My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link: http://www.sellwoodbaptistchurch.org/onlinechurch.html

Monday, December 28, 2009

“Looking Back, Looking Ahead” - (12/27/09)

INTRODUCTION:
There are certain groups of people for whom periodic evaluation and/or retesting has been deemed to be very important:
  • Commercial airline pilots – drug testing, med. exams, check flights, etc.
  • Public school teachers – continuing education, yearly evaluations, etc.
  • Police officers – weapons requalifying, yearly evaluations, etc.
  • Fire fighters – regular testing, drug screenings, etc.
It is important too for Christians, as well as churches, to periodically pause to evaluate their spiritual health, their progress in maturity, and their effectiveness in the Lord’s service. The last week of December is a good time to do this, to stop and reflect back over the events of the year and make the necessary course adjustments in our personal lives and ministries. Like hikers on a mountain trail who not only look ahead but also stop and look back once in a while just to see where they have been, we too need to maintain a panoramic perspective. It is always good to keep checking your tracks to make sure you are covering fresh ground, not merely going in circles. We are constantly leaving footprints in the sands of time. A good tracker can tell a lot about an animal by the tracks it leaves – burdened, injured, its gender, age, size, weight, etc. Our tracks tell a story too.

The average American almost never pauses in his hectic schedule long enough to do any kind of personal inventory or self-evaluation. It is a fact that lots of people feel very threatened by introspective evaluation. We don’t want to look too closely at our lives because we are afraid we won’t like what we discover.

This is true of pastors and church leaders as well. All too often leaders are afraid of evaluation because we don’t want to face up to the fact that serious changes may be needed in the way we are going about things. Evaluation always implies that we will take necessary steps to correct the problems so that we can do better in the future. That involves risk and leaves us open to scrutiny and possible criticism, things that nobody likes.

TRANSITION:
Then, as if these roadblocks weren’t enough, there are always a few “Super-saint” types who claim that evaluation is the antithesis [the opposite] of grace. Their argument goes something like this: “We live under grace after all, not under the Law. The kind of personal evaluation you are proposing sounds like “bootstraps theology” to me, a doctrine of works. We just need to do our best and leave the results to God. He does not call us to be successful, only faithful. We are only responsible to plant seed and water it. The Lord is the One who brings in the harvest, after all. And Jesus Himself said that the wheat and tares would grow up together until the very end. I think we should leave the examining, evaluating, and judging to God.”

Now this kind of rhetoric sounds spiritual but, in fact, it doesn’t square with the teaching of Scripture. Evaluation does not stand in opposition to the grace of God. God’s Word clearly reveals that personal evaluation of our lives and ministries is both right and mandatory. In fact, even the great Socrates, though not a believer in the true God, saw the need for regular self-evaluation and mid-course corrections. He is reported to have stated: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I think he was correct.

MAIN BODY:
In II Corinthians 13:5 Paul writes, Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” The implication is that it is better for us to test ourselves than to wait for someone else to do it. He goes on to say there should be no fear in doing this unless we indeed find that we are not in the faith. But in respect to eternity it is better that we find that out now while we can still do something about it rather than later.

In I Corinthians 11:26-28, in teaching about the importance of the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul makes it clear that we are to examine ourselves before we partake. Listen to his words: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” What does he mean by that? I believe he means that we are to make note of our attitudes, our overt sins and our sins of omission and then confess them to the Lord and receive forgiveness. This same examination or evaluation should lead us to make changes so that the problems do not continue or reoccur.

Brutal honesty in our self-evaluation is necessitated by the perversity of our natural state. We are sinners by nature as well as by choice, and the Bible says that we are rotten-to-the-core.
  • Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?”
  • An old familiar hymn puts it this way: “Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die. Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” Worm Theology is not popular these days. By far and away modern people prefer “I’m OK, you’re OK Theology.”
Understanding this fact, Paul gives a warning in Galatians 6:1-4 in the context of talking about us helping another brother to escape from the entanglements of sin. He writes: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work…” Paul is saying that each Christian is to carefully examine his own work in order not to be deceived about himself.

The OT has many passages that challenge us to put our own hearts to the test, to carefully weigh our motives.
  • Lamentations 3:40, “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.”
  • Proverbs 14:15, “The naïve person [lit. simple] believes everything, but the prudent man [i.e. wise] considers his steps.”  
  • Revelation 2:4-5, "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first."  
Self-evaluation is always to be done under God’s supervision. We are not capable of being totally objective, so we need His help.
  • Psalm 26:2, “Examine me, O Lord, and try me. Test my mind [seat of our thoughts/intellect] and my heart [seat of our feelings/emotions].”
  • Psalm 139:23-24, Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts and see if there be any hurtful way in me; and lead me in the everlasting way" [i.e. the way of eternal, not temporal things].
The idea of all this is that a wise person will not only see the problems but do something about them (cf. James 1:21-27).
  • Psalm 119:59, “I considered (= scrutinized) my ways, and turned my feet to Thy testimonies.” 
CONCLUSION:
Today, like Joshua and the Children of Israel, we stand on the edge of the Jordan of 2009 looking across to the Promised Land of 2010. We have come through many things in this past year. We can look back and, by our footprints, see where we have been.

For some of you this year has been the most difficult wilderness experience of your whole life. For others it has been a year of blessings and wonderful things. But hopefully, for all of us it has been a learning experience and an opportunity to sink our roots deeper into the grace and goodness of God and to grow in Christ.

If we insist on going blindly through life, bumping into things, and yet never stop long enough to examine what we keep bashing our shins on, then we are as ignorant as beasts and, moreover, doomed to continue being wounded time after time. This morning, on this the trailing edge of the year AD 2009, before moving into 2010, I am challenging all of us to invest the necessary time and energy to take a perhaps painful look at our lives and our relationship with the Lord to see whether or not things are truly in order. If we find that course adjustments are needed, then let’s covenant with God to claim His divine power to make the needed changes and get our spiritual, personal, family, and even financial life back on the right track headed in the right direction.

[Note: Following is a self-evaluation tool that we used yesterday, allowing 10-12 minutes for people to work on it just before the close of the service with a plea to complete it later at home. I hope that you, too, find it helpful.]

Personal Spiritual Inventory

Take a few moments to pray before you write anything.  Ask God to clearly show you areas of your life where changes are needed.  Then please respond honestly to the following questions.  I highly suggest that you write out your answers because it will help you organize your thoughts.

