Monday, December 31, 2012

God's Way to Find Our Way in 2013

God’s Way to Finding Our Way in 2013
Proverbs 3:5,6
Introduction: Do you remember the story of the pig and the hen that approached a church and read the sermon title on the sign: “What can you do for the poor?”  Immediately the hen suggested that they feed them a bacon and eggs breakfast.  The pig thought for a moment and said: “There is only one thing wrong with that idea: For you it only requires a contribution, for me it means total commitment!” 
     How committed are we to the Lord?  The end of one year, the beginning of a New Year. How many surprises we had in 2012!  Victories, struggles, successes, defeats. Joy, heartbreak.  What will 2013 bring us? Only God knows. The good news is: God knows. And He is good. And we can trust Him. He will prepare the way for us, if we’ll trust Him.  Proverbs 3:5,6 talks about this truth. It is one of the first verses of the Bible that I memorized as a new Christian, and even after 34 years as a believer I am still learning to live out in my daily life the truths that it presents. The words easy, but it can be very difficult when we are faced with choices in our daily lives.
Big Idea: Rather than relying on ourselves we need to recognize God’s presence and trust Him implicitly.  He promises to lead us on the right path.

I. Because of Who He is, we can trust God: “Trust in the Lord” Our faith is only useful to the extent that the object of our faith is trustworthy.
           One of the cries of the protestant reformation came from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, via the apostle Paul: “The just shall live by faith!” At its root “faith” is talking about believing God, taking Him at his Word. There is a proviso built into that idea: if we are going to believe God, we need to know what He has told us. That is, we need to read the Bible.
Last year we promoted a “through the Bible in a year” reading program. This year, will you make a commitment to be in the Word daily?  Tomorrow night some of us will join together here, reading through the Book of Revelation. We read in Revelation 1:3 “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Scripture restates that promise in various ways with respect to the entire Bible: it is God’s Word to us, it is the Word of Life.
           Our trust, our faith, is only as good as the object of our faith. You might think someone is trustworthy but that doesn’t make it so. I got a rifle as a Christmas present and took it out to the range to try it out – you might trust me to shoot an apple off your head at 100 yards, but it would be a terrible mistake! It would not go well for you!
           Here we are told to trust in the LORD, the God of the Covenant. Notice the word “LORD” is written in all capital letters in most English translations. We are to trust in Yahweh, The God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, who led the Jews through the wilderness in the Pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. The God who spoke in times past to the Fathers through the prophets, and in these last days has spoken in His Son. He is trustworthy. Do you trust Father’s voice?  I recall the story of a building fire in Harlem, NYC. It was a desperate situation: a blind girl was perched on a fourth floor window. The firemen couldn’t get the ladder truck between the buildings to reach her, and they were trying to coax her to jump into a net, which she of course couldn’t see.  Finally the girl’s father arrived at the scene and took the bullhorn and spoke to her, saying that there was a net below, and that she had to jump. Immediately, she jumped, totally relaxed, because she heard her father’s voice and trusted him. Even when we don’t see the net, we can trust our Father. He is good. He loves us. He is trustworthy.
*** Rather than relying on ourselves we need to recognize the presence of God and trust Him implicitly.  He promises to lead us on the right path.

