Love your neighbour, Love yourself

I have a simple message for you tonight, prepared at short notice. I would contend though it is a very important message and a clarion call to authentic Christian living in a society that is increasingly hostile to the true Christian Gospel.

We are going to have a look at some of the most significant words our Lord Jesus Christ uttered whilst He walked the earth among us – words in which our very relationship with Almighty God depends. Before we apply these words to ourselves it is vital that we understand the proper historical context of the word and the source of Jesus words from the Old Testament. So we’ll start with that, and we’ll move on to how it impacts us today……

Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus was asked the following question by the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

He replied

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

38 This is the great and first commandment.

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

To fully understand how radical and important His reply was we need to look at the significance of these words and where they come from. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 6:4….

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

This is THE most important of all Jewish prayers, the ‘Semah Israel’ (the Jewish word for ‘hear O Israel’) It is a declaration of faith and a pledge of allegiance to God. Twice daily, recitation of the Shema Israel is a commandant for the Jewish people — it is said upon rising in the morning and going to sleep at night. It is said when praising God and when beseeching Him. The Shema Israel is the first prayer taught to Jewish children (as soon as they can talk) and it is the last words Jew says before death. It is a prayer of praise to God and it is a prayer of pleading, as well. The Shema is recited in preparation for the reading of the Torah on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and at the end of the holiest day, Yom Kippur.

His audience, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day prided themselves on meticulous observance of the Law, so they would practice all of the above observances. Along with the Ten Commandments, they would have paid rigorous attention to all the laws in the books of Moses some 613 according to tradition. They would spend their days reasoning out the implications of the laws, and to make sure that they avoided even the possibility of violating any of them – an outward perfect observance.

However, Jesus makes it clear here that religious observance is not enough – and indeed mere observance of the law without LOVE is a perversion of what the Shema teaches.

You see Jesus understood that the Pharisees had lost sight of the very heart of the matter; they were observing the law externally, but not observing the law out of a motive of a love for God.

A paraphrase of that verse reads “Love the Lord Your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence Matt 22:37 (MSG). So, it’s bluntly clear that outward observance of the law was not enough. Without the pure motive of obedience out of a love for God, the external observance of the commandments becomes just a ceremony. In another place in the scriptures we can see that Jesus specifically warned the Pharisees of the danger:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”

Matthew 23: 25-26 (NIV)

So, Jesus answers the Pharisees question with an extract from the Law. These are the highly religious men of the day – the very same men who constantly question Jesus’ authority, His teaching, His credibility; the men who out of ignorance and veiled eyes contrive his crucifixion. I don’t know what answer they expected to their question, but I am certain they did not expect Him to refer to the THE most important prayer that ever fell across their lips! But in doing so, He does not affirm them, He actually convicts them for their pious religious observance, which is rooted in self-indulgence, hypocrisy and outward appearance.

He takes it still further and contests that they should not only love God with every ounce of their being, but they are to love their neighbour and they are to love themselves. I shan’t be looking at the historical context of that second command today, but we shall certainly refer to it when we consider how this command of Jesus impacts on us as Christians.

Outward religious observance without a changed heart is not what the Lord looks for – it wasn’t then and it certainly isn’t now!

“……for the Lord sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (MEV)

So in summary, Jesus uses the most important prayer in the Jewish tradition to condemn the religious leaders who consider themselves to be the role model and the pinnacle of that religious practice! The point that Jesus makes so clearly is you can look religious but if you are hardened and dirty inside it is just a show and a sham.

So much for the historical context, but what does this mean for us today?

I am going to make it simple (because I’m simple!) God is not interested in how many times a year you go to church; He is not interested in your service for Him week after week, year after year; he is not interested if you know your Bible inside out; He is not interested that you have watched Songs of Praise diligently for 30 years: he is not interested if you give money to good causes

UNLESS

you are doing these things out of a right heart attitude!!!!!!!!

Friends, I want to reassure you that our Dear Lord is not looking for perfect Christians. I’m glad about that because I would fail miserably on that count; He is looking for passionate Christians. He is looking for disciples who will follow Him through thick and thin and love Him because He first loved them.