1. Why do we always feel so reluctant to evaluate our personal and spiritual lives?
______________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________

2. Are there certain sins in your life that you commit regularly or habitually, sins that perhaps you have tried to excuse or shrug off saying, “That’s just the way I am”? [Name them one by one]
  • _________________________________________________________________
  • _________________________________________________________________
  • _________________________________________________________________
  • _________________________________________________________________
3. Has the Holy Spirit been convicting you about these things?  Do you know for a fact that God wants you to repent of them and to turn them over to Him to receive His forgiveness and cleansing?
Yes    No    I’m not sure  (Circle one)

4. What are the factors that have been holding you back from being fully surrendered to God in these areas of weakness and defeat?  [Be specific] _______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________

5. Are you now ready to turn these areas completely over to the Lord and ask Him to give you complete victory over the sins which have been robbing you of joy and side-tracking you in your service for Him?  If so, then write out your prayer to the Lord, confessing these things as sin, committing them to Him once and for all, claiming His promises of complete forgiveness and of His divine enabling, so that you can finally begin to walk in victory rather than in defeat.

“Dear Lord Jesus…
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________

Monday, December 21, 2009

"The LOVE That Surrounds Us" - (12/20/09)

NOTE: I preached this message back in December of 2002. I'm including it here in order to complete this series on the four great themes of Advent; namely, HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. Rather than me give the Christmas Sunday message this year as I usually do, I asked three of our elders to team-preach the message, which we entitled, “Three Faces of LOVE.”  They did a great job but their comments were not manuscripted so it makes it hard to share them with you. Instead, I'm giving you this blast from the past. Have a blessed Christmas.

INTRODUCTION:
Christmas is a season when we talk a lot about love. The jewelry stores play on this theme to try and get us to buy diamonds for our sweethearts. The car companies show loving people giving new cars as gifts, all wrapped up with a big bow, sitting in the driveway. We think to ourselves, “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful loving gift to give? Surely a new Lexus or a $10,000 diamond tennis bracelet says “I LOVE YOU” loud and clear.

TRANSITION:
However, the greatest expression of genuine love at Christmas time is not seen in the gifts we give to one another, no matter their dollar value, but rather in the gift that God Himself gave to the whole world. John 3:16 tells us of this marvelous love. It says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The Apostle Paul, speaking of this love says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

We notice in both of these verses that the love God felt toward us led Him to do something. True love always acts in loving ways. It manifests itself in loving behaviors and practical help. God so loved…that He gave! God so loved…that He offered up Christ as the sin sacrifice to demonstrate His love for us!

Christmas LOVE is all about how God came down to earth in the person of Christ to live a sinless life among us and go to the cross to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins, trespasses, and iniquities. This Christmas LOVE is real! It surrounds us!

MAIN BODY:
In old cowboy movies or war movies we often hear someone say, “They’ve got us surrounded!” But being surrounded isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what you are surrounded by.
  1. AIR surrounds us right now, and I’m kind of glad for that fact. We can’t see it but we know it’s here because we can breath. We really only notice air when we aren’t getting enough of it.
  2. WATER surrounds the fish. They probably don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the water but without it they would be in a world of hurt.
  3. SOUND WAVES surround us. We are constantly walking through a stew of different kinds of electromagnetic signals including AM and FM radio signals, cell phone transmissions, TV broadcasts, CB and Ham radio, etc. Those signals are all around us but we don’t hear them unless we have a special tuner.
  4. LIGHT surrounds us as well. Light, like sound, travels in waves. Alpha and gamma rays, infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light rays constantly bombard us. Light is all around us, even on the darkest night. Even when we can’t see it.
  5. TEMPERATURE surrounds us as well. In our bodies we register heat and cold as physical sensations. In reality, from the standpoint of physics, temperature is just an index of how actively the molecules that touch our skin are vibrating. At –273.15 degrees Centigrade all molecular vibration ceases and thus no heat is present. This is referred to as Absolute Zero on the Kelvin scale.
These are all things that surround us but they are also things that sustain us. We cannot live without any of them. Without air we would quickly suffocate. Without sound waves we would languish in a totally silent world. Without light we would not only be blind but would soon die. Without heat our bodies would soon stiffen and freeze.

In the same way, without the love of God, which surrounds us, we could not survive. It is by God’s love and grace that we even possess life in the first place. It is His amazing grace that provides every breath we inhale and every beat of our heart.

It is also equally true that not all men acknowledge God or His good and gracious gifts. Many people are not even aware that God truly loves them and that He genuinely cares what happens to them. Yet the God of the Bible is a loving, merciful God who is constantly reaching out toward us lost sinners, even though we certainly do not merit such love.
Psalm 139 records David’s thoughts concerning the love of God that surrounded him: O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in--behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with You… [Verse 23 continues...] Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

David recognized that he was surrounded by God’s presence and that God had detailed, intimate knowledge of him. Yet that fact did not cause him fear, but rather was a source of comfort because he had a loving, intimate relationship with God.

In Psalm 34:7, speaking out of his own personal experience of witnessing God miraculously deliver him from the hands of his enemies, David states, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him [God], and rescues them.” It is obvious that David was overjoyed by the fact that God’s loving care surrounded him.

One other passage from the Psalms comes to my mind. Psalm 125 is a Song of Praise that was traditionally sung by the Israelites as they journeyed toward Jerusalem for the holy festivals, such as the Day of Atonement and Pentecost. The first two verses say, “Those who trust in the Lord [Yahweh] are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord [Yahweh] surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” Again, to be surrounded by God is clearly seen as a very good thing, because God loves His people.

The only people who hate the idea of being constantly under God’s gaze are those who are in rebellion against Him. Sinners always seek out the darkness in order to not be noticed by Him. But, of course, we know that doesn’t work. No one can hide from God. He is all around us just like the air we breathe. He knows our every thought. He sees our every action. Yet, He loves us in spite of all that. How amazing!

My favorite Bible passage about the love of God is found in Romans 8:35-39. Listen to this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These words tell me that the love of God surrounds me in such a way that nothing can ever remove me from His presence and His tender care.

CONCLUSION:
Love is one of the central themes of Christmas. It was love that sent God Himself to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem and to live among us as one of us, and then to die for all of us at Calvary. It was God’s love for you and me that caused Him to choose to redeem us rather than simply condemn us. Had He chosen to send the whole human race to hell He would have still been good, and just, and holy. However, He is also merciful. He chose not to give us what we deserve but rather to offer us what we could never merit – grace, and mercy, and a way to come to Him through the cross.

