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:

Monday, April 2, 2012

“With an Eye on the Prize” - (04/01/12)

Palm Sunday 2012 
April 1, 2012
            Back in 2004 Mel Gibson’s box office hit, “The Passion of the Christ” took the country by storm.  People swarmed to the theaters to see a movie about the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life.  While many of us were gratified to see this interest in Jesus, most of us Christians also felt somewhat frustrated to observe that the average moviegoer was far more interested in His pain than in His person.  That’s because unbelievers typically see the crucifixion as the tragic culmination of His life, which they believe ended in failure, rather than recognizing that the cross was the purpose for which He came and the prize for which He lived.  It was not a failure, but rather, the capstone of everything He taught as well as the proof of His legitimacy as Messiah.

            The fact is that Jesus set out on the road to the cross long before most people imagine.  In fact, He put His feet to that road even before the world was formed, for the Bible says that our salvation was mapped out in the mind of God “even before the foundation of the world.”  Clear back in the Book of Genesis chapter 3 God promised a Savior who would crush the head of Satan and set men free from their slavery to sin and death.
            The solution was for the Son of God to come from Heaven to earth as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  John chapter 1 says that God, the eternal WORD, became flesh and dwelt among us in order to reveal God’s glory.  In Christian theology Jesus is God in the flesh, the God-Man, if you will.  The scoffers and skeptics of Christianity have choked on that for centuries, yet it remains the heart and soul of New Testament theology. 
If Jesus was merely a man, a teacher, a prophet, then He was no more a Savior than Gandhi, Buddha, or David Koresh.  Either He was all He claimed to be or He was a completely deluded fraud and deserves to be ignored.  There is no middle ground.  Jesus didn’t leave any middle ground where people can build a theological fence to sit on.
            The details of His death were carefully enumerated by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  The angel Gabriel told Mary to name Him Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins.”  His Hebrew name, Yeshua, means “Jehovah is Salvation.”  It is clear that from the very beginning Jesus knew that He was here for a divine purpose.  In Luke 2 we read about young Jesus in the Temple and His word to Mary and Joseph when they noticed that He was missing.  They went back to the Temple and found Him sitting in the midst of the Jewish teachers and He said to His parents, “Did you not know that I had to be about My Father’s business?”
            Yes, from the very beginning Jesus knew that every step He took carried Him one step nearer the cross, yet He did not shy away from His mission.  He came to be the Savior, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world.  Like a runner in a marathon race, He fixed His eyes on Mount Calvary, for that was His goal.  He lived with an eye always fixed on the prize of accomplishing the mission He came to complete.
The Gospel of Luke is where we are going to focus our attention today, as we examine a number of texts that clearly show that Jesus was constantly aware that He was on the long road toward Calvary.  That road finally led Him to Jerusalem on that day long ago when people lined the road waving their palm branches to declare Him to be the rightful King of the Jews.  He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt and the people chanted, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!  [It means, “Save now!”]  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!”  Their voices raised in jubilation, they welcomed Him as their Messiah.  A week later another huge crowd shouted His name saying, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  But even that turning tide of public opinion could not keep Him from accomplishing what He had come to do.
            Many people see the death of Jesus as merely a terrible travesty of justice and the tragic end to a good man.  They fail to understand that Jesus’ life was not taken from Him, but rather, that He laid it down willingly so that you and I might be saved.  Let’s look at some of these passages that support this premise that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing.  Come, take a stroll with me through the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus gave His disciples many clear explanations of what would happen to Him in Jerusalem.  However, for the most part these statements went right over their heads.  They could not wrap their minds around the idea that their beloved Master was going to die on a Roman cross, and much less that He would be raised from the dead on the third day, although He explained it to them several times.  Their own personal views of who He was and what they expected Him to do blinded them to the reason for which He left Heaven to come and walk among us.  It was not until after the Resurrection that the pieces began to drop into place for them and they finally saw the big picture.

Luke 9:18-23 
Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  20 “But what about you?”  He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”  21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.  22 And He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  23 Then He said to them all: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:28-31  
About eight days after Jesus said [these things], He took Peter, John, and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  29 As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about His departure [lit. exodus], which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
[cf. II Peter 1:13-15 Peter talks about his own “departure” death.]

Luke 9:43-45 
And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, He said to His disciples, 44Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”  45 But they did not understand what this meant.  It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it.

Luke 9:51-53  
51 As the time approached for Him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  52 And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; 53 but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem.

Luke 13:22  
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 

Luke 13:31-35  
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you.”  32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’  33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem!”  34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  35 Look, your house is left to you desolate.  I tell you, you will not see Me again until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” [Note: here He clearly makes a double-reference, first to the upcoming Palm Sunday events that were just days away, but also to a future day when He would return as the glorious King of Israel.]

