any time we fail to honor him as God. When we fail to devote ourselves to him without reservation or qualification… When we fail to offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices… When we make someone or something else our ultimate ambition, our chief end… Whenever we fail to honor God as God in any of these ways, we sin. And, when we sin in these ways, we sabotage our communion with him. When we sin in these ways, we break our fellowship, we cut ourselves off from grace and we forfeit blessing.

We see this in Psalm 66, when the psalmist writes, “If I have cherished iniquity in my heart, you would not have listened.” Or when Peter instructs husbands to love their wives for the sake of their prayers.

It is simply not the case that our justification in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone means that our sins have no bearing on our relationship with God. There is an illustration that many Reformed pastors use. They ask their people to imagine two senarios. The first is a good day… The second is a bad day… They then ask their people on which day they would be more confident of God’s blessing. They say the people are more expectant of God’s blessing when they have a good day, less when they have a bad day. This, they say, is moralism, or worse. Because we are justified by faith alone apart from works, our obedience has no bearing on our relationship. I have heard the illustration more times than I can count. I suspect you have too. It is a powerful illustration. But it simply isn’t true.

Our sins can and do have an impact on our relationship with God. That is why they must be dealt with day after day after day.

So, let’s think about what this means for us. If your Christian experience is cold, dry, lifeless… If you know little to nothing of true joy and peace… If your love for God is a smoldering wick… then I challenge you to consider if you have been daily bringing your debts to God and asking his forgiveness.

I suspect most of you are pretty good about asking forgiveness for your big sins, your obvious sins. But I think most of us are oblivious to our more subtle debts, to our profound failure to honor God as God by failing to offer ourselves to him as whole burnt offerings. And, I think most of us are unaware of the effect this has on our communion with him.

I am wont to complain — usually privately, to myself; I would dare say it outloud — but I am wont to complain about my lack of experience, about my cold fellowship and dry communion. And, when I complain, I tend to think God is the problem, that he is holding back, that he is keeping his distance, that it’s his fault. I would never say it that way of course; I know better. But I think it and feel it.

But, it’s not his fault. Most of the time, my experience is lacking because my devotion is lacking. I have been living for myself, I have been seeking my own kingdom, I have been absorbed with my own interests, and I wonder why God isn’t with me. Did not God say, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” Did not Jesus say, “Go forth in obedience, and I will be with you.” Is it any wonder that when we walk away from God to do our own thing, we feel his absence?

We daily need to bring our sins before God and ask for his forgiveness, not because our ongoing sins cut us off from Christ and salvation, but because they cut us off from the blessing of his presence and favor. Just as a man must keep short accounts with his wife in order to fully experience and enjoy the relationship, so too must we keep short accounts with God.

The Necessity of Forgiveness

Seeing this helps us also see the necessity of forgiveness. I said, Jesus is teaching us to pray for what we need in order to seek his honor and serve his kingdom. The first thing we need is bread, material provision. We are physical beings and we need physical provision in order to walk in a manner worthy of our callings.

But, we also need forgiveness. We need forgiveness in order to honor God in our daily lives by seeking his kingdom because we need a vibrant communion with God, we need his empowering presence, in order to live such lives.

Speaking of his own calling, Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for such work?” Now, he was talking about preaching the gospel. But, I think we could ask the same question of any one of our callings.

  • If you are a husband, you are called to love your wife as Christ loved the church.
  • If you are a wife, you are called to submit to your husband as unto the Lord.
  • If you are a parent, you are called to raise your children…
  • If you are a child, you are called to honor and obey…

You are called to love your neighbor as yourself. You are called to do good for others at every opportunity. You are called to put the interests of others before your own. You are called to confess Christ before men. You are called to do justice and love mercy. You are called to be an agent of shalom, especially for those most marginalized and at risk.

You could rightfully ask, who is sufficient for such work. The truth is, you’re not. You need God’s presence and favor. You need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only in his power are you able to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.

And, that is why you need forgiveness. You need to daily tend to your relationship with God because it is your communion with him, your fellowship with him, that enables and empowers you to live the Christian life.

Does that make sense to you? I hope it does, because this is important. I think a lot of Christians feel powerless to renounce certain sins or to put on certain virtues. They think they’ve tried. But, for whatever reason, God has not given them the immeasurable power they need to put the sin to death or to put on virtue.

This leaves many Christians confused. Why hasn’t God empowered them? They honestly want to put off this or that sin, they honestly want to put on love or peace or patience, but they can’t. And they don’t understand.  