Today, if you don’t know the Savior in a personal way, if you have never turned your heart and life over to Him, I plead with you to do it today. Confess to Him that you are a sinner. Ask Him to forgive you and cleanse you completely. Lay your life in His nail-scarred hands and then release it to Him once and for all. Trust Him today. Let His love not only surround you, but fill you as well. That is the Christmas gift Jesus came to give to you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"The JOY That Satisfies Us" - (12/13/09)

Note: This is the sermon I was planning to give this past Sunday but we had a change of plans and ended up doing a combined service with the Korean church that meets in our facilities. Pr. Ken Cho gave a fine message but I don't have his manuscript or notes so I'll include this message as a continuation of the Advent Series. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful and encouraging.
 

INTRODUCTION:
We read in Luke 2:8-11: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.'”

Notice the 4 main points of the angel’s message:
  1. Good News = “Gospel”
  2. Great joy = unbounded and glorious
  3. For all people = universal, not just for a few
  4. A Savior = not merely a mentor
TRANSITION:
Today I want to talk about the things in life that can truly satisfy the human heart, the things that bring genuine joy. For you see, joy goes way beyond mere happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances. But joy can be present and abounding even in the midst of pain, sorrow, and isolation. Happiness, like water, quickly evaporates when the heat is turned up. Yet real joy, like gold in a fire, endures even when times get hard. Happiness is experienced by practically everyone. Genuine joy is a gift from God that unbelievers do not possess.

MAIN BODY:
The Bible has much to teach us about the kind of joy that really satisfies. Moreover, Christian music is filled with references to joy and rejoicing. God’s people discovered long ago the truth expressed by the prophet Nehemiah in Neh. 8:10, “The joy of the LORD is our strength.” It has been that joy that has seen Christians through fiery trials of every sort and description.

In the OT ten different Hebrew terms express the various facets of the word “joy.” In fact, no other language has as many synonyms for joy and rejoicing as Hebrew. One of the most common of these words is gil, which also serves as the root for several of the other words. It means to leap, or spin around with pleasure. It is beautifully illustrated by the story of King David in II Samuel 6:12-16 when he danced with joyful abandon before the Ark of the Covenant as it was carried to Jerusalem through the streets of the city. The most common word for joy in the NT is cara. Closely related to it is the verb chairo, which means, “to rejoice.” Both of these words are found extensively throughout the New Testament.

The concepts tied up in the word joy seem to fall into several distinct categories. These are sometimes summed up by theologians as “natural joy,” or the human side of joy.
  • When joy is moderate it is often called gladness. 
  • When it is intense it is called exultation or transport. 
  • When it is tied to possessions it is termed contentment. 
  • When it relates to high desires accomplished it is satisfaction. 
  • When it refers to vanquished opposition it is called triumph. 
  • When it has permeated into the character we call it cheerfulness.

However, there is another side to joy and that is the spiritual side. The NT regards joy as essentially a divine gift. In Galatians 5:22 joy is listed as a “fruit of the Spirit.” Philippians 1:25 declares it to be a result of faith. Pure joy is joy in God, as both its source and object. Did you get that? It means that God is not only the Giver of joy, but also the One in whom we take the greatest joy. David in Psalm 43:4 says it beautifully, “I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the harp, O God, my God.”

Our God is a God of joy. Psalm 104:31 tells us that He Himself rejoices in His own works. As He viewed His finished creation He said, “It is very good!” You can hear resounding joy in those words.

Believers also find great joy in the promises of God’s Word. In Psalm 19 David says that the Word of God is sweeter to him than honey and more desirable than fine gold. This is the testimony of countless Christians down through the centuries. In John 15 Jesus shared with His disciples the Good News of God’s salvation and then He said in verse 11, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Two chapters later in His prayer recorded in John 17 He said to the Father in verse 13, “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves.”

As I stated earlier, as a gift of God, joy is unknown to the world, but paradoxically the believer may rejoice in afflictions and sufferings with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Look at Acts 5 for example. Verse 40 says, “And they [the elders of the Sanhedrin] took Gamaliel’s advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

The world cannot comprehend this kind of joy. Obviously no one in his right mind would be happy about being beaten half to death. Paul was no masochist and he is not saying that they were happy to be hurt, but in II Cor. 6:10 he describes their sentiments as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

Some of my favorite verses about joy are found in the book of I Peter and they are all in the context of Christians suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
  • I Peter 4:12-14 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
  • I Peter 1:3-8 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in Heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
CONCLUSION:
Let me ask you today --- have you ever experienced this kind of inexpressible and glorious joy? Would you like to? In Luke 2:10 the angel of the Lord told the shepherds, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”
  • Great joy is not found in Christmas shopping
  • Great joy is not found in family gatherings
  • Great joy is not found in receiving more presents
  • Great joy is not found in cultural and religious holiday traditions
  • GREAT JOY COMES FROM KNOWING JESUS!!!
That joy is for all the people, including you! And it is all tied up in the Good News about a Savior who came to be born, to live, to die, and to rise again from the tomb, ALL FOR YOU! Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?

Monday, December 7, 2009

"PEACE That the World Can't Give or Take Away" - (12/06/09)

INTRODUCTION:
Have you notice? The Christmas season is a time when there is always renewed interest in the subject of angels due to the role they play in the Christmas story.
  • You see them on decorations, pictures, nativity scenes, etc.
  • Decorations in the malls
  • Books by wacko New-Age groupies about their “guardian angels”
  • Usually depicted as beautiful, blond female angels, or winged-babies
TRANSITION:
The first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke record some of the most remarkable encounters between angels and humans, all having to do with the birth of the Lord Jesus.
  • Gabriel with Zacharias, announcing the birth of John
  • Gabriel and Mary, announcing the birth of Jesus
  • The angelic host and the shepherds out in the fields
It is especially this last encounter that we want to focus on today. Let’s read this familiar passage once again. It is found in Luke 2:6-15.
While they were there, the time came for the Baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” [lit. “of (His) good pleasure.”]. 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
MAIN BODY:
This morning I want to focus on basically one word from Luke 2:14, the word “PEACE.” The Greek word for peace is “eirêne.” It gives us the female name, Irene. It is used approximately 100 times in the N.T. and is a very important word. It has various shades of meaning. It often is used to simply mean the cessation of hostilities, the opposite of war. But it also carries the idea of harmony and order. It corresponds directly to the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means not only peace, but health and welfare also. To pronounce a blessing of Eirêne or Shalom on a person, a family, or a home includes all of these things.
But where is this peace to be found? What is its source? Where can we get it? These are the questions we want to examine today.

