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Fighting Temptation: Facing the fact that..When we were dea...Grace came
1ã€€As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,ã€€2ã€€in which you used to liveã€€when you followed the ways of this worldã€€and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air,ã€€the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.ã€€3ã€€All of us also lived among them at one time,ã€€gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a]ã€€and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.ã€€4ã€€But because of his great love for us,ã€€God, who is rich in mercy,ã€€5ã€€made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.ã€€6ã€€And God raised us up with Christã€€and seated us with himã€€in the heavenly realmsã€€in Christ Jesus,ã€€7ã€€in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,ã€€expressed in his kindnessã€€to us in Christ Jesus.8ã€€For it is by graceã€€you have been saved,ã€€through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—ã€€9ã€€not by works,ã€€so that no one can boast.ã€€10ã€€For we are God’s handiwork,ã€€createdã€€in Christ Jesus to do good works,ã€€which God prepared in advance for us to do
SERMON to be added
Fighting Temptation: Grumbling Against God
10:1ã€€For I do not want you to be ignorantã€€of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloudã€€and that they all passed through the sea.2ã€€They were all baptized intoã€€Moses in the cloud and in the sea.ã€€3ã€€They all ate the same spiritual foodã€€4ã€€and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rockã€€that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.ã€€5ã€€Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6ã€€Now these things occurred as examplesã€€to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.ã€€7ã€€Do not be idolaters,ã€€as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry."ã€€8ã€€We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.ã€€9ã€€We should not test Christ,ã€€as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.ã€€10ã€€And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killedã€€by the destroying angel.
11ã€€These things happened to them as examplesã€€and were written down as warnings for us,ã€€on whom the culmination of the ages has come.ã€€12ã€€So, if you think you are standing firm,ã€€be careful that you don’t fall!ã€€13ã€€No temptationã€€has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful;ã€€he will not let you be temptedã€€beyond what you can bear.ã€€But when you are tempted,ã€€he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
SERMON to be added
Fighting Temptation - My Will vs God's Will
Sermon to be addeddownload
Tough Questions: Are We Bold?
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.download
Tough Questions: Are We Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven?
3 Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God."
15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Medellin, Colombia. Throughout the 80s, 90s and the early years of the 2000s, Medellin Colombia was a dangerous place to live. This was largely due to the drug cartels that operated there. You’ve probably heard of Pablo Escobar—the founder of the Medellin cartel. Because of his cartel and those to come after his, violence was the norm in Medellin. Many of us can't even imagine what it would be like to live in a setting like that. You walk out the door in the morning, and you’re not 100% certain you’ll return again. You hear stories about friends and family who had been killed—stories about friends and family members who disappear. And ultimately you couldn’t be sure why—was it cartel related? Was it a random act of violence from some opportunist? You don’t know.
I want to tell you the story of a man named Didier. He lives in Medellin. In the late 90s/early 2000s he witnessed the murder of his mother. Was it a cartel killing? Was it a random and senseless act of violence? Who knows? Didier’s mother was a street vendor. He was nearby and actually witnessed his mother’s death. She was shot with 38 bullets—and as an eleven year old kid, he witnessed this happen. No eleven year old should have to witness the violent murder of anyone—much less his mother. You can probably guess what witnessing such an event did to this little eleven year old boy. For a number of years, Didier went down a path of self destruction that involved drugs, alcohol, and crime. Not only that, his anger and his desire for revenge consumed him. He searched for his mother’s killer. He began to collect and store guns and grenades. He plotted his path for vengeance.
Let’s put that story on pause for the time being and turn our thoughts to what we have in front of us in Genesis 45. In Genesis 45 we have the culmination of the story of Joseph. The details of the story of Joseph are a little different than the story of Didier—but ultimately it has many of the same elements running through it. Do you remember everything that had happened to Joseph?
Joseph had 11 brothers. But Joseph was dad’s favorite. Playing favorites caused problems. His father gave his favorite son a beautiful coat—probably an expensive gift. Can you imagine the fighting it would cause if you bought one of your kids a $5000 Gucci jacket but didn’t buy anything for your other children? In addition, a case can also be made that Jacob didn’t make his favorite son work like the other brothers had to work. In Genesis 37, Joseph seems to be the go-between for dad and the rest of the brothers. The brothers are out working and dad tells Joseph to go and check on his brothers—see how they’re doing. Genesis 37 says that Joseph’s brothers HATED him and couldn’t say a single kind word to him.
Now, Joseph isn’t exactly innocent in all of this. It doesn’t seem like he helps the situation. Joseph has two different dreams in which his brothers bow down to him and he rules over them. Joseph goes and tells his brothers about these dreams. You can almost picture him bragging to them… "Hey, guess what, I had a dream. Y’all are going to bow down to me. I’m going to rule over you." Finally the brother’s anger and hatred explodes.
One day, dad tells Joseph to go and check on his brothers. Joseph goes. As the brothers see Joseph approaching… they come up with a plan to get even with Joseph. Here’s what they say: "Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams." So they took Joseph and threw him in a pit. A couple of his brothers—Reuben and Judah—seem to have had some sense about them. They convince their brothers not to kill him, but rather, just sell him and tell dad that an animal killed him. So they sell Joseph to a group of traders that was passing by.
Joseph’s troubles don’t stop there. During his time in Egypt, he is framed for something he didn’t do and he’s thrown into prison. We’re not really told much about Joseph’s mental state as all these things happened to him. We are told that it was clear that the Lord was with Joseph. Whether Joseph was being framed or in prison, the Lord helped Joseph prosper. But I can't help but wonder if Joseph struggled as he tried to forgive his brothers. Joseph was a sinner just like us. If you think about some of the strained and broken relationships that you have had throughout your lifetime...things typically turn sour and forgiveness becomes difficult LONG BEFORE anyone dreams up a plot to kill the other person.
The Lord is with Joseph through all of this. The Lord blesses Joseph. While still in prison, Joseph helps Pharaoh interpret a dream. His interpretation of the dream was that there would be 7 years in which the land produced tons of food, followed by 7 years of drought and famine. Because of his ability to interpret the dream, Pharaoh makes Joseph 2nd in command. He puts Joseph in charge of helping Egypt and the surrounding nations prepare for the terrible drought and famine that is coming. During the 7 years with plenty of food, Joseph helps fill the storehouses of Egypt with enough food to support the land during the 7 years of drought.
Along come the 7 years of drought, and guess who needs food? Joseph’s family. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to get food. Joseph recognizes them, but they don’t recognize Joseph. Finally, in Genesis 45 (the verses we have in front of us today), Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Verse 3: "Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph!" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence." His brothers weren’t even able to answer him because they were absolutely terrified. Would you be terrified? I know I would. Talk about turning the tables. Here stands before us the snotty little brother that we tried to kill and then sold….and now he is the second most powerful man in Egypt. They were at the mercy of a man they had tried to kill. There was good reason to be terrified. With a few words, Joseph could have had them all killed or thrown in prison.
But that’s not what Joseph does. Look at what he says instead, "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you...it was not you who sent me here, but God." THAT’S Christ-like forgiveness. Joseph completely forgave his brothers...but not only that, he went a step farther and essentially said, "I forgive you, and please...please forgive YOURSELVES because God’s hand was at work in all of this. God used this situation to save many lives—including the lives of his people. God used this situation to preserve the line of the Savior."
Are we forgiving as we have been forgiven? Forgiveness can be tough—even for a Christian. I thought long and hard about the following question (and I even asked my wife): when do we as Christians struggle to forgive? I was able to come up with three different things.When any of these three things is going on, we are at risk of struggling with forgiveness.
Firstly: anger. When was the last time that something really upset you—really made you angry? Now, just because something makes us angry, it doesn't necessarily mean that we are struggling with forgiveness. Someone can do something that upsets you, and even though you’re upset—even though you’re angry, you can still forgive them. But I do bring anger up, because if there was something that happened in your life, and you continue to feel angry about it no matter how much time has passed….then there might be a problem. Maybe someone did something to hurt you, or maybe you’re upset on someone else's behalf….if we harbor that anger, we might be struggling with forgiveness.
The second scenario in which we’re at risk of struggling to forgive: when we perceive injustice—especially when we are at the receiving end of some sort of injustice. This ones a tough one because our culture hates injustice, and as people who live in our culture, we tend to hate injustice as well—especially when it’s pointed at us. Don’t misunderstand me—God hasn’t called us to be doormats. Even the Apostle Paul stood up for himself at one point. In Acts 22, there were some Jews that were causing trouble for Paul. They stirred up a whole crowd against him and before you know it, the crowd is demanding his life. The Romans arrest Paul, and they’re about to beat him when Paul says, "You can't beat me! I’m a Roman citizen!" Paul stood up for himself when he was being treated unjustly. So, when it comes to injustice, especially injustice that we experience, maybe the question becomes: how do we deal with it? Do we deal with injustice with a spirit of spite and bitterness? Are we looking to get even? Get revenge? If we’re handling injustice with those things in our heart...then there’s not much room left for forgiveness.
Last scenario when we struggle with—and my wife came up with this one, so credit to her: we’re at risk of struggling with forgiveness whenever we’re convinced we can place the entirety of the blame on another party. Have you ever been there? Whatever the situation may be, if you convince yourself that none of the blame lies with you...forgiveness become much more difficult. Maybe it’s true—maybe none of the blame lies with you. USUALLY, that’s not the case (it takes two to tango.) Regardless of the details, if we prop ourselves up on a pedestal, it becomes much harder to forgive with a Christ-like forgiveness.
Let’s go back to the story of Didier—the eleven year old who witnessed the murder of his mother. Didier had a Christian friend approach him and patiently work with him and try to steer him in the right direction. He told him about Christ. He also helped him see that the bitterness and anger that he was harboring in his heart was slowly destroying him from the inside out. To this day, Didier is looking for his mother’s killer—not so that he can get revenge, but so that he can forgive him. Hearing what Christ had done for him was the key for Didier. After hearing what Christ had done for him, he began to understand what it meant to let go. He began to understand what it meant to forgive.
It’s a similar story for Joseph. Only through a focus and trust in the Lord was he able to forgive his brothers. If Joseph hadn’t learned to trust in God through all his trials, it’s reasonable to think that that story would have had a different outcome.
And It’s a similar story for Paul—the man who had nothing but forgiveness in his heart for those who attacked and persecuted him. Only with a focus on what Christ had done for him was he able to say what he did in our reading from Romans 12: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."
So today let’s close by refocusing ourselves on exactly what it is about Christ that enables us to forgive as we have been forgiven. We talked about those situations in which it is more difficult for us to forgive—whenever we feel we have been treated unjustly, and whenever we’re convinced we can place the entirety of the blame on someone else. Keeping those things in mind, let’s talk about Christ’s situation for just a moment.
Was Christ treated unjustly? Well, the Son of God himself came down to earth and took on human flesh—true man and true God. While here on earth, he never sinned. He never mistreated anyone. He was never sinfully angry with anyone. He never put his own needs before others. He never took a single misstep….and yet he was crucified. Yes, that’s injustice. There was nothing about Christ that warranted his death, and yet he went to the cross with perfect love and forgiveness in his heart. While on the cross he cried out, "Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing." He went to the cross to pay for the crimes of the people who crucified him—for your crimes, my crimes. That’s injustice at it’s finest. Yet still, he went to the cross in love and forgiveness.
That second point—was Christ able to place the entirety of the blame on the other party? Oh yes. As humans, we got ourselves into the mess of sin. Not only that, but we continued to choose to live in the filth of our sin. Christ had done nothing wrong. There was no blame from his side of things. The entirety of the blame lies with us as sinful humans. Yet still, he went to the cross with love and forgiveness in his heart.
It is in Christ that we learn to forgive. Regardless of the fact that the entirety of the blame lies with us as sinners, Christ still went to the cross on our behalf. That’s forgiveness—no strings attached. And yes, we can live that way. As people who have experienced the forgiveness of Christ first hand, we can live that way. When faced with situations in which forgiveness is difficult, we don’t look inward for the power to forgive—we look to Christ. When faced with something requires repeated forgiveness, it’s not a matter of trying harder...rather, we look at the cross. As we look at the cross, we are reminded that Christ shows us a forgiveness that never runs dry—a forgiveness that has no strings attached. Are we able to forgive without strings attached? With Christ as our focus, you bet we are. Amen? Amen.
Tough Questions: Do We Trust that God's Plan Is Greater than Our Plan?
7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
You can't see the forest for the trees. Have you heard that saying before? You can't see the forest for the trees. The idea behind that saying is that sometimes we can't see situations for what they really are because we get too wrapped up in them. As humans, we tend to become fixated on one thing and we fail to recognize the bigger picture. Sometimes, to the detriment of ourselves and others, we can be too heavily invested in our way of doing things (we get wrapped up in a particular organization, desired outcome, strategy, philosophy, style, approach, group of people, etc)—and we fail to consider the bigger picture. To tie it back into the saying… sometimes we become so fixated on a single tree, that we forget to recognize that there is a whole forest in front of us—we can't see the forest for the trees.
We all go through times of failing to recognize the bigger picture because we’re fixated on what’s right in front of us. Based on today’s verses, I would say that even the Apostle Paul went through a period of failing to see the forest for the trees.
Let’s consider how Paul himself may have struggled with this. Paul mentions a "thorn" in his flesh. It’s not a literal thorn in his flesh. If it were a literal thorn, he would pull it out. Paul is talking about something that was a recurring problem for him. What exactly was this recurring problem that Paul was struggling with? No one knows for sure. But let me share a couple of the more reasonable guesses with you.
Some suggest that this "thorn" in Paul’s flesh may have been some kind of chronic physical illness or problem—something like malaria or eye trouble. These are reasonable guesses based on things Paul says elsewhere. Some suggest that maybe Paul’s "thorn" in the flesh was some kind of speech impediment—this too would be a reasonable guess based on other things that Paul says in his writings.
Ultimately, we can't be entirely sure what Paul was struggling with because he doesn’t just tell us. But there are a couple of things we can rightly assume about this "thorn" in Paul’s flesh. Firstly, what can we say about the origin of this "thorn" in Paul’s flesh? Well, at first glance, it might look like Satan gave Paul this "thorn." But if we look a little more closely, it’s more accurate for us to say that God himself allowed this "thorn" to come into Paul’s life—God himself probably was the one who sent this "thorn" to Paul. Here’s why we can say that. Look at the purpose of this "thorn." The purpose of Paul’s "thorn" was to keep him from becoming conceited. Just before this section, Paul speaks about how the Lord had revealed some incredible things to him. He was shown things by God that no human had ever seen. Then right after that, Paul starts talking about this "thorn" in his flesh. He says the purpose of the "thorn" was to keep him from becoming conceited and prideful regarding all the glorious mysteries that God had shown him. Now… is Satan concerned with making sure you remain humble in the way God would have you be humble? No...certainly not. That’s why we can say this thorn was from God. But, why then, does Paul call this thorn in his flesh a "messenger" of Satan? Because Satan tried to use this thorn as a way to torment Paul—a way to discourage him and get him to lose his focus on God and his mission.
Pause here for just a second...Do you understand the implication of all that we just talked about? There may be problems in our lives that God himself has allowed to come to us. Take it one step further, there may be struggles in our lives that God himself sent to us for our good. And Satan will continually try to use our problems and struggles to distract us from God.
Alright, now back to Paul. This thorn in his flesh was serious enough that, at times, it hindered him from doing ministry as effectively as he would like to. 3 different times, Paul pleaded with God—he begged God to remove this problem from his life. We’re not told the timeline of these 3 instances that Paul begged God to take this thorn away. They may have been one right after the other, but I think it’s more likely that they took place over a long time period. Let’s say that the thorn in Paul’s flesh was indeed malaria—as some have suggested. Two of the different parasites that cause malaria can remain dormant in your liver for a significant time and randomly and repeatedly flare up and cause all kinds of problems over the course of years and years in some cases.
So if Paul’s "thorn" was indeed malaria, can you picture how this may have played out for him? Paul was a rockstar evangelist. He would have been going from city to city encouraging new Christians, converting unbelievers, and starting churches all over the known world. Then suddenly, right as he seems to be making some great progress, BAM, his malaria resurfaces and he’s knocked flat on his back. He’s taken out of commission and unable to do ministry for days, or weeks. I would imagine that would have been when he would have gone to God and pleaded with him. "Dear God, I’m doing YOUR work! Why would you let this illness come on me? There is so much I could be doing right now but I feel like I’m dying! How can this possibly be good for your kingdom?" After some time his body would have gotten the malaria under control. Paul would have gone back to his normal ministry routine. But then after some time, BAM—the malaria takes him out of commission again. And again, he asks God to fix the problem. Three times this happens. Going back to our opening saying, Paul was fixated on the tree and he couldn’t see the forest—he fixated on his plan, and he couldn’t see God’s.
Finally God responds to him with these words, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God essentially says, "No, Paul, I’m not going to remove this problem from your life because it is serving to keep you focused on me. It is serving to keep you humble. It is serving to remind you that you are weak—you are a frail and sinful human...But I am strong—I will use you in the way that I want to use you for the good of my kingdom. This "thorn" is serving to make you understand that my plan is greater than your plan." Finally Paul sees the forest—he sees the big picture. He says, "Okay, I get it Lord. I am weak, you are strong. My plans are meaningless. Your plans are great and wonderful. I will take pride in my weaknesses, because when my weaknesses show, your power is seen ever more clearly."
What an incredible section of Scripture. When I saw this passage coming up, I got super excited to write on it. The applications are almost endless.
Sometimes our refusal to accept a present reality can keep God from producing a far more beautiful reality. Sometimes our fixation on a desired outcome keeps us from seeing that God has far greater plans for us if we would simply change direction or change focus. Do we fail to see the trees for the forest? Do we get fixated on a particular problem and fail to see the bigger picture? You bet we do. Let’s talk through some individual application today:
- Let’s start with an example that is maybe similar to what Paul was going through. Maybe you or a loved one has some kind of severe struggle with illness. When we’re talking about cancer, or some kind of terminal illness, or some kind of chronic pain or illness… that’s tough. It is tough to hand things over to God in those situations. It is tough not to fixate on our desired outcome. "Lord, please heal me of this. Please heal my loved one. Please ease this pain. Please help the doctors figure out what’s going on." Is it tough to see the big picture in situations like that? Yes.
- Or how about the death of a loved one? When we have loved one die, are we at risk of fixating on the present situation? Of course we are. Grief is a complicated thing. It is never easy. It is always difficult. And when we grieve without God, we can lose our focus entirely. We can become fixated on our present pain and forget to turn to God. In the depths of our grief we might even become upset with God and we might start to wonder if he really knows what he’s doing.
- Last personal example, we often tend to fixate on earthly matters over and above God’s matters. We essentially say to God, "Lord, I’ve got this plan for my life. I’ve got this plan for all the situations I face on a daily basis...you can either hop on board with my plans, or you can hit the road. It’s my way or the highway God!"
Those were some personal examples of how we commonly trust in our plan more than God’s plan. As far as congregation level application, I’m not going to give any specifics today. I’m going to let you take that question home and chew on it. If you come up with an answer, I again invite you to respond to me with your answer. Here’s the question you can take home—it gets to the heart of our tough question for the day: What desired outcomes do we fixate on here at St. Luke’s/New Hope that might keep us from seeing that God has far greater plans for us? (Repeat) What desired outcomes do we fixate on here at St. Luke’s/New Hope that might keep us from seeing that God has far greater plans for us? Take that question home, chew on it, and respond to me if you feel so inclined.
Alright, for the entirety of this "Tough Questions" sermon series, I’ve had a rather basic approach. I have tried to preach two realities that are in some ways in conflict with one another. Reality number 1: With the help of God, we have got to be on fire for the message of the gospel—both in our personal lives, and as a congregation. We have got to constantly ask and re-ask the question, "How can we use our current resources to reach into the community around us with the message of Christ?" On the other hand, we must, in an equally serious way, be considering reality number 2: With the help of God, we’ve got to be willing to give it all up for the sake of the big kingdom—both on a personal level, and on a congregational level. Only when we live in the midst of both of those somewhat contradictory realities, will God help us to see the forest, rather than fixate on the trees. Only when we live in the midst of both realities—only when we are having both of these conversations simultaneously—will God begin to help us see the big picture.
The bottom line is this—we’re a sinful mess. I’m a mess. You’re a mess. We get wrapped up in this life all too easily. We have a tendency to trust in our own plans—in our own strength—and we forget that God’s plans are far greater than ours and don’t depend on our understanding. So praise God for the words he gave to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God’s grace is more than sufficient for every need, every desire, every shortcoming, every sin. The grace of our God goes far beyond our understanding. The forgiveness that God pours on us is constant—it doesn’t stop. When you picture God’s grace in your life, it’s not like a salt shaker—with a little sprinkle of grace here and a little sprinkle of grace there...God’s grace in your life is like Niagra falls. It never stops. It’s always flowing. It’s powerful and magnificent. It’s life changing.
The struggles that you face in life are not wasted. God will use every single one of them to display his power, and to draw you ever closer to him. May God strengthen you so that next time you’re walking through the fire, you’re not asking, "Why, God, why?!" Rather, you’re saying, "Teach me Lord—make me into the person you want me to be. Show me your plan for me. Draw me closer to you." God’s plans for each individual in this room, and indeed, for our congregation is far greater than we are able to even imagine.
Our thoughts today might be summed up with these words from Jeremiah 29:11-13, "11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Amen?download
Tough Questions: WHAT'S STOPPING US?
13 "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
You’re getting your haircut. Throughout the haircut, you’re chatting with the barber. At one point, the conversation begins to take on a bit of a spiritual nature. Maybe you feel your blood pressure rise a little bit as you recognize that this might be an evangelism opportunity. And yet, you struggle to seize the moment. Why? What’s stopping you?
You’re talking with a friend or coworker. Your coworker confides in you that they’re having a really tough time with a difficult situation in their lives. After listening to them and speaking with them, it’s a perfect opportunity for you to say something like, "Can I share something with you that gives me peace and comfort when I’m facing tough times?" And just like that you’ve naturally moved into an opportunity to tell them about Jesus, our only true source of peace and comfort. But rather than ask if you can share some comfort and peace with them, you just let the conversation trail off. You tell them that you’ll be thinking of them. Why? What’s stopping you?
Let’s say that once the weather warms up, we have a group go and do some surveying of our community. The survey would have some purposeful questions that are intended to learn about the community and maybe even open the door for a spiritual conversation. You give some thought to coming, but ultimately you decide not to. Why? What’s stopping you?
You have a dear friend who has drifted from church. They’ve headed down the wrong path and they often celebrate their lifestyle that is displeasing to God. What’s stopping you from having a conversation with them?
Paul lays it out more clearly than ever for us today in Romans chapter 10. How could we ever hope that someone would believe in Jesus if nobody actually tells them about Jesus? Sure, they could pick up a Bible and start reading it… but the times that happens are few and far between. If we want others to know about Jesus, someone is going to have to tell them about Jesus. And as Christians, we have been given the privilege of getting to be the ones who do the sharing. God uses us to tell others about Jesus.