I think one of the reasons, not the only reason, but one of the reasons we fail to experience God’s power is that we have unforgiven debt. Yes, we want to be done with this or that sin, because we clearly see the consequences of this or that sin in our lives, we see the damage it is doing. But, we are not willing to devote our entire lives to him, we are not willing to offer ourselves to him as whole burnt offerings. Truth be told, we want him to help us put to death this sin so that we can more easily and effectively go on living for ourselves.

If we would know God’s power to live lives worthy of our calling, we must own our debt and we must bring it to God for forgiveness. We must confess our self-interest, our self-concern, our self-absorption, our self-promotion. And we must turn from it to God with the full purpose of new obedience.

Now, I want to be careful at this point. I know some of you just heard me say you must obey God in order to earn his blessing. That’s not what I said.

I said, you must deal with your sin daily. You must repent and believe the gospel daily. That’s a big difference.

Repentance involves turning from sin to God with the full purpose of new obedience. Believing means acknowledging Jesus as your rightful Lord. When you ask for forgiveness, that is what you are doing. You cannot ask for forgiveness without acknowledging your sin as sin. And you cannot acknowledge your sin and sin without desiring and purposing to turn from it.

What God demands of us is that we daily own our sins, our failures to honor him as God. And that we daily turn from those sins to him–for grace. God demands that we ask his forgiveness so that we may receive his power to walk in a new direction.

Jesus is not teaching us to bring our obedience to God in order to buy his blessing. Not at all. On the contrary, he is teaching us to bring our sins to heavenly Father in order to receive his grace.

You see, our sins have been paid for. Our salvation is bought and paid for. We don’t have to buy it again. We don’t have to earn his blessing. But, we must walk in faith to experience it. And walking in faith means acknowledging that we are still sinners in need of grace.

When we fail to do that, we cut ourselves off from true fellowship, we break our communion. Is it any wonder we then feel alone and powerless? May God teach us to daily ask forgiveness for our sins, so that we may daily experience the full joy of our salvation.

Our Daily Bread

This past Sunday I preached on the third petition of The Lord’s Prayer as it is recorded for us in Luke’s Gospel: “Give us each day our daily bread.” In our study, I tried to show that this petition is organically connected with the prior two. It is not as if, after having prayed for God’s honor and kingdom, we are now, finally able to ask for the things we really want. On the contrary, the request for daily bread is a request for all the material provision we need in order to be agents of God’s honor and kingdom. But, because we are asking for the sake of God’s name, we may confident that he will answer; as children of the King, we will never lack the resources we need to walk in a manner worthy of the calling we have received in Christ.

I have included my manuscript below. Audio of the sermon may be found at Trinity’s website.


Luke 11:1-4

Give Us Each Day Our Daily Bread

Scripture Reading and Prayer

Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 11. Our Scripture reading this morning is again going to be Luke 11:1-4, Luke’s account of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which we have been studying for the past few weeks. If you are using one of the pew Bibles, you will find Luke 11 on page 869.

In our study of this prayer to this point, we have seen, first, the importance of invocation, i.e. of naming the God to whom we pray. We pray to our Father in heaven. That means, first, that he loves us and is for us. And, that means second, that he is able to help us.

Second, we have seen that the honor of God’s name is to be our focus, the controlling ambition, of our prayers. We are to desire and seek and pray for God’s glory above and before all else. In fact, everything we pray for is to serve this end.

And third, we have seen that God gets honor for his name, first and foremost, by bringing his kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, so we are to pray to that end. We may want God to get glory for himself by blessing us with this or that, but God get’s glory for himself by subduing his enemies and his people to himself.

It is with this in mind, that I want us to turn our attention to the third petition this morning.

Luke 11:1-4. Listen to this. This is the very Word of God.

1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread,

4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:1-4 ESV)

That is the reading of God’s Word. Let’s pray and ask God for his blessing upon our study.

Father in heaven…

 

The Reason We Ask for Daily Bread

Most of us, if not all of us, struggle with prayer. I doubt any of us would say our prayer lives are all they should be, that there is no room for improvement. And I think most of us would say, our prayer lives fall woefully short.

That is why the disciples’ question resonates with our hearts. They longed to pray as Jesus prayed. We share that longing. That is why we are taking the time to study this prayer in such detail.

But, despite our struggles with prayer, I doubt many of us are utterly prayerless. We do not pray as we should, or as we would like, but we do pray. So, my initial question for you this morning is this. What cares or concerns most consistently drive you to prayer?