“…….[his/her] sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much”

Luke 7:47b (KJV)

I know that many if not all of you here know the Love of God. Therefore I challenge you (and first and foremost myself) do you Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind? Or has that love grown a little – dare I say – lukewarm, cold even over the years??

You see it is my contention that when we look at that command of Jesus in it’s entirety, I believe that if we are following / experiencing the first part of the commandment (to love God first), then the second will follow WITHOUT US HAVING TO THINK ABOUT IT TOO MUCH!

What Jesus commands to is an ACTIVE love, not a passive love. You see, to love the Lord your God with all of your mind, soul, strength requires commitment and effort; although it does overflow from a heart full of thankfulness , there are of course times when it doesn’t come so easily such as times of sadness and testing.

I confidently believe that if a believer has a wholehearted, full-on relationship, Spirit filled with God – i.e. loves God with all of him or herself, then loving others will come naturally – or more correctly, supernaturally. This is because His love will be apparent in all that we do or say; it comes across in our appearance; our body language; our compassion for the lost and the disadvantaged; sinner or saint alike we cannot but love our neighbour.

Now…. I am the first to admit that I fall far short of that standard, so what am I do do? Try and love my neighbour more? Be a better person? Well, that’s no bad thing I guess, but the single most important thing I can do is ASK GOD TO HELP ME FULFIL THE FIRST OF HIS COMMANDS – TO LOVE GOD COMPLETELY. This is because if I do so, then the second command will be a natural extension of who I am.

Which brings me on to the last part of my talk and there are some sensitivities here, so I will try to tread carefully. Out of our love for God, we ought to love ourselves too. For some, this is actually the hardest part of that command of Jesus to fulfil. Some are damaged by life events, or the way they have been treated during their lives and they have a negative view of themselves. This can present itself in many ways and none of them positive. We can suffer from clinical depression (which is NOT a sin or failure in God’s sight!), or low self-esteem. Very often if we show a lack of love and respect for others because we do not love and respect ourselves, and that is not an easy one to offer an answer to. It’s certainly beyond the scope of my talk tonight.

I would merely point you to who our Almighty God says you are, and if you struggle with this area in your life I am just pray over you now that the reality of this scripture would hit home to you.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Pet 2:9-10 (NIV)

In conclusion:

Friends, be lovers of God – not lovers of religion!

Religion is not a dirty word (in some charismatic churches they pray for religion to be removed from the church). I don’t agree; religion is good BUT only when practised by the born-again believer. God does not require and indeed is grieved by empty religious activity, as evidenced by our passage tonight.

Keith Green once said “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more that going to McDonald’s make you a Hamburger” (great quote!)

So I would urge you to look at your walk with the Lord this evening. Is all well? DO you do things you do in God’s name out of your love for him, or is it just something you do because you have always done it?

Has your love grown a little cold?

DO you find yourself not loving yourself or your neighbour as you should?

Then I would urge you to pray with me as we close this message. That all of us would be so transfixed on the loveliness of our Lord Jesus; so captivated by His sacrifice; so astonished that He would love a sinner like me; that we offer all of our hearts, minds and souls afresh to Him.

 

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Stages of revelation, stages of transformation

Today I am looking at some of the greatest and most powerful themes in scripture; the themes which enable us to stand here today and worship the glorious Triune God, whom we KNOW and LOVE because He first loved us!

These are the themes of restoration and transformation – and we are going to discover that although restoration and transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an immediate process (we ARE saved), it is completed in stages (we are BEING saved).

So….the title of my talk is STAGES OF REVELATION, STAGES OF TRANSFORMATION

We are going to have a look at how Jesus deals with His bewildered, defeated disciples; how He restores them; how He transforms them into an expectant, worshipping group of prayer warriors ready to receive the fullness of the promises made to them……..and as a result of that turnaround Jesus gives them the ability to fulfil the commission He entrusted to them. Then we are going to finish off by looking at how Jesus longs to do this today – with all of us.

I don’t wish to be insensitive here, but in order to put the following events in context I need to ask this question: How would you react if someone you have known, and know has departed from us appeared to you today in bodily form? What would you say? How would you feel? I only ask this as it might help you understand the scriptures we are about to read…….

These are some instances recorded in the Bible of Jesus appearing to His followers post-resurrection:

Jesus Himself stood in the midst of [the disciples] and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”

Luke 24:36-43 NKJV

And now a rather more compact account, from the Gospel of Mark:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.