I. God is the AUTHOR of peace. — He is the architect, source, and supplier.
  • Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” 
  • II Corinthians 13:11 – “Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 
II. God is the INITIATOR of peace with men. — He chose to make peace with us, even though we are sinners by nature and by choice, and have been in rebellion against Him since the Garden.
  • John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
  • Romans 5:1, 8 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • II Corinthians 5:18-19 - “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 
  • I Peter 3:18 – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 
III. God is the GIVER of peace. — It is His gift to those who belong to Him.
  • Isaiah 26:3-4 – “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed [steadfast] on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee. Trust in the LORD forever, for YAHWEH, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” 
  • Colossians 3:15 – “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” 
  • Psalm 4:8 - “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” 
  • Psalm 29:11 – “The LORD gives strength to His people; the LORD blesses His people with peace.” 
  • John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 
  • John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 
  • Philippians 4:4-7 – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.” 
In this last passage the Greek word translated “guard,” or “keep” in the KJV, is a fascinating word. It is the word “phrouréo.” If you look it up in a Greek dictionary you will find that it is a military term, which means “to keep by guarding, to keep under guard, as with a garrison.” It is used of blocking up every way of escape, as in a siege. And it is also used of providing protection against the enemy, as a garrison does.

The peace of God puts a strong wall of protection around out heart, which is the center of our emotions, and around our mind, which is the place from which our thoughts come. God’s peace is like a 24-7 armed guard over the two things that Satan uses to frighten us and rob us of peace and joy.

CONCLUSION:
Do you have this peace in your life today? Have you asked the Prince of Peace to come in and be your Savior and Lord? With the world in constant uproar with wars and rumors of wars, I pity anyone who does not know Christ in a personal way. Knowing about Him is good — it’s the starting place. But actually knowing Him is something else altogether. If all you have this Christmas is the story of Baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, then you don’t have the package. The whole reason He came was to finally go to the Cross to pay the price for your sin, and mine. Won’t you open your heart to Him right now, and ask Him to forgive you and save you and abide in you forever?

One of the sad things in the Christmas story is the fact that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. If the people of Bethlehem had only understood who He was and the incredible miracle of that night, that “unto you is born a Savior”, every door in the city would have been open to Him. Unfortunately, people were so caught up in their own lives that they failed to see and understand what was happening. The same thing happens now every day. When Jesus knocks at the door of people’s hearts they are often too busy to hear, or too cold-hearted to answer the door. They simply hang out their sign which reads, “Do not disturb! No room in the Inn!” I hope you won’t do that. I hope you will hang out a big “WELCOME” sign and invite Him in today.

Monday, November 30, 2009

"The HOPE of All Who Seek Him" - (11/29/09)

INTRODUCTION:
Today, on this first Sunday of Advent we remember the HOPE, the anticipation, the looking forward to the appearing of the promised Messiah, the One who would be the Savior. For centuries, people awaited the fulfillment of the promises of God that He would bring forth the Anointed One at just the right time. Christmas is when we celebrate and commemorate the Savior’s appearing.

The dictionary defines HOPE as, (1) “a cherished desire accompanied by expectation of fulfillment; (2) to long for, with an expectation of obtainment.” Notice that there is a big difference between hope and “wishful thinking.”

Hope is an important part of our lives. The word “hopeless” is one of the saddest words in the English language, when it is applied to a person or to a situation.

Of course, Christmas time, at least for the kids, is all about hoping, about looking forward to receiving something wonderful that they have anticipated and dreamed of [e.g. a new dress, a special toy, a new red bicycle, etc.]. But what are the kinds of things that we big people hope for? What are the things to which most of us look forward with expectation?
  1. To go to a “good” college
  2. To land a high-paying secure job/career
  3. To marry the woman/man of our dreams
  4. To have wonderful healthy children
  5. To buy that first house
  6. To get raises, have an excellent salary
  7. To retire early so that we can travel
  8. To live “happily ever after”
TRANSITION:
One of my favorite Gospel songs is one that we always sing at Easter time. It is entitled, “He Lives!” The third verse says, “Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ, the King! THE HOPE OF ALL WHO SEEK HIM, THE HELP OF ALL WHO FIND, none other is so loving, so good and kind.” That phrase is especially fitting as we move into this Advent Season of anticipating the coming of Messiah, and focus our attention on the HOPE that we have in Christ.

MAIN BODY:
It all comes down to the fact that God Himself is the basis for our hope. Without Him and His faithfulness we would indeed be HOPELESS. But we hope and trust in Him, especially in four areas:
  1. We hope and trust in His love and mercy. — Psalm 33:18-22, “But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in You.”
  2. We hope and trust in His promises. — Psalm 119:74, 81, “May those who fear You rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in Your word… My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your word.”
  3. We hope and trust in the Holy Scriptures. — Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
  4. We hope and trust in His calling of us to Himself. — Ephesians 1:18, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.”
HOPE is one of the Three Enduring Graces spoken of in I Corinthians 13:13. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

In I Thessalonians 5:8 HOPE is likened to a Helmet to protect our minds: “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”

Moreover, in Hebrews 6:18-19, HOPE is described as an Anchor to protect our souls: “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

But what are the specific things we are trusting in God for? What are the objects of our hope?
  1. We hope in God for our resurrection from the dead. I Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
  2. We hope in God for eternal life. Colossians 1:3-6 declares, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-- the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in Heaven and that you have already heard about in the Word of Truth, the Gospel that has come to you.”
  3. We hope in God for His promised blessings. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is in the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.”
CONCLUSION:
But how do we get from God all the things for which we have hoped? What is the secret of tapping into His promised blessings? Here it is. This is the secret. This is the essence of the story of Christmas: Whoever takes the Son gets it all! The Bible puts it like this in I John 5:11-13, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

So, the question that remains is, “Do you have the Son?” In other words, do you really know Jesus? All the blessings that God wants to pour out on your life, and the things you want and need—the peace, and joy, and hope, and Heaven—these are all wrapped up in Jesus. The one who has the Son, has it all. When you have Jesus you get the rest as well!

I entitled this message, “The HOPE of all who seek Him.” The shepherds of Bethlehem left their flocks and went to seek Him, and they found Him, and the Bible says that they “…went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” The Wise Men left their own land to seek Him, and they found Him, and they fell down and worshiped Him. If you are seeking Him today, really seeking Him with your whole heart, you will find that He is right here, just waiting for you to call out to Him and ask Him to come in to your life to be your Savior and Lord.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Thanks a lot, Lord!" - Thanksgiving Message (11/22/09)

INTRODUCTION:
We all know how important tone of voice is in the communication process. I can say, “I love you, too!” or, “I love you, too!” and the meanings are exact opposites. I can say, “Whatever you want,” or, “Whatever you want,” and convey two very different thoughts.

Likewise, I can say, “Thanks a lot, Lord,” and mean one thing, or, “Thanks a lot, Lord,” and mean something entirely different. Unfortunately, when we talk to the Lord we often sound like the latter. Our thanksgiving words don’t always radiate thankfulness.