Of all the sermons we have had in this tough questions series, this one has the most obvious implications for our congregation. If we are not telling family, friends, and strangers about Jesus then those family, friends, and strangers might not hear about Jesus. If we’re not inviting family, friends, and strangers to church, then they’re never going to come to church. Faith comes from hearing the good news about sins forgiven in Christ. And in order for people to hear that good news and come to faith, someone has to tell them that good news. Paul couldn’t make it any more clear.
So with a good portion of our time today, we’re going to explore that tough question: What’s Stopping Us? We’re going to explore some of the things that keep us from sharing this good news of Christ. We’re going to think through things in a spiritually logic way and debunk some of those lies we tell ourselves that keep us from evangelizing.
Lie #1 - Evangelism is hard/I don’t have the needed skills to evangelize. There’s a bit of a half-truth here, which is, yes, some evangelism situations can be difficult. If you sit next to an avid and practicing evolutionary scientist on the plane….yes, that’s a tough evangelism situation. I’ll tell you right now, you could probably handle that situation as well as I could. But there’s a couple different things to remember here. Firstly, that is not every situation. There many people who don’t know Jesus and aren’t entrenched in the ways of evolution or atheism. Secondly, evangelism is not as hard as we make it out to be. Evangelism is as simple as these 3 words: Point to Jesus. Whether you’re speaking with an average Joe, or an evolutionary scientist, all you have to do is find a way to point to Jesus. You don’t have to argue the finer points of science, you just have to point to Jesus. You just have to tell the other person what Jesus means to you. You just need to speak about the peace and forgiveness that is found in Christ. Point to Jesus.
Lie #2 - Looking foolish and or being rejected would crush me. The half-truth here? Yes... you might look foolish in the eyes of the person you share Jesus with. Yes, the person you’re speaking with might flat out reject you. But here’s the full truth: That’s okay. That’s not a big deal. Jesus tells us that there will be times that we are rejected by the world as his followers...we just need to ask him for strength to come to terms with that fact. By the world’s standards, our faith and belief in God’s promises is foolish. But that’s okay, because by the grace of God we recognize that his Word is the truth. So may God, help us let go of the fact that we might look foolish in the eyes of the world or be rejected by them. After all, it’s not the opinion of the world that matters—it’s God’s opinion. May he motivate us to share Christ’s love regardless of the fact that we face opposition...because if we don’t tell others about him, they might never hear about him.
Lie #3 - My church doesn’t have what this person wants. There’s two things to talk about here. Firstly, of course your church doesn’t have what an unbeliever wants. We offer the truths of God’s Word—to an unbeliever, those truths are a foreign language they don’t care to learn. But the thing is, we have what every human NEEDS—whether believer or unbeliever. We all need this message of salvation in Jesus Christ, but until the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, we don’t understand that we need this message about Christ. And unless we share this message with others, the Holy Spirit isn’t going to have the chance to work faith in their hearts. Secondly, in regard to this one, "My church doesn’t have what this person wants…." let’s recognize that there is a legitimate question for us to ask while we’re on this topic. That question would be this: are we doing what we can to make our church and our worship experience visitor friendly? That’s a worthwhile question for us to ask. It’s one that, in the coming months, I’m going to start considering much more seriously as I look for ways to make our worship service more visitor friendly...and I would love for you to join me in that asking that question.
Lie #4 - It’s Pastor’s job. The key to debunking this little lie is to just think about things realistically. The majority of pastors contacts are those who are already in the church. Certainly, after 7 months of living here, I’m starting to make some community connections that are outside the church, but in reality, the majority of my dealings on a weekly basis are with members who are already inside the church. In many ways, pastor is at an evangelism disadvantage in comparison to our members. The community influence and reach of our members reaches far beyond pastors. Pastor does not have the relationships and friendships in place that the members do. When we start to add up the evangelism opportunities we have as a whole congregation, they outnumber pastors pretty quickly. On his own, with the help of the Holy Spirit, pastor is going to be able to reach out to a handful of people in the community….but together, as a congregation, our list of ministry prospects becomes much much larger.
Lie #5 - I’ll tell them about Jesus later. When you’re sitting next to someone on a plane, and the conversation turns spiritual, chances are you get one shot to tell that person about Jesus—you’re probably not going to see them again. However, let’s say there’s a new person that starts at your job, or maybe a new person joins your wider circle of friends. I will grant you, that in a situation like that it might be worthwhile to hold off on the spiritual conversation for a little bit. The most effective form of evangelism is friendship evangelism. So if a new person somehow comes into your life, it is okay to start by focusing on forming a friendship with them, however, at some point, we do need to start asking ourselves whether we are truly still working on a friendship with them, or whether we’ve fallen into a pattern of avoiding spiritual conversation with this new friend of ours.
Lie #6 - I don’t want to impose my faith on others. This one is just smoke and mirrors that our culture likes to use. Our culture says, "It’s okay for you to have a religion, but you’d better not talk with me about your religion, because if you do, your imposing your beliefs on me." For this one, we simply have to ask ourselves if we are more concerned with pleasing humans, or pleasing God? We have to ask if we’re more concerned with playing the games of our culture or sharing Christ’s love with those around us?
Lie #7 - I don’t know how to approach "different" people. This is an easy one to fall into. We trick ourselves into thinking that we can't evangelize to someone who is not a part of our age bracket, or not a part of our income bracket, or not a part of our cultural norm. Ultimately this one is one of the silliest of them all. This news about what Christ has done for us isn’t just for one group of people—it’s for all people. Christ came and paid for the sins of the whole world. And again, when it comes to witnessing to people who are outside our "norm" and our "comfort zone" we don’t have to overthink things. We simply have to point them to Jesus and give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in their hearts.
Alright, now that we we’ve poked holes in many of the lies we tell ourselves when it comes to evangelism, let’s close today by speaking about where we find strength and boldness so that the next time an evangelism opportunity does present itself, we’re ready and excited to jump in. To do that I want to start by referring back to our other readings for today (Isaiah 6:1-6 and Luke 5:1-11). Both of those readings have a similar overall outline. Firstly, God chooses some people that he wants to use to bring his Word to others. Secondly, God shows a display of his power to these people. Thirdly, these people follow him and share his Word with others.
Sometimes we slip into thinking that if God would just give us a show of his power like he did for Isaiah—or if he would show his power by helping us catch a boatload of fish like he did for the disciples—THEN we would really be on fire for him. THEN we would be ready to travel the world and spread news of him far and wide. When we do that, we forget that we HAVE seen God’s power. We see it right here in his Word.
We get to see what God did for Isaiah. We get to see how Jesus filled the disciples boats with more fish than they knew what to do with. But we get to see so much more than just those couple of examples. We get to see how God has carried out his plan of salvation from the beginning of time. Against all odds, God saw to it that payment for sin was provided. We have a God on our side who is able to, and has, ordered and changed the course of history for the benefit of his people. We have a God on our side who is able—with his pinky finger—to crush and demolish the forces of Satan and all others who seek to silence the proclamation of his Word. We have a God on our side who was willing to stop at nothing to make sure that you might be called his child and spend eternity with him in heaven. He was willing to send his own Son to give up his life so that all of that might happen. The all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, perfect God is on your side. When we take this message into the world around us we do not do it alone. We do it with the almighty Lord by our side.
Let’s close today with these well known verses from Matthew 28: "18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’" Let’s close today with a prayer that focuses on these verses from Matthew 28.
Gracious Father in heaven,
Strengthen us to take this command from Jesus seriously. You have entrusted us with the mission of bringing the good news about Jesus into the world around us. Give us boldness and strength to carry out this mission in new and powerful ways. And as we do that dear Lord, help us to remember two of the important things that Jesus says at the end of Matthew 28. Firstly, you have turned all authority on heaven and earth over to Christ. The same Christ who paid for our sins on the cross now holds all creation in his hands. He is ruling and ordering all things for the benefit of his people and his kingdom. Secondly, keep us ever focused on that promise that Christ has given us when he says, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Gracious Father in heaven, you don’t tell us to witness to others and then leave us to fend for ourselves. Rather, you are with us every step of the way. You are with us for every conversation. You are with us every time we speak to others about you. May we recognize your eternal and constant presence with us and be strengthened and emboldened by it. With you by our side, there is nothing stopping us. There is nothing holding us back. With you on our side, we have nothing to fear. Amen? Amen.
Tough Questions: Who Comes First?
12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Tough Questions: What Are You Wasting?
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!"
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
We have been in our tough questions series for a number of weeks now. As I have received your responses, there has been one response that has come up a number of times. It ties in to what we are going to be speaking about today. That response that has come up a number of times has been something to this effect: "I don’t feel like I fit in our congregation." Or, "I don’t know where I fit into our congregation." That response ALONE has made this sermon series worth it in my opinion, because that response tells us a number of different things.
Firstly, the fact that a handful of people responded that way suggests that there are more people who are feeling that same way. Because of that, it’s an important thing for us to talk about.
Secondly and thirdly, that response has implications for our church culture. We need to think carefully about how we respond to that sentiment. It is NOT enough for us to simply say, "Well, the reason you don’t feel like you fit is because you haven’t found a place for yourself to fit in. You need to try harder and find your role in our congregation." THAT is a cop out. Maybe you’ve heard the saying "it takes two to tango." The idea behind that saying is that when there’s a problem, it is almost ALWAYS the case, that the fault lies with two parties rather than simply one. So as individuals who belong to a congregation, yes, we DO need to ask that question, how do I fit into this congregation? However, as a congregation, we also need to be asking the question, what do we need to do to make sure that we are making it easy for people to fit into our congregation. What can we do to help people find their God-given talents and put them to use?
The bottom line of our reading from 1 Corinthians is this: Every single person in this room has a place that they fit. Every single person in this room is important and if we have people who feel like they are not fitting, then we are going to suffer as a church.
Our reading compares the body of Christ to our own human bodies. So let’s humor the illustration for just a minute. Take a look at your hand—go ahead, take a look at it. You would never look at your hand and say, "Well, because my hand can't see anything like my eyes can, it’s useless." Now take a look at your foot. You would never look at your foot and say, "Well, because my foot can't taste anything, it’s useless."
Those statements are foolish. To speak of all these things simply, the purpose of the hands is to feel and pick things up. The purpose of the feet are to help us walk and help us keep our balance. The purpose of the nose is to smell and filter the air we breathe. And so on and so forth... All our body parts have their own purpose and it would be absolutely foolish for us to say that a single body part is useless because it can't function the way that all our other body parts function.
It is just as foolish when we—as a congregation, as part of the body of Christ—look at another person that belongs to the body of Christ and think to ourselves, that person has no role here. It is equally as foolish for us to look at someone and say, "Well, that person isn’t as important to this church as myself. Me? I’m the heart of the congregation. But that person over there, they’re more like an appendix—we don’t really know what their purpose is, but we just kind of keep them around and hope they don’t rupture."
1 Corinthians 12:27 - Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Every single one of us is part of the body of Christ, and every single one of us has a role.
I want to share a vision with you. It’s by no means a vision from God—it’s just a vision of what the future could look like at St. Luke’s and New Hope. Can you imagine the day when every member of our congregation knows what their talents are and knows how those talents fit into our bigger picture and goal of spreading the message of the gospel? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we not only knew our own talents, but if we also knew the talents of one another? How awesome would it be if every single one of us could point to any other person and say, "Oh him? Her? They’re great. They help our congregation in so many ways. That person is good at a, b, and c… we couldn’t do it without them!" I can see it happening. Can you? So how do we get there? How do we make it happen?
I’m going to suggest three things that can help us get to that point. They all come from our reading for today.
Firstly, we need to have realistic expectations. Not a single one of us—myself included—has the ability to do everything. The body of Christ is not a one person show. 3 or 4 years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were playing against the Sacramento Kings. One of the stars on the LA basketball team at that time was Kobe Bryant. It was near the end of the 1st quarter. There was just enough time to get one shot off. The Lakers get the rebound. All 5 defenders start running toward Kobe Bryant to defend him. 3 of Kobe’s teammates are running down the right side of the court and they’re wide open. Kobe is on the left side of the court—he’s got all 5 defenders guarding him. Guess what happens? The ball gets passed to Kobe. With all 5 defenders on him, he shoots and misses. When we start operating that way as a congregation, we’re in trouble. There’s not a single one of us that can do it all. If we start passing the ball to only one, two or even three individuals, we’re not going to be functioning at our peak performance. The hand cannot do everything. Neither can the foot. Neither can the eyes. It takes the whole body working together to function at peak performance.
Secondly, we need to ask if we, as a congregation, are doing everything we can to HELP people fit in here. This has implications for our church culture. It’s not enough for us as a congregation to say to someone, "Great, now you’re part of the congregation. Here’s the things we do as a congregation. We’d love for you to show up and help out." When we do that, we are essentially saying that we don’t care enough to find out what a persons gifts and talents are, rather, we just want them to help out in our pre-decided roles. When we do that, it’s like we’re essentially telling a hand that we need them to be an eye. We’re telling a set of ears, that they need to be a pair of feet. Tie it into our tough question...What are we wasting? As a congregation, we waste the talents and abilities of our each other when we don’t take the time to figure out what our talents are and consider in what unique way they might be put to use.
Thirdly, we’ve got to recognize as individuals that we are part of the body of Christ and we have a role to play. The fact still remains that, as the body of Christ, part of the responsibility lies with us an individuals. Each of us, personally, have to take the time to evaluate our talents and abilities and consider how we might use them for God’s kingdom. As individuals, we can end up wasting our God-given talents. There’s a couple different ways this can happen. Sometimes, when we don’t take the time to evaluate our talents and ask how we can use them for the good of the kingdom, it’s out of laziness. For those times that we have been lazy in the use of our gifts, may we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. And indeed, he does forgive us. However, sometimes when we’re not taking the time to evaluate our talents and how we might use them, it’s because we don’t know where to start. We may not truly know what our strengths are. We may not be able to name them. If we can't name our strengths and talents, we’re going to have trouble using them.
Each week in this series, we have had some optional homework. The optional homework for this week has to do with helping each of us as individuals find out what our talents truly are. Has anyone seen this book before? StrengthsFinder 2.0? This is something they have us do at the seminary in our last year of schooling. The optional homework is to buy this book new. You have to buy it new because it comes with an online test. Buy the book, take the online test, and send me the results. When you share the results with me, I’ll be happy to share my results with you. I’ll even share my wife’s results with you if you’d like. She has taken the test as well. It’s kind of a fun test to take as a family—although you have to buy a copy of the book for each person that is going to take the test. This book puts names to 34 different and unique strengths that people have. After you take the test, it will show you what your top 5 strengths are. Your top 5 strengths make up the majority of who you are.
There is somebody in one of our congregations. I told them about this book, they went and bought it, took the test, and shared the results with me. I asked that person this past week if it was a beneficial exercise for them. Their answer was" "Yes, definitely. I learned some things about myself, and the test got me to start thinking about how I can use my strengths in God’s kingdom." And really, when this person shared their results with me, it got me thinking about the same thing. Almost immediately, my mind was filled with some unique ways that this person could use their strengths in God’s kingdom.
All of us have different strengths. All of us have different talents. If we can start the conversation about what each of our unique gifts are, and how we can use them, we’re going to see some neat things start happening. For one, we might come to the realization that we have been asking someone who is a foot to function as a hand—someone who is an eye to function as an ear. Once we can name our God given talents, we can start to ask how they can be put to use. Those of us who make up the metaphorical feet in the body of Christ, will be able to recognize it and begin to live as better feet. Those of us who are eyes will be able to recognize it and live as better eyes. Those of us who are ears will recognize it and begin to live as better ears.
As humans, the more learn about the human body, the more fully we recognize how truly amazing and intricate it is. God’s creation of us was truly incredible and thoughtful. Each part of our body has a unique function. You may not realize all the functions a particular part of your body has until it gets injured. Then suddenly you start to realize the long list of things which that part of your body is used for. When something isn’t functioning correctly, the whole body suffers. God has made his church the same way. Each of us is unique. Each of us has a role to play. And when one of us isn’t functioning the way God created us to function, as a whole, we’re going to suffer for it.
With the help of God, let’s aim for that vision I mentioned earlier. May God help us identify our talents and strengths so that we might all use them to serve his kingdom. May he help us ask that question: In what unique way can my talents be put to use? As we better come to name our talents, God is going to help us see how we can use them as we bring this message of sin and grace into the world around us. Amen? Amen.
Tough Questions: Are you buying it?
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
There’s about 325 million people who live in the U.S. It’s estimated that 77% of Americans have a social media profile—so about 250 million. It’s estimated that 85%—or 277 million Americans—use text messaging. Platforms like text messaging and social media have become one of our main ways of communicating. If you’ve done any research on texting and social media, you know that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Social media and texting are beneficial to us in some ways, and harmful in others.
I’m not here to rail on texting and social media today…. Like I said, there are come very clear benefits to these things. They help us keep in touch with people that we might not otherwise keep in close touch with. But I do want to speak about one of the ways those things can harm us spiritually if we’re not careful.
Texting and social media… they are all forms of quick and convenient communication. Personally, I love these things for just that reason. If you need to ask someone a question, you don’t have to line up your schedules so that you can find a time to call them, you can just send them a text. With social media, if you want to update someone on what’s going on in your life, you can just simply post a picture and a few words and BOOM, people have an update on what’s going on in your life. If you want an update on someone else’s life, you can just look at the things that they post. It’s quick, easy, and convenient. However, as nice as that is, let me read you one of the unintended consequences that texting and social media has brought about:
This comes from an article put out by Forbes magazine in 2017: "Perhaps one of the biggest differences in why [we] struggle with face-to-face communication [more than ever] is because we [now have] the ability to edit a message. Even for the most mundane of conversations, we have the time to think something over. This removes a sense of vulnerability [and] raw emotion.
While yes, this ability has its advantages in that we get to come off in our best light, that’s not always the most human approach. We’re supposed to make mistakes with what we sometimes say, as these errors contribute to us being stronger mentally. As much as we hate regrets, we do have a certain sense of pride in them. They’re a catalyst for growth, which is necessary to be successful."
See what it’s saying? When technological forms of communication become our primary means of communication, we can actually begin to struggle with face-to-face communication. Younger generations are notorious for this very thing. But even if you’re in an generation that came before all this technology, don’t think that you are immune to what we’re about to talk about. It was before the dawn of social media that people started to struggle more and more with a specific form of communication. Even the TV has the power to cripple this form of communication. If we allow them to, all of these things we’ve mentioned have the ability to cripple our communication with God.
Let’s be careful to not misunderstand me here. It is certainly OKAY if our conversations with God sometimes look more like a text message than a full on conversation. God tells us to bring everything to him. I would certainly hope, that throughout the day, we are sending text message type prayers to God. However, if that is our only type of communication with God, that’s when we should be worried. God desires to also have full on conversations with us, and honestly, we need full on conversations with him as well. When was the last time you went to God in prayer for a period of 10 or more minutes? What about even 5 or more minutes? Really, it’s not the number that’s important...it’s the concept. In a world that is always vying for our attention, we struggle to communicate with God.
Let’s do a little exercise here this morning. We are going to take 2 minutes—120 seconds—out of this sermon to talk to God. We’ll just have it quiet for a couple of minutes and each of us can have some personal time to speak with God about whatever it is we need to speak with him about. I’ll keep a timer and I’ll let you know when there’s 10 seconds left so you can wrap things up. So, go ahead, have a couple minutes with God in prayer, starting now.
Maybe a bit of a different exercise to have in the middle of a sermon...but there was a purpose to it. I asked my wife, "Amber, if I had silent prayer in the middle of this week’s sermon, how long do you think it would take for the majority of us to start feeling a little uncomfortable—how long till the majority of us run out of things to talk with God about?" 2 minutes was the answer—and that was my thought as well before I asked her the question. Prayer is such an important thing in our lives, and yet we often struggle to have long, meaningful and open conversation with God.
1 John 5:14 - This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Ephesians 6:18 - And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.
James 5:16 - 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Here’s how this ties into our tough question for the day: Are You Buying It? We know what God says about prayer. We know that he tells us prayer is important, that it’s powerful, and that he hears our prayers...But...Are You Buying It? Do you really believe what God says about prayer? Have you really, truly, bought in to—do you really truly trust that prayer is important and powerful? And as we go along today, we’re going to widen our focus to include more than just prayer. Do you really truly buy into all of God’s promises? All the things he tells us in his Word?
Paul was buying it. Paul bought into God’s promises hook, line, and sinker. He trusted in all of them. "14 For this reason I kneel before the Father... 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Every time we hear from Paul in the New Testament, he’s reminding young congregations that he is constantly praying for them. And the praying he does for them, they’re not just little text messages. When Paul prays for them, he shoots for the stars. I know that so often, when I pray, I tend to be too business oriented. "Dear Lord, please help so and so, keep them safe, bring them healing, help them with this situation or that situation." Not that that prayer is a bad prayer, of course not….but the reality is, God wants us to ask him for so much more. Paul’s prayer is incredible. "May God strengthen you with power, through the Spirit...so Christ might dwell in your hearts through faith!" May God strengthen you by means of the Holy Spirit who lives in you, by means of Christ who dwells in you. Paul prays for their spiritual strengthening above all else.
He goes on, "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Here’s why that’s such a powerful prayer. As sinful humans with finite minds, we will never fully be able to understand the depth of Christ’s love—not till we get to heaven. We might say we fully understand it, but the truth is we just don’t. We can’t fully understand a love that would go innocently to the cross on our behalf. The world hates injustice—chances are you hate injustice too….especially when something unjust happens to you. Talk about the biggest injustice the world has ever seen… Christ did not deserve to die on the cross, but he did it out of love for us. By faith, we can understand it in part. But we can't understand such a radical love in full. But guess what…? Paul prays for it anyways. Paul has bought into the power of prayer. Paul has bought into the fact that with God, all things are possible. So when Paul prays for young Christian congregations, he does aim for the stars. He prays that God would do what he is able to do—achieve the impossible.
He does it because he believes with all his heart that which he says next, "20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!"
How true it is, and yet how often we forget it. Our all-powerful Lord is able to do far more than we even have the capability to ask. Our all-powerful Lord is ready and eager to do for us so much more than we are able to imagine.
Do we really buy into everything that God says in his Word? Do we really buy into all the promises he gives us? Let’s just go through a few examples today to help us examine our hearts.
Do you buy into what God tells us about prayer? When was the last time you prayed for the mission of St. Luke’s, New Hope, and Oasis Youth Center? Do you pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you pray for those in leadership roles in these ministries?
Do you buy into God’s promise to take care of your every earthly need? When it comes time to give offering, are we giving to him off the top of our income, or do we give from the bottom—give him some of the leftovers?
Do you buy into the depth of God’s love for you? Do you see the trials in your life to be a blessing from God that he’s going to use to grow you and draw you closer to him?
Do you trust that God’s promise that he will give you the words when it's time to witness? Do you approach evangelism opportunities with the boldness of Christ who lives in you?
Our goal here isn’t to go on a huge guilt trip and then send everyone home. The truth is, we all fail. There are times that all of us would have to answer no to some of those questions. It goes back to that inner struggle we have within us. The struggle between the old person and the new person. As Jesus said in Matthew 26, "The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." For those times we fail, may we remember the forgiveness we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. In him, every sin, every failure, and every doubt has been wiped away. May we not only remember the forgiveness we have in Christ, but may we be strengthened by it. Only by the power of Christ who dwells in us—by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us—are we able to trust in God’s promises more and more fully.