Luke 17:11-19  
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 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  19 Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 18:28-34  
28 Peter said to Him, “We have left all we had to follow You!”  29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”  31 Jesus took The Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles.  They will mock Him, insult Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him.  33 On the third day He will rise again.”  34 The disciples did not understand any of this.  Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what He was talking about.

Luke 19:9-11  
9 Jesus said to [Zacchaeus], “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  11 While they were listening to this, He went on to tell them a parable, because He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

What happened next is familiar to most of us but for those who may not know the story of what we refer to as “Palm Sunday” let’s review it.  Christ’s so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospel accounts but let’s stay here in Luke.  I’m reading Luke 19:28-44. 
28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’”  32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”  34 They said, “The Lord has need of it.”  35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it.  36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road.  37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting:  “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; 
Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!”   39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”  40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”  41 When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!  But now they have been hidden from your eyes.  43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” 

            Today marks the beginning of what Christians have long called, “Passion Week.”  But let me tell you, the Passion of the Christ lasted much longer than a mere seven days.  In fact, the Bible says that since the foundation of the world God, the Architect of Salvation, has always been passionate about saving sinners.  The Bible tells us that’s because He “desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  The Word of God clearly says, “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  In fact, the most well-known verse in the Bible declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Jesus left Heaven’s glory and the Father’s Throne to come and be your Savior.  That long road led Him to the cross.  Today, if you want to receive the gift of eternal life you will have to meet Him there at the cross.  You must call on Him, believe in Him as your own Savior and Lord, confess your sins to Him, and by faith receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
            Jesus lived out His life always with an eye on the prize, always looking ahead to accomplish the will of the Father for which He had been sent.  His race was not easy!  It would have been much easier to simply quit and let us all go to hell, but He continued to the very end so that you and I could be with Him in Heaven for eternity.  The writer of Hebrews sums up His life beautifully in Hebrews 12:1-3 and uses Christ’s example to show how we should also live our lives.  I like how it reads in the New Living Translation: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” 
            One more thing in closing… Three times in the verses we read today we come across the phrase saying that what Jesus was doing was “hidden from the eyes” of people; in Luke 9:45 and 18:34 speaking about the Twelve, and in 19:42 with reference to the population of Israel and Jerusalem in particular.
How is it possible that Jesus’ plan to go to the cross to be the Savior of the world was hidden from the people closest to Him?  He certainly didn’t hide the facts from them.  He didn’t blind their eyes.  So what did?
            The greatest spiritual blinder is UNBELIEF.  It will blind you to the truth of God’s Word and to the plans and purposes of God, and it will keep you from seeing Christ for who He really is.  Is He hidden from you today?  He’s offering you salvation right now.  Can you see it?  Can you see Him?  I beg of you, don’t leave here today without crying out to Him for salvation.  He’s ready and able to save you if you’ll just trust Him.  Ask Christ into your life today, right now.  Let Him cure your blindness.  Paul tells us in II Cor. 3:15-16 that sin forms a veil over the heart of the unbeliever, but then he says, “But whenever a man turns to the LORD, the veil is taken away.”  Trust Him today.  Let Him rip off that veil that keeps you blind.  God’s Word says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!”  Put Him to the test today.

Monday, March 26, 2012

“The Power of the Word – Part II” - (03/25/12)

What God’s Word will do for the believer. 
March 25, 2012

            Last Sunday I shared with you about why the Bible is so powerful, why it is unlike any other book ever written, and why we should dedicate ourselves to know it.  We looked at seven characteristics of God’s Word.  We learned that the Word of God is
  • Infallible – means that it is flawless in total,
  • Inerrant – means it is without errors even in its smallest parts,
  • Complete – it needs nothing added or subtracted,
  • Authoritative – it is God’s voice speaking and is absolutely true,
  • Sufficient – means that it is adequate for every need,
  • Effective – means it always accomplishes the task it sets out to do, and
  • Determinative – it is the determiner of who is and who is not a believer.
Now I want to give you six major benefits of Bible study, or in other words, what God’s Word will provide in your life.  And I know that if you truly understand these they are going to become your motivation.  In fact, I hope that by the time we get done with this message you can hardly wait until this service is over so that you can get home and begin to study your Bible.  That’s my motivation today.

So the question is… What will the Word of God really do for you?  What is it able to accomplish in the life of the believer?  I’m glad you asked.