TRANSITION:
This Thursday Americans here and around the world will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We’ve all heard the stories of the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving when they took time out from their regular activities to thank God for His bounty and for His providence in their lives. However, Thanksgiving Day like so many other holidays has for many lost its religious significance. Rather than thanking God, many thank their lucky stars, or other people, or fate, or something equally unworthy.

For us who are Christians, Thanksgiving Day should be time to reflect on God’s goodness and mercy, which He has chosen to pour out upon us. We are not citizens of this free land because we deserve it. Others do not languish in poverty because they are somehow of lesser value in God’s sight and therefore undeserving of His blessings.

MAIN BODY:
No, it’s all about amazing grace, “undeserved favor.” For this we should be thankful. The Bible has much to teach us about having an attitude of gratitude. One of the clearest passages is found in I Thessalonians 5:16-18.
16. Rejoice always.
17. Pray without ceasing.
18. In everything give thanks: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
#1 = Notice the three commands – rejoice, pray, and give thanks. They are not requests but orders; therefore, they are do-able because God never commands us to do things that He does not empower us to carry out.

#2 = Notice too the adverbs that describe the action of the verbs. Always, without ceasing, and in everything are interchangeable. Switch them around and you will discover that the three commands are left unchanged. Thus, Paul is saying that in every situation, no matter how bad it appears, there are always elements for which we can be thankful. Examples:
  • Paul and Silas singing in the dark prison Acts 16:25
  • Paul before Agrippa in Acts 26:2
  • Paul with the Jews in Rome in Acts 28:15
#3 = Verse 18 says, “Giving thanks in everything.” That is an outflow of constant rejoicing (vs. 16) and unceasing prayer (vs. 17). There is a progression through these three verses.

#4 = Supporting passages:
  • Ephesians 5:18-20 – “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This tells me that thanksgiving results from being Spirit-filled. Notice too that here Paul says “for all things.” That is harder to swallow than “in all things.”
  • Colossians 3:15-17 – “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Three times in three verses: “be thankful,” “with gratitude,” and “giving thanks.”
  • Psalm 100:4 – “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.”
  • Colossians 2:6-7 – “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” This is that Gratitude Attitude that is so attractive in Christians and so rare in our modern world. In fact…
  • Romans 1:21 – Makes it clear that thankfulness is one of the main characteristics that differentiates between a believer and an unbeliever. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
#5 = Motives for thanksgiving mentioned in the Scriptures:
  • Upon the completion of great projects. --- Nehemiah 12:31, “I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks.” 
  • For the goodness and mercy of God. --- Psalm 106:1, “Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever.” 
  • For the gift of Christ. --- II Cor. 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 
  • For Christ’s power and reign. --- Rev. 11:15-17, “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.’”
  • For the reception and effective working of God’s Word in the lives of others, bringing them to salvation. --- II Thess. 2:13, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” 
  • For deliverance through Christ from the power of sin. --- Romans 7:23-25, “But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
  • For victory over death and the grave. --- I Cor. 15:56-57, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • For wisdom and power. --- Daniel 2:23, “I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power; You have made known to me what we asked of You; You have made known to us the dream of the king.”
  • For the triumph of the Gospel. --- II Cor. 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 
  • For the conversion of others. --- Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  
CONCLUSION:
We have so much for which to be thankful. This Thursday, before you plow into that turkey dinner, how about taking just a few minutes around the table to share the blessings for which you are most grateful to God. It will not only help to put things back into perspective for you but will also be a wonderful testimony to any unbelievers who might be present around your table.

And that brings me to one last observation. Look around and see if there might be someone in your network of relationships whom you could invite to share Thanksgiving Day with you. For those who are alone, it can be one of the saddest and loneliest days of the whole year. Share your love and blessings with others. That is what Jesus would do.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Satan In a Disciple Suit" - Mark 8:31-38 (11/15/09)

INTRODUCTION:
Things aren’t always the way they appear. We’ve all been fooled more than once by outward appearances. Maybe you bought a car, thinking it was a real peach and in cherry condition, but it turned out to be a lemon! Maybe you dated someone who had all the good looks and outward charm in the world, but turned out to be either an idiot or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or maybe you took a job thinking that it was going to be your ticket to wealth and fame, only to discover that it was a cul-de-sac job headed nowhere. Or perhaps you fell prey to the slick hair and slick talk of some TV “evangelist” or religious leader and thought he was the real deal, only to be crushed by the news that he was caught in an affair with a 25-year-old male stripper.

I’m just sayin’… Oh yea, we’ve all been tricked by appearances. But on top of that, to make things worse, we’ve all tricked other people. We all have the ability to look interested when we aren’t, to look sympathetic when we couldn’t care less, to seem friendly when in reality we don’t even like the other person and wish they would take a flying leap. No, you and I are not always what we appear either. Sometimes we are a phony as a $3 bill.

TRANSITION:
Indeed, we are good at deception. We learn it from a very early age. However, there is someone who is even better at it than we. His name is Satan. In the Bible he is called the great “deceiver,” and “the father of lies,” among other things. He has worked very hard to earn those titles. His lying career started back in the Garden of Eden when he showed up in a beautiful serpent suit to trick Adam and Eve into believing they could become like God in every way if they would just throw off their inhibitions and eat from the forbidden tree.

Since then he has shown up in many different forms but always with the same purpose—namely, to deceive and to get people off the path of righteousness. In our text for today, he apparently showed up one day in a “disciple suit.” Now the costume was good enough to trick the disciples but Jesus certainly wasn’t fooled. He knew Satan so well that He could recognize the old demon no matter how was dressed. It’s too bad that we aren’t as good at recognizing him in all his various permutations and costumes. It would make it much easier to resist him.