May we ask God for the strength to buy into all his promises with all our hearts. May the Lord increase our trust in him so that our peace and security is found in him—not in the things of this life. May God give us hearts that are focused on his kingdom. May he move us to pray more passionately and frequently. May he help us better grasp the depth of his love for us every single day. May he drive us back to his Word so that our faith might grow and so that we might better know and understand that love he has for us. Amen? Amen.
Tough Questions: Are You All In?
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Last week I placed in front of you a tough question. That question was: Which kingdom are we more focused on? God’s kingdom? Or our kingdom? And after laying that question before you, I invited you to respond. I told you that if you responded, it would make my week. Guess what? I had a great week. I got a good number of responses throughout the week. And I learned something from every response I got. I learned things that I would not have known otherwise. Last week, I was playing with the idea of turning this into a sermon series. And once I started getting some responses, I became sure of it… and so, this sermon series came to be. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on tough questions. Each week, I am going to lay before you a tough question that we all face. Each week I will invite you to respond to our question. And as we continue in this sermon series, I will—in an anonymous way of course—bring up a couple of the things that have been raised as people respond to our tough questions.
So here’s the deal. If you didn’t feel inclined to respond last week, that’s fine—don’t feel guilty about it. If you don’t feel inclined to respond to this week’s question, that’s fine, don’t feel guilty about it. But over the next few weeks, as we ask different tough questions, if there is one that sticks in your mind or peaks your interest, please take the time to respond to me via email or text. And if you feel inclined to answer every question, by all means, please do.
Here’s our tough question for today: Are You All-In? First, that phrase "all-in." I would think most of us understand the picture behind the phrase, but it’s a bit of a colloquial phrase so we should go ahead and explain it before we get started. In poker, when someone goes "all-in" it shows that they are confident in their cards. I know… there’s bluffing and all the rest of it that complicates it a little bit… but in its simplest form, when someone goes all-in, it means that they are confident that they can win the hand, and they are willing to put all their money on a single hand. When that phrase is used outside of the poker world, it has a similar meaning. When someone is all-in about something, it means that is where they place their bet. When someone is all-in on a matter, it means they are excited about it and they’re enthusiastic. They’re willing to place everything on the line for whatever it is that they’re passionate about.
So, are you all in? Spiritually speaking? When it comes to this message of salvation in Christ, are you all in? When it comes to taking this message of salvation into the world around you, are you all in? One more thing, before we turn our thoughts to our verses… let me tell you why this question is an important one for us to ask and give an honest answer to. One of the phrases that stuck with me from Seminary is this: "If your faith isn’t working for you, it’s not going to work for your people." See where we’re going with this? If pastor has not bought in to God’s Word hook, line, and sinker, how can he expect his people to buy in to it hook, line, and sinker? If pastor is not all-in when it comes to this message of salvation—how can he expect his people to be all-in? If pastor isn’t on fire for the good news, how can he expect his people to be on fire? And the way I see it, the implications for that statement continue into outreach. If pastor is half-hearted about this message of salvation in Christ, the majority of his people are going to be half-hearted about this message. And if the majority of the congregation is half-hearted about this good news, their outreach efforts are going to be half-hearted. People today can smell half-heartedness. When a visitor walks in those doors, if we are half-hearted as a congregation, they can smell it. The remedy to being half-hearted?... Being all-in.
Our verses for today: "4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."
One of the reasons we become half-hearted is because the most basic truths of God’s Word begin to seem dull to us. In the verses we’re considering today, we have some of the most basic truths of the Christian faith. You might call these verses an "expanded John 3:16." In these 4 short verses, we have the core of the gospel message.
How quickly lose sight of God’s love and kindness. As sinful and emotional humans, we have a tendency to get wrapped up in the circumstances of our lives. And when things aren’t going well for us, one of the first things we lose sight of is God’s kindness and love. We begin to think that God has abandoned us. We begin to think that he loves us less than others. Maybe we begin to wonder if the reason God is allowing hardship to come into our lives is because we’ve done something wrong.
Verse 5 makes it clear that God’s love has absolutely nothing to do with our performance. God saved us—not because of what we have done—but because of who he is...because of his mercy. God’s love for you is not dependent on your actions. There’s a truth for us to cherish. God’s love for you is not dependent on your actions. The more we internalize and come to understand that basic truth, the more "all-in" we will be. Take just a moment here and think about your life and your struggles with sin. Have you ever made any disastrous mistakes in your life? Have you ever sabotaged one of your relationships? Have you ever put your own needs before someone else's? Have you ever indulged in sin? Gossip? Too much alcohol? Drugs? Lust? Adultery? Hate? Selfishness? Bitterness? Anger? There’s not a person in this room that hasn’t fallen into sin. There’s not a person in this room who hasn’t made mistakes. And that is why this truth is so beautiful and powerful. God’s love for you has nothing to do with your performance. God’s love for you has nothing to do with who you are….but it has everything to do with who he is. So often, when we doubt God’s love for us, it’s because we are looking for his love in all the wrong places.
In verses 5 and 6 we have 3 examples of God’s love for us and in these examples, we see God’s love more clearly than ever. The examples are: baptism, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior..."
That first sign of God’s love: Baptism—the washing of rebirth. How quick we are, myself included, to forget what baptism means for us. At our baptism, we were washed of our sins. At your baptism, you were made a child of God. You went from being spiritually dead, to spiritually alive. Baptism is such a powerful, and monumental moment in our lives, and yet how quickly we forget about it.
Over the past week, as a number of people have contacted me to answer last week’s tough question, there was one thing that got repeated by a number of people. The fact that a number of people had a similar thought says to me that there are probably a good number of us who struggle with this exact thing I’m going to mention. A number of people said something like this: I WANT to be all about the big kingdom, I WANT to be all about God’s kingdom… but it is often apparent to me that I get stuck in MY kingdom—the kingdom of me, or the kingdom of my family. I feel divided. Well, let me first say this: I feel that struggle too. Every single day of my life I wrestle with that question: have I been faithful in all the different roles that God has placed on my plate? And I only imagine that this struggle will intensify for my family as it grows.
There’s a reason I’m bringing this up as we think about baptism. Let me show you how this plays out in my life, and I’ll let you translate it to your life. Sometimes I get to the end of a day and all those questions start going through my mind. Which kingdom was I invested in today? Was I faithful in all the different roles that God has placed on my plate? And as soon as those questions start, Satan LOVES to blow them out of proportion. And before I know it, Satan is trying to pile guilt on me. Look at all the things you left undone today. Look at all the ways you failed to be faithful to your God-given roles.
Next time that happens to you, turn your thoughts to your baptism. I’ll do the same. When our thoughts turn back to our baptism, we are strengthened to fight Satan off. "Sorry Satan! You’re out of luck. My sins have been washed away in the waters of baptism. I was made a child of God. You are not allowed to try and heap guilt on me because my guilt was taken away at my baptism." Does God want us to ask if we’re being faithful? Does he want us to ask if we’re focusing on his kingdom? You bet he does. But he wants us to ask it while remembering that his grace is sufficient for us—even when we mess things up, God’s love covers over us.
Alright, the second sign of God’s love: the Holy Spirit. How slow we are to remember our baptisms. We’re equally as slow to remember exactly what it means that the Holy Spirit lives in us as God’s children. As God’s child, the Holy Spirit lives in you, and that changes EVERYTHING. The same Holy Spirit who has the power to create living faith in a dead heart lives in you. The Holy Spirit that lives in you is immensely powerful yet so often we fail to tap into that power of the Spirit who lives in us.
Going through these tough questions is a meaningless exercise if we forget the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we can ask the tough questions. We can examine our hearts. We can be honest about the ways that we have failed. And it is the Holy Spirit who will also comfort us when we are confronted with our failures. He reminds us of the grace we have. He picks us back up, sets us on our feet, and moves us in the direction we are to go. How do we capitalize on the power of the Holy Spirit in us? By knowing God’s Word better. The more we grow in God’s, the more easily and powerfully the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. It is the Holy Spirit that enables and grows our "All-In" attitude and way of life.
That final sign of God’s love: Jesus Christ our Savior. This one….it’s what its all about. The most basic truth of our faith, and yet, how quickly it slips our minds. God gave his own Son to die in our place. And what do we receive because of Christ? Verse 7 tells us: "7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." In Christ, we have been justified—that is to say, our sin has been removed. God sees our sin no more. And as a result, we have become heirs who have the hope of eternal life. I’ll tell you what, the times when I personally don’t feel like I’m "all-in…" it’s because I have lost my focus on this most basic truth—I have forgotten to meditate on this most basic truth. We deserve death! We deserve God’s wrath. We deserve hell. But in Christ, we receive life, forgiveness, and heaven. When you put it that way, how can we be ANYTHING BUT "all-in?" It’s Christ, or nothing.
So, are you "All-In?" I invite you again this week to answer our tough question if you feel inspired to. And if you decide to take me up on it, I want you to answer the question in this way. Give me a situation in your daily life when it is crystal clear to you, that you are all in. And then give a situation in your daily life that makes you feel stuck, makes you feel divided, or makes you feel like your not "all-in." I’ll model it for you. This week was great. All week, I was "all-in" as I got a chance to read and reply to a handful of you regarding last week’s sermon. On a typical week… I’m "all-in" when I’m preparing a sermon. I pour my heart and soul into trying to present God’s Word in its natural truth and beauty. I pour my heart and soul into making applications for my own life, and God-willing, for your lives as well. I’m all-in when, most mornings, I get the chance to sit down and read God’s Word with my wife. As for those times I’m not all-in. Whenever Satan manages to fix my eyes on my shortcomings, struggles, and failures, I feel further away than ever from being "all-in."
So there it is, if you feel inclined, send me your response. Are you all-in? Give me an example of a time that you’re all in and an example of a time when you’re not all-in. And whether or not you decide to respond to our tough question, walk away remembering this: God’s love for you is not dependent on what you do. Are there going to be times that we fail to be all-in? Certainly, but...Satan is not allowed to use those moments to guilt you. Your guilt was washed away at your baptism. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit lives in you. As you better come to know God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will be at work in you in a powerful way and you will have more and more of those instances where it is clear and obvious that you are all-in. The better you come to know the love of him who gave up his life up for you, the more all-in he will make you to be. Amen? Amen.download
The Light of the World is Revealed
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
It hardly seems like it, but 2 days from now, will be 6 months. July 8th was the date that St. Lukes, OYC, and New Hope had a new pastor installed. And I don’t know about for you, but for my wife and me, it has been a good 6 months.
By my estimation, it is time to start asking the tough questions. The tough questions are going to make us a bit uncomfortable. And in case you’re not with me—in case you don’t believe it’s time to start asking the tough questions—let me just share a little something with you. I looked up the statistics for the 7 WELS churches here in the Racine/Kenosha area—2 of those 7 being St. Luke’s and New Hope. All 7 of them are in decline. All 7. I don’t mention that to discourage us. I don’t mention that because I want us to start fixating on numbers. I mention it so that we might recognize how important it is that we start asking the tough questions...so that we might recognize how important it is that we start doing some heart and soul searching and evaluation. Rather than looking at the state of our churches in Racine and Kenosha and becoming discouraged by it, we’re going to see the opportunity. We have in front of us an opportunity to reimagine how we do ministry. We have in front of us an opportunity to reimagine what things look like 5 years from now as we figure out how we are going to bring this message of salvation to the communities around us.
Our tough question for today is this: Which kingdom are we focused on first and foremost? The big kingdom—God’s kingdom? Or the kingdom of St. Luke’s—the kingdom of New Hope?
We’ll start today with some questions intended to poke at us a little and make us seriously think about that question: which kingdom are we most invested in? Before I ask these pointed questions… hear me out. Our goal here is not lay out the things that pastor thinks needs to change. Our goal here today is to get all of us to start the conversation. Our goal here today is to get all of us to start thinking about that question: Are we more focused on our little kingdom? Or are we more focused on God’s kingdom?
First question: How attached are we to the name on our building—St. Luke’s….New Hope? If it was for the good of the big kingdom—God’s kingdom, would we be ready to give that name up?
Next question: How attached are we to our church building? If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be willing to give this building up?
How attached are we to our location? (New Hope - 5970 Douglas Ave, Racine, WI / St. Luke’s - 6700 30th Ave, Kenosha, WI) If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be ready to give this location up?
How attached are we to our memories? It’s okay to cherish memories—but fixating on them can be harmful. If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be eager to loosen our grip on the memories of the way that things once were?
How attached are we to our programs and outreach strategies? If it served to advance the big kingdom, would we be willing to give up one of our current outreach efforts? Would we be willing to add a new one?
How attached are we to our preferences? Could we willingly give our preferences up if it serves the good of the big kingdom?
How attached are we to our church culture? Could we willingly change it if it served the good of the big kingdom?
How attached are we to the status quo? If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be happy to rethink the norm—rethink the status quo?
Paul was all in—he was all about the big kingdom, God’s kingdom. And we see that in our verses for today. I’m not going to re-read our verses today, I’ll just comment on them. If you’ve got those verses in front of you, you’ll see words and phrases like, administration of God’s grace, mystery, and revelation…. Verses 2-5 are almost a little confusing—It’s almost like, come on Paul, spit it out, what are you talking about? Well in verse 6 he finally says it. This mystery, this revelation he is talking about is this: in Christ, the Gentiles are on the same level as the Jews. In Christ, Salvation had come—and it wasn’t just for the Jews, it was also for the gentiles (all other races who were not of Jewish descent). In verse 8 Paul says that he was chosen for this task of bringing this message of salvation to all nations—not just the Jews. Paul says in these verses that this message—this mystery—of salvation for all nations was previously hidden. And Paul is right. When you look through the Old Testament, this message that God will provide salvation for all nations is somewhat hidden. In the Old Testament, it is very clear—it’s very obvious—that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. It’s very obvious that the Lord would send a savior to rescue his people—the nation of Israel. But the message that this Savior would be for all nations is not quite so clear. However…. It is there. We do find it.
Genesis 22, God promises Abraham that through his offspring all nations on earth would be blessed. Even from early on, God gave his people clues that the coming Savior would be the Savior of all—not just the Savior of Israel. We had another example in our first reading for today. There we had a picture of people from nations all over the world—people who had previously lived in the darkness of sin—coming to praise the Lord and worship him. There’s dozens of other instances in the Old Testament that speak about the day when people from every nation will worship the Lord.
However, as Paul says, this message was indeed hidden. By the time Jesus comes onto the scene, the idea that the Messiah would be for all people was not something that made it into the mainstream way of thinking. It was not something that was readily promoted by the Jewish religious leaders. By the time Jesus comes, what IS promoted? Separation from everyone and everything that wasn’t Jewish. The idea that the nation of Israel is God’s chosen people and everyone else is not, and therefore, we keep them at arm's length.
But God made sure that Paul understood this truth….the truth that salvation is for ALL people, not just the Jews. Do you think that this message that Paul took into the world was a popular message? It wasn’t. Every time Paul would enter a city, where would he go and preach first? He would go to the synagogue—the place where the Jews would go to worship and listen to God’s Word. And more often than not, what would happen? He would get run out of the synagogue. There were a lot of things about Paul’s preaching that was offensive to many Jewish listeners and especially to the Jewish religious leaders. We’ve already mentioned one idea that was offensive… the fact that the Messiah who came was the Savior of the whole world—not just the nation of Israel. That certainly offended some people. In addition, Paul would often lay out how it was God’s people themselves that had actually killed the Messiah when they crucified him on the cross. That was definitely an offensive message.
A lot of times, these "offensive" teachings from Paul got him into trouble. Multiple times he got in trouble with the Jewish leadership. Multiple times they abused him. Multiple times they tried to kill him. So why did he keep preaching? Even after being beaten and almost killed, why would Paul keep preaching this message of salvation for all nations? It’s because Paul’s focus was on getting this message of salvation out into the world. Paul’s focus was on the big kingdom—not the little kingdom.
Paul received opposition on this matter from the religious leaders, and from some of his own. In Galatians chapter 2, Paul had to oppose Peter for this very issue. Peter! Another apostle! Peter was associating and eating with Gentiles, but when a certain group of people showed up, Peter began to hold back. He withdrew from the gentiles and closed himself off in his group of Jews. Others started following his example. Paul sees what’s going on and he calls all of them out right there, publicly.
Was it easy for Paul to let go of all the customs that he had been raised in? No. Was it easy for Paul to go against the grain when it came to his cultures most closely guarded beliefs? No. Was it easy for Paul to give up everything that he formerly held dear? No. But he did it. He did it because his focus was on getting this message of salvation out into all the world around him. He did it, because he was all in when it came to God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom was for all people. Paul set aside every other kingdom for the sake of the gospel. Paul set aside the kingdom of Israel. He set aside the kingdom of Paul. He focused entirely on the big kingdom—God’s kingdom.
One question I have to refresh myself on every year is this: what exactly is Epiphany? In its simplest form, you might say that Epiphany is the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus came not just for the Jews, but he came to save the whole world. That’s why we have the reading from Matthew chapter 2. Wise men from a foreign nation come to worship Jesus. But for today, let me frame the purpose of Epiphany Sunday a little differently. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our Savior. During the Epiphany season, we’re still thinking about the birth of our Savior, but we’re asking the question: So what? What’s the big deal? Why is my life any different now that Jesus has been born?
Today we saw Paul answer that question: So what? Christ is the Savior of all the world. This news is too big, too important for us to let anything stand in the way of sharing it. Christ didn’t just come to save one nation. He same to make payment for the sins of every person from every nation. How can we not tell this story of salvation? Paul wasn’t going to let cultural custom or personal preference or racial division stand in the way of sharing this message. He turned his back on all those things and preached the message of salvation for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Brothers and sisters of St. Luke’s and New Hope. I have every confidence we can do the same. What sacrifices will we make for the sake of taking this gospel message into the world around us? I don’t know. But I have confidence that God will strengthen us to do just that. You’ve already started to do it. It wasn’t ideal to have to share a pastor between 3 ministries—but you were willing to do it. Was it partly out of necessity? Sure. But I also think it’s a move that points to some big kingdom focus. And for the last 6 months, we’ve been making it work. We’ve maybe sacrificed our ideal service time, or we have had to do without pastor for part or all of an event, but they’re things we’re willing to let go of as we focus on God’s kingdom and spreading this message of salvation.
So, I hope you’ll continue the conversation with me on this one. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Don’t be afraid to poke where it hurts. When we start doing those things, growth will start to take place. Forward thinking will happen.
Would you like to make my week? Let me tell you how you can make my week. Think about this tough question we talked about today: Which kingdom are we focused on—God’s kingdom, or our kingdom? And come up with an answer for both sides of that question. Come up with a way that we’re potentially too focused on our kingdom of St. Luke’s or New Hope, but also come up with a way that we are clearly focused on the advancement of the big kingdom—God’s kingdom. Once you’ve done that, either email or text me your answer. My information is on the bulletin. That would make my week.
This message of salvation is big news. I’m excited in this new year to start making some strides, to start asking the tough questions, and to start thinking outside the box so that we can figure out how to get this message of forgiveness to more and more souls. We saw it today from Paul: this message of salvation isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone. Every nation. Every culture. May Christ bless our new year. May he guide our steps as we bring this message to our communities. May he help us answer the tough questions that are going to result in spiritual growth. Amen? Amen.
Great is His Faithfulness
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul
That hymn by Horatio Spafford is one of my favorite hymns. (It’s found in Christian Worship Supplement - Hymn 760.) And the thought behind the hymn is a great thought to begin the year with…. No matter what happens to us in this life—no matter what befalls us in the coming year…. Our hope and our assurance is secure because our hope and assurance is found in Christ—not in the circumstances of our daily lives.
It happens every year… After Christmas, our whole nation sets its sights on New Year’s. And along with that comes all the talk about New Year’s resolutions—all the talk about how next year is going to be a better year. Whether you make New Year’s resolutions or not, I think it’s safe to say that, along with the rest of our culture, most of us at least do a little bit of reflecting when we get to the year’s end. And for those of us who aren’t great at reflection… let me just ask you point blank right now... How did things go for you this past year? The answer to that question is going to be different for every person in this room. Maybe as some of us look at the past year, we would consider it to be an especially difficult year. Some of us would consider it to be a great year in every way. And maybe some of us would chalk it up as just another mediocre year.
Lamentations is a great book to begin the New Year with. It’s a book of reflections. Our best guess is that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations. In his book, Jeremiah isn’t only reflecting on the past year, he’s reflecting on a number of decades. And just like we might mentally rate how our last year has gone, Jeremiah is rating how the last many many years have gone. And how does he rate them? They’ve all been terrible. They’ve been absolutely horrible years—the whole lot of them.
Jeremiah had faithfully preached God’s Word for decades, and nobody had listened to it. He warned the Israelites that if they didn’t change their ways and turn back to God, God was going to bring punishment on them. Nobody listened. In fact, they did the opposite. Rather than put their trust in God, they put their trust in their nation. They put their trust in their military. They put their trust in their wealth. And so what happens? God lets the nation of Babylon overthrow them. They attack them 3 different times over the course of 20 years.
They leave Jerusalem crippled and barley functioning in comparison to what it once was. And after all of it, Jeremiah is reflecting. You almost get the idea that he’s sitting on a hillside looking at this damaged city. Or maybe he’s looking at the destroyed temple of God. Most of the book of Lamentations is Jeremiah reflecting and lamenting the sin of his people, that is, he passionately expresses his grief and sorrow.
But even in the midst of his grief and sorrow, Jeremiah writes down a beautiful refrain—the verses we have in front of us today: "19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."
Once again verse 25: "The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him..." It’s one thing to read and comprehend that verse, but living it out is far more difficult. As sinful humans, when we are met with failure and hardship, we begin to doubt God’s goodness. We begin to question his love for us. We essentially say to God, "Lord, I have faithfully put my trust in you… so why haven’t you done anything about this trial I’m facing?" On the other side… When things are going well for us, rather than keeping all of our trust and hope in the Lord, we begin to hope and trust in ourselves. We begin to tell ourselves that God must be especially pleased with us because of what a great job we’re doing...and that is why he is granting us success. Both of those are wrong ways of thinking.
Rudyard Kipling said this: "If you can meet success and failure and treat them both as impostors, then you are a balanced [person]." I don’t think Rudyard Kipling was a Christian, and yet, he still managed to hit the nail on the head regarding one of the struggles we have as Christians. So often when we are met with success or failure in our lives, we struggle to keep a level head. When we’re met with failure and trial, we start to feel the beginnings of despair. We maybe even think that God is punishing us for some reason. When we’re met with success, we begin to have feelings of pride. We begin to think that God is rewarding us for some reason.
God is faithful in every situation we face in life. His faithfulness never changes. His love for us never changes. In the most difficult of times, God is faithful to us. In the most wonderful of times, God is faithful to us. His faithfulness never changes. His love never changes. However, in the hands of Satan, success and failure become the same imposter. Satan tries to use both to take our eyes off of God’s faithfulness. Satan, in conjunction with our sinful nature constantly tries to convince us that God’s treatment of us is based on our performance. When we begin to buy into that thinking that God’s faithfulness to us is in some way performance based, we’re buying into a lie that Satan is feeding us.