She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Mark 16:9-14 ESV

So what can we conclude about their reaction to seeing Jesus was alive? Well, I think their reaction is perhaps a very human one – one we can all relate to I suspect. From these scriptures we can see they were frightened, terrified, troubled, unbelieving, hard of heart even. So was Jesus’ rebuke in the scripture from Mark justified? A little harsh even? They’d seen a dead man walking talking and eating!

I think if we saw someone rise from a grave and appear to us I seriously doubt our reaction would be any different!

However, the massive and significant difference here is Jesus had PREDICTED His death, PREDICTED His resurrection in the presence of some or all of the disciples on numerous occasions and if that wasn’t enough He proclaimed Himself to be no less than I AM – God incarnate.

The very same unbelieving, terrified, doubting disciples knew this. Consider this scripture from the book of Matthew:

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven……

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

Matthew 16:13-17, 21 NKJV

Jesus had revealed His identity to them and revealed to them that He must be killed, but to the disciples this was only a partial revelation – a prophetic first stage of revelation as it were.

The now resurrected Jesus however was about to impute (or give) to them a whole new level of revelation. How? By answering their doubts and fears by OPENING THEIR MINDS AND HEARTS TO THE SCRIPTURES; the scriptures being in this instance of course what we now call the Old Testament.

As we have already read in the Luke passage, this is the next stage of revelation for the disciples:

“…..He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:44-48 NKJV

So we can see a progressive revelation here:

  • The first revelation was PROPHETIC (i.e prior to the crucifixion) – He had to suffer, be killed and rise from the dead. He clearly had done that here He was standing in front of them, so prophecy was fulfilled.
  • The second revelation was REASSURANCE that he was not a spirit and he was not an imposter “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have”
  • The third revelation was SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING; He opened their minds to the scriptures and how the entirety of the Law, Prophets and Psalms pointed to Himself.
  • The fourth and ultimate revelation for the disciples was EMPOWERMENT, still to come at Pentecost by the filling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Along with REVELATION the disciples experienced – and indeed like we all do – needed to experience TRANSFORMATION in order that the disciples could fulfil the mission that Christ was going to commission them with. Then, as now, the amazing thing about this transformation is that it is PERSONAL to each and every disciple, each and every believer. We read in the Gospel of John Ch21:

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 ESV

Peter, of course was the disciple who denied Jesus – three times. Here, three times Christ challenges Peter’s regarding his love for him (knowing his heart already) and by doing so he restores and transforms Peter into the Rock He prophesied he would be. (Note this is a PUBLIC restoration in front of a number of disciples in response to a public denial). As a result of this transformation Peter was equipped to fulfil his God given destiny – to the ultimate, a martyr’s death.

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:18-19 ESV

Another example. Most of us will know the story of ‘doubting’ Thomas, the disciple who would not believe Jesus was alive until He saw Him in the flesh. Jesus graciously showed him and transformed him from a doubter into a worshipper:

“….said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!””

John 20:27-28 ESV

Jesus, through his loving restoration of the bewildered and defeated disciples, His rebuke for their unbelief, His reassurance and encouragement through his numerous appearances and post – resurrection teaching, TRANSFORMED his disciples, as the scriptures tell us.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and accordingly it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things

Finally they fully understood who Jesus was, their doubts and fears answered, their purpose in Him revealed. A commission was about to be given along with the promise of power to fulfil it; AS SUCH THE TRANSFORMATION WAS AS YET INCOMPLETE. However, we can refute the common fallacy that the disciples were cowering in a room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. They were praying and waiting, but as they were waiting the last two verses of the Gospel of Luke tells us:

.they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:

And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Luke 24: 52-53 KJV

So that was then, what about now? Is our Lord Jesus in the business of restoration and transformation today. YES, YES, and YES!!!!!!

As I said right at the beginning today, for all those who are truly born again, it is one of those profound mysteries in Christ that our condition before God is that we ARE saved, whilst at the same time we are BEING saved. (That’s another sermon – I’m not going there today!).