#1. God’s Word is the Believer’s Source of Truth.
The Bible is the ultimate source of truth.  Nothing else compares to it.  In Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17:17 He said, “Father, Thy Word is truth.”  What a great statement!  “Thy Word is truth!”  My friends, do you realize what it means to actually have the truth?  We’ve all heard people say, “Well, I don’t know what the truth is.  I don’t know what to believe.”  That reminds me of Pontius Pilate’s cynical question.  He looked at Jesus and said, “What is truth?”  How sad when we see that “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” was standing right there in front of him but Pilate was too blind to see it.
Many thousands of new pages of material are printed every minute across the globe.  Writers are cranking it out, information of all kinds, tons of it.  We’re not hurting for information, folks, we’ve got a lot of information and a lot more misinformation.  Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”   Books, books and more books!  The Bible tells us in II Timothy 3:7 that although people are constantly learning new things, the problem is that they are “…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Isn’t that terrible?  People out in the world read, and they study, and they think, and they reason, and they listen, and they talk, and they interact; but they never get to the truth, and they never settle on anything, and the frustration in them is overwhelming!  You see mankind has lost the truth along the way, as we’ve separated ourselves from God and from His Word.
But the fantastic fact is that every time you pick up this marvelous Book, you pick up THE TRUTH.  And that TRUTH is powerful!  In John 8:31-32 Jesus said that His Word is the key, “If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  
One excellent reason to study the Bible is that the truth is in there—the truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about you and me, the truth about men, women, children, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, the truth about friends, enemies, the truth about how you ought to be at work, how you ought to be at home, the truth about how you ought to eat and drink, how you ought to live, how you ought to think—THE TRUTH is all there!  What an incredible resource!

#2. God’s Word is the Believer’s Source of Joy and Happiness.
You should want to study the Bible not only because it is the source of truth but also because it is the source of our joy and happiness.  And yes, I know that joy and happiness are not the same thing, but I believe we get both from knowing God’s Word.  In Psalm 19:8 we hear David say: “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”  Isn’t that a great thought?  He’s talking about learning the principles of the Scripture.   When you begin to study the Bible and you learn these great truths you will get excited!  I study the Bible a lot because I’m constantly teaching and preaching the Word, but I also study it on my own because I love it, and I need it, and I have never lost the thrill of discovering the great truths that comes from the Word of God.   It’s an exhilarating and joyous experience.
There are many Scriptures that reinforce this truth.  Listen to the words of Jesus in Luke 11:28: “Blessed (or happy) are those who hear the Word of God and observe it (obey it).”  Do you want to be a happy person?  Then obey God’s Word.  It’s amazing to me how many people know what the Bible teaches yet they don’t obey it, and as a result they forfeit happiness.  Lots of Christians tell me that the Book of Revelation is just too hard to understand so they don’t bother to read it.  But they don’t know what they are missing.  Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed (happy) is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed (obey, put into practice) the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”  The word “blessed” means happy.  Do you want to be happy?  Then read Revelation!  Do you want to be happy?  Then read any part of God’s Word and begin to respond to it.
Last Sunday I quoted Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.”  And I love these words in I John 1:4, “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”  Isn’t that great?  Full joy!  There’s another wonderful statement made by our Lord Himself in John 15:11.  He says: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”  What a tremendous thought!  His words give us great, overflowing joy!  Yes, there’s joy in the Word of God, in the truth of God, if you will believe it and obey it.  If you don’t keep His Word, however, there’s no joy.  But if your heart is committed to obey His Word, He will fill your life with joy.
There is no excuse for us not knowing the truth and not having our lives literally filled with joy.  That joy is available to us right here in the Word of God.  As you study the Word, if you hear what it says, and you draw out its principles, and if you obey those principles because you love the Lord Jesus Christ, then God will pour out the blessings and the joy.
So, why should you study the Bible?  What can you expect that it will do for you?  Number one, the Bible is the source of divine truth and that truth will be the anchor for your life.  And #2, the Bible, the Word of God, is the Christian’s greatest source of joy.  No matter what happens in your life, when you study the Word of God there will be a joy in your heart that is untouched by any circumstance.