Jeremiah had this figured out. Only someone who had this figured out could write down these words from Jeremiah chapter 3. Even as he recounts the depths of Israel’s suffering—the depths of his own suffering—he makes it clear that Satan has not managed to divert his eyes from his faithful Lord.
Looking at the circumstances of our daily lives is not the best place to look for assurance of God’s faithfulness. At times we might be able to see his faithfulness easily. Other times it may be more hidden. God gets to see the big picture and we don’t. For true assurance of God’s faithfulness, Jeremiah looked at God’s promises. And that’s the best place we can look as well—at God’s promises. When God makes a promise—it stands. It will come true. It will be carried out to completion. We can have every confidence that when God says he will take care of his children and bless them, he will. We can have every confidence that when God says he will work out both the bad situations and the good situations in our lives and use them to draw us closer to him, he will. We can have every confidence that when God says he will carry us through this life and bring us to his side in eternal life, he will.
As New Testament Christians, we get to see God’s faithfulness even more fully than Jeremiah did. Jeremiah was looking forward to the coming Savior that God had promised. But he didn’t get the chance to see how those promises from God unfolded. But as New Testament Christians, we get to see how God’s plan of salvation unfolded. Just this Christmas season we got to see how God sent his Son to earth to live as a human. As New Testament Christians, we get to see how the Son of God gave up his life to pay for our sins. And it is right there, on the cross, that we see the greatest display of God’s faithfulness. For thousands of years, God promised his people to send someone who would save them from their sin and he carried that promise to its completion as Christ died and rose again. On the cross, we see the greatest display of God’s faithfulness.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what 2019 holds for you. Maybe it will be a great year. Maybe it will be an especially difficult year. Whatever kind of year it is, God’s mercy and his compassion for you will never fail. It is new every morning. God will always remain faithful to you as his child.
I want to close today with the story of a man who recognized that success and failure are the same imposter. Rather than fix his eyes on his life’s successes or failures, he fixed his eyes on his faithful God. Some of you may have heard this story before… but it’s a good one to hear again—especially as a new year approaches.
The story is about a man named Gates. Gates was a lawyer. His life trials hit him hard and quick. His troubles started when his 4 year old son died from scarlet fever. Not only that, but Gates had invested a sizeable amount of money in some property in Chicago; however, The Great Fire of Chicago wiped out most of his investments. Two years later, Gates decided that he, his wife, and his 4 remaining daughters needed a vacation. They were going to go to Europe. Gates sent his family ahead of him because he had to stay back and finish up a couple of work related things. Gates received a telegram from his wife. While crossing to Europe, their ship had been struck. 226 people died. All four of Gates’s daughters had died. Only his wife was left. Gates left to meet his wife in Europe. As he was sailing over the very waters that claimed the lives of his 4 daughters, Horatio Gates Spafford wrote these words:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul
May our prayer for 2019 be this: Lord, give us eyes like Jeremiah’s. Give us eyes like Horatio Spafford’s. If the year in front of us holds trials, may our eyes be fixed on the cross where we see your faithfulness. If the year in front of us is full of success and our lifelong dreams come true, may our eyes be fixed on the cross where we see your faithfulness. May we be reminded of your new mercy and compassion for us each and every day. Lord give us hearts that proclaim—in all situations—Great is your faithfulness! Amen? Amen.
The Word (Jesus) became flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.SERMON
Why is Christmas so important? Why do we remember this little baby boy Jesus year after year? Without Christmas, we have no hope. Without Christmas, we are helpless. It’s a terrible feeling—to be helpless.
Have you ever been in a situation in life where you were completely helpless? We live in a pretty safe nation overall. So for most of us, it’s likely we’ll only feel that feeling of utter helplessness a handful of times. If you’ve ever been robbed or had a gun pointed at you—you know what helplessness feels like. If you have ever had someone close to you die before you were ready for them to, you might know what helplessness feels like. If you’ve ever been up to your neck in debt or lost a job when money was already tight, you might know what helplessness feels like. If you battle addiction, if you’ve ever had a life-threatening illness, if you’ve ever gone through any traumatic experience or experienced a great tragedy, you probably know what helplessness feels like. It’s a terrible feeling….Those moments when you come face to face with the reality that the situation in front of you is entirely out of your control and there is nothing you can do but ride it out to its conclusion.
Without Christmas, we are helpless. Without Christmas, we are caught in a dire situation that is entirely our fault and we have no hope of things ever changing. In these verses from John 1, John speaks about the solution to our spiritual helplessness.
He starts off alluding to the reason that we are spiritually helpless. The first words in the book of John are, "In the beginning." Where else do those words appear in the Bible? (Yes, Genesis.) For someone of John’s day who wasn’t Jewish, those words "In the beginning" may not have had much meaning, but for a Jew who heard those words, their mind would have gone immediately to Genesis where the creation account is told.
The creation account—the truly incredible record of how God brought everything we see into existence—he created all of it in 6 days. BUT... when John said those words, "In the beginning," it wouldn’t ONLY have been the creation account that came to the minds of the readers. The account of what happened right after creation would have come to their minds as well—the accounts are inseparable. Genesis chapter 1 and 2 - the truly incredible account of how God created the entire universe. Genesis chapter 3 - the truly incredible (incredible for all the wrong reasons) account of how humanity messed up God’s perfect creation with a single act.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and in doing so they brought about humankind’s fall into sin. Every child Adam and Eve had were sinful—because they were sinful. Every child that Adam and Eve’s kids had was sinful—because their parents were sinful… Right on down the family line until eventually you get to each of us in this room. Each of us are sinful because those who came before us were also sinful.
Because of our sin, we are spiritually helpless. You see, in God’s eyes, there’s only 2 scenarios. Scenario number 1: You’re perfect—you are without sin—you have never done anything wrong, and therefore, you get to go to heaven. Scenario number 2: You’re sinful and deserve eternal punishment. WIthout Christmas, every one of us would fall into the category of scenario number 2: We’re sinful, and deserve eternal punishment.
But, God’s love for the human race is more profound and deep than we can grasp or imagine. Almost immediately after Adam and Eve fall into sin, God approaches them and tells them that even though they messed up, he would make things right again. He would send a Savior that would crush the head of Satan.
Over the course of the next several thousand years, God gave his people promise after promise. He gave them more and more information about who this Savior would be, where he would be born, what he would be called, and what he would do for his people. Finally the time came. The Savior from sin entered the world—born as a child. And this child was different than any child to have come before. Born of a sinful mother yes, but, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. So this child would be both true God and true man—perfect and without sin.
In these verses John refers to Jesus as "the Word." In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. John goes on to tell how Jesus was present at creation. He was there and played a role in creation. All things were created through him. The Word—Jesus became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
This passage from John about Jesus coming to earth is packed with more truths than we can get to in one sermon. So on this Christmas morning we’re just going to look at just a few. We’re going to look at 3 truths. These truths get to the heart of why Christmas is so important.
Truth number 1 comes from verses 4 and 5. John calls Jesus the light of all mankind. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness. No darkness is able to overcome Jesus—the light of the world. Without baby Jesus—the light of the world—you and I would still be living in the darkness. As we mentioned when speaking about Adam and Eve, we are born into the darkness of sin. We are born spiritually dead and helpless. This message about what Christ has done for us on the cross is the light that shines in our dark hearts of sin. And when you picture Christ—the light of the world—shining in our hearts, don’t picture a dinky little cell phone light that only lights up things that are 3 feet in front of you. When Christ, the light of the world shines in our hearts, he destroys of the darkness of sin. He destroys sins grip on us. He frees us from the power of sin by his death and resurrection.
Truth number 2: comes from verse 12, "...to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." That’s as simple as it gets right there. When humankind fell into sin, we were separated from God. But Christ has fixed that by his life, death and resurrection. And the way that the work of Christ comes to benefit us personally is as simple as believing in him. It sounds too good to be true. But it’s not a scam. By believing in Jesus, we become children of God—children whose sins are washed away. Children who have hope that extends beyond this life and into eternity.
And truth number 3: And this truth actually comes from one of the verses after our reading…. But it’s just so good that I couldn’t help but add it in. Let me read for you John 1:16, "For out of his (out of Christ’s) fullness we have all received grace upon grace." Because of Christmas, we have received grace upon grace. There is a phrase in popular culture that reminds me of this phrase, "grace upon grace." The phrase in popular culture is, "stacks on stacks." Strangely enough, this phrase "stacks on stacks" provides a fairly decent illustration for "grace upon grace." In popular culture, someone who has stacks on stacks is somebody that has more money than they know what to do with—more money than they could ever possibly spend. Someone who has stacks on stacks is someone who is filthy rich—they just got piles of $100 bills lying around… millions upon millions—maybe even billions in their bank account. And really… that’s the picture behind "grace on grace—grace upon grace." Grace, simply defined, is God’s undeserved love. As sinners, we do not deserve God’s love. We deserve his wrath and punishment. But, because of that baby boy—true God and true man—who came to earth...because of the work he did on our behalf….because he has paid for every one of our sins….rather than receive God’s wrath and punishment, we receive his love, his mercy, his forgiveness. That is grace. And as God’s children, we don’t just have grace… we have grace on grace. We have more grace than we know what to do with. It will never run out. It will never leave us. In Christ, God’s undeserved love for us will never run out.
Is Christmas important? You bet it is. Without it, we are hopeless—helpless. But because of it, we have every hope. We have gone from being spiritually dead and helpless to being spiritually alive. Christ, the light of the world—the Word made flesh—had shined in our hearts and lives and destroyed the power of sin. Now, through faith—through believing this message about Jesus—we are called children of God. And God’s love for his children will never fade, it will never run out. Without Christmas, we have nothing. But with it, with Christ, we’ve been given everything. Amen? Amen.
Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Our Attitudes
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who "will rule all the nations with an iron scepter." And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving the Christmas decorating begins. Maybe some of us are those who get the decorations up immediately. Maybe some of us wait a couple weeks. The best and brightest of us were ready long before Thanksgiving because we never got around to taking down last year’s outdoor Christmas lights.
There’s one part of the Christmas decorations that I want to talk about today. The manger scene. It’s always portrayed beautifully. Everybody is in their nice clothes. The dressed up wise men have brought very nice gifts. The shepherds usually look like they just came from a gala event rather than from the fields. Baby Jesus is laid on a perfect little bed of hay which looks incredibly comfortable. All the perfectly behaved animals are just sitting and looking on at the whole scene. And that is all fine. Manger scenes are beautiful and they serve to fix our minds on that wonderful day that our Savior came to earth. I’m not going to tell you to get rid of your manger scene.
HOWEVER, it does serve us well to occasionally remember that those manger scene portrayals of Jesus’ birth are probably not entirely accurate to what the scene actually looked like. A stable is no hospital room. It’s an unsanitary place—a far cry from what we would consider to be a place fit to give birth to a child. Not only that, animals are animals. They may have cutely sat down to watch the whole thing take place… but they may have also gone about their normal routine. They may have even been slightly irritated because of these strangers who had taken up residence in the stable and decided to make a bunch of noise. Now, I don’t know how long Mary was in labor… but giving birth is a messy and difficult process as well. And like we said the shepherds…. It sounds like they came running as soon as they heard the news. I don’t think they stopped off to shower or put on their Sunday’s best. Of all the characters that might be accurately portrayed in manger scenes, the wise men may typically be most accurate. They were men of means that came to see baby Jesus and bring him gifts. But overall, it’s safe to say that first Christmas day was a much messier experience than what we typically portray it as.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we will think about the beauty of Christ coming to earth to save humankind, but today, we’re going to think about the messy side of all of it. The reason we’re going to do that is because our second reading from Revelation 12 gives a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes on that day of Jesus’ birth. You might say that the picture of Jesus birth we have in Revelation 12 is the angle from which God the Father watched these events unfold—and it’s messy.
Revelation is apocalyptic literature—literature that has to do with end times—the days in which we live right now. Think of apocalyptic literature like impressionistic painting. Claude Monet was one of the founders of impressionistic paintings. And when you look at many of his paintings, it’s easy to see that they’re not intended to reflect the scene that was in front of him in the way that a photograph might. Claude Monet used color and texture to try and impress on the painting a certain emotion. In the same way, apocalyptic literature is not meant to literally portray the way that things actually are. A quick example of that from our reading… Was there literally a dragon at Jesus birth? No. God uses vivid symbolism in this section to convey an emotional reality. And the vivid images we have in front of us today show us the messiness and the terrifying reality of everything that was going on behind the scenes at Jesus birth..
Let’s talk through a few of the details in our reading so that we don’t get caught up in them and confused by them. Verse 1-2; 6: "1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth." Then after she had given birth, verse 6: "6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days." At first glance, we might want to conclude that the woman who is giving birth to a son in these verses is Mary. However, 3 different clues in these verses help us see that there might be an option that fits a little better than having this woman be Mary. CLUE NUMBER 1: This woman has a crown of 12 stars on her head. In Scripture, the numbers 3 and 4 are important. 3 is often a number that represents God (think of the Trinity). 4 is a number that often represents humankind (the four corners of the earth, the four winds, et cetera). In Revelation, sometimes those numbers are added, sometimes they’re multiplied. Here we have 12—God’s number (3), multiplied by humankind’s number (4). CLUE NUMBER 2: Whoever this woman is, she is using the moon as her footstool. That is to say, she has been given some authority to rule over creation. And finally, CLUE NUMBER 3: The amount of time this woman is sent into the wilderness and protected by God. In that day and age, 1,260 days was considered to be 42 months. 42 months is 3 and ½ years. 3 and ½ years is ½ of 7 years. And that number 7? Remember, it’s the combination of God’s number and humankind's number (3 + 4). In Scripture, the number 7 often represents the interaction of God and humankind. So what is a reasonable explanation for why we have half the number of 7 here? Well, if 7 represents the entirety of God’s interaction with humankind, from the time to creation until judgement day… then half of that would suggest that we can divide history into two parts. And we see Scripture do just that time and time again. There was the Old Testament Era, and the New Testament Era. So those 1,260 days that God would protect this woman symbolizes the entirety of the New Testament era.
Looking at these 3 clues, it begins to become apparent that this woman can’t be Mary. Mary didn’t live for the entirety of the New Testament era. Mary by herself was not given the moon as her footstool. A more accurate estimation of who this woman in Revelation 12 is, would be the church. The church has been given authority to rule with Christ. The church is that woman that will be under attack from Satan and his forces for the entirety of the New Testament period until Christ returns. The woman in this passage is the church—all believers who are eagerly waiting for this Christ.
Now we really get into the messiness of the Christmas story in Revelation 12… Verses 3-4, "3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth." Later in the chapter we’re told that this "enormous red dragon" is Satan himself. And here we won’t spend as much time on the numbers. But look real quickly, this dragon has 7 heads and 7 crowns. That number 7 isn’t Satan’s number. 7 is supposed to represent the interaction of God and humankind. In this vision, Satan is falsely trying to use that number 7. So take a step back here and look at the impressionistic painting once again. Satan is a truly powerful and deceiving being that wants to rule over us in God’s place. He wants to usurp God’s throne and his power.
Satan—this dragon—sweeps his tail and ? of the stars fall from the sky. What’s going on here? We can't be 100% sure. This may be referring to Satan’s fall which is talked about in chapter 9—that moment when God cast Satan and those who joined his rebellion out of heaven.
And then that last sentence, in verse 4, "The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born." You can almost picture it. Satan wants to rule over humankind in God’s place. But he knew that there was one thing stopping him from making that a reality: baby Jesus. Can't you almost picture him there? Maybe he was there across the street from the stable kind of sulking around and plotting how he would derail this little boy’s life work. Maybe he was plotting how he could make him fall into sin. Maybe he was even plotting how he might kill this supposed Messiah.
Alright… there you have it, the messy side of Christmas, everything that was going on behind the scenes. What are we supposed to make of it? And how are we tying all of this to our theme for the day—Lord, Prepare Our Attitudes? By way of getting there, let me ask you this: Have you ever had a child end up in a dangerous or life-threatening situation? Maybe it was your child, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe a child chases a ball into the street without thinking. Maybe they get lost in a crowd—at that point, anyone could take them and run off with them. Maybe they didn’t know how to swim as well as they thought and a life-guard had to jump in and save them. It could be any number of scenarios. When you see one of those things happening, your heart stops. Parents don’t willingly put their kids in life-threatening scenarios. They do everything they can to protect them from scenarios like that. But God the Father willingly placed his Son right in the middle of the most dangerous and high-stakes sequence of events to ever unfold in history.
How often we fail to recognize the magnitude of God’s love for us in the very fact that he sent his Son for us. So often we fail to let this amazing showing of God’s love for us be sufficient. So often we slip into the thinking that if God really, truly loved us, he would do this for us….he would fix this problem or that problem for us. We create false metrics to measure just how much he loves us. How easy it is to take up the attitude that God needs to prove his love to us. "Lord, if you really love me, why is there this ongoing struggle in my life? If you really love me, why are you allowing me to experience this hardship? If you really care about me, why have you placed all these things on my plate? If you’re really there for me, why am I having all this financial trouble?" We look for proof of God’s love in all the wrong places.
It’s difficult for us as sinful humans to not equate God’s love for us with our earthly circumstances. It’s easy for our minds to fall into the trap of thinking that if things are going well for us, them God must be pleased with us, he must love us. But if things aren’t going well, we begin to question how much God actually loves us. So let’s hear this and hear it clearly today…. God loves us JUST as much in both the good times and the bad times. God’s love for us never changes. It is constant and more incredible than we can grasp or imagine. As humans, we get emotionally wrapped up in the situations around us, whether good or bad...and because of that, our life circumstances are not the best place to look for evidence of God’s love.
The place where we can always find evidence of his love is right here, in his Word. Every book of the Bible has evidence of God’s love for you written all over it. And today we have in front of us one of the greatest evidences of his love for us: the birth of his Son, Jesus. And today, in a strange way, since we’ve talked about the messy side of Christmas, we can see the evidence of that love more clearly than ever.
Let’s say you had a 25 year old son in the armed forces. One night you get a phone call from him. He tells you that they’re sending him in alone to stand up to the entire army of the enemy. He’s calling to tell you goodbye because it’s essentially a suicide mission. What would you tell him? Might you tell him to quit? Tell him to desert? I understand love for country, and being willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice…. But a mission like that would just seem absolutely nonsensical.
And yet, it’s circumstances almost exactly like those into which God sent his son on our behalf. Satan and his forces were literally waiting—as Revelation 12 says—for the Messiah to be born so that they might find a way to derail his mission. I probably wouldn’t send my kid into a mission like that. But because of his incredible love, God did. And from the start, both God the Father and God the Son knew what the result would be. No, Satan would not overcome Jesus, but he would see to it that he twisted the hearts of humans so that Christ would be put to death.
Lord, Prepare Our Attitudes. Give us hearts that never doubt or question your love for us. And Lord strengthen us, so that the second we begin to have an attitude of doubt, or questioning, our eyes might be refocused on the birth of your Son. For Lord, it is in the birth and death of your Son, that we see your infinite love for us. Amen.
Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Our Minds
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Our Hearts
1 "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Can you point to a time when you were terribly unprepared for something? Maybe we have to think back to our younger years to think of a time. By the time we reach adulthood, we usually understand the importance of preparation. Here’s one of those stories in my life…. In high school we were required to take two years of a foreign language. I took two years of Spanish. And if you think back to your schooling days, you can probably remember how you feel about some of those required courses in high school and college… they’re the worst. It’s hard not to view some of them as a waste of time because you think to yourself, I’m never going to use what I learn in this class. (At that point I had no clue that I would go on to continue my study of Spanish in college and graduate school...) In high school, it was quite difficult for me to muster up the motivation to study for those required Spanish courses. However, after being terribly unprepared and bombing a couple of tests, I figured out very quickly that if I didn’t do a better job preparing, I wasn’t going to pass the course. So from there on out I did a better job preparing. Maybe you can point to a similar instance in your life that taught you that preparation is important. It doesn’t take many bombed tests, or failed courses, or botched presentations for us to realize the importance of preparation.
If we recognize the importance of preparation for earthly matters, why are we so quick to put preparation for spiritual matters on the back burner? As we’ve discussed for a few weeks now, the Israelites were notorious for doing that very thing. Time and time again they let their spiritual preparation take a back seat. Today we’re going to see that play out once again.
What was going on at the time Malachi was written? If you’ll think back to our Sundays in Daniel for just a minute… That second Sunday in Daniel we talked about the the vision that God gave to Daniel in chapter 7. In that vision Daniel saw four fantastical creatures that symbolized the world powers that would rise and fall from the time Daniel lived until the time Christ would walk the earth. The first creature symbolized the Babylonian empire—the empire that was responsible for attacking and crippling Jerusalem and taking many of its inhabitants into exile. The second creature he was shown symbolized the medo-persian empire. And that’s about where we are when Malachi carries out his ministry. Under Cyrus the Great, the Persians become the next world power. Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites to return to their homeland. It’s about 100 years after the exiles return to Jerusalem that Malachi’s ministry takes place.
Right after the Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites to come back to their homeland, there is a bit of a "spiritual resurgence." The temple that had been destroyed is rebuilt. Many people begin to turn back to the Lord. However, just as it had happened many times before, the "spiritual regurgence" doesn’t last very long. By the time Malachi comes on the scene, the "spiritual resurgence" is largely over. Once again, spiritual indifference—or we might say: "spiritual unpreparedness"—has become the norm.
The first two chapters of Malachi show just how bad things had once again gotten. People were bringing sacrifices to the temple half-heartedly. They ignored God’s instructions to bring an unblemished animal to sacrifice. Instead they brought their lame or sick animals. The people no longer valued marriage. Defiled food was being brought to God’s altar. God even reprimands the priests—it would seem they too went about their duties in a half-hearted way. And yet in the midst of all their half-hearted spiritual preparation, the people had the audacity to ask the Lord: "How have you loved us?" They had the audacity to ask the Lord: "Lord, aren’t you the Lord of justice? Well where are you God?" The Lord was finally fed up with their consistent spiritual indifference—with their spiritual unpreparedness.
Have you ever lost communication with somebody that is important to you? The situations I’m thinking of here might be something like this… Maybe you got separated from one of your children when you were in a large crowd or at the mall. Or maybe you were that child once who got separated from your parents. You frantically run around looking for them and calling out their name, but you can't find them. Or maybe you’ve had a friend or relative who lives nearby a place where a natural disaster strikes—earthquake, hurricane, wildfire…. Until you hear from them and they tell you that they’re safe and that everything is okay, you worry for them. You may even have something like that happen while you’re sitting at home. If you’re expecting your spouse or your kids home at a certain time, and they don’t come home, you begin to worry. And the longer you sit there worrying and wondering where they are, the worse your mental picture gets. "Maybe there was an accident." "Maybe they got kidnapped." "Maybe they’re lost."
Alright, with that terrible feeling fresh in your mind, listen to this. God stopped directly communicating with his people through messengers for 400 years. Malachi was the last book written in the Old Testament. Chronologically speaking, it’s in the right place. It comes right before Matthew. For us, it’s a simple turn of the page to go from Malachi to Matthew. For God’s people, it’s about 400 years. God went silent for 400 years from the time of Malachi to the time of Christ. Maybe those who were spiritually indifferent and unprepared hardly even noticed. But I would bet that during that 400 year period of silence, those who were faithful to the Lord began to devoutely look at every page of Scripture they could get their hands on. They would take comfort in his words and promises. And they would have found great comfort in the prophecies he gave his people—prophecies like the one we have in front of us today. Malachi 3:1 — "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty."