II. If God is who He claims to be, He deserves our whole-hearted trust: “…with all of your heart…” In the Old Testament we are told to love God with all our heart, to seek Him with all our heart, to serve Him with all our heart – only here do we find the call to trust Him with all our heart. The closest thing I could find in the Bible is when the Ethiopian Eunuch asked Philip if he could be baptized. He answered "If you believe with all your heart, you may." Obviously there he is talking about trusting God for salvation, the kind of faith that saves.
  This passage must include the idea of trusting God for our salvation, but I think it goes further – we entrust our lives to Him – whole heartedly – no reservation – nothing held back. That’s radical faith. That’s the faith that changes lives. That’s the faith that lets us live our life in dependence on Him. Even when we don’t understand, we can trust Him. With all our heart. No matter what, He is trustworthy.
  Remember the story of the man who was walking along a narrow path, and lost concentration for a second and slipped over the edge of a cliff. As he fell he grabbed a branch growing from the side of the cliff. He realized he couldn’t hold on for long and called out for help, 
“Is anybody up there?” 
A voice replied, “Yes, I am here.” 
“Who’s that?” the man asked. 
“The Lord” came the answer. 
“Lord help me!” he cried. 
“Do you trust me?” the voice asked. 
“I trust you completely!” he frantically replied. 
“Good,” said the Lord, “Let go of the branch.” 
The man asked, “WHAT???” 
The Lord replied, “I said, Let go of the branch.” 
After a long pause the man spoke, “Is anybody else up there?”
***Rather than relying on ourselves we need to recognize God’s presence and trust Him implicitly.  He promises to lead us on the right path.

 III. The opposite of faith is self-reliance:Lean not on your own understanding…”
          First, what this is not saying. This is not saying that believers are supposed to muddle through life without thinking. We don’t put our minds on hold when we trust Christ! Paul reasoned with the philosphers on Mars Hill and the Jewish rabbis in the synagogues. If anything our minds should be on a new level – we know the One who is the truth. All truth belongs to Him. Nor is this saying that we don’t try to use discernment in making decisions. Faith is not blind, mindless faith.
           We are not to “lean on” our own understanding. Because our minds are affected by sin, and our motives and our thinking are askew we can’t trust our reason – certainly we can’t put our reason before the black and white truths of Scripture. Nor can we pick the parts of God’s Word that we want to accept while ignoring the rest.  The church father Augustine said: “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you don’t like; its not the Gospel that you believe, but yourself.” Peter himself said that Paul wrote about many things that were hard to understand.  Faith means we take God at His Word, whether we understand or not.
      Of course the truth is that we usually do understand, we would just rather not listen. Mark Twain expressed unusual honesty for an unbeliever when he said: “Many people are bothered by the things they can’t understand in the Bible. As for me, the things that have always bothered me the most are those that I do understand!”
*** Rather than relying on ourselves we need to recognize His presence and trust Him implicitly.  He promises to lead us on the right path.

IV. Trusting God means acknowledging His sovereignty and recognizing His presence in every moment of our lives: “In all your ways acknowledge Him…”
           God in interested in every aspect of our lives. One of the saddest tendencies in the church today is to put God in a little corner of our life, and then to live the way we want to. We are to trust Him “in all our ways.”
I read recently in a devotional: 
“If you have been basically doing things on your own while occasionally expressing a semi-sense of dependence on [God] for your life and work and family, then you may not be prepared for suffering. But if you build a habit of daily acknowledging Him as your source and sustainer, you will feel welcome rushing to His side in an emergency. 
We should acknowledge his presence, His goodness, His promises about walking with us every moment.
 The word “acknowledge” is the Hebrew word yadah usually translated “to know.” We need to know the truth, recognize it, receive it: God is present, and He cares about every detail of our lives, every minute of our existence. Read Psalm 139:1-10:
 You have searched me and known me.  2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.  3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  4 For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.  5 You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me…  7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?  8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,  10 even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me…
Well that is a Biblical view of life: where ever we go, whatever we do, God knows, and He is there with us. We need to know and be assured that somehow, He will work every detail of our lives together for our good, and for His glory.
***Rather than relying on ourselves we need to recognize His presence and trust God implicitly.  He promises to lead us on the right path.

  V. God promises that He will lead us if we will trust Him: “…and He will direct your paths.”
          Literally, “He will make our paths straight…” He’ll level out the ground before us. He’ll make a way. I recall an instance when we just bought our current vehicle and were on a trip in upstate New York, near Cooperstown. A sudden snow storm came out of nowhere. We came behind a snow plow, it cleared a path before us, laid down some salt and sand as it went. God goes before those who trust Him, preparing the way. He