I think (well I hope) we can all testify that we have experienced a degree of restoration and transformation, the biggest miracle being of course that we stand here knowing God at all! I think we would all in here be honest enough to admit that God is not finished with us yet! I would also like to think we can all agree that that PROCESS of restoration and transformation is not just unique to each and every believer, but PACE of restoration and transformation is different for every believer.

The truth is, we are all work in progress.

Remember how we learned that Jesus opened the scriptures (from the OLD covenant)? Well here are just two scriptures from the ‘Prophets’ that demonstrate and describe the JOURNEY we are on – and I will reiterate again the pace of restoration and transformation is unique to each and every individual believer.

Just as Jesus needed to do some individual ‘head and heart surgery’ on the disciples before they could fulfil their potential in Christ, we too need to see the trans-formative work of the Spirit at work in our lives for us to fulfil our potential – as individuals, as a Church, as THE Church.

The restoration and transformation are as yet incomplete – and never will be complete until we see the Lord in Glory. But it has started!

…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Phillipians 1:6b NIV

There is a pitfall here, and I hope it is not one we fall into. It is so easy to compare ourselves to another Christian and think we are ‘not as good’ as they are. Not all of us are called to be a Spurgeon, a Wesley or a Rees Howells.  Do not compare your walk with the Lord with another in Christ. Friends – He is dealing with YOU as an individual according to your individual needs, and you are doing great today. Aspire to greater things in Christ, YES! Compare yourself to another and judge yourself inadequate, NO, NO, NO!

Only you (and He) know what you have gone through to get to the point you are here and now, and what you have gone through is always going to be different than ________ (fill in the blank). EVEN if you are in need of the restoring touch of the Lord this morning, (and all of us are to some degree) you are DOING GREAT.

Whatever stage our walk with the Lord is at and whether you are on a high mountain or in a deep valley today we do have a point of commonality. It is our yearning; prompted by the revelation of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us – to BE transformed. As Charles Wesley wrote (some of the most incredible hymn words ever written):

Finish then Thy new creation
Pure and spotless let us be
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee
Changed from glory into glory
Till in heaven we take our place
Till we cast our crowns before Thee
Lost in wonder love and praise

So to conclude, I would encourage you to hear the challenge of word of the Lord in this house today and ask yourself this hard question: Where are you at with Jesus?

(RESTORATION)

Are you in need of restoration?

Do you need your eyes opened to the truth – again for for the first time?

Are you bowed down, lost, bewildered?

Are you weary and tired in your faith – tired of life even?

Are you lost in your sin – knowing full well that your behaviour and attitudes are not right before God?

Are you unbelieving that God is who He says He is?

Are you unbelieving that God is capable of what He said He can do?

Come to Jesus afresh today and receive from Him all that He longs to give you. He loves you!

Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”

Matt 11:28 NKJV

(TRANSFORMATION)

What about transformation? Are you being transformed into a Christ-like person. If not, why not? That is a serious question, and it demands a search of your heart for the answer.

Jesus is in the transformation business, so if you are not in the place you know you should be, are you willing to continue to be transformed into His image?

Is this your experience of God?

“….whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

2 Cor 3:16-18 NIV

If not, is that what you want to experience today? Is that what WE as a church want to experience today? I hope and pray the answer is YES!

Church, I need to ask you – do we really WANT transformation? I ask this because I sincerely believe that God wants to take us onto the next level of transformation. Perhaps we are like the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem, full of joy and praise – in a good place, knowing God, waiting for more of Him – waiting for the fullness of the promises to be fulfilled………..BUT HERE’S THE THING:

UNLESS WE (LIKE THEM) ARE WILLING TO BE RESTORED AND TRANSFORMED, GOD WILL NOT TAKE US ONTO THE NEXT LEVEL OF TRANSFORMATION…… BECAUSE WE ARE NOT R E A D Y FOR THE NEXT LEVEL!!

GOD MAKE US READY!!

Lets pray:

OH GOD MAKE US READY FOR ALL YOU HAVE TO OFFER, ALL YOU LONG TO POUR UPON US, ALL YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE THROUGH US.

CONTINUE OUR TRANSFORMATION INTO YOUR LIKENESS

CONTINUE TO RESTORE US O LORD

CALL US AND USE US FOR YOUR GLORY

ACCORDING TO YOUR PURPOSES IN CHRIST JESUS