In this first verse God promised two different people that would come. Firstly, his messenger who will prepare the way. The New Testament identifies John the baptist as that first messenger, the one who’s ministry would take place shortly before Jesus. And John’s purpose was…? To prepare the way for Jesus. And we see him doing just that in the gospel reading. John tells the people to repent so that their hearts might be ready for the coming Savior.
Then in that next phrase we have a reference to Jesus. The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple. The Lord himself—the promised Messiah—the one you desire, the one you’ve been waiting for, will come. Promises like these must certainly have been a comfort for those believers who lived during that 400 year period of silence.
Alright, now we get to the verses that will turn our thoughts in the direction of our theme for today—Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Our Hearts. And let me just say, before we get to these next verses...to pray that prayer (Lord, Prepare Our Hearts)... to pray that prayer and mean it takes guts. It is not a lighthearted prayer. However, today, let us encourage one another to pray this prayer with all our might—Lord, Prepare Our Hearts!
Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire...He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify...and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings...will be acceptable to the Lord, as in former years. God compares the process of preparing us—preparing our hearts—to the process of refining precious metals.
It really is a fascinating process—the refining of precious metals. I’m going to give you homework today. Go home. Get on YouTube. Type "refining gold" into the search bar. One of the first few videos that comes up should be 7 minutes and 39 seconds long. It’s title is, "How Pure Gold Is Refined." Watch that video. Real quickly so you don’t forget… what are you going to type into the YouTube search bar? (Refining Gold) How long is the video you’re going to click on? (7 minutes and 39 seconds). What’s the name of that video? (How Pure Gold Is Refined)
The process for refining gold that you see in that video may look a little different than the process did in biblical times due to all the technology we have in today’s world...but at its core it’s the same. The impure metals are all put into the same container that can withstand high temperatures—a crucible. They’re melted down with a very hot flame. They’re poured out and cooled. And then the process is repeated a number of different times in different ways with different chemical washes and so on and so forth. But then the final result? Gold that is almost entirely pure.
So why do we have to be bold—why do we have to be gutsy—to pray that prayer (Lord, Prepare Our Hearts)? It’s because the Lord is certainly ready to refine us. He is certainly ready to make us more pure. But the question is, are we ready for it? Are we ready to go through the process of being melted in the flames of life’s hardships? Are we ready to go through that process of being melted down time and time again? As many times as the Lord wills it? From now until the end of our days here on this earth?
We are ready. As we go through that refining process, we have two promises of God that keep us steadfast in the midst of it all: (1) God will not abandon us. (2) The trials that we face—those which serve to refine us—make us more and more pure. They enlarge and grow our capacity to look to the Lord and trust in him in any and every situation. They grow our ability to turn back to his Word day after day and take comfort and refuge in the promises he gives us.
Other than Jesus, I find the Apostle Paul to be one of the most fascinating characters in Scripture. The Bible tells us about the refining that Paul went through. He had been beaten, whipped, close to the point of death, in prison, shipwrecked, lost in the open sea… He experienced sleepless nights. He’d gone without food and water. He knew what it was to be cold…. The list goes on. Paul lived a James 1:2-3 kind of life: "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."
I have every confidence that those of us is this room can live a James 1:2-3 kind of life. I know we can live this way, not because of how great we are, but because of how great our Lord is. Be bold. Trust in the Lord to use the trials you’re facing right now, or the trials you may face in the future to refine you and make you ever more precious. It’s only a four word prayer, but it takes guts to pray it and mean it—Lord, Prepare Our Hearts. Be bold and say it with me: Lord, Prepare Our Hearts! Amen? Amen.download
Be Prepared! Lord, Prepare Us
14 "‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 "‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord is our righteousness.’
Every few years another movie will come out that captivates the multitudes of children. Over the last few years we’ve had movies like Despicable Me and Frozen. And kids are just entirely content to watch those movies over and over again until they have the whole movie memorized almost. They just never seem to tire of it.
When I was a kid, one of those movies that I loved to watch over and over again was The Lion King. How many of you have seen The Lion King? Just kind of a brief overview for those who haven’t seen it. It’s a story about the struggle between the good characters and the evil characters (surprise, surprise!). The good lion is named Mufasa—he rules over all the land. He has a son named Simba who will one day be the one that rules over all the land. Evil uncle Scar is jealous that he doesn't get to rule the kingdom. Evil uncle Scar kills Simba’s dad and banishes Simba. And I’ll stop the overview of the story there so that I don’t have anyone hassle me after service about ruining the end of the movie for you.
In my 5 year old mind, one of the more memorable scenes of the movie was when evil uncle Scar was plotting the death of Simba’s dad. He sings the song, "Be Prepared." Evil uncle Scar sings this song to his evil minions—the hyenas. The basic message of the song is, "Get ready, big things are about to happen—life changing things. You can't be caught unaware. You need to be prepared." As a kid, the song and the scene is a bit scary. There’s green smoke and lava looking stuff flying everywhere and the ground is breaking apart. There’s hundreds and hundreds of hyenas….and in the midst of all of it, evil uncle Scar repeatedly sings the phrase, "BE PREPARED!"
As an adult, that call to be prepared doesn’t really become any less scary. That call to be prepared is constantly sounded in the world around us. It is sounded so often that we either begin to worry about it or become desensitized to it and ignore it entirely. There is one call to be prepared that we can't ignore. Above all else it is important that we are prepared for the coming of our Savior. Today we’re going to look at Jeremiah and think about just what it is that prepares us for our Savior’s coming.
The people of that southern kingdom of Israel were terribly unprepared. We spent the last couple weeks in Daniel. We talked about how the Babylonians attacked the kingdom of Judah three different times. Each time they crippled the nation a little bit more. Each time they took captives with them. Daniel was one of those captives. Daniel and Jeremiah were contemporaries. Jeremiah began his ministry BEFORE the Babylonians showed up. He repeatedly—at God’s command—pleaded with the people of Israel. Time and time again he told them that if they didn’t turn back to the Lord, the Lord would send destruction on the kingdom of Judah. And eventually, that destruction came. Babylon came and attacked and crippled Judah.
We can either listen to the world’s call to be prepared, or we can listen to God’s call to be prepared. We can't listen to both. The people of Israel had tried to listen to both, and it didn’t work. God gave Jeremiah this message to declare to the people in Jeremiah chapter 7, "Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: 9 ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord….. If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless."
The people of Israel tried to have it both ways. They listened to the culture around them as it told them to be prepared…. "Be prepared! Do what is right for you. Do what it takes to make sure that you come out on top. Whether you have to steal, murder, or commit adultery isn’t important, just do what you got to do. If you have to suppress the weak and defenseless in order to be prepared, then so be it! Trust in your military strength—because that’s what prepares you for any coming invasion of a foreign nation! And when it comes to spiritual preparation….how can you really know if the God of Israel is the one true God? You better make sure to cover all your bases. Just to be safe, you better worship your God, AND the gods of the cultures around you."
When it comes to the spiritual realm, you can't be prepared for more than one thing. You are either prepared for destruction, or you are prepared for salvation. And let’s be careful to not be misunderstood here… I am not saying there is no value in preparing for SOME of the things that our culture tells us to. There is value in preparing for the future. There is value in making sure our finances are in order. There is value in being prepared when it comes to our health—taking care of our bodies while here on earth. Scripture even tells us that being wise about some of those earthly preparations are valuable, worthwhile and God-pleasing!
So the key question becomes this: what are you putting your trust in as though it can save you? And the truth is, we need to be careful to not be prideful and trick ourselves into thinking that we are so different from the Israelites. It is a daily battle to reclaim our trust from the things of this life. We live in a culture that tells us that the key to being prepared is amassing a small fortune. The key to being prepared is networking and knowing the right people. They key to being prepared is taking care of yourself first and foremost. The key to being prepared is being knowledgeable and educated. The key to being prepared is being the best version of yourself you can possibly be. As sinners, it is difficult for us to see these things for the false fortresses that they are. Day after day we struggle and fail as we listen to our culture and begin to place our trust in those things. None of those things prepare us for our coming Savior.
The Lord allowed the rug of preparation that the Israelites were standing on to be ripped out from under their feet. Their money didn’t stop the Babylonians from invading and taking captives….Neither did their armies, nor their worship of false gods. Just like the Israelites, we sometimes need that rug to be ripped out from under us so that we might be ready to again hear what God has to say about what prepares us for the coming of our Savior.
The good news is, you ARE prepared for the coming of our Savior. But not because of your net worth. Not becauses of your education. And not because you’re at the peak of your physical fitness. Nothing that you have done has prepared you. The Lord has prepared you. Listen to God’s Words in Jeremiah 33.
Jeremiah 33: "In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land...This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness." The thing that would bring true peace and security to the people of God was not money or armies or kings, it was a "righteous Branch." This righteous Branch would come from the line of David—so God was talking about a person that would come from the line and heritage of David. Then it says that the name of this branch is: "The Lord is our Righteousness."
As we think about the first coming of our Savior this Advent season, we can't help but also think about his second coming—that’s why our readings today have a bit of end times flavor to them. When you get right down to it, there is one thing that we need to be prepared for in this life more than anything else—the coming of Jesus. When Jesus returns, the things that we use in this life as we strive to "be prepared" will be worthless. No amount of money prepares you to stand before a Holy God. No amount of education or fame or physical fitness prepares you to stand before a Holy and Perfect God. Only that last line in our reading prepares us to stand before a Holy and Perfect God—The Lord is our Righteousness.
Only Jesus prepares us to stand before God on that last day. Christ is our righteousness. Here’s an easy memory hook for the meaning of that word righteous. To be righteous means that you are right with God. To be right with a holy and perfect God means to be without sin. We’re not made right with God by our own doing. We are made right with God through Jesus death on the cross. On the cross he took our sin and gave us his righteousness—his perfection. We are without sin and therefore right with God.
As we hear the calls to be prepared that our culture sends out, let us be level headed about them. To be prepared for matters of this world to the best of our ability. However, may God help us to regularly check our hearts and make sure that we aren’t beginning to use those things as our main source of peace, security and preparedness. Our peace and security comes from the Lord, from Christ our righteousness. In Christ, we are prepared. Amen? Amen.
Keep An Eye On the Scoreboard
13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Do you ever get wrapped up in the day, age and location in which you live in? Getting wrapped up in those things can lead to 2 different responses. It can lead to either pride or discouragement. I’ll explain what I mean.
Getting wrapped up in today can lead to pride. And don’t misunderstand me here, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being proud to live in a day, age and place. It truly is a blessing to live in the time period we do. We enjoy medical and technological advances that the world has never known before. In addition we truly do live in a special nation. It’s a blessing to live in America. There is what you might call a healthy pride in regard to these things. By healthy pride I really mean gratitude. We can certainly feel grateful and thankful that we live in the day, age, and place we do. However, getting wrapped up in our circumstances can lead to and UNHEALTHY pride as well. I would call it UNHEALTHY when we slip into the thinking that we live in the single greatest time—we live in the single greatest nation—that the world has ever known or will ever know. It’s unhealthy thinking because it’s just not true. No earthly era or nation will ever be heaven. They will all have their weaknesses, flaws, and blind spots.
We said that getting wrapped up in today can lead to either pride or discouragement. And really, we’ve been talking a little bit about this for the last few weeks since we’re in end times. But to review this point… when we look at the things that are going on around us—the shootings, natural disasters, political tensions, world tensions, violence, hate, persecution, et cetera—those things can cause us to feel discouraged about the world in which we live.
Today we’re going to discuss the solution to those wrong ways of thinking—the solution to an unhealthy pride about the here and now and the solution to becoming discouraged about the here and now.
Last week we talked a little bit about the setting under which Daniel was written. Let me just briefly remind you. The glory days of Israel were gone. Over a 20 year period, the Babylonians attacked that which remained of God’s people 3 different times. Daniel was among those who were taken into captivity after Babylon’s 1st attack.
God protected his people throughout all of this, but that doesn't mean life was picture perfect. They faced trials. They faced hardship. They faced persecution. They needed the comfort that God brought them through Daniel.
The first 6 chapters of Daniel are—for the most part—historical. We hear of Daniel and his friends being taken into captivity. They were taken out of Jerusalem and relocated to Babylon. In Babylon, they enter the kings service. They’re even given positions of authority. But life’s not perfect. Daniel is thrown into a lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into a furnace.
Chapters 7-12 of Daniel are a vision of future events that God gave to Daniel. Before we get to our verses, we’re going to want to talk about the opening verses of chapter 7 because they tie into one of the things we talked about in our introduction. At the outset today we talked about how getting wrapped up in the here and now can lead to an unhealthy pride. It would be silly for us to think that if the citizens of every nation on earth were to be polled, ONLY American citizens would say they live in the greatest country in the world. That’s just foolish. There’s people around the world that have a sense of pride for their country, just like we have for ours.
I’m sure there was a time when the king of Babylon and the citizens of Babylon thought that they were the greatest nation on earth. But the vision that God gave to Daniel said differently. In that vision, God showed Daniel that there would be another world power to enter the picture. The Medo-Persian empire overcame the Babylonian empire. I bet the rulers and citizens of the Medo-Persian Empire thought they were the greatest nation the world—but God said differently. God showed Daniel another nation that would become the dominant world power—that would be the greek forces under Alexander the Great. And boy...talk about a candidate for greatest nation on earth. Alexander and his forces conquered the known world in 12 years! By age 30 Alexander the Great and his 30,000 men had conquered the world and defeated hundreds of thousands. Impressive...but they weren’t the greatest nation on earth either. God revealed another nation that would come after them. We know now that nation was Rome. The greatest nation of that day? Maybe. The greatest nation the world would ever know? Nope. They too would fall.
And that’s where God’s vision to Daniel about the rising and falling of various nations ends. So God lays out for Daniel a brief explanation of the world powers that would rise and fall until the time of Christ. He also gives Daniel a brief explanation of the antichrist but ultimately says that the antichrist will fall too….he will be destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. So after all that, the vision just moves on and begins to focus on the one true God, and the one true king—the son of man—Jesus Christ. Our verses for today are about that one true king.
Before we move on to speak about the one true king that we read about in our text for today, there’s something to be learned from the verses that come before it...the ones we just discussed. If God wanted to, he could have lengthened the vision he gave to Daniel and told Daniel about every single nation that would rise and fall from then until the end of time. But in all honesty, I’m glad God didn’t do that because it would have made for really boring reading. It would have just been chapter after chapter that essentially repeats one thing over and over again...A nation rises and has its glory days. Then other nations rise and have their glory days. Followed by other nations that rise and have their glory days. History tends to repeat itself. Here’s the lesson for us to take from all this: There will never be a heaven on this earth, and there will never be an earthly ruler who will bring about heaven on earth. So by all means, give thanks to God for the time and place in which you live but don’t get so wrapped up in it that you forget where your true citizenship is. Your citizenship is in the everlasting kingdom. A kingdom whose glory days will last for eternity.
Let’s read about that kingdom and that ruler… 13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Talk about the greatest kingdom to ever exist….Talk about the greatest ruler the world will ever know. As the verse says, God the father, the creator of the universe, has given to Christ all authority, glory, and sovereign power. On that last day, all people will recognize Christ as the one true king. And as the verse also says, Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom that will never pass away. Christ’s kingdom stands in direct contrast to everything we have talked about in regard to earthly kingdoms. Here on earth, nation after nation rises then falls….but not Christ’s kingdom. Christ’s kingdom already exists now and will continue into eternity. When the Pharisees asked Jesus to point to the kingdom of God, he responded by saying that the kingdom of God is within you. Christ rules in our hearts through faith. This side of heaven, his kingdom is found in the hearts of believers. And as we share this message about what Christ has done for us, Christ’s kingdom continues to advance. And on that last day when Christ returns, all other nations and kingdoms will fade away for good, and his kingdom will be established for eternity.
Alright….I’ve thrown a lot out there today. I usually try not to do that because I personally don’t appreciate having a lot thrown at me. So let’s boil down all these thoughts from today into a single illustration….
Firstly, I just want to let you know that I’ve been up here preaching for a little over 4 months, and in all that time, I have not yet used a sports illustration...so I’d say I’m entitled to one today. However, I have purposely chosen something that happened almost 100 years ago so that we don’t ruffle any feathers… On December 8, 1940, the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins in the National Football League championship game 73 to 0. Whether you watch football or not… You have to know that a score of 73 to 0 is not a common thing. It’s what they call a blowout...in no situation is 73 to 0 a good thing—whether we’re talking sports or not.
Let’s say for a moment, that in that game that was 73 to 0, there were 10 minutes left… and let’s say that the team that had 0 points managed to score. Is the team with 73 points going to start to worry? No way. The game is essentially won. The other team just so happened to score…. So be it, it’s no big deal.
As a Christian, you are on that winning team. The game is already won in Christ. The score is 105 to… who cares? Maybe 5 or 6? Now, how do we keep from getting wrapped up in this life? How do we keep from getting discouraged by this life? Keep an eye on the scoreboard. When you’re discouraged because it seems like the other team has had a couple of good plays, take a peek at the scoreboard. It’s 105 to 6. Christ, the one true king is winning. Whenever you find yourself getting caught up in the here and now and starting to become a little too attached to this life… take a peek at the scoreboard. It’s 105 to 6. Christ, the one true king is winning.
Don’t get too caught up in this world. At times we can become obsessed with this world and slip into the thinking that we’ve achieved heaven on earth. At other times, the trials of this life can seem overwhelming. The solution to both? Keep an eye on the scoreboard. Christ is winning. It’s 105 to 6. The game is almost over. There’s no chance of a comeback. He is the one true king. He is the one true ruler. His kingdom will extend into eternity. It’s in his kingdom we have our citizenship. Amen? Amen.
This Changes Everything
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Jesus heals 10 lepers. One of them return to give praise and thanks to God. And so my question for you today is this: Are you like the nine? Or the one? I know we would all like to think that we are like the one who returned….We thank God before meals. We thank God for the blessings in his life. I’d assume we’ll all be thanking him this Thanksgiving Day. Are you like the nine? Or the one? If we answer that question too quickly we run the risk of oversimplifying what’s going on in Luke 11. So let’s not answer that question just yet. Let’s first go back and dive in to what happened in this story.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when 10 lepers meet him. The passage doesn’t explicitly tell us this, but I’m going to guess that these men must have known who Jesus was. News about Jesus the Messiah and his miracles had spread. I wouldn’t be surprised if these 10 men had, at some point, heard the news that a man named Jesus was healing people. Maybe they discussed amongst themselves how this man named Jesus was their only hope of ever being healed. Maybe as a group they decided to set out and find him. Maybe they asked around to see if anyone knew where Jesus was last seen, or where he was headed. We get the impression they were waiting on him because when he passed by, they went out to meet Jesus.
They had to stand at a distance and call to Jesus because of the disease they had. Leprosy can be spread through contact but it is most contagious when spread through bodily fluid. Here is an excerpt on what leprosy does to a person: "Its symptoms start in the skin and nervous system and then spreads to the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers. The outer ear may thicken. The nose may collapse. Tumor-like growths may form on the skin and in the respiratory tract, and the optic nerve may deteriorate. The largest number of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. For instance, inattentive patients can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching." Leprosy was nasty business. It’s curable with the modern medicine we have today. But back then it wasn’t.
Lepers and healthy people kept their distance from one another. These 10 lepers yell to Jesus" "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" And then, Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. The actual phrasing about how they were healed is interesting. It says, "As they went, they were cleansed." It’s kind of hard to tell exactly how it happened. Did it happen instantaneously while they were on route to see the priests? Suddenly they could stretch out their fingers again? Suddenly they had feeling again? Suddenly their skin cleared up? Or did it happen gradually while in route? Were they little by little able to feel again? Did their skin slowly clear up? Did their fingers gradually return to having full range of motion?
However it happened, they were all healed. But only one of them turned back. Only one of them went back to Jesus and fell at his feet to give thanks. Are you like the nine? Or the one? Let’s analyze the nine for just a moment. At first glance we might get the impression they were just 9 selfish and ungrateful guys. But let’s reframe that just a bit. Let me ask you this: have you ever met a cancer survivor who was ungrateful? Do you think those nine men who had just been cured of a horrible disease were ungrateful? It’s not unreasonable to think that they were grateful. I bet they ran to the temple saying, "THANK GOD! Thanks to this man Jesus, I can go home! I can return to my loved ones! I’ve been given the gift of life again. Praise the Lord, I’m healthy! I can go back to my normal life!"
Then why was the one—the Samaritan—different? I would assume his thoughts lined up with his actions. He probably thought, "Thank God I’m healthy. My life will never be normal again. This changes everything." The Samaritan realized that there was something more important than health. There was something more important than returning to a comfortable and normal life. He recognized that this man who had healed him—Jesus—was more than a prophet. He was more than some great and powerful man. He was more than a healer of diseases. He recognized that Jesus was a healer of souls.
The one went back to Jesus in faith. When he saw that Jesus had healed him, he knew that this man Jesus was indeed the Son of God. He saw that Jesus was his Savior. And we can be certain of that because of how Jesus responded to this man worshiping him. The translation we have in front of us translates Jesus words as, "Your faith has made you well." But when you look at the original language, the words literally say, "Your faith has saved you."
Are you like the nine? Or the one? If we’re going to answer that question honestly, we would have to respond, "We can be both." As sinners who still wrestle with our sinful nature on this side of heaven, we are capable of being the nine. We might be thankful for all God does for us….but unless we’re really in a time of need, we place him on the back burner. We place him in the middle—or even at the bottom—of our priority list. We begin to turn God into a convenience—one we look to for handouts in our time of need.
May God remind us of the forgiveness we have in Christ. In Christ, every sin has been paid for—including those times when we act like the nine, and not like the one. Christ has paid for every time we turn God into our lucky charm. Christ has paid for every time we put God on the back burner.
In Christ we’re not only forgiven, we’re new creations. And as new creations in Christ, we are capable of living like the one. As new creations in Christ, we ARE that one Samaritan whose heart and life were changed by what his Savior did for him. The greatest illness that Samaritan faced was not the leprosy he had, it was his sin. Day in and day out, may we remember that we faced that same illness of sin. And may we leave rejoicing and giving thanks because our Savior is the solution to the problem of sin that we face. In him, we have healing and forgiveness. Treasure it above all else. Run back to it every minute of every day—it changes everything. Amen?download
Shine Like the Stars
At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.Sermon:
Sunday, October 1st, 2017 - Las Vegas, Nevada, shortly after 10PM at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival:
At first, it just sounded like fireworks… The Sunday headliner, Jason Aldean, had taken the stage not 30 minutes before, and it seemed natural that there would be some pyrotechnics [at the show]. Even Jason Aldean stayed on stage as the first loud bursts rang out above the crowd of some 22,000 people.
But after "a pause," everyone seemed to understand that something was wrong. It "was weird because we didn't see anything in the sky," said one vendor.
"And then, the screaming started. And the running."