We have seen over the course of the past few weeks that the focus of our prayers, the driving ambition behind our prayers, is to be the honor of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom. But, truth be told, these are not the concerns that most often drive us to prayer. In my experience, at least, the concerns that most effectively and most consistently drive Christians to prayer center on our physical well-being.

  • We pray for safety when we travel. Protecting from harm and inconvenience.
  • We pray for healing when we or someone we love are sick or hurt.
  • We pray for our material needs to be met.
  • We pray for wisdom to make the best choice so that we may avoid unnecessary trouble or pain.

These are not improper subjects of prayer. We are commanded to make our requests know to God (Philippians 4) and to cast all our anxieties upon him who cares for us (1 Peter 5). Certainly, this includes our need for material provision and physical protection. After all, doesn’t Jesus say, “All these things,” referring to what you will eat, what you will drink, and what you will put on, “all these things will be added unto you”? And doesn’t he here teach his disciples to pray for their daily bread?

So, it cannot be wrong to pray for these things. But, how we pray for these things matters. The first thing I want us to see this morning is that such requests must be made in the context of the two requests we’ve already considered. It is not the case that we begin with the honor of God’s name and coming of his kingdom, and then, after those are taken care of, move on to other, unrelated concerns. It is not as if, after doing our homework, we can now go outside and play; after doing what he had to do, we can not finally do what we want to do.

Rather, the request for bread flows out of and ultimately serves the requests concerning God’s name and kingdom. When we ask for daily bread, we are asking for the provisions we need to seek first the kingdom of God and glorify his name. We are not asking for the things we want for ourselves, for our own enjoyment, pleasure, or protection, independent of or unrelated to our driving concern for the glory of God’s name. On the contrary, we are asking for what we need to pursue and accomplish our chief end as defined by the first two petitions.

Someone has compared prayer to the radio a platoon takes into battle. That radio allows the platoon to communicate with headquarters and to make requests. And the vast majority of the requests that are sent over that radio are for material provision and physical protection. But, those requests are not for things unrelated to the platoon’s mission. Rather, they are for things directly related to that mission, things essential to that mission, things necessary for that mission.

It ought to be the same with prayer. The requests we bring to God in prayer ought to be related to our primary mission, essential to that mission, necessary for that mission.

When this is not the case, it is most often, because we have no compelling sense of being on mission. We may mouth the first two petitions, but they do not grip our hearts and shape our lives. We give lip service to God’s honor and kingdom, but most of the time we live for ourselves, most of the time we seek first our interests. And, therefore, when we pray for bread, for material provision, we are praying for it for our own reasons, for our own agendas, for our own purposes. When we pray for bread, we are not doing it in a way that honors God as God, but in an way that exalts ourselves.

Therefore, if we would learn to pray for daily bread as we should, we must first learn learn to pray the first two petitions. I hope you have been doing this the past few weeks. That is why I issued the challenge. I want you to be practicing this. And I hope it has been reshaping your prayer life.

If not, this is where you need to begin. You can only pray for daily bread in a way that honors God, when God’s honor is your chief and controlling interest. So that must come first. We must begin with the realization that we pray for daily bread so that we may have the strength to seek first the kingdom of God. When we pray for daily bread, we are asking for the material provision we need to honor God as God in the course of our daily lives.

With this understanding clearly in our minds, I now want to consider the petition itself more closely.

 

The Reason We Ask for Daily Bread

First, why does Jesus teach us to ask for bread? I have been assuming that this petition represents all our petitions related to material and physical needs. I think that is generally understood and readily acknowledged. But, why does Jesus use the image of bread?

I think we need to be careful at this point. Most of us associate bread with the bare necessities, the minimum requirement of sustenance, subsistence-level provision. We think of a prison living on mere bread and water.

In fact, it has often been pointed out that Jesus teaches us to pray for bread, not filet mignon or apple pie. When people say this, they usually mean to convey that we are to ask God for necessities and not luxuries.

In a sense, this is right, of course. I have just been saying that we are suppose to ask for those things essential to our mission, necessary for accomplishing our purpose. However, we must not make the mistake of associating necessary with meager.

It would be a mistake to associate bread with the minimum required provision, the the bare necessities, with subsistence-level living. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind at all. Bread simply did not have that connotation in Jesus’ day.

When Jesus fed the 5000, and then again the 4000, he fed them with bread. That bread was not meant to be seen as a meager provision. It was not meant to be seen as the bare necessity. On the contrary, the accounts of those miracles present Jesus to us as an abundant provider. Think about all the baskets full of pieces that were left over. The evangelists mention the left overs specifically so that we don’t miss the point. Jesus provides an super abundance—not just enough. And that super abundance came in the form of bread.