MAIN BODY:
Verse 31: He [Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed, and after three days rise again.
  • This is where Jesus turned a corner with His disciples. At this point in His training of the Twelve He began to be very specific about what He had come to earth for and what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. He told them that He would be arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified, and that He would then rise from the dead on the third day.
  • “…the Son of Man…” Jesus almost always used this title to describe Himself. It emphasized His humanity in the midst of His divinity, but more importantly it was the ancient OT title which referred to the suffering Messiah. The cross was a necessary aspect of the Messiah’s work.
  • “…the Son of Man must suffer…must be killed…” He must suffer and die in order to fulfill the many OT prophecies concerning His death, burial, and resurrection.
  • Imagine what the disciples must have thought about such talk. They were shocked and could hardly believe their ears. Up until this point they believed that He was just getting His ducks all lined up in preparation for defeating the Romans and setting up His Messianic Kingdom on earth. Now He is talking about being rejected, suffering, dying, and rising again. None of that fit in with their understanding of who He was or what they thought He was supposed to do and it left them very confused.
Verse 32: He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 
  • “He spoke plainly about this.” Jesus never sugar-coated anything, but up until now He had spoken in a more veiled fashion and had simply never given them any details. Now He spoke openly, laying it all out on the table for them to see and He explained the fine points of exactly what would come to pass at the end of His mission.
  • This is when Satan showed up in his disciple suit! Simon Peter must have asked to speak to Jesus privately, and the two moved out of earshot of the other disciples. Did Peter know that he was doing the devil’s work here? NO. I think he was honestly trying to snap Jesus back into reality as Peter saw it, and get Him to stop talking this “crazy talk.
  • “…and began to rebuke Him.” A guy has to have a lot of nerve to try and rebuke Jesus. After all, He was God in the flesh. He was the God-Man in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. And isn’t it amazing how quickly Peter could turn from being a tool in God’s hand to being a grenade in the devil’s hand. Only a few verses back, in verse 29 we read, “And Jesus continued by questioning them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Thou art the Christ!’” How could Peter flip-flop so quickly?
  • Yet how different is this than what we do when we question God and accuse Him of not loving us, not treating us right, not doing right by us and our loved ones. Isn’t that taking God to task, much like what Peter did with Jesus? Peter rebuked Jesus. Sometimes we rebuke God too.
Verse 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 things of God, but the things of men.” 
  • Jesus listened to Peter, then turned and looked at the rest of His disciples. Then He responded. He rebuked Peter [same word]. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. Was Jesus saying that Peter had become demon-possessed? That Satan had actually climbed into him? NO, because had that been true Jesus would have had to exorcize the demon, and that didn’t happen. So what was He saying about Peter? He was saying that the thoughts that motivated Peter’s words were not from God but from Satan. By trying to dissuade Jesus from completing His task at Calvary, Peter was working in line with the enemy rather than doing God’s work.
  • “Get behind Me, Satan!” Jesus was saying, “Get out of My way, Peter! I’ve just told you that I must go to the cross to die in order for you to be saved. Get out of the road and let Me do what I came here to do.” From eternity past Satan has been opposed to the plans and purposes of God, including God’s plan to redeem fallen mankind. And over the years he has tried all kinds of tricks to cut off Messiah’s line to make sure that there would never be a Savior. Now Jesus saw in Peter the same impediment to Him completing His mission, though Peter himself did not realize that he was serving as the devil’s pawn.
  • In fact, Jesus used almost the same words against Peter that He had used to rebuke Satan back in Matthew 4:10 during the Temptation in the Wilderness. “Begone, Satan!” (NASV) “Get thee hence, Satan” (KJV)
Verse 34: Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. 
  • He called everyone to gather around Him, disciples and non-disciples alike, and began to teach them.
  • What He said to them publicly followed logically on what He had just said to the Twelve privately about the path of suffering that He must walk.
  • Up until this point in His ministry Jesus has called people to repentance and to belief in Him as their Sin-Bearer. Now He changes the appeal somewhat and begins to call people out not only to believe in Him but to follow Him as disciples. Until now His emphasis has been on proving that He was the promised Messiah, the One who was to come as the perfect Sacrifice. He called people to salvation through faith in Him. But salvation is just the first step in the Christ-follower’s life. Discipleship is the life-long commitment to obey and to serve Him.
  • So here Christ gave a call to discipleship, and it has four components:
  1. “If anyone would come after Me…” Literally He said, “If anyone wishes, desires to come after Me.” First there must be the desire to become a true disciple. The Lord does not drag anyone into His service against his will, kicking and screaming. This is an all-volunteer army.
  2. “…he must deny himself…” This is very difficult. By nature we are wired up to serve ourselves and look out for our own selfish best interests. Christ is calling His followers to humble ourselves and put God and His kingdom purposes as first priority in our life. Self-denial speaks of readiness to suffer for someone else. Christ is the pattern in this. He calls us to follow in His footsteps.
  3. “…take up his cross…” What cross is this? Does it mean that we have to die on a cross just like Jesus did to be His follower? For many Christians in the first century that was exactly their fate. However, the cross is a symbol of suffering. Jesus told His followers on several occasions that to follow Him would mean suffering for sure, and that has proven out in history countless times. Jesus was telling His followers that suffering was part of the package. Whoever would come after Christ must walk the path that He walked, the path of self-denial and cross-bearing.
  4. “…and follow Me.” The form of the verb indicates continual following with no stopping or turning back. The disciple is to keep following Jesus (Greek present imperative).
Verse 35: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. 
  • Wait a minute! Now He’s talking crazy stuff! If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. But if you want to lose your life, you’ll save it. Is that what He said? That can’t be right, can it? That just sounds too weird! Let’s back up the truck and unload this cargo box by box.
  • This verse is the one that led Jim Elliot, one of the five MAF missionaries killed in 1956 in Ecuador by the Auca Indians, to write these words in his journal: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” The Bible says in James 4:14 that our life is but a vapor, a little bit of fluffy cloud. The more we try to grasp on to it the more it slips through our fingers.
  • Paul gives another insight from his personal perspective in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 
Verse 36: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 
  • In high school many of you were forced to study Goethe’s “Faust.” Though you’ve probably tried hard to forget, the story concerns the fate of Dr. Faust in his search for the true essence of life. Frustrated with learning and the limits to his knowledge and power, he attracts the attention of the devil, represented by Mephistopheles, who agrees to serve Faust until the moment he attains the pinnacle of human happiness, at which point Mephistopheles may take his eternal soul to hell. Faust is pleased with the deal, because he believes the moment will never come. But to his surprise, the devil follows through on his promises and Faust finally has to face up to the deal he made with the devil. Now this is a fictional story but it illustrates what many people do. In order to gain the shiny objects this world offers they put their souls in hock to Satan—not in a direct, “let’s make a deal” kind of way, but by going after the things the devil offers us, the way a fish goes after a shiny lure.
  • In Luke 12:16ff Jesus taught a lesson about this. Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And He told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” 
  • God is not against us having money and shiny objects as long as they don’t come between us and Him, which they so often do.
Verse 37: Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 
  • Jesus asks the question, “What is so valuable that a man would be willing to trade his soul for it?” They expected answer is “NOTHING,” but against all logic people do it all the time anyway. Oh, they don’t do it consciously. I mean, they don’t realize they are making a pact with the devil, but that is what it amounts to.
Verse 38: If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 
  • “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words…” Who is He talking about? The word “anyone” takes in all people from all time. However, I believe that He was speaking particularly of those who claimed to be His followers but did not pass the four-fold “Disciple Test” of verse 34.
  1. Truly desiring to obey and follow Christ
  2. Deny self and selfish ambitions in favor of God’s kingdom
  3. Take up Christ’s cross daily
  4. Follow the Master without turning back
  • “…in this adulterous and sinful generation…” By this He is not speaking only about the generation that was living in that day. They were no more sinful than the generations before them, nor than those who followed. But they are representative of mankind in all generations. Man in general is infected with the same disease. We are all dying of it and we are all carriers of the virus. It is called “SIN.” We are all sinners by nature and by choice.
  • “…when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Here Jesus pulls back the curtain of time for just a second to give His disciples (and us) a peek at what it will look like when He returns someday in power and glory to claim what is rightfully His. On that day the Lamb of God will be seen as the Lion of Judah, and the Savior will be seen by all to be the Righteous Judge.
CONCLUSION:
Christ’s four-fold call to radical discipleship is still a challenge to us today. It messes with our heads. Oh, we want His salvation. We want Heaven. We want forgiveness of sins and a nice life here and now. But we don’t want unqualified obedience, suffering, self-denial, daily cross-bearing, or continual followership. Yet those are what Christ calls us to, today.