A gunman, perched in a Mandalay Bay hotel room 32 floors up, had opened fire on the crowd at about 10:08 p.m. local time, police said later. In the hours that followed, 58 people would die and about 500 others would be injured. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Thursday, November 8th, 2018 - Paradise California
Ernest Foss Jr.—a bed-bound, two time cancer survivor who now relied on an oxygen tank—attempts to escape the flames of the Northern California wildfire. The flames of the fire were too hot and too fast. The CA wildfire has claimed the lives of more than 70 people. That number is expected to rise as more than 1000 are still missing. The fire has burned an area over 4 times the size of San Francisco. It has destroyed over 12,000 buildings and homes. Numerous firefighters have suffered burns and injuries.
Friday, November 2, 2018 - Egypt
Gunmen open fire on a small white bus transporting Christians in central Egypt. The attack took place on the road. The gunmen killed seven people and wounded 14.
Daniel 12:3 - " There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then." Do you ever look at the events in today’s world and wonder if we are in that final time of distress that would signal that the end is near? It is still reasonable for us as Christians to look at the events in a world that’s broken by sin and say to ourselves, "I hope Jesus comes back soon." When we see the violence, the shootings, the natural disasters, and the worldwide persecution of Christians it’s hard not to wonder if Christ’s return will be here soon. How much worse can things really get? Maybe Christ’s return is days away. In a bad case scenario, maybe it’s years away—or a decade or two. In a worst case scenario, maybe it’s a hundred years or so away.
At the time the book of Daniel was written, I would imagine that God’s people were having similar thoughts. How much worse can this situation get? When will God deliver us? As we consider the circumstances under which Daniel was written, we want to be careful that we neither undersell nor oversell how difficult life was for God’s people at that time.
Don’t misunderstand me, life was difficult. The glory days of Israel were long gone. A split had occured between the 12 tribes. The 10 northern tribes of Israel had broken away and formed their own kingdom. Over the course of two centuries there were 19 kings who ruled over the northern tribes of Israel. Scripture tells us that all of them were wicked. Eventually, the Assyrians invaded and defeated the northern kingdom and the people were carried off into captivity. They never returned. The southern kingdom—known as the kingdom of Judah—lasted a little longer—350 years. Like the northern kingdom, they had 19 kings over the course of that time. Scripture tells us that the Lord considered 8 of those kings to be good kings. The temple was in that southern kingdom of Judah. But even though the temple was there, over the course of time, the people’s hearts became cold. They didn’t worship God and God alone—regardless of the fact that the temple was there in the southern kingdom. The people began to take up the practices of the nations around them. God allowed the Babylonians to invade the southern kingdom. Over the course of 20 years the Babylonians invaded 3 different times. Each time they destroyed the southern kingdom a little more and they would take tens of thousands of captives.
Now we get to Daniel. Daniel was in that first group of exiles that were taken into captivity. Here’s why I said we don’t want to oversell or undersell how difficult life was for those exiles. On the one hand, the Lord continued to bless his people—even while they were in exile. When they were eventually given the chance to go back to their homeland, some of them didn’t because they had a good life after having been uprooted and replanted. On the other hand, this wasn’t the case for everyone. Not only that, but think about the entire experience of being taken into captivity. It was in no way pleasant. It was a difficult and traumatic experience. Can you imagine? What if another nation invaded our nation? What if you were taken captive and hauled off to a foreign country. Some families were certainly separated—maybe some family members never saw each other again. And once you reach that new location, your old life is gone...your house, your possessions, your way of living—all gone. Even if you’re allowed to rebuild your life in the new country, the fact still remains that you have to rebuild your life.
And God did protect and bless his people...but let’s not get the picture that life was peachy keen for everybody. For example, just take what has happened in the book of Daniel up to this point. Yes, Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given positions of high honor. They were even given positions of power in their new home. However, think about what happened to Daniel. He was persecuted for his faith. People tried to bring about his downfall and end his life. He was thrown into a lions den. Think about Daniel’s friends. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s idol and they were thrown into a blazing furnace. God protected Daniel. God protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But can you imagine having to go through something like that? We’d probably need counseling after having to go through an experience like either of those.
I would imagine that those who went into exile had questions on their minds. They probably had questions similar to the questions that we too have on our minds. Lord, when will you deliver us? When will you come back for us? Have you forgotten about us? Is this really a part of your plan to prosper your people? The people living in that day needed comfort just as we still do to this day. And God used Daniel to bring that comfort to his people. He uses Daniel to bring that comfort to us.
When we get to Daniel chapter 12, we are at the end of a vision that God has given to Daniel. And for the sake of briefly summing up that vision up to this point...God shows Daniel that one nation will rise against another. One nation will rise, one nation will fall. Not only that, but an evil figure—the antichrist—will set himself against God’s people and attack them. Ultimately, things will get worse before they get better.
We’re ready to again hear our verses from Daniel 12: "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then." Pause here for two thoughts: First thought: who is Michael? Daniel chapter 10 pictures Michael as the great angelic prince who is work throughout the course of history to defend God’s people against the schemes of Satan. We’re told here that as Jesus’ return approaches, Michael will continue to be hard at work to defend God’s people. Second thought: It would indeed seem that things will get worse before they get better. Before Jesus comes back there will be a time of distress that has never before been seen...and that’s all we’re told. Are we in that time of distress now? Is that time of distress close? I don’t know. Will we know for sure when it arrives? It’s hard to say because we know that judgement day will come like a thief in the night—when we least expect it.
Let’s keep reading: "But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."
Two comments here as we bring things to a close today. Our first closing thought: Look at that promise from God… everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. What a powerful promise. Next time you are bummed out about the state of our world… let that promise come to your mind. What does it take for your name to be written in the book of life? Faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you believe in this message about what Jesus has done for you—he has paid for all your sin on the cross. And because of that, your name is written in the book of life and you WILL be delivered. As we are confronted with the evils and the trials of this world, that promise from God is our assurance and our confidence. God will continue to take care of his children and on that last day, he will take us to be with him.
Our second closing thought for today comes from verse 3: (Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever). Have you ever had the chance to go to an observatory? It’s really a neat experience and I recommend you go if you ever have the chance—even if you’re not into astronomy. I’m not into astronomy, but when I was young I had the chance to go to the McDonald Observatory in Texas. Their prize telescope is called the Hobby-Eberly telescope. It’s a 13.5 million dollar telescope and it’s one of the biggest in the world. It’s absolutely incredible what can be seen with that telescope.
But we’re not here to talk about the milky way today. Here’s the direction we’re going to go rather… Mcdonald Observatory is up in the mountains in west Texas. The closest metropolitan with just under 1 million people is El Paso and it’s 3 hours away. Why is it that they tend to put observatories far away from cities? Because cities give off a lot of artificial light. If you’re standing in downtown Milwaukee or downtown Chicago and you try to look up at the stars, for the most part it’s a lost cause. On a clear night, you might be able to see the brightest of stars when you’re downtown. But when you go out into the country, or when you go to an observatory, what happens? You can see all the stars. In those places where is it the darkest, when you look up at the sky, the stars shine brighter than ever.
The world around us is most certainly darkened by sin. As we talked about at the opening...every week we are confronted with another example of the darkness that sin causes. BUT, as that darkness of sin continues to seemingly get darker and darker, guess what happens to you as a Christian? You become brighter and brighter. The darker the world becomes, the more opportunity you have to shine like the brightest of the stars. The darker this world becomes, the more more brightly the love of Christ is able to shine through you.
We’ll never know the exact day Christ is coming back. It may be tomorrow. It may be a decade from now. It might be centuries from now. But we do know with 100% certainty that when he comes back he will take us to be with him. He has promised us this. And we know that in the midst of darkness, nothing shines brighter than the love of Christ. And as we continue to remain witnesses to the love of Christ—no matter how dark things around us may seem—people will be drawn to that love of Christ. The love of Christ lives in you. Let that light shine in the dark world around you. Jesus will return and take us to be with him in heaven. Until then, shine like the stars. Amen? Amen.
Are You Ready for the Big Day?
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
This morning, I want to ask you if you have ever experienced a particular feeling. And it’s not really a feeling that I can name with a single word, so I’m going to have to describe it to you. Have you ever experienced that feeling that comes the day before a big event? The feeling itself can be a mix of emotions and it can be different for each of us. It’s almost a mix of anxiousness, excitement, and impending doom (a light hearted impending doom). What are some examples of big days (or big events) that might cause us to have that mix or emotions? Maybe it was a presentation you had to give while you were at high school or college. Maybe it was a semester exam you had to take. Maybe it was a big job interview. Maybe it was a public speaking opportunity. Maybe it was your wedding. Maybe it was the first day your kids went off to school—or the first day they went off to college. Maybe it was giving away a son or daughter in marriage. Maybe it was a career change or a big life change….
All those big life events can create a tangle of emotions inside us that can be hard to sort through. That "day-before-a-big-event" feeling is certainly not limited to the 3 emotions I mentioned. I just mentioned those three feelings—anxiousness, excitement, and impending doom—because those are the ones I tend to feel. But it can be different for every person.
I think one of the "big days" that everyone fears on some level is the last big day. I’m sure you could find plenty of people that would say they never worry about the end of the world… but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that even the naysayers have thoughts about the end of the world cross their minds from time to time. Over the years, people have taken time to research the genre of horror films and tv. One of the things they’ve noticed is that the horror films of a particular era tend to mirror the fears of the culture. Last decade you had people worried about terrorism… Numerous movies and TV shows about zombies followed—I won’t bother outlining all the parallels that people draw right now. This decade, we have people worried about mental health, family and technology….and if you look at lot of the horror type movies and TV showing coming out, they have to do with those exact thing.
But over the decades, you know what has been a fairly common element of the horror genre? Regardless of whether it has to do with aliens, viruses, zombies, or a technological rebellion? The end of the world. It’s not in all the movies and TV. But a good number of them throughout the years have brought up the question, what will bring about the end of the world? What will the end of the world look like? Will humanity be able to overcome whatever event it is that brings about the end of the world? If movies and tv shows are indeed any indication of what’s on the mind of a culture, I’d say the end of the world is one that is always with us as a human race.
As Christians we have a bit of a different perspective. Will a virus wipe out the majority of earth’s population? Will a rebellion from artificial intelligence wipe out the majority of humanity? Are zombies scientifically possible? As far as the answer to all those questions… I tend to lean toward the answer "no"...but who knows. Regardless, here’s our unique perspective as Christians, even IF those things were to happen, they will not result in the end of the world. There is one thing that will result in the end of the world: Jesus’ return. Talk about making a horror movie… for some people, that last day, Judgement Day, will indeed be a horror movie. But for others, it won’t—for others it will be more like the happy ending of a love story. So today we’re asking the question: are you ready for that LAST big day? Not only that, but how can we be absolutely certain that the last day will be a happy story for us, rather than a horror story?
Listen to these words from our first reading in Malachi 4, "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire...But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Whether you do or don’t watch horror movies, we all have things that strike fear into our hearts. If you watch horror movies, I want you to think of the absolutely scariest movie you have ever watched. If you don’t watch horror movies, I want you to call to mind the things here in this life that causes you the most fear. For some, that last day will be an INFINITELY more scary experience than even the most scary things here on earth. But for others, that last day will be a day of joy. So how do we know? How do we know if on that last day we will experience a burning like a furnace? How do we know if we’ll be "set on fire" to use the words of Malachi? OR, how do we know if we’ll be amongst those who "frolic like well-fed calves?"
Our ability to answer that question with 100% certainty comes from our second reading. On judgement day… the thing that will ultimately be judged, is your sin. The cost of sin (even one sin) is death—not just temporary death, but eternal death. So those who can stand before God on the last day and say, "I am without sin," will be granted entrance into heaven. But for those who have sinned—and done evil—the horror movie will begin. In all honesty, who of us can stand before God and say that we are without sin? None of us can. Keeping that in mind, it becomes clear that as sinners, we need outside intervention. From our reading in Hebrews 9: "But [Christ] has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself."
Talk about the best news you’ve ever heard. When we stand before God on that last day, it’s not our efforts to do good that make us ready for heaven...It’s the fact that Jesus himself has paid for our sin. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites a means of paying for their sin. He told them that they were to sacrifice animals as payment for sin. But in that animal-sacrificing-system, you might say there was a weakness. For example, let’s say you brought an animal to the temple and sacrificed it to pay for your sin. And indeed your sins are paid for. But as you leave the temple, you look at someone outside the gates begging for money and you have judgemental thoughts about them. Then over the course of the next several days, you get mad at your spouse and kids. You look at a stranger lustfully. You overindulge. Et cetera. What are you going to have to do? Your going to have to bring in another animal to pay for your sins. God did not intend for that sacrificing of animals to be the ultimate payment for sin. Rather, he intended it to POINT TO the ultimate sacrifice for sins—his Son Jesus. "Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many." Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. His sacrifice for sin didn’t just take away your sin from last week, or last month, or last year. It took away all your sin.
So, when you stand before God on judgement day, guess what you can say? "I am without sin." In all honesty… on that final big day, you can stand before the perfect and holy God and say, "I am without sin." You don’t get to say that because of anything you have done….You get to say that because Christ has paid for every single one of your sins. You are ready for that big day. Because of Jesus, you are ready for judgement day.
There’s one more thing we’re going to talk about as we close the sermon today. Let me first tell you about a conversation I had with the kids from Oasis Youth Center this week. For one of our devotions, I asked the kids a couple questions. I asked them, "Have you ever had a second chance?" They all replied "yes". Then I asked, "When it comes to heaven or hell, do we get a second chance?" They all replied "no."
I bring up that point, and I brought it up with the kids at Oasis this past week so that we might be reminded that we have work to do. You’ve probably heard our days here on earth referred to as our time of grace. And that’s exactly what it is. Every day God gives us breath in our lungs, we are still in that time of grace here on earth. May God give us the wisdom to use that the time that he has given us to spread this message about Jesus Christ.
I want you to imagine that you have a very rich relative. Let’s say… just for the sake of this illustration… that your rich relative—without your knowledge—opened an account in your name and put 15 million dollars into that account. Is that 15 million dollars of any benefit to you if you don’t know about it? If your relative never tells you that they have set aside 15 million dollars for you, then you won’t benefit from it. If the bank never sends you a letter to let you know that there’s an account in your name, and a whole lot of money in it, then that money is essentially of no use to you.
See where we’re going with this? Isn’t that a bit similar to the forgiveness that Christ has won for the entire world? On the cross, Jesus paid for the sin of the entire world. Forgiveness has been won for every single person. But it is only through faith that that forgiveness comes to an individual. The work that Jesus did on their behalf if of no use to them unless someone tells them about what he did for them. And that’s where you and I come into play. Jesus has given this message of the gospel to the church. He’s entrusted us with the task of telling others about him. May we be motivated to do just that—to share the love of Christ with others, because our days here on this earth are short indeed.
In summary, when that big day comes—that last day—you can have complete confidence about where you are headed. When you stand before the holy and perfect God on Judgement Day, He will look at you, and he will see one of his perfect and redeemed child. He will not see your sin because Jesus has paid for it—he’s taken all of it away. And as people who know and believe this good news, may we be ever motivated to share it. It’s the best news there is to share. You’re ready for the big day. And I pray the Lord use you to help prepare others for the big day as you spread the good news. Amen? Amen.
The Show Will Go On
6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water."
I have talked about the phenomenon of "visual lethargy" before, but I want to put it on your minds again today because it’s pertinent to our discussion. Visual lethargy is a phenomenon that is talk
ed about in the world of the arts. The basic concept is this: the more you see something, the less you actually SEE it—the less you appreciate it. Think about the scene that takes your breath away—a mountain range, a waterfall, the open sea… or maybe something man-made—one of the great wonders, downtown NYC, a painting from Rembrandt, van gogh, Michelangelo…. Whenever you see that breathtaking scene, it’s just that—breathtaking. You soak it in. You appreciate every detail. But now… imagine you saw that scene every day. Imagine you lived at the foot of that mountain. Imagine that painting was hanging in your house. Over time, you begin to SEE it less—appreciate it less—because it becomes a part of everyday life.
As humans, this phenomenon has a way of playing itself out in many areas of our lives. We’re going to talk about one of those areas today. Today we are going to strive to recapture our awe and wonder for a couple of Scriptures most beautiful truths. Truth number one: We are saved by grace through faith. And truth number two: God will make sure that truth number one is proclaimed clearly until the end of time for the benefit of his people… to put it in the words of our theme: The Show Will Go On—this message will be proclaimed and God will make sure of it.
One of the reasons we begin to appreciate something less, is because we forget to think about the alternative—we become too comfortable with the norm. So we’re going to do a little imagining this morning as we consider the alternative. Firstly, I want you to imagine that you don’t own a Bible. And I want you to imagine that it is impossible for you to obtain a copy of the Bible. (I know that’s a completely absurd thought for today’s world, but for the next few minutes imagine that’s our reality.) Imagine that when you come to church, the majority of the service is in a language that you don’t understand. Along with that, imagine that the only people who have access to a Bible and can read it are trained clergy—like pastors. So if you don’t have a Bible… If you don’t have access to a Bible… and if the Bible is written in a language that only Pastors can read for the most part… Who’s Word are you going to have to trust when it comes to what the Bible says? Yes… You’re going to have to trust Pastor’s Word. Would that make you nervous? I think it would make me nervous. The world around us knows well that you can’t just take someone’s word about something these days. If you want to get to the bottom of something, and make sure you’ve got an accurate picture of something, you’re going to have to do your own research.
If the Bible were only in the hands of Pastors… if it were only able to be understood by Pastors… wouldn’t you be worried about the potential of abuse? Wouldn’t you be worried about the reliability of the things they were teaching you? I know I would. If you haven’t caught on yet…. What we’ve essentially just describe the setting for the Reformation. The Bible was in the hands of the clergy and the very thing you might be afraid of happening in a situation like that had happened…. They had taken God’s Word and made it say what they wanted it to say.
You had the church telling people that there were things they had to do to be saved. They were telling people that they were responsible for part of their salvation. Not only did you have to believe in God… but you had to do something to make payment for your sin. Okay… now stick with our imagined scenario for just one more minute here…. Remember: you have no access to the Bible. The only thing you have to go off is what the church-workers say. The church workers tell you that you are responsible for a part of your salvation—and to the best of your knowledge, that’s what you believe to be true.
Now, keeping in mind our imagined scenario, I want to read you a few verses:
Ezekiel 18:20 - The one who sins is the one who will die.
Romans 3:23 - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23 - The wages of sin is death.
Matthew 5:48 - Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Here’s where we’re going with this… If you were to buy into the false teaching that you play some sort of role in your salvation, how could you ever be certain that you’ve done enough to be worthy of salvation? Especially considering that God’s law tells you that in order to EARN salvation, you need to be PERFECT? If we actually play any role in our salvation, there IS NO way we can be certain of that salvation. That’s one of the questions that started the Reformation over 500 years ago. That question ate away at Martin Luther. For years he struggles with the question: How is sinful man made right before a holy God?
There was a verse that Martin Luther wrestled with for a long time: Romans 1:17 - "For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Because of the teachings of the Catholic church, Luther spent many many years understanding the "righteousness of God" to be a righteousness that was produced by our works. After years of wrestling with that verse, God allowed this truth to dawn on him: the "righteousness of God" is not a righteousness that we produce, but rather, it is a righteousness that is given to us by God through faith because of what Christ has done for us.
That message, that we do not earn salvation because of anything we do, is central to the Bible. And maybe you’ve wondered before… why does this church—why do the other churches in our circles—place so much emphasis on correct doctrine? It’s because when you begin to preach the Word of God in any other way than the way he intended it...guess what central teaching you begin to blur and confuse in one way or another? The teaching of justification—the teaching of how salvation comes to man.
And for those of us who have been at this church, or at another church in our circles for quite some time, it can be easy for us to appreciate this central message of the Bible less and less. Again… that concept of visual (or spiritual) lethargy…. Appreciating something less and less the longer you’re around it. So hear it again like you’re hearing it for the first time: Your salvation is complete—not because of anything you have done, but because of what Christ has done for you. And the benefit of Christ’s work comes to you through faith—the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in your heart.
And may we also take time today to appreciate our second truth—the one found in our lesson: God will provide for his people. He will make sure the show goes on. He will make sure that this message of freely given salvation by grace through faith is clearly proclaimed until the end of time. We see that promise in our second reading.
Our 2nd reading: 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water."
I love the book of Revelation—it’s an incredible book. But any time I preach on Revelation, I try to make sure and preface it a little bit first because over the last couple hundred years, the book of Revelation has seemingly become an ever more confusing book because people have tried to interpret it in ways that God did not intend. Many have taken it and tried to construct a timeline for the end of the world. Think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 as he speaks about the end of the world: "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." We will never be able to figure out a detailed timeline for the end of the world—God didn’t intend for us to. That’s in God’s hands. He simply told us that the last day will come like a thief in the night.
When you keep in mind the rest of Scripture, and when you read Revelation the way God intended it to be read, it actually becomes a fairly simple book. Revelation is the vision that was given to John from God while he was on the island of Patmos. John wrote that vision down. The entire book of Revelation is symbolic. And throughout all the symbolic language in Revelation, there is a single message that plays over and over again. It’s a simple, beautiful, and comforting truth….and here it is: The church of God will be victorious in Christ. Although they will face trial and tribulation in this life, God’s people will be victorious because Christ has already secured the victory.
And we see that basic message playing out in the verses we have in front of us today. John sees an angel flying and proclaiming the eternal gospel. God promises that the eternal gospel will continue to be proclaimed to every nation on earth until Jesus returns. That fits nicely with that overall theme for Revelation—The church will be victorious! And the Lord will sustain his people through the proclamation of the eternal gospel.
And now we might ask the question, where do we see God fulfilling this promise? Every time God’s Word is taught in truth and purity, this promise is fulfilled. With something like this, we want to avoid pointing to any one person or situation and claiming that event is the fulfillment of God’s promise—that’s how a lot of people get themselves in trouble when they look at Revelation. But we can certainly look at history and see how God has kept this promise time and time again.
We talked about one of those instances today—Martin Luther and the Reformation. The church had taken God’s Word and begun to preach and teach it in a way the God never intended. They began to obscure and confuse the eternal gospel—the message of salvation by grace through faith (not works). God drove Luther back to his Word. And over the course of a number of years, Luther began to uncover that message of pure grace that the church had glossed over. Luther made sure that message of the eternal gospel once again sounded in the world. God used Luther to keep that promise to his church.
Even today, God still uses his people to keep that promise he gave to his church. He uses you and me to keep that promise. He drives us back to his Word. He gives us the strength to ask the question, "What does God say in his Word?" (Not: "What do I THINK God’s Word says?" — Two very different questions.) When we approach God’s Word with that question: What does God say in his Word? And seek to find the answer to that question, God is preparing us to keep that promise that he gave in Revelation. As we go out and preach God’s Word and the doctrines in it in it’s purity and truth, that promise is fulfilled—God continues to care for his people as the eternal gospel is proclaimed.
On this Reformation Sunday, may we be reminded of two of Scriptures beautiful truths—may we find them to be beautiful and powerful no matter how long we have known them. Firstly, we are saved not by our own works. We are saved entirely by the work of Christ. And the benefit of that work is made ours through the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in our hearts. And secondly, God promises us that this message will be proclaimed in it’s truth and purity until the end of time—God will make sure the show goes on. He’ll make sure this message of free salvation by grace through faith is clearly proclaimed until he brings the entirety of his victorious church to be by his side in heaven forever. Amen? Amen.