#3. God’s Word is the Believer’s Source of Victory.
 Just like everyone else, I like to win, and I hate to lose.  That rule applies to basically everything, including my spiritual life.  I don’t like to see Satan win a victory, I don’t like to see the world gain mastery over me, I don’t like to see my flesh override my spirit.  I want to win in the Christian life!  But here’s the secret of success. The Word of God is the believer’s source of victory and without it we are left spiritually defenseless.  In Psalm 119:9-11 David asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By keeping it (his way) according to Your Word.  10 With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your Commandments.  11 Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”  David understood that God’s Word is the believer’s source of victory over sin.  As the Word of God is taken into our life it becomes the resource from which the Holy Spirit draws to direct our life.  It is the primary tool that the Holy Spirit uses.
But here’s the sticking point…You have no way of preventing yourself from being led into sin by the enemy unless God’s Word is already resident in you so that the Holy Spirit can kick it into your conscious mind.  You see, as a Christian you’ll never function on what you don’t know.  You’ll never be able to operate on the principle you never learned.  You’ll never be able to apply the truth you haven’t yet discovered.  So as you feed the Word of God into your mind it becomes a handle by which the Spirit of God can direct and guide you.
            An example of how the Word of God will save your bacon in the hour of temptation is seen in the account of the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness recorded in Matthew 4.  Verse 1 says, “Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested (or tempted) by the devil.”  You know the story and we don’t have time to go through it today but you’ll remember that Satan hit Jesus three times with his best temptations.  So how did Jesus handle it?  In each case Jesus answered the devil with the Word of God.  All three times Jesus answered the temptation of Satan by quoting directly out of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Listen, as a Christian it is the capturing of biblical truth in your conscious mind that gives you the capacity to defeat Satan.  You can’t do it on your own.  Jesus triumphed over the enemy through the Word of God.  It was His source of victory.  He knew that you can’t just use logic, or reason.  You can’t out-argue the devil!  I find it amazing that Christians think they can go up against Satan with no weapons and no ammunition.  It can’t be done.
            One more thing, you can’t just throw John 3:16 at the devil.  You need to know the right Scripture for the right situation the way a warrior uses the appropriate weapon in a given situation.  Hebrews 4:12 describes the Bible as “…living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”  But swords and knives come in all sizes.  In Ephesians 6:17, in Paul’s discussion of the armor of the Christian, we find that it wraps up with this great piece of armor in verse 17, “Take the helmet of salvation and Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”   
            Now when most of us think about a sword, we think of some 5-foot thing like a Samurai sword.  The Greek word for that kind of huge cutlass is “rhomphaia.”  However, the Greek word for sword that Paul uses here in Ephesians 6:17 is “máchaira.”  A “máchaira” was a short, small dagger.  The Sword of the Spirit is not a great huge broadsword that you just flail around hoping you’ll whack off the head of a demon sooner or later.  The Sword of the Spirit is a “máchaira”; a short close-combat fighting knife, a dagger.  It is short, it is incisive, it must hit a vulnerable spot or it doesn’t do any damage.  The Sword of the Spirit that Paul is talking about us using is not something general, but specific.
            Listen, you could own a whole Bible warehouse and still not have the Sword of the Spirit.  Having the Sword of the Spirit is not owning a Bible, but knowing the specific principle in the Bible that applies to the specific situation you are facing.   The only way you’ll know victory in the Christian life is to know the principle of the Word of God to make that application to the specific point where Satan attacks, where the flesh attacks, or where the world attacks.  As you fill your heart and mind with the Word of God, it becomes your source of victory.  Just know that you can’t even begin to approach the Christian life without becoming a student of the Bible.  God’s Word is the source of truth, it’s the source of joy, and it’s the source of victory.  But that’s not all…

#4. God’s Word is the Believer’s Source of Spiritual Growth.
       I believe everybody wants to grow, and it’s a sad thing to see somebody who didn’t grow; but do you know something that’s even sadder?  To see Christians that don’t grow, who are stunted.  And the reason they don’t grow is because they don’t get into the Word of God.  They may go to church and sit there.  They take a thimble to church, and it gets filled up, but it’s not enough to satisfy and it’s not enough to bring about growth.  I Peter 2:2 says this, “As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow by it.” Even babies have the good sense to eat when food is available, but unfortunately many Christian babies don’t know that the Word of God is the source of their growth so they remain stunted.   
            The more a Christian gets into the Word the more he/she will grow.  And conversely, the more he/she grows the more they will crave the Word of God.  The more you grow the more exciting the Christian life becomes.  The Word is the source of life.  As you mature, you grow stronger, and as you grow stronger you’re able to defeat Satan, and you know more about God and His character, and your life is enriched in every possible way.  In John 6:63 Jesus said this, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and, they are life.”  The Word is a life-giver, the Word is a life-sustainer, and the Word is a life-builder.  It is tremendous nourishment.  I Timothy 4:6 adds to our understanding of this where Paul says, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”  The Word nourishes us, it feeds us, it builds us, and it causes us to grow.  So when you study the Word it becomes your source of growth, just like it is the source of truth, the source of joy, and the source of victory.