Scott Wesley Brown, a gifted contemporary Christian song-writer penned the words to this song after reading Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Shadow of the Almighty. But I'm certain he was also thinking of Jim Elliot’s journal entry when he wrote this song in which he challenges all of us to a deeper level of devotion to our God.

HE IS NO FOOL (Words and music by Scott Wesley Brown)

I’ve lost track of all the Sundays the offering plate’s gone by
And as I gave my hard-earned dollars I felt free to keep my life.

I talk about commitment, and the need to count the cost,

But the words of a martyr show me I don’t really know His cross.


Chorus:

For he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Yes, he is no fool who lays his own life down. I must make this the path I choose.


Obedience and servanthood are traits I’ve rarely shown,

And the fellowship of His sufferings is a joy I’ve barely known.

There are riches in surrendering that can’t be gained for free,

God will share all Heaven’s wonders but the price He asks is me.


There is an old chorus that most of you know that sums up this text. It goes like this…
I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.
Will you decide now to follow Jesus? – No turning back, no turning back.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"The Most Important Question of All Time" - Mark 8:22-30 (11/08/09)

INTRODUCTION:
We all live with unanswered questions. We are all plagued with questions that come to us in the night and rob us of sleep. Questions like…
  • Why are there Braille signs on drive-up ATM keypads?
  • Once you’re in Heaven, do you get stuck for eternity wearing the clothes you were buried in?
  • Why is it that people say they “slept like a baby” when babies wake up screaming every two hours, all night long?
  • Why do people pay to go up to the top of tall buildings and then put money in those stupid binoculars to look at things down on the ground?
  • How come we get to choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?
  • Why do doctors always leave the room while you change clothes? They’re going to see you naked anyway.
  • Why is there an expiration date on sour cream?
  • Why do we say something is out of whack? What is a “whack” anyway?
  • And why is it you can be “overwhelmed” and “underwhelmed”, but not simply whelmed?
  • Why is the word “phonics” not spelled the way it sounds?
  • Speaking of that, if a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know?
TRANSITION:
Those are questions that make us go, “Hmmm” but they are not really all that important in the grand scheme of things. But let’s think for a minute about some of the really important questions of life that most of us have to answer:
  • “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
  • “Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse…?”
  • “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
  • “Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic…?”
  • “What do you believe in so strongly that you would be willing to die rather than back down?”
  • “Why did you become a Christian, anyway?”
This morning we are going to take a look at a question that Jesus posed to His disciples. I believe that it is the most important question in the world, the most important question of all time. In fact, the answer that we give to this question will determine where we go when we die. It is that important.