What DID Jesus Do? He showed us the purpose of suffering
Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means "son of Timaeus"), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
49 Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you." 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."
52 "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
I want to start today by reading part of an article by Jessie Golem. This is an article from a woman who went through some immense suffering. Part of that suffering was a traumatic event in Vancouver which you’ll hear her reference. And ultimately, due to her suffering and a few other factors, she lost her faith.
"The question, ‘where was God?’ kept on asking itself to me as I tried to process what had happened. God is supposed to love me, and protect me, and keep me from harm. This is what I had been taught, yet here I was, feeling like my church had failed me by keeping me sheltered and naive, and feeling like I was continually let down by Christians in their dismissive, harmful reactions when I had finally got the courage to...talk about what happened.
I reasoned two things to answer my question about where was God, when I was in Vancouver: God either was present and there, and did nothing about it, or God was not there, and does not exist. It is easier for me to think that God does not exist, than to think that God was present and did nothing. A God who is present and does nothing is not all-powerful, and is not all-loving, and I simply cannot forgive a god who stands by and watches while people get hurt after he promised to protect them. If I had the power to stop something bad happening to someone I loved, I would do everything I could to stop it. Of all of the times in my life that I needed God, God was not there. This is where I stopped believing in God -- I would rather think that God simply does not exist, then think that God abandoned me."
As I read the whole article, my heart broke a little more with each paragraph. My heart broke to hear what this woman went through. My heart broke to hear how those who were supposed to be her brothers and sisters in Christ responded to the struggles that she had...and how they pushed her away and heaped guilt and shame on her rather than seek to help her. And it breaks my heart to have to swallow the hard truth that Jessie’s story is probably NOT an uncommon story.
If you have ever been through immense suffering, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you have wrestled with the same doubts and questions that Jessie wrestled with. Today’s topic of suffering is an important topic. As we speak about suffering today, we have two questions we’re going to ask and answer: (1) How can we as a congregation help those who are suffering rather than make their suffering worse? (2) What is the purpose of suffering?
Let’s look at the first few verses of today’s gospel: 46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus…, was sitting by the roadside begging.
As Americans who live in the most medically advanced age ever, it can be easy for us to skim over these verses and not give them much thought. This man had nothing. He was entirely at the mercy of those who passed by and took pity on him. If someone passed by him and placed a couple coins in his hand, that meant he would get to eat that day. IF he was lucky, he had a few friends who would help him get from place to another. Otherwise he would have had to do it on his own. You talk about a hard life—it doesn’t get much harder than this man’s life.
Verse 47-48: 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
This man—Bartimaeus—had clearly heard about Jesus. He must have heard the stories about the miracles Jesus could do. He must have heard the rumors that this man was the messiah. And because of how he calls out to Jesus—we can probably rightly assume that he believes that, yes, Jesus is the Messiah. He calls him, "Jesus, Son of David."
So Bartimaeus is sitting there, on a day just like any other. He has no idea who’s passing by. He has no idea if those passing by will give him enough money so that he’ll be able to eat for the day. But then he begins to hear a crowd coming. You can imagine that he begins to listen closely so that he might get an idea of what’s going on. As the crowd is passing, maybe he is able to hear side conversations going on. Maybe other people are asking what all the commotion is. Maybe he hears someone say that the man up ahead is Jesus of Nazareth—the rumored messiah. You can almost imagine the excitement beginning to build inside him. This is his chance. He has to meet this Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus could help him. The Messiah could heal him. Since he’s blind, it would probably be right to imagine that he has no idea where Jesus is in this crowd of people. But Bartimaeus wasn’t going to miss this chance...so he begins to shout. I would imagine that this man was shouting as loudly as he could—almost screaming. He wanted to make sure his voice was heard. If I were to shout as loud as this man, it would probably make you uncomfortable. You’d probably think to yourself, "Wow, only 3 and ½ months in and Pastor’s already lost it...." It made the people around him uncomfortable. They actually told him to be quiet! But Bartimaeus was not about to miss this chance and he shouted all the more—as loudly as he could.
Alright, let’s go back to the first question we’re answering today: How can we as a congregation help those who are suffering rather than make their suffering worse? Are we a congregation of people that rebukes those who cry out to Jesus in the midst of their suffering? A congregation that tells them to be quiet? Or are we a congregation that is willing to shout with them? May we ever strive to be a congregation that is willing to cry out to the Lord and shout WITH those who are suffering. As I read that article about Jessie—the woman who lost her faith—it broke my heart to hear how the Christians around her shouted AT her—how they rebuked her. Once she finally had the courage to speak about the things that had happened to her, those around her piled more guilt and shame on her. They did not seek to understand. They did not seek to listen. They shouted AT her rather than WITH her.
Even with the best of intentions, we can end up shouting AT people, rather than shouting WITH them. And to illustrate that I want to talk about an experience my wife had. There was an issue that my wife was struggling and wrestling with. She was suffering because of it. So she reached out to somebody. And that person’s response was essentially this, "It sounds like you just need to trust God more." Was that response untrue? No. But, as well-intentioned as it may have been, what that response ultimately did was place the blame on my wife. It piled guilt and shame on top of her. It made it sound like her suffering was her fault. That person tried to put a band-aid on an open wound that needed stitches. They responded by shouting AT my wife rather than WITH her.
So how do we shout WITH people? How do we call out to the Lord WITH them? We seek to understand them. Maybe we have been through a struggle similar to theirs, maybe we haven’t. But whether we have or haven’t, we can listen to what they have been through. We can acknowledge their feelings as legitimate—validate them. We can be careful to avoid heaping more guilt, shame, or judgement on them. We can pray for them. You can do it right there, right after they tell you what they’re having a tough time with. Just ask, "Can I say a brief prayer for you right now?" We can follow up with them—ask them how they’re doing and let them know that we’re still there to talk with them and to pray for them. When it comes to struggling, suffering and mourning, we have to remember that an open wound may remain an open wound for a while. We’re not going to fix it by putting a band-aid on it. God heals open wounds in time. And let us be careful to not impose a healing-timeline on those who are suffering and have wounds.
Okay, we still have to consider that question of, "What is the purpose of suffering?" Let’s look at the next section (Verses 49-52). "49 Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you." 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." 52 "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road."
A number of things came from this man’s suffering. God was glorified through this miracle. The crowd with Jesus saw him perform this miracle. The crowd saw Jesus heal the very man whom they had just rebuked and told to be quiet… and not only that, Jesus commended the man’s faith. How do you think those people who had just yelled at the man felt? Probably a little foolish. This man’s life was changed. He began to follow Jesus.
Why was this man blind? Why did he undergo this suffering in his life? Why did God allow Job undergo the suffering he did in the Old Testament? Why does God allow us to undergo the suffering that we experience? What is the purpose of our sufferings? First let me say this….The truth is, at the end of the day, we may not be able to answer every single "why?" or "what?" to the extent that we might like.
Rather than close today by spouting the Biblical truths about suffering to you and telling you how I personally have learned to apply them I thought it would be more impactful for us to hear from someone who has been led through the wringer by God. I interviewed someone I know that has been through a lot of suffering, and to close today, I would like to share some of those questions and responses with you. And just one more thing… because you may be thinking it. You may be thinking, "How nice that Jesus healed this blind man. He took away his suffering. Why won’t he do that for me?" I want you to know that the person I interviewed can't relate to the blind man either. God did not miraculously intervene and fix this person’s sufferings.
Of the last 20 years, how many of those years have been filled with suffering?
Easily 15, if not all 20.
In the midst of the most intense periods of suffering, how did you feel about God?
I never blamed him. I just felt lonely for Him and uncertain how to apprehend or appreciate my faith, i.e. how to find joy and hope amidst pain and suffering. At times I doubted my faith.
As you look back at the sufferings that are well in the past, what blessings—if any—have come from those sufferings?
1. God did provide for me and my family, what we needed, when we needed – even though at times I didn’t realize that was what we needed.
2. I learned I had many counterfeit gods in my life: such as financial security and my family.
3. I learned how to more easily identify things I do not control and then surrender them to God. So I worried less, found more peace, prayed more.
As you look back, in what places do you see God’s hand in your sufferings?
His hand in my sufferings showed me how to pray more fervently, memorize scripture, meditate on scripture, and rest in Him and His promises.
Compare your faith today with your faith before you experienced immense suffering. Are there any notable differences?
Yes, I’ve come to understand that the joy we have in the Lord can at times be a messy, painful, and bloody joy—think of the cross where we see out joy is indeed, a bloody joy. And our lives are tangled up in that pain and messiness. I’ve learned that pain and suffering is inevitable, but misery is optional, IF I surrender to God’s will and trust his 3 big promises to believers:
- He’ll make all things good…
- NOT even ONE of his promises can be taken from me.
- And the best is yet to come. (heaven)
How did your sufferings cause you to call on the Lord in a new way?
I’ve finally come to a point where I can say that I am grateful to be put in situations that cause me to be desperate for the Lord. That is where He meets us and sustains us.
Also, unlike the passage in Mark, our prayers and requests are not answered in the way we would like. That was the case with some of my sufferings. So I had to come to terms with my trust in the Lord. Would he and will he see me through the situation and ensuing pain if the situation doesn’t turn out the way I want it to? Questions like that drove me to search my heart and the Word – thus strengthening my faith.
What would you say is the purpose of suffering?
It teaches us to let go of worldly things and goals and dreams. It draws us closer to Him. It equips us to help others who are suffering by empathizing and walking along side of them.
What DID Jesus Do? He modeled a servant's heart.
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Some of the most famous words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From that moment on one of the concepts that has been part of our lifeblood here in America is the concept of “our rights”...and the defense of “our rights”. The defense of that which we perceive should rightfully be ours for moral or legal reasons.
When my wife and I were in D.C. for a year, it seemed like every weekend, there were multiple rallies or protests or gatherings of people who were taking up a particular cause or position. They were defending their rights. Republicans marching their rights. Democrats marching for their rights. One of the non-dominant political parties marching for their rights. And then of course, all the marches from the hundreds of various groups as they defend the rights that are important to them….
And we would be silly to think that as people who live in this country that this concept of “our rights” isn’t also deeply ingrained in us. And so the Biblical concept that is laid out before us today is not a popular one. It’s one that can even be foreign to us as Christians who live in America. The concept is this: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS. That’s right, you heard correctly: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS.
Alright, Let’s jump into our 2nd reading and see just what that means. If ever there was a character who pretty consistently did a great job of mirroring the servant heart of Christ, it was Paul. And we see that servant attitude in the reading we have before us from first Corinthians. In that first section (verses 7-12), Paul makes a logical argument about how a worker should receive his wages. Yet, he says, he never came with the intention of exercising this workers’ right. At times in Paul’s ministry, he had a side job to make ends meet. At other times in Paul’s ministry, he didn’t need a side job because other churches he had visited provided for his needs and so he was able to give himself fully to the work of the Lord. We often see Paul giving up his right to wages for young and budding Christian congregations. He gives up his right to wages for the sake of the gospel. Paul certainly hopes that they will give eventually...but he wants that giving to be properly motivated after they hear and believe in the gospel.
Now in this second paragraph, we again see Paul’s servant heart come out. We again see him giving up his rights for the sake of the gospel. 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Sometimes I hear the question, “Why do we still observe some of God’s commandments in the Old Testament, but not all of them?” So right now we’ll briefly answer that question because it has to do with what Paul is saying here. In the Old Testament we see 3 types of law: moral law (like the 10 commandments), civil law (the governing of the nation of Israel), and the ceremonial law (the festival days and the regulations God had given his people). Today we still uphold the moral law (once again, think about the 10 commandments). However, it is made clear in the New Testament that Christ upheld all of the law perfectly, and in doing so, we are no longer bound to the civil and ceremonial law. Some examples of that would be...We no longer have to sacrifice animals. We no longer have to obverse all the special religious holidays that had been given to the nation of Israel. We no longer have to observe the Old Testament regulations on what we can and can’t eat.
So here is what Paul is saying: as a Christian, he is no longer bound to all those laws that were specific to the nation of Israel. BUT… he gives up that right for the sake of the gospel. So even though he did not have to, in order to win over the Jews, in order to win over those still under the law, he lived like one of them. He observed the Sabbath on Saturday—the original day of the Sabbath. He observed the festival days. He followed the Old Testament regulations regarding the eating of things like pork and shellfish. He observed the right of circumcision. He didn’t have to do those things. It was his right as a Christian to NOT do those things. But he did them anyways so that he might have an opportunity to being the message of Jesus to his Jewish brothers.
Then it was just the opposite for those who were never bound by the ceremonial and civil law—those who were not of Jewish descent. He lived like one who was never bound by the law. Again, he’s not talking about the moral law—God’s moral law still stands. So that means Paul wasn’t going to the tavern to get drunk in the name of reaching the other drunks. That’s not what Paul is talking about. He IS saying, and we see this in his writings, that he is not going to burden non-Jewish Christians with all the regulations of the Old Testament that were specific to the nation of Israel. They can be Christians without doing those things! They can be Christians without being physically circumsized. They can be Christians and they can eat the foods they want. They can be Christians and worship God on whatever day and in whatever location they would like.
Okay, up to this point it has maybe felt like we’re talking about a bit of an abstract concept. The culture Paul lived in looked different than the one we live in. But regardless of that, the truths he talked about still stand and have application. So now, with the rest of our time here today let’s pull out the principles that Paul gives us and ask what application they have for us in today’s world.
So first let’s pull out some of those timeless truths Paul relays to us. We’ve already hinted at one a number of times: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS for the sake of the gospel. Another would be, don’t put any kind of unnecessary hindrance or stumbling block in a person's way that is going to turn them away from the gospel. And I’ll give you one more—and this one is maybe the easiest to understand—don’t let the earthly definition of who you are get in the way of sharing the gospel with other people.
For high school I attended a public school with somewhere around 2000 students. And today I would like to first apply this concept in a high school setting—you’ll see why in a minute. High schools tend to be notorious for divisions. Those divisions are called, cliques. You’ve got your athletes. They all hang out. Then you’ve got your studious and straight A students. Sometimes you find them forming a group. You’ve got your arts and drama people that tend to form a group. You’ve got your choir people that tend to form a group. And the list goes on… Now, remember our truth: When you let the earthly definition of who you are get in the way of sharing Christ’s love with others, you’re doing something wrong. As a volleyball player, you’ve earned the right to be a part of the volleyball group. But when that earthly definition of who you are begins to interfere with you showing love and concern for everyone in every other group, then you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people. If you let your straight A’s define you to the point that you forget to show love to those who are struggling, you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people. If you let being part of the popular group define you to the point that you forget to show love and kindness to every single person, then you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people.
Alright, here’s why I started with high school as an example. As adults, we like to think that we grow out of those things. But the truth is? We don’t. We too have things in our lives that define us to the point that they get in the way of us sharing God’s Word and his love with others. We’ll go through just a few common ones today.
We’ll start with the most fun one first: politics. Do you ever let your political leanings get in the way of showing Christ’s love to others? Maybe you’re a Democrat. Maybe you’re a Republican. Or maybe you identify with another political party. But now the real question is this… Do you let that earthly identity—that earthly label—outshine your identity as a child of God? Do you let it outshine your identity as servant to all? When we let that earthly identity outshine our identity as child of God, we end up alienating a significant portion of the people we are trying to reach with the gospel before we even get a chance to tell them about Jesus—before we even get a chance to show them his love.
What about race? Do you let your ethnicity define you to the point that it gets in the way of you showing love to others? If you’re in the majority, do you let that identity cause you to become insensitive and calloused to the struggles of minorities? If you’re in the minority, do you let that identity cause you to become suspect and skeptical of the entire majority? When we forget to let our identity as Christians be our primary identity, then we forget the importance of seeking to show love to all humans, regardless of race or nationality.
And we can ask the same question for all the things we tend to get wrapped up in here on earth. Status, friend circles, net worth, the sports teams you follow, how well you have your live together compared to others… you name it. Do we get so wrapped up in those things that we forget our purpose of showing love to ALL people?
Praise be to God that Jesus didn’t come down here and get wrapped up in earthly identities. He didn’t come down to earth to establish or identify with any one political party. He didn’t come down to earth to set up a dominant race or nationality. He came down to earth to meet us where we’re at. He gave up his rights. As the king of the universe, he didn’t need to come down to earth...But he did. As the only perfect human to have ever lived here on earth, it was his right to not suffer and be punished… but he gave up that right for us. As true God, the good creator of life, it was his right to never experience death… but he gave up that right and he gave his very life for us.
When it comes to showing love to others, follow Jesus’ example, follow Paul’s example: Give up your rights. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we not let the things we associate with here on earth consume us to the point that we begin to alienate entire groups of people rather than look for ways to bring them the gospel. Christ had every right to turn his back on a world of sinners, but he gave up that right. Instead, he lived amongst us as a servant. May he give us that same servant heart. May our Christian identity shine forth more powerfully and more brightfully than any other identity as we serve and love others with the very love of Jesus that lives in our hearts. Amen? Amen.
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Taught Us How To Smash Our Idols
Mark 10:17-27 New International Version (NIV)
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ "
20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
Over the years there have been countless "home project/home remodel" shows on TV. I don’t typically watch them… maybe you do maybe you don’t. But chances are, we’ve all seen them here and there. What are the 2 best parts of shows like that? In my opinion, it’s the demolition, and the unveiling of the brand new finished product.
There’s something fun about watching the demolition part of the show. Especially when the demolition is justified. The house or the interior they’re demolishing is old and has been neglected for decades. And in order for the new to be built, the old has to be town down. And so when you see the people on those shows pick up their sledge hammers, there’s a little part of us that can’t help but think, "alright, here we go, this is going to be good." And it’s fun to watch them take those hammers and just go at it. It’s liberating. Or if they’re starting completely from scratch… it’s great to watch them take the crane and just level that old house.
Today, in the interaction we see with Jesus and the rich man, Jesus brings the sledgehammer to the conversation. Jesus isn’t interested in just slapping a new coat of paint on this man’s heart… He’s going for the whole demolition. He wants to tear it down and start from scratch. But before we get too wrapped up in and slightly entertained by Jesus interaction with this man, I have to warn you… Jesus wants the hammer to be swung here as well today. And we’re going to do just that. And as we swing that hammer, it’s going to be a little painful, and a little uncomfortable. And if it’s not, we’re doing something wrong. So just be ready for that today.
But before we get there, let’s consider Jesus swinging the hammer at the rich man’s heart. You remember the scene, a rich man had come to Jesus. He asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds, "You know the commandments: You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother."
A couple interesting things worth noting here. All the commandments Jesus mentioned have to do with loving your neighbor. Remember, the 10 commandments can be broken down into two different sections. The first 3 commandments have to do with loving God. The last 7 commandments have to do with loving our neighbor. All the commandments Jesus mentioned have to do with loving your neighbor. The rich man replies, "Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him….And now here we go, you can just mentally picture Jesus picking up the demolition hammer as he hammers him with these words, "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." The man didn’t take the demolition hammer very well… "At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth."
So here’s what Jesus did. Jesus knew what was going on in this guy’s heart. Jesus knew that even if this man had done a half decent job of keeping the commandments he mentioned, which, come on, none of us love our neighbors perfectly… but Jesus let that comment go because he knew there was a bigger problem in this man’s heart. The man’s wealth had become an idol to him. So regardless of how well this guy has loved his neighbor, he’s got a bigger problem. Remember the first commandment, "you shall have no other gods before me." This man’s wealth had become so important to him that it had taken that place in his heart that belongs to God alone. And so with strong words… Jesus tells him to get rid of the thing in his heart that has pushed God out of the way.
So, do you have to sell all your possessions and give it all away if you want a shot at getting into heaven? No that’s not what Jesus is saying. Elsewhere in Scripture we’re told we are to be good stewards. We’re to use the money God has given us to take care of our families. We’re to give back to him. We’re supposed to help those in need. It’s not selling all our stuff that makes us fit for heaven. It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. But Jesus’ strong point still stands. If there’s something in your life that is trying to beat God out for that number one place in your heart, get rid of it. Smash that idol.
So… the time has come. It’s time to pick up that sledgehammer and swing away in our own hearts. I’ll tell you right now, because I don’t want you to think I’m just here swinging the hammer at you today... I’m also swinging it at my own heart too.
Today as we swing away at the idols in our hearts, because of time, we’re just going to consider 3 common idols. But before we embark on this hammer swinging, I want to share with you an illustration that has stuck with me. As we go through these idols, there’s a simple little test to see how much we personally struggle with each of these. That test is this, ask the question… Is my relationship with this potential idol one of being "open-handed" or "close-handed." When our relationship with something is "open-handed" it means we place our hands out (so to say) face up, and as God places things in them, we leave those hands open. We recognize that everything placed in our hand is from God, and when he’s ready to have some or all of it back, with an "open-hand" we’re ready and eager to give it back in thanks. When our relationship with something is "close-handed" it means that we have our fists stuffed full of the blessings we’ve been given by God and we’re clenching our hands tight—we’re unwilling to let go. We’re unwilling to give back. The rich man had a close-handed relationship with his wealth—he couldn’t let it go.
We’re going to talk about 3 common idols today. Idol number 1—the one the rich man struggles with—money. Is your relationship with your money open or close-handed? Every dollar in our hands has been placed there by God. And as we use and manage that money, do we leave our hand open, or do we clench it tight? Do we happily and joyfully give back to God a portion of what is his? Do we happily and joyfully look for opportunities to help those who have legitimate need? Or do we clench our fists tight and despise the offering plate as it comes around every week? Do we trick ourselves into thinking that every dollar to our name is ours and ours alone?
Idol number 2: our time. What’s your relationship with your time open or close-handed? Do we, with an open hand, recognize that each minute of our life is a gift of God? Do we, with a heart of joy and thankfulness give back to God as much of that time as we can? As we come to church? As we have devotions at home? As we look for opportunities to study God’s Word with other Christians? As we look for opportunities to volunteer at church? As we look for opportunities to give our time to those who are going through trial and hardship? Or do you have a close-handed relationship with the time God gives you? Do we take the time that God places into your hands and clench your fists tight around it as we take the attitude that each minute is ours and ours alone. Do we tell ourselves that the couple hours a month we give to God and to one another is good enough? Do we tell ourselves that God better be happy with those hours because they’re the leftover hours we have to give him…. And that He’s lucky he’s even getting those?!
Idol number 3 is Christian specific. It’s one that we at times forget to think about and so we’re definitely at risk of stumbling when it comes to this one. Idol number 4: MY CHURCH. When it comes to the church we belong to, do we have our hands open, or tightly closed? Do we leave them open by recognizing that really, this is not MY CHURCH...this is God’s church. Do we accept that congregations change? Do we accept that each child of God has different preferences when it comes to worship style? Do we accept that the church will grow or shrink as God sees fit? Or do we clench our fists tight and defend the concept of MY CHURCH to the death? Or do we clench our fists tight as we turn our noses up at someone who may act differently than we do? Do we turn our noses up as someone who doesn’t seem to have their life as together as we do? Do we gossip about those in our midst who don’t fit our mental paradigm of someone who should belong to MY CHURCH?
And what about those idols we didn’t specifically focus on today because we don’t have time for every single one? Power, position, fame, success, image, our "to-do" list, independence, popularity, health, acceptance, identity, love, family, children… Is our relationship with those things open or close handed?