#5. God’s Word is the Believer’s Source of Power and Stamina.
It is the Word of God that infuses us with power and we all know there’s nothing worse than feeling like an impotent Christian.  Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses.”  But sometimes we don’t feel very powerful.  In fact, sometimes we feel like a dud rather than dynamite!
            The truth is most of us struggle with our spiritual impotence.  That’s because many of us don’t really understand the source of our spiritual power.  Listen, it is the Word of God ignited by the Spirit of God that infuses you with power.  Let me say that again: It is the Word of God, ignited by the Spirit of God, that infuses a Christian with power.  From my own life I can tell you that the more I know about the Word of God, the less I fear about any situation, because I know what the resource is for that situation.  The Word of God becomes my source of power.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  This is a powerful book.  Let me tell you, if you pick this up and read it, it will cut you up.  It’s powerful stuff!  It’s a powerful book!  That’s why the apostle Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.’’   
As you focus on the Word of God it has a power in your life that’s incredible.  As you meditate on it, it empowers you.  As you feed on the Word of God, as you pump the Word of God into your life and mind and heart, it is going to come right back out when your buttons get pushed.  It’s the believer’s source of energy, source of power, and source of spiritual stamina.  As you feed daily on the Word of God and depend on the Holy Spirit of God, it will have a powerful effect, and it will enable you to truly be Christ’s “witness”, anytime, anywhere, with anyone.   
            So we need to study the Word of God because it is the source of truth, the source of happiness, the source of victory, the source of growth, the source of power, and here’s one more.

#6. God’s Word is the Believer’s Source of Divine Guidance.
            Whenever I want to know what God wants me to do, I go to the Word.  People say, “Oh, I’m searching for the will of God.”  But where is God’s will to be found?  Friends, God’s will is easy to find; it’s right in His Book.  If you study the Bible, you’ll often come across the phrase, “this is the will of God.”   What does Psalm 119:105 say?  “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  Pretty simple, right?  The Word of God is a guide for us.  As I open the Word of God, it guides me.  It’s amazing how God speaks to me through His Word.  If I have a decision to make I find the place in the Bible maybe where somebody in the Old Testament or New Testament grappled with a similar decision and I try to see how God led there, or I go to a text in the Bible that gives me a direct answer.  God guides us out of His Book.
However, there’s a subjective element to this too.  As a Christian we have the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  I John 2:20 says, “The Spirit dwells within us,” and a few verses later in verse 27 we read, “…and we have an anointing from God.”  That means we don’t need to rely on our human wisdom because the Holy Spirit will teach us.  And that happens when you study the Bible; the Holy Spirit in you takes the Word of God and makes a personal application that will give you guidance.  It’s an incredible combination to have the Truth and the resident Truth-Teacher.  And in combination they guide the believer.  What have we said then?  The benefits of studying the Bible is that for us it is the source of truth, happiness, victory, growth, power, and guidance.

Other miscellaneous benefits from knowing God’s Word:
·         It will reveal what God is really like.
·         It will keep you spiritually clean.
·         It will give you courage.
·         It will illuminate your path in this life.
·         It will make you wise.
·         It will give you a panoramic view of time and eternity.
·         It will help you understand human nature.
·         It will make you a better spouse and parent.
·         It will point you to Heaven and warn you from the path to hell.