MAIN BODY:
Verse 22: They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
  • Bethsaida sits right on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, just a little to the east of Capernaum. It was just a sleepy little fishing village in Jesus’ time but many of the NT events happened there, or close by.
  • Once again Jesus’ reputation has brought people looking for Him to help them. This particular healing is recorded only in St. Mark’s Gospel.
  • “Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.” Once again in Mark’s Gospel we are seeing a group of people bring their friend to Jesus. We have no idea who these people were and we have no information about the man other than the statement that he was blind. We must assume they were all Jews and that they had heard of the miracle-working power of Jesus. They had enough faith to take their friend to Jesus and beg Him for help.
  • On top of these facts, I personally believe that this man had been able to see at one time. Perhaps he lost his sight in an accident or because of an illness. However, because of his responses to Jesus I believe that he had been able to see at some time in the past.
Verse 23: He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When He had spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
  • “He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.” Why did Jesus do this? We don’t know for sure but we can make a couple of educated guesses:
  1. Matthew 11:20-21 gives us one possible reason. That Scripture says, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! [and later also Capernaum] For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the Day of Judgment, than for you.’” I think that maybe Jesus was just following through on this curse and simply refused to do another miracle in Bethsaida.
  2. Moreover, Jesus knew that the resultant healing of the blind man was likely to cause a near-riot of excited people and He was trying to avoid unnecessary publicity. (This was only about 6 months before Jesus went to the cross.)
  3. Or perhaps He sensed that the blind man was timid and did not want to embarrass him. At any rate, we see the gentleness of Jesus as He took the man by the hand and led him out to a quiet place outside the village to perform the miracle.
  • I told you a couple of weeks ago that Jesus never performed any two miracles in exactly the same way. The four Gospels record five specific instances of Jesus healing blind people. They mention that He healed many others but these five are described in detail.
  1. Case of two blind men in Capernaum (Matthew 9:27-34) – Jesus touched their eyes and spoke these words, “Be it done to you according to your faith.”
  2. Case of the man who was demon-possessed, causing him to be both dumb and blind (Matthew 12:22) – Jesus did not touch him or speak to him. Jesus simply cast out the demon and the man was instantly able to see and speak again.
  3. Case of the man born blind (John 9:1-41) – Jesus spit in the dirt, made some clay, applied the clay to the man’s eyes, and ordered him to go wash himself in the Pool of Siloam. When the man obeyed he was instantly healed.
  4. Case of the blind men near Jericho (Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43) – Matthew records that Jesus touched their eyes and then spoke to them. Mark and Luke only record Jesus’ words: “Go your way and receive your sight. Your faith has made you well.”
  5. ***Now in the case of the blind man of Bethsaida in our text for today (Mark 8:22-26) Jesus healed the man in two stages. In STAGE 1 Jesus first put some saliva on the man’s eyes, then laid His hands on the man and asked if he could see yet. In STAGE 2, Jesus then put His hands on the man’s eyes, completing the healing.
  • So what’s the point? Answer = Jesus did not operate by formulas or magical incantations. He could heal blind people in a hundred different ways, one by one, or all at the same time. Had He chosen to He could have healed every blind person in the whole world at the same time. He had the power and authority to do it.
  • So then why did He heal this man in two stages? I’ve wondered about that for years. This is the only time He ever healed in stages. That has to be significant, but why? Over the past week I’ve pondered this a lot because I knew that you would be asking the same question. I’m still not sure I have the answer but I at least have a theory.
  • In order to understand this miracle we have to understand the broader context and tie this story to what had been going on just previously. Two Sundays ago we studied Mark 8:1-21, which describes the miracle of the feeding of the 4,000 and also the conversation Jesus had with His disciples afterward about their lack of understanding and insight into both of the miracles of the Feeding of the Multitudes (5,000 and later of the 4,000). Jesus accused them of having hardened hearts, spiritual blindness and deafness, and darkened understanding, not to mention their lack of faith. Though they had been active participants in both miracles they were still clueless about what had actually happened and what it meant. Now look at verse 21, the verse that immediately precedes our text for today about the two-stage healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. The text says, “And He was saying to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’” The form of the verb indicates that He said this more than once. He was emphasizing to them His amazement at their lack of spiritual understanding.
  • Now we come back to our text for today. I believe that Jesus healed the blind man in two stages for the benefit of His disciples, and for us, as a teaching illustration to say something about how their spiritual eyes were being opened little by little until they were finally corrected to 20/20. What other explanation can there be? It is certain that Jesus did not need two runs at the job to get it done right. He did not “fail” the first time and have to have a do-over. That is a ridiculous idea, though one subscribed to by some.
Verse 24: He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
  • As I have already said, this healing is unique. It is the only two-stage healing recorded among Jesus’ miracles. First, Jesus applied saliva to the man’s eyes. That was stage-1. It opened the man’s eyes partway and made it so that he could see vague, shadowy images. He could see light and he could see movement. He knew that what he was seeing was people moving about but he described them as looking like trees. Remember when I said that I thought this man had been able to see at some time in the past. How else would he know what a tree looked like?
Verse 25: Once more Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
  • After hearing the man’s answer Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes once again—stage 2. This time the man was completely cured, his blindness totally taken away. The cloudiness was gone, the clarity had come.
  • Though Mark does not record it, I believe that this miracle performed in the presence of the disciples resulted in a teaching session of Jesus saying to them, “This is how spiritual understanding comes about, gradually, little by little.” Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part.” That is our condition today—we “…see through a glass darkly” (KJV). There are still many things that we do not understand. But the day is coming when we will have perfect sight, 20/20 spiritual vision. When we come into His presence the Bible says “…but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” That will be the last stage, when our spiritual blindness is completely cured.
  • A footnote in the Nelson Study Bible makes this observation: “Jesus’ healing of the blind man in stages paralleled the disciples’ imperfect perception of Jesus. Like the man, they were no longer blind, but they could not see clearly either. Only the Holy Spirit could clear their vision.” I just love it when commentators agree with me! 
Verse 26: Jesus sent him home, saying “Don’t go into the village.”
  • Jesus was still trying to hold back the publicity storm that would eventually overtake Him. He was not in this for the benefit of the television reporters. He was not looking for a story on the evening news. He did not heal this blind man to receive the praise of men.
  • Apparently the man lived not in the village but somewhere close by in the countryside. Can you imagine the reception when he got home, able to see perfectly, overjoyed, crying and trying to tell the story to his loved ones through his sobs and laughter! I would love to have been there to witness that homecoming.
Verse 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?”
  • After parting company with the recently healed blind man of Bethsaida, Jesus and His disciples headed north for Caesarea Philippi. This was a Galilean town approximately 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee and is not to be confused with the much larger city of Caesarea which was located on the Mediterranean coast.
  • This same story is recorded in Matthew 16, where the apostle Matthew gives a fuller account of the events and the conversation between Jesus and the disciples. Mark’s version is like a Cliff Notes summary.
  • Remember, Jesus never asked questions to gain information. He already knew all the answers. He asked questions to prod the disciples into thinking about what was really going on around them.
  • His question brought the same answers we heard given to Herod back in Mark 6:14ff when he was trying to figure out who Jesus was. Herod heard all of these same suggestions and added one of his own: he thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist come back from the grave to haunt him and make his life miserable, and he was dead serious!
Verse 28: They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the [OT] prophets.”
  • Here the disciples were just reporting the scuttlebutt that was flying around in the towns and villages. People knew (or thought they knew) things about Jesus, but very few knew Him, and even less knew who He really was. For the most part it was pure conjecture. Notice too that all of these were high opinions, but all of them fell short of the truth.
Verse 29: “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
  • This whole conversation was a setup on Jesus’ part to finally get them to this point, to answer this key question! This is the most important question in the world, the most important one of all time. Moreover, it is the question whose answer will determine where every man, woman, and child will spend eternity.
  • Matthew gives Peter’s complete answer while Mark gives only the shortened version. Matthew 16:16 says, “And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Living God.’” YES! THAT’S THE RIGHT ANSWER! PETER FINALLY GOT IT! Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, the Anointed One, the Promised Messiah who came to be the Sacrifice for our sin, the Lamb of God, the Redeemer, Savior, Lord of All, and Righteous Judge of both the living and the dead. Jesus is all that, and more. He is the King, the Healer, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of peace.
Verse 30: Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.
  • This is hard to understand until you realize that these guys did not yet have the whole story. Starting in the next verse we see Jesus beginning to fill them in on the details, but He didn’t want them going off half-cocked, telling half the truth. We’ll take this up next Sunday.
CONCLUSION:
Today Jesus is here, and He is looking each one of us square in the face and asking us, “And who do YOU say that I am?” What is your answer to Him? But don’t be too quick to respond. Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment there will be many who stand before Him and will say, “But Lord, we did all kinds of wonderful things in your name. Of course we should go to Heaven.” But He will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” I must therefore conclude from His words that it is possible for a person to delude himself into thinking he is a genuine Christian when he isn’t, and that will have devastating consequences.

Paul exhorts us in II Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves! Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” That is an examination that no one can afford to fail, a test that each one must pass if he/she is to enter the gates of Heaven.

Have you made your peace with God? Have you invited Christ into your life to forgive you and to save you? Have you placed your faith and trust in Him alone to save you from your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness? If not, I urge you to do it now, here, today, while He is calling out to you.

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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