We see the same thing when we consider that Jesus described his own body, broken for sinners, as bread. It would be absurd to the extreme to think that Jesus described his body as bread because he wanted us to see his sacrifice as meager, or just enough, the bare necessities.

In the same way, then, it is silly to think Jesus is teaching us to pray for nothing more than the bare necessities, the minimum required provision. That is not what Jesus intends at all.

We are not restricted to asking God for bare necessities, as if asking for more would be greedy or selfish. We must ask for that which enables us to live lives worthy of our calling, and only that which enables us to live such lives. Why? Because to us to live is Christ, not Christ plus anything else. Our whole lives are to be offered to God as living sacrifices, as whole burnt offerings, without reservation or qualification. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. Therefore, we ask for only that which empowers us to glorify God because God’s glory is our singular ambition.

But, we are free to ask for whatever we need, whatever would be good, whatever would promote our pursuit of his honor and kingdom, however grand the request.

We are free to make big requests. We are not going to strain his resources. He is the creator, the maker of heaven and earth. He is the Almighty God who calls the things that are not as though they were. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or even imagine.

A General does not provide his troops with the minimum they need to get the job done. He gives them the best he’s got. How much more will our Father in heaven provide us with his best to pursue his glory.

You may be able to do a lot of jobs around the house with a hammer and screwdriver, but how must better could you do many of those jobs with the best tool for the job. I learned that lesson in St. Louis when I was trying to replace the vanity in our only bathroom. Because I am not much of a handy man, I don’t have much of a tool collection. So, I was trying to do the job with a standard adjustable wrench. After more than an hour of frustration, I gave up and went across the street to ask my neighbor for help. He looked at me incredulously when I told him what I had been doing and asked, “Don’t you know they make a tool for that?” I didn’t. He gave me the tool and sent me home. With the right tool even I was able to complete the job easily. Why would we think God wouldn’t want us to have the best tools for the work he’s given us to do?

Do not think we are suppose to ask for just enough. That is not Jesus’ point at all.

So, what do you need to glorify God? What would empower and enable you to live to the praise of his glory? Whatever it is, ask for it.

  • This is why we pray for health.
  • This is why we pray for protection and safety.
  • This is why we pray for material provision.

We pray for these things because these things set us free to seek first his kingdom. Of course, that means we leave the final decision in God’s hands. If God has a purpose for our sickness or want or oppression, then we are willing to endure these things even with joy. Not because they are good in themselves, but because they are to his glory and our good. His glory is our ultimate concern, and we trust he knows how to get glory for himself better than we do—so we trust him. But, in the meantime, we ask for what we think will best equip us to do what he has called us to do.

So, what do you think God is calling you do for his glory?

If you can’t answer that question, you need to start there. You can’t very well live for his glory if you have no idea what that means. And if you need help thinking through your answer, please let me or one of the other mature Christians in our congregation know. We would love to come along side you as work out your answer.

For me, it looks like several things.

  • I am a husband, — love as Christ loved the church
  • A father, — raise children in instruction and admonition of the Lord
  • A son and grandson, — honor and care for family
  • A brother, — support and encourage brothers and sisters
  • A pastor, — feed God’s sheep with God’s word, in large, small, and one-to-one
  • A friend, — support and encourage
  • A neighbor, — do good as have opportunity, esp the good of sharing gospel
  • And a citizen. – pursue shalom for all.

Those are my vocations, my callings. I am to do each one as unto the Lord. I don’t always know exactly, precisely what that means in every situation, but I have a pretty good idea most of the time. You need that same kind of understanding.

And once you have it, you are free to ask for whatever provision you need. It is not that we are suppose to ask for a used Chevy instead of a new Cadillac. If a new Cadillac is what you need, ask for it. Ask for whatever you need. Ask for whatever is the best tool for the job. Daily Bread represents the daily provision we need to do whatever we’ve been called to do for his glory today.

The Reason We Ask for Daily Bread

The second thing I want you to notice about this petition is that we are to make our requests, our big, bold requests, daily. We don’t ask for this year’s bread, this month’s bread, or even this week’s bread. We ask for daily bread.

Now, the word Jesus uses is an uncommon word. In fact, this is the only place it is used in the NT. Therefore, there is some debate about the best way to translate it. But, just about everyone agrees, Jesus intends for us to ask for our bread one day at time. Jesus even says something like this in Matthew 6. He says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.”

So, we are to ask for each new day’s provision, each new day. But why? Why does Jesus want us to pray for daily bread? I think it is because God wants us to walk by faith. He wants us to live by trust.