So after hearing all this, what should be your response?  “Well,” you say, “I guess I ought to begin to take action.  Mike, if what you say is really true, if the Bible is going to do all these things, then I need to get on board and start practicing what I’ve been preaching.”  And of course, you are absolutely right, but where should you begin?  Let me suggest 7 practical action-steps.
Action-Step #1: Study God’s Word like a dedicated workman.  Paul wrote to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of Truth.”  The KJV translates that last phrase as “…rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  In either case the term Paul chooses to use literally means “cutting it straight.”  Paul is saying that we need to study diligently so that we can accurately interpret God’s Word.  Paul was using the language of a tentmaker.  A tentmaker made his product using lots of different animal skins.  He would take those hides and carefully cut out pieces that he could sew back together.  If his cutting were off, nothing would fit together and the tent would be useless.  So what Paul is saying here is that you cannot have an accurate theology of Christianity unless you have accurately interpreted the individual verses, texts, and contexts.  And I can tell you from experience, cutting it straight takes study.  One of my heroes of the NT is Apollos.  Do you know why he was so loved and respected?  He is described in Acts 18:24.  “Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.”  Did you get that?  “…He was mighty in the Scriptures.”  That means he knew how to rightly divide, to accurately handle the Word of Truth.  I want to be like Apollos, but it takes dedication and study.
Action-Step #2: Believe God’s Word with all your heart.  By that I mean, if God’s Word says it then believe it, deep down.  Jesus said to Peter one time, “Will you also go away?” and Peter said, “Lord, where can I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.”  In other words, “Lord, You are the source of everything I need, and I’m sticking here with You.”  If God’s Word is true then hang in there.  Study it, and believe it.
Action-Step #3: Honor God’s Word by giving it priority in your life.  If this is the Word of God, then honor it.  Job makes a magnificent statement in Job 23:12, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”  Listen, if this is the Word of God and it will do everything we just said it will do, then believe it and honor it.  In fact, in Psalm 138:2, the psalmist said to God, ‘‘For You have magnified Your Word according to all Your name.”  Isn’t that incredible?  God honors His own Word and so should we.
In the city of Ephesus they worshiped the Roman goddess Diana, also called Artemis by the Greeks.  Modern images of Diana show her as beautiful, slim young woman but the old idols depicting her show her as an ugly beast of a woman with her chest covered with about 20 breasts.  So why did the Ephesians worship her image?  Because their temple priests taught them that she had fallen out of heaven, and if her image fell out of heaven it was worthy of honor.  Let me tell you something about the Bible.  It came from Heaven, directly from God!  That statue didn’t, but God’s Word really did, and it’s worthy of honor.  So study it, believe it, and honor it.
Action-Step #4: Love God’s Word as a precious love letter from God.  If all the things in this Book are true, you’d better love it.  The psalmist cried out in Psalm 119 and said, “Oh, how I love Thy law.”   And I love the 19th Psalm where David said to God in verse 10, “[Your words] are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”  My friend, if it’s this sweet, then study it, believe it, honor it, and love it.
Action-Step #5: Obey God’s Word by submitting yourself to it.  If it’s really true, obey it, respond to it, say ‘yes’ to it when it speaks and continue in it.  Follow the admonition of I John 2:5, “But whoever keeps His Word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  By this we know that we are in Him.”  If it’s really what it claims study it and believe it and honor it and love it and obey it at any price.  If you yield yourselves as servants to God you should obey God.  This is part of the bargain, so obey His Word.
Action-Step #6: Fight for God’s Word by defending it from attackers.  If it’s really true fight for it.  In fact, in Jude 3 it says, “Earnestly contend for the faith,” and the faith there means the body of revealed truth.  The word “contend” is the Greek word “agonidzo” from which we get the word agonize.  Agonize for it, engage yourself in a battle to defend the Word of God.  If it’s really true, if it can do the things we said, study it, believe it, honor it, love it, obey it, and fight for it.
Action-Step #7: Proclaim God’s Word by sharing its sweetness with others.  In II Timothy 4:2 Paul simply said this, “Timothy, preach the Word.”  If it’s really true, preach it.  Pass the candy around.  Don’t be selfish with the Good News.

Monday, March 19, 2012

“The Power of the Word – Part I” - (03/18/12)

What God’s Word will do in the life of the believer. 
March 18, 2012

            Today we are celebrating God’s Word, the Bible.  Our friend from the Gideons has shared with us the ministry of Gideons International that seeks to put a Bible in the hands of every person on the planet who wants one.  We’ve also spoken briefly about the work of Bible translation through groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators who have as their goal, to provide God’s Word in all of the languages and dialects of every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth.
            But why are these groups so “gung ho” about getting Bibles to everyone?  What’s the big deal about having a Bible?

            That’s a fair question, and this morning I want to try and provide a good answer.  Of course, we who are believers already have an opinion on this subject.  I’m not looking at this subject from a purely objective standpoint because the Bible has already made a profound impact on my life.  I love the Bible and I believe that it is God’s Book, His revelation of Himself and of His plans for time and eternity.  His Word has been my comfort and my guide.  The Bible has been my friend and companion.  I am incapable of being objective today because I am a fanatical Bible-lover, Bible-believer, and Bible-thumper.  And I will never apologize for it.  Let me tell you why.
The words of Jeremiah 15:16 come to my mind, “Your words were found and I ate them [absorbed them, digested them], and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.”  That is the testimony of countless millions who, like me, have learned to love the Word of God.  It is the same thing David was feeling when he wrote Psalm 19:7-10, The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. 
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”
In September of 1832 Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet lay dying.  Sir Walter, a great Christian, said to his secretary, “Please bring me the book.”  His secretary stood there looking at the thousands of books in Scott’s library and she came back in and said, “Dr. Scott, which book?”  He said, The book, the Bible, the only book for a dying man.”  And I would have to add that the Bible is not just the only book for a dying man, but it is also the only book for a living man, because it is the Word of Life as well as our Hope in Death.
This is going to be a 2-part message.  Next week my goal will be to explain some things that God’s Word will do for you if you will study it faithfully.  That’s the pragmatic part.  That’s next Sunday.  But before we get into that subject I need to lay some groundwork.  Today, to prepare us for that, I want us to take the next few moments to explore why the Bible is so powerful, why it is unlike any other book ever written, and why we should study it.