How often we find ourselves clinging to the things of this life with our fists shut tight rather than clinging to Jesus. It’s a struggle we all face. Alright, we’re done swinging the hammer today. Let’s set it down and think about what we have in Christ.
Christ lived with open hands on your behalf. He was the king of heaven and earth. But he didn’t cling to his throne, he let it go for you. While walking here on this earth, the king of the universe could have had anything he wanted. Money. Fame. Power. Status. Reputation. You name it… But he let it all go. He didn’t just let it all go, he ran from those things. He left no question in our minds where his priorities were.
I’ll tell you right now what held spots number one and two in Jesus’s heart. Spot number one, God the Father. Everything Jesus did he did to please God. Everything he did was in line with the will of God the Father. As he prayed to the Father before his death on the cross he said, Lord, if possible, let this cup be taken from me—let me not have to go through with the most immense suffering that anyone on the face of this earth will ever have to endure… but then he said, "not my will, but yours be done." And can you guess who holds the number two spot in his heart? You do. Out of love for you, he didn’t even idolize his own life. Rather he gave it up for you. He gave up his life to pay for every single time you have clung to the things of this life rather than clinging to him.
The things of this life will come and go as God wills. But there is one thing that cannot be taken from you—your Savior Jesus and the forgiveness you have in him. So how do we daily demolish our idols? Jesus said it in the gospel, "Follow me." As blessings and hardships come and go from our lives, may we follow Jesus first and foremost through them all. When we follow him, and keep our eyes on him, we begin to see the futility of clinging to the things of this life because we begin to realize that when we cling to things in this life, we’re trading in true riches for dust. Money, time, power, fame, preference—it’s all dust. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. Our true riches are in Christ.
I looked for estimates on what is the total sum of money in the world. The lower estimates were 90 Trillion. The high estimates were 1.2 Quadrillion (That’s what comes after trillion). If you were to put the riches you have in Christ on one side of the scale and all the money in the world on the other side of the scale… the riches you have in Christ are more valuable by far. Forgiven and strengthened by Christ himself, may we daily smash our idols and cling to him. Amen? Amen.
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Defended the Mirror of His Love
2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
What are the earthly topics that you are most passionate about? What’s that topic, that when the conversation turns in that direction, your eyes light up a little bit? We all have them. For some of us it may be a field of study that we have spent time in and become knowledgeable about. For others maybe it’s a hobby of ours… hunting, fishing, sports, video games, music, or politics… For others, maybe it’s something that’s become a significant part of our lives like our children. Go ahead and take a few seconds and bring to the forefront of your mind those earthly topics that you are passionate about.
Now, with those things in mind, I want to ask you a question: How do you feel when people attack those things that you are most passionate about? It doesn’t feel good, does it? In fact, if you’re passionate enough—if you care deeply enough—about the topic being attacked, our natural inclination is going to be to defend that topic. In a way, when someone attacks something we care about, it’s almost like they’re attacking a little piece of us. And we don’t have to feel bad about that, there’s a proper way to go about defending the topics we care about.
Today we see Jesus defend something that he is very passionate about. He defends marriage. The question that we’re going to ask and answer today is this: Why is marriage so important to God? Why is Jesus so passionate about marriage that he is eager to stand up and defend it when it’s being attacked? By way of preparing ourselves to answer those questions, we have to first take a few minutes to figure out what is going on in the scene we have before us in Mark chapter 10.
So some Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him if it’s okay for a man to divorce his wife. And if you know anything about the Pharisees coming to Jesus, they often come to Jesus with the intention of trapping him and finding something they can use against him. So here’s what the Pharisees are bringing to the table as they try to trap Jesus. They’re referring to a passage in Deuteronomy 24 where Moses told the Israelites it was okay to for a man to write a letter of divorce and send his wife away if it was found that she had something shameful—and the word used for shameful has sexual and adulterous connotations to it.
So because of this verse, there had become a division amongst the Pharisees. Some followed the line of thinking that the only reason a man could divorce his wife was because of moral indecency. Others believed that a man could rightfully divorce his wife based on anything that was displeasing to him. So the Pharisees come to Jesus, assuming that he would side with one side or the other, and in doing so, they would have an opportunity to criticize him.
But little did they know… they were getting into a topic that Jesus was very passionate about. And so we see him defend the topic. He starts off by telling them they’re all wrong. Their entire attitude about marriage and divorce is misplaced. Their hearts are in the wrong place as they ask this question. He tells them that the only reason Moses had given this law is the first place was because their hearts were hard. Then he points back to creation where God instituted marriage. Then later, still fired up about the same topic, he tells the disciples that anyone who divorces and remarries is guilty of committing adultery.
We need to pause here, and talk about this whole interaction for just a minute because divorce is a sensitive topic. Even some of us in this room may have been through a divorce at some point so it’s worthwhile to understand what Jesus is and isn’t saying here. We’re not here today to heap guilt on and point the finger at those who have been through a divorce or those going through a divorce. Divorce is a complicated and messy thing. And while we know that God upholds and values marriage, we also know that in Scripture he gives us some legitimate situations in which divorce is an option. When it comes to things like infidelity, or abandonment, or abuse, then there may be a legitimate reason for divorce….Those are things that have to be thought through when the time comes and it’s never easy.
But Jesus doesn’t mention those things here today. The reason he doesn’t is because he is responding to the cultural sentiment of the day that marriage is a disposable thing. Take it or leave it—stay married or get divorced… not a big deal. And in responding to that sentiment, Jesus comes down hard. Marriage IS important. And when we begin to treat marriage and divorce like they’re bargaining chips we can exercise whenever we want, then there’s a problem.
So there’s the background for our text. Now that we understand what’s going on with the Pharisees, and why Jesus responds the way he does… I want to shift our attention back to that question we’re asking today. Why is marriage so important to God? Why do we see Jesus get so passionate about the topic of marriage in this exchange with the Pharisees? There’s a good chance we’ve heard a couple of the more common answers. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with them… they’re all true and important. It’s important to remember that God instituted marriage at the creation of the world. That’s a part of why marriage is valuable to him. It’s important to remember that God tells us in Scripture that marriage is to be lifelong union between a man and a woman. It’s important to remember that God tells us he hates divorce—especially when it takes place outside the permissible circumstances he has laid out for us.
None of those reasons are unimportant. But there’s a reason why marriage is a passionate topic for God and for Jesus that we don’t do a great job of speaking about. And when we don’t do a good job of speaking about it, we really are only hurting ourselves because it is a beautiful and gospel-centered truth. And since it’s a gospel-centered truth, rather than simply tell us to uphold marriage because God says that’s what we should do, it inspires us to uphold and value marriage. So here it is, the reason God the Father and God the Son are so passionate about the topic of marriage is because marriage is a concrete example that God has given us of Christ’s love for us.
God had Paul put it all together for us in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
How difficult it is for us to truly understand and comprehend Christ’s love for us—his church. Sure we believe the truths, and we confess them… Christ loved us so much that he was willing to die on the cross for us. Christ loved his church so deeply that—innocent though he was—he was willing undergo immense physical and spiritual torture for the church. But when we really stop and ponder those truths—who among us can really understand the depth of Christ’s love for us? A love like that is foreign to us. Who in their right mind would give everything for nothing? Who in their right mind would give up everything for someone who hates them? Who in their right mind would give up what they rightly deserve so that someone who in no way deserves it might have it?
In marriage, God gave us a place to practice and mirror that self-sacrificial love of Christ. When it comes to earthly examples of Christ’s love for us, a loving, Christ-centered marriage is as close as it can get. When spouses love one another and put one another’s needs before their own we get a glimpse of the depth of Christ’s love for us. When spouses are eager to sacrifice and yield to one another in love, we get a picture of Christ’s love for the church.
Gentlemen, what would it look like if you were to love your wives like Christ loved the church? Everything Christ did, he did for the church. Every thought. Every word. Every action of Christ. He did it all with the church in mind. He went so far as to carry his cross and die, on behalf of the church. He put himself last, and you, the church, first.
Ladies, what would it look like if you were to love your husbands as the church loves Christ? Indeed, unlike Christ, your husbands are not perfect. But, they have been clothed in Christ’s perfection. And with your gentle support and love and humility, you inspire them to be more like Christ every day.
And for those of us who aren’t married… I wouldn’t want us to think there’s no application here for us… should we not strive to live this way in all of our interactions? Of course we should. May we seek to treat one another as we ourselves have been treated by Christ.
Why was Jesus so passionate about the topic of marriage here in Mark 10? Because wrapped up in marriage, is a picture of his love for us.
What DID Jesús do? He defended the mirror of his love… that is to say, he defended marriage. And one of the most significant reasons he feels so strongly about marriage is because, wrapped up in marriage, is a picture of his love for us, his church. May he strengthen us to also defend marriage, for when we do so, it’s not just some abstract concept that we’re defending… rather it’s Christ’s love itself. Amen? Amen.
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Always Kept His Focus
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Showed Love When It Wasn't Convenient
Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
I want to start off with a little hand raising exercise this morning…. And don’t worry, no one’s going to judge you, you’ll notice my hand is up for all of these questions... Could I get you to raise your hand if you have ever had food delivered to your house? Could I get you to raise your hand if you have a cell phone? Now raise your hand if you have a smartphone. Raise your hand if you are an Amazon Prime member. Raise your hand if you have a video streaming service like netflix, hulu, or amazon prime video. Raise your hand if you use a music streaming service like apple, spotify, or amazon music. Raise your hand if you have a smart device in your home that is NOT your phone. (smart speaker, smart tv, smart thermostat et cetera. If your newspaper gets delivered to you?
It’s safe to say we have become a society that values convenience. I didn’t know I needed to be able to watch my tv shows without commercials until I got Netflix… But now I wouldn’t dream of going back to life with commercials. I didn’t know I need my packages to be delivered within 48 hours of ordering them...but not it’s painful when it takes more than 48 hours for them to get here! And you know what, it’s okay. It’s the world we live in today. We’re not here to preach against Amazon or Netflix today… but it is worthwhile to consider whether or not the ever-more-convenient world that we live in has a negative effect on our spiritual lives. The short answer would be, well of course it can...if we let it. So today we’ll think about how to guard against that.
Now, starting to turn our thoughts toward our text… Have you ever asked yourself the following question: What is it about Jesus’s that inspires me? It’s a good question to ask, because if you can place a finger on some of the specifics traits of Jesus that inspire you and really touch your heart, you might be surprised to find out that those traits are in fact the ones that you are the best at mirroring to those around you…. One of his character traits that has always inspired me is his self-less compassion. There’s a couple places in the Gospels that expressly state that character trait of his… his compassion. Matthew 9 for example says that Jesus looked at the crowds that were following him and "he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." In front of us today we have another example of Jesus’ selfless love and compassion for humanity. Mark doesn’t come right out and name that compassion of Jesus here, but we’re going to see it play out.
Last week in Mark chapter 8 we heard Jesus speak about his death with the disciples. Once again here in Mark chapter 9 we see Jesus speaking about his death. It’s a bit difficult to nail down how much time had passed between the first time he spoke about his death and the second time he spoke about his death… maybe it was a couple days, maybe it was a week… we’re not told. What is clear is this: It was on his mind. It was beginning to weigh on him. Jesus knew that the time for him to take up the cross on behalf of humankind was fast approaching.
Have you ever thought about the psychological implications of that? As humans we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking it would be nice to know the date of our last day here on earth and the circumstances surrounding our death. But can you imagine what a burden it would be if you knew when you were going to die, and not only that, if you knew that your death was going to be equally as horrible as being crucified? Jesus knew his death was fast approaching. And he knew how he would die. He knew the suffering that awaited him as he would take our sin on his own shoulders.
Seeing as this was the second time he had brought it up… it’s pretty clear that this end mission of his was on his mind. It was weighing on him. And yet, once again, his disciples were unable to understand what he was talking about. "32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it." Rather than seek to understand what Jesus was going through… Rather than try to be half decent friends for Jesus… They were selfish.
Look at the next verses. "33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest." Jesus is nearing his crucifixion… and he seeks for a second time to speak about his death with them. Not only do they not understand… but they’re lost in their own world. They’re arguing about who of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what they were arguing about. And at this point in the game, you might think that would have been a bit discouraging for him. Have you ever worked with someone on a particular issue and no matter how long you work with them, it seems like no progress is made? Jesus had been working alongside and instructing the disciples for years and now his death is approaching, and they’re arguing about who will be the greatest.
Did the disciples deserve some rebuking? Yes, probably. Would it have been out of line for Jesus to… in a sinless way of course… almost snap at the disciples a little to get them to open their eyes at what was about to happen to him? Jesus could have probably rightly done that. But rather than do any of that, we see him to continue to lovingly instruct. And in love in concern for the disciples, he meets them where they’re at. He instructs them on the very thing they were just arguing about.
"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
In the world of convenience in which we live, it is easy for us to get wrapped up in that same argument and frame of mind in which the disciples were caught up in. In our minds, we become the greatest. Our schedules and our to-do lists take top priority. On the one hand we live in a world of convenience. On the other hand we live in a world that seems to be busier than ever. The more convenient things get for us and the further technology progress, the busier we actually become. It’s a little ironic because convenience and technological advances are always promoted by saying they’ll make our lives easier.
Living in a culture that is ever more convenient and yet ever busier is a recipe for disaster when it comes to showing love to one another, and to our neighbor. Because showing love is rarely convenient and it takes time.
In line with this struggle we face in our world today… I can't help but think of the parable of the good samaritan. Have you ever imagined that parable retold in a way that’s fitting for today’s world? Let’s try: There was a man who was in great need. He called one of his church friends to ask if they could help him. They rather sheepishly said no and mumbled something about their long to-do list for the day. The man called another one of his church friends to ask for help and they too rather sheepishly said no and mumbled something about needing to make sure the kids got to all their appointments for the day. Then the man who was in great need walked out into the street and asked the first stranger he saw for help...and that stranger helped him.
We too need to hear those words from Jesus, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all." We can all point to times when, rather than serve others, we have fallen in to the trap of serving only ourselves.
Our Savior showed love at all times and in every way—whether it was convenient or not. It was by no means convenient to take up the cross. It was by no means convenient to die on that cross. The physical and spiritual suffering he went through on behalf of our sin was as far from convenient as you can possibly get. But none of that inconvenience stopped him from loving us. Christ’s love in spite of inconvenience has become your convenience. The sin that was charged to each of us has been paid for. We’ve done nothing to deserve salvation, yet it is given to us through faith. It’s a gift from God. And when Christ inconveniently suffered death on a cross, he paid for every single time we have failed to serve one another in love.
May we leave today, refreshed by that forgiveness. May we go out as servants who serve others in love—regardless of the inconvenience. When we show love to others, and serve others—regardless of the inconvenience that comes along with it—that service and showing of love has the power to change hearts.
We’ll close today with an illustration of that. I’m going to read you a quote from a Christian woman in her 50s. Her name is Rosaria. Rosaria is married. Her husband is a Presbyterian Pastor. Her and her husband do a lot for the community they live in. They have played a vital role in the Christian formation of many many children through fostering and adoption. And every single day they open their home as a place for neighborhood kids to come and hang out after school. This is what Rosaria said, "We noticed, as our attention focused more on families and children, that many people in our community protect themselves from inconvenience as though inconvenience is deadly. We have decided that we are not inconvenienced by inconvenience. The needs of children come up unexpectedly. We are sure that the Good Samaritan had other plans that fateful day. Our plans are not sacred."
So that’s where Rosaria is in her 50s. I want to now back up and tell you where she was in her late 20s and early 30s. She was still dedicated to doing good for the community, but her life looked a little different. At 28 she had declared herself a lesbian and she had a lover. She was an english professor at a public university. She had quickly risen in the ranks. She was well respected as a social activist. How did she get from point A to point B? A pastor and his wife opened their door to her numerous times and spent time with her—inconvenient though it may have been for them. They didn’t seek to attack her for her sexual orientation or political views. Rather, they spoke with her, patiently showed her love, and shared with her the message of the gospel. The service, love and patience they showed her, coupled with the powerful life saving message of the gospel, changed her heart and life.
Rarely is showing love convenient. And if it’s always convenient, we’re probably doing something wrong. If it’s convenient, it’s probably because we’re trying to show love on our terms—which likely means it’s selfish and actually isn’t love at all. The inconvenience of showing love didn’t stop our Savior. It didn’t even cause him to flinch. May we rest in the forgiveness of his inconvenient demonstration of love for us, and then go and do likewise. What DID Jesus do? He showed love when it wasn’t convenient. What does he continue to do today? He continues to shower us with that same love, patience and forgiveness so that we might have the strength to do the same. May we go out to love and serve one another—regardless of the inconvenience that comes with it. Amen.
W.D.J.D. - What DID Jesus Do? He Talked the Talk, and Walked the Walk
Sermon Text (New International Version (NIV))
Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"
28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."
The Way of the Cross
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
"Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand precious Lord. Lead me home."
Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there right now….facing trials that have you tired, weak, and worn. And whether you’re facing extremely difficult circumstances right now or not, it’s hard not to be moved by a song like this one. Because life has crosses to bear. So when we sing a song like this, we can't help but let our minds go to the difficulties we’ve faced—whether they’re present circumstances, or circumstances of days gone by. And when we face trials, it sure can be difficult to keep our perspective. It can be difficult to trust in God and his goodness. Sometimes it seems like it’s all we can do to halfheartedly say, "Lord, take my hand and lead me on."
Today we’re going to talk about carrying our cross. Carrying our cross includes two different things: we carry our cross when we face persecution, and when we face trials. As Christians we speak a lot about trusting God in the midst of trials and persecutions...but that can be difficult to do. So how are we to deal with trials and persecutions? How can we as Christians not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk? That’s what we’re going to think about today as we go back through the gospel.
You have to love Peter. When it comes to Peter, Scripture doesn’t leave anything out. Sometimes we see him acting in heroic ways. Sometimes we see him giving beautiful and bold confessions of faith. But other times, we see him doing absolutely silly and foolish things. He’s a person who’s a little raw and sometimes rough around the edges. He really knows how to put his foot in his mouth at times. And we have one of those instances in front of us today.
There Jesus is with his disciples and he decides to ask them who people say he is. They come up with a variety of answers… then Jesus turns the question on them. Who do YOU say I am….? He’s testing his disciples. He’s trying to prepare them for what is to come. And Peter gives one of those beautiful and bold answers. He proudly states, "You are the Messiah." It’s one of those moments when you want to applaud Peter for his confession of faith.
But in the verses that follow, we see that, although Peter gave that beautiful and bold profession of faith, he may not have fully understood the implications of his answer. He may not have fully understood just what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah. We can say that because of the interaction that follows. Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that he will suffer and die at the hands of men—ultimately that is his role as the Messiah. But when Jesus tells the disciples that, Peter tries to rebuke him! The strong words Jesus used against Peter are understandable because Peter was foolishly trying to distract him from his mission of paying for the sin of the world.
Whenever you come across this story, maybe you can't help but think, "Come on Peter, what a foolish thing to say!" But it’s important for us to understand something. That was the mindset of the culture in which Peter lived. The Jews had, for the most part, and wrongly, come to think that the Messiah was an individual who would come and set up a kingdom on earth. They thought the Messiah would deliver them from all the oppressive nations around them. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jesus didn’t come to set-up an earthly kingdom. Jesus came to take care of the problem of sin, and establish a spiritual kingdom.
And now we’re up to the section we want to spend our time on today. After everything that has Just happened, "34 [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
When Scripture speaks about Christians carrying their cross, it refers to a couple different things. Firstly, taking up one’s cross means to fearlessly face persecution. And secondly, taking up one’s cross can also refer to patiently enduring the troubles we face in this life. And those are the two things we spoke about at the beginning of the sermon today. And at the beginning of the sermon we also alluded to the fact that we often times struggle to pick up and faithfully carry our cross. It’s because it’s difficult. It’s because it’s painful.
When it comes to that first definition of carrying our cross—fearlessly facing persecution… we don’t see a lot of physical persecution here in America, rather, we see more verbal or emotional persecution. Maybe you’ve experienced persecution of that nature before (or maybe you haven’t). But we’ve heard about. Maybe we’ve seen it. And whether we experience, or hear about, or see that kind of persecution, it can cause us to become fearful and timid. Let me ask you this: have you ever found yourself shying away from a conversation or a witness opportunity where you could share your faith because you are afraid of what might go wrong? Or maybe you’re afraid of what that conversation might result in? Or maybe you’re afraid of how that conversation will cause the other person to view you? When we do that, what we’re doing is running away from even the idea or possibility of having to carry a cross.
Now that second definition of carrying our cross—patiently enduring the troubles we face...that’s a tough one as well. Nobody likes troubles and trials. They’re difficult, devastating, and painful. And when we face them, Satan would love nothing more than for us to begin questioning God’s goodness and love for us. And so often we do begin to do just that. Rather than patiently carrying our cross with a heart full of trust in God, be begin to question him. We begin to grumble against him. And when we do that, we’re really kind of falling into the same trap that Peter (and many other Jews) did. We’re looking for Jesus to be our personal little miniature king. We’re hoping that God will help us set up our perfect little kingdom here on earth where nothing ever goes wrong and where Jesus just snaps his fingers and makes all our problems go away.
If we take an honest look in our hearts, we have to admit that we often times fail at faithfully carrying our crosses. But there is good news for us today. Jesus didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk. When Jesus told us to pick up our cross, his words were not empty. Jesus wasn’t just some good man who spit out proverbs about how suffering produces character…. No, Jesus walked the walk. He modeled what it looks like to take up the cross to the point of death. While on this earth he endured ridicule, persecution, and sufferings. He let humankind place him on THE cross and kill him. By carrying THE cross, dying for us, and rising again, Jesus paid for every single sin. That includes the sin we spoke about today. Jesus paid for every single time that we have failed to take up the crosses that God places in our lives. We’re forgiven for the times we have shied away from difficult conversations or shied away from witness opportunities. We’re forgiven for the times we question God’s goodness and love when we’re faced with trials. And may we never forget that forgiveness we have in Christ. And may we never forget it is God himself who strengthens us to carry the crosses in our lives.
There was a man, his name was Thom. Thom was a musician that grew up in Atlanta and moved to Chicago in 1915. While living and working in Chicago, he found and married a sweetheart. Her name was Netti. Tragedy struck a few years into their marriage. The following is the account from Thom himself,
"Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. . . .
". . . In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. . . .
"When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. . .
"But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys."
As that evening, as Thomas Andrew Dorsey played, these were the words he sang with the tune he played...This is the song he composed.
"Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand precious Lord. Lead me home."
So brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow recipients of grace and forgiveness. May we go out boldly in that forgiveness. May God strengthen us to receive the crosses that he allows to come into our lives with joy. Because when we receive those crosses, we are following in Christ’s footsteps. Thomas Dorsey struggled. We too struggle. But God strengthens his children to receive the crosses he places in our life with a heart full of trust. And as we carry them, God teaches us to better keep our eyes on him. God teaches us to let go of the things that this world considers valuable, and instead cling to that which he tells us is valuable. May we face the crosses in our lives with the strength, boldness, and fearlessness that Christ himself gives us. What did Jesus do? He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk...and he strengthens us to do likewise. Amen? Amen.