But again we have to be careful we understand what this means. Most of us don’t like moving forward until we know all our resources are lined up. We aren’t going camping until all our gear is packed and ready. When I go somewhere, I almost always overpack, just in case.

I want you to hear me say there is wisdom in that. I may over do it a bit, but it is good to prepare. Right now the elders are going through a process of preparing for our next 5-7 years of ministry. That is good. There is no virtue in not preparing, or not thinking about what you will need to bring a work to completion. There is no virtue in flying by the seat of your pants. God isn’t against preparation. In fact, he commends the ant for it.

But, we have a tendency to trust what we can see, what we can touch, what we can count and quantify. This is where faith comes in. Walking by faith means believing God is all the resource we need. Walking by faith means believing that if God is with us, then everything and anything we could possibly need is at our ready disposal.

Is God calling you to be a get married? Well, you aren’t ready. That’s a fact. But, he is all the resource you need. That doesn’t mean you don’t read the books and go to the seminars. God uses those things. But you can trust him.

Is God calling you to be a parent? Well, you aren’t ready. You aren’t. But…

Is God calling you to coach a young believer in gospel living? Well, you aren’t ready…

Is God calling you to share the gospel with an unbeliever? Well, you aren’t ready…

Is God calling you to work for justice at work or in the community? Well, you aren’t ready…

Is God calling you to show mercy to an elderly couple or single mom on your street? Well, you aren’t ready…

Is God calling you to make peace with a difficult person? Well, you aren’t ready…

Whatever God is calling you to, you aren’t ready. But, he is sufficient. He is all the resource you need. And he will gladly provide.

This is the clear lesson of the manna God gave his people in the wilderness, the Biblical example of daily bread par excellence. God was asking them to wander in the desert, where there simply were no resources other than him. They had to walk by faith. They had to believe he was enough. Day after day after day. They couldn’t gather a week’s worth on Monday. They had to trust that his mercies were new every morning. They had to trust he was all the resource they needed for each new day.

We struggle with this precisely because we live with such apparent security and have such abundant self-confidence. We must learn to see that are far more dependent on God’s daily grace then we normally recognize.

  • Health is fragile. At any moment, we or someone we love could be hurt in an accident or be diagnosed with a terminal disease.
  • Money is fragile. One accident, or a layoff, or a down turn in the economy, and anyone of us could find ourselves without the ability to make ends meet in the blink of an eye.
  • Security is fragile. In no time at all, the government could be taking our property, our freedom, even our lives. That’s not crazy talk. It could happen in the blink of an eye. The things that happen over there, could be happening here very soon.

We simply do not know what the future holds. We don’t know what today holds. We need God to protect and provide for us today, everyday. And, we need to know each day that we need God to protect and provide for us. We to live with an active sense of our need and an intentional posture of trust. And so, Jesus teaches us to ask for our daily bread.

The Promise of Daily Bread

The last thing I want you to see in this petition, is the promise inherent in the request. Jesus is teaching us to ask our heavenly Father for what we need. Inherent in this command, then, is the promise that he will provide it.

As we’ve already seen, Jesus says elsewhere, “All these things will be added unto you.” Why? Because it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you what you need. Your Father in heaven isn’t stingy, he isn’t reluctant. We is generous and willing. Therefore, ask and you will receive.

In John’s gospel, Jesus goes so far as to say, “Ask anything in my name, and I will do it.” Now, we know that is not a blank check in they way some false teachers suggest. Jesus is not espousing a name it and claim it, health and wealth gospel. To ask something in Jesus’ name is to ask it for the sake of his name. Jesus is saying that whatever you need for the sake of his name is yours for the asking.

The true Christian will never lack the resources he or she needs to glorify and enjoy God each day.

Think about what that means. If you lack something, if you lack health, or if you lack provision, or if you lack security, it is not because God does not care or hasn’t noticed. If you don’t have, it is because God has another plan for you right now. Think about Joseph. He is the classic example everyone points to. But with good reason.

Hear me. It is not God’s plan that any of his children go without forever. That land will be a land of abundance and good and blessing. To borrow the OT language, a land flowing with milk and honey. But, in God’s deep wisdom, in this life, in this evil age, sometimes God asks us to go without for his name’s sake. We don’t always get it. We don’t always like it. But, by faith we must believe that God is for us and he is enough. Whatever we don’t have we don’t need.

Because he is our heavenly Father, we have everything we need to glorify him today. That is the promise of praying for daily bread. And because he has promised us everything we need to glorify and enjoy him today and everyday, that is one reason we call this good news. Do you believe that?