First of all, I need to state from the very beginning that I’m approaching this subject from the standpoint that the Bible, the Scriptures including the 39 Books of the Old Testament and the 27 Books of the New Testament, are the Word of God.  It is not man’s opinion, it is not human philosophy, it is not just somebody’s ideas, it is not a polling of the best thoughts of the best men, but it is the Living and Abiding Word of God.  That’s our jumping off place for this study.  And as such, there are several things we need to realize about the Bible and about why we should study it.
There are seven characteristics of the Scriptures that I want to share with you this morning.

#1. God’s Word is Infallible
That just means the Bible has no mistakes in it.  In it’s original autographs it is without error.  In Psalm 19:7, which I read to you a moment ago, the Bible says of itself, “The law of the Lord is perfect.”  That means it is flawless; in fact, it has to be flawless because it was authored by God who is flawless.  If God wrote the Bible, and if God is the ultimate authority, and if God is flawless in His character, then it follows logically that the Bible is flawless and the Bible is the ultimate authority.  You see, the fact that God is perfect demands that the original autograph, the original giving of the Word of God, must, in and of itself, also be perfect.  So we begin by saying that the Bible is infallible, which is the first reason to study it, because it is the only book that never makes a mistake.  Everything it says is the truth.

#2. God’s Word is Inerrant
Not only is the Bible infallible in its totality, but it is also without error in its parts, down to the smallest details.  The word we use to describe this quality is “inerrant.”  In Proverbs 30:5-6 we read, Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. 
6 Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.  Psalm 12:6 puts it this way: The words of the LORD are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.”   Every word that God utters is tested and found to be pure and true.  Not only is the Bible in total the infallible Word of God, but also even in the smallest details, every word is true.

#3. God’s Word is Complete
The Bible is not only infallible and inerrant but it is complete.  There needs to be nothing added to it.  There are people today who believe we need to add to the Bible but they are what I like to call “wrong.”  They say that the Bible is just an old, outdated record of peoples’ spiritual experiences from centuries ago.  They say that we need to update it to reflect modern man’s more enlightened spiritual understanding of things.  In fact, many of them say that the Bible is still being written.  They say that when someone stands up in church and says, “The Lord spoke to me and said such-‘n-such…” they are equally inspired with Isaiah and Jeremiah or any of the other prophets.  In other words, they claim that the Bible is not complete.  However, at the end of the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we read these words in 22:18-19, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”  I believe it’s significant that the Bible ends with a warning not to take away anything and not to add anything.  That’s a testimony of its completeness.  It is infallible in its total, it is inerrant in its parts, and it is complete.  But there’s more.

#4. God’s Word is Authoritative
If it is perfect and complete then it is the last word.  It is the final authority.  One of the greatest musical compositions ever written was Handel’s “Messiah,” and one of the loveliest oratorios of that magnificent opus was based on Isaiah 40:1-5, which says, Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.  2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.”  3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. 
4 Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; 
5 then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  “For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  When God speaks, everybody listens because His is the final authority.  This same passage in Isaiah 40 drives this point home in verses 7-8: The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.”  The Word of God will be around long after everything else is gone.  Moreover, the Bible demands obedience.  It is not a book for discussion, and by that I don’t mean that we shouldn’t discuss its implications, applications, and meanings, I mean that we shouldn’t discuss whether or not it is true.  It is authoritative, and it affirms for itself that it is true and calls upon us just to believe it.
In John chapter 8 you have the little incident where Jesus is confronted by some of the Jewish leaders, and as Jesus faces these leaders there’s a little dialogue going on, and there of course are other people there and it says in the text, As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.  No doubt some of them were leaders, but Jesus said to them in verse 31, If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  In other­ words, He demanded a positive response to His truth; He demanded a response to His Word.  That’s because it is authoritative.  In Galatians 3:10, Paul quoting the prophet Habakkuk said: “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them [to do them].”  Amazing!  Cursed is anyone who does not continue in everything that is written in this book.  That’s a tremendous claim to absolute authority.  And one more passage… In James 2:9-10 we read this: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”  In other words, to violate the Bible at even one point is to break God’s law.  It is authoritative in every part.  So we have seen that God’s Word is infallible, inerrant, complete, and authoritative but we ought to add yet another word, and this is truly a great word.

#5. God’s Word is Sufficient
For whatever it is in the heart of a man that is necessary the Bible is sufficient.  In II Timothy 3:15 there is a great message from Paul to Timothy: “…and that from childhood you have known the Sacred Writings [i.e. Scriptures] which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  First of all then, God’s Word is sufficient for salvation.  The Bible is able to make you wise unto salvation.  Ask yourself this question: “What is more important than salvation?”  Nothing!  The greatest wisdom in the universe and the Bible is that which leads to salvation.  But there’s more, verse 16 goes on to say: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable” now watch this... “for doctrine,” that’s teaching, principles of wisdom, divine standards, divine truths; “for reproof,” that means you’re able to go to somebody and say, “Hey brother, you’re out of line, you can’t behave like that.  There’s a standard and you’re not making it with that standard.”  That’s reproof.  But God’s Word is also profitable “for correction.”  That says to that person you’ve just reproved, “Don’t do that, do this; this is the right path over here.”  So through the Word you teach, you reprove, and you show a corrected way.  And further, God’s Word is profitable, “for training in righteousness.”  Now you point out the new way and, show them how to walk in it, step by step toward Christian maturity.
I’m telling you, the Bible is a fantastic book!  It can take somebody who doesn’t know God, who isn’t saved, and save them.  And then it can teach them, and then it can reprove them when they do wrong.  But it doesn’t stop there.  It will point them to the right thing to do, and then show them how to walk in that right path.  And then the result is in verse 17: “That the man of God may be adequate [complete, talking about character], equipped [talking about life-skills] for every good work.” The incredible reality of the Bible is that it is sufficient to do the whole job!  It is one product that does everything.  The Bible is infallible, inerrant, complete, authoritative and sufficient.  But that’s not all.  Let me give you two more qualities that it has.
#6. God’s Word is Effective
Listen to the words of Isaiah 55:11, “So will My Word be…” says the LORD, meaning, this is the way My Word is going to work. “So will My word be… which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”  Isn’t that great?  God’s Word is effective.  I can tell you that one of the incredible things about being a preacher of the Word of God is that I know with certainty that it will always do what it says it will do.
Years ago I tried my hand at door-to-door sales work but I wasn’t very good at it.  I found that it is hard to sell a product in which you do not have total confidence.  But that’s never a problem with the Bible, because it is always effective, it always does exactly what it says it will do.  That’s a tremendous reality about the Scriptures!  In I Thessalonians 1:5 Paul comments on the effectiveness of God’s Word in the lives of the Thessalonian believers: “For our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”  He’s reminding them that when they first heard God’s Word they knew immediately that it wasn’t just words.  That’s because when the Word goes forth it has power; it has the Holy Spirit and, you can have the assurance it will do what it says!
So what have we said up to this point?  That the Word of God is infallible in total, inerrant in its parts, complete so that nothing is to be deleted from it or added to it, authoritative so that whatever it says is absolutely true and commands our obedience, sufficient so that it is able to do to us and for us everything we need, and effective meaning it will do exactly what it says it will do.  But I have one more to add.

#7. God’s Word is Determinative
This last one is a little bit harder to explain.  What I mean by “determinative” is that how you respond to the Word of God is the determiner not only of your life here and now, but also of your eternity.  In John 8:47 we hear Jesus say, He who is of God hears the words of God.”  Did you get that? “He who is of God hears the words of God.”  Notice that it’s in the plural there.  Then Jesus goes on to say, “For this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”  In other words, God’s Word is a determiner of whether an individual is of God, or not of God, based on whether they truly give heed to the Word of God.
In I Corinthians 2:9-14 Paul explains that there are two kinds of people: Christians, who can understand and receive the things of God, and, “Natural People,” meaning unbelievers, who cannot understand and receive the things of God.  What makes the difference?  Those who know Christ have the Spirit of God living in them and it is the Holy Spirit that opens our mind to God’s Word.
You’ve probably spoken with people who readily admit that they don’t understand the Bible so they never even attempt to read it.  That’s because an unbeliever finds the Bible to be a closed book, impossible to really understand.  That’s because they lack the one thing necessary to unlock it—the life of God in their soul evidenced by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  So, the Word of God is just a book of poetry, pretty sayings, and interesting yet irrelevant old stories.  To us who know God, on the other hand, it is Living, and Powerful, and Life-giving, and Glorious.  That’s because it is infallible, inerrant, complete, authoritative, sufficient, effective and determinative.

            So what can I say in conclusion?  God’s Word, the Bible is a marvelous gift from God himself.  In the words of Hebrews 4:12 it is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  It contains the words of eternal life, and if you read it, and study it, and believe it, it will make you “wise unto salvation.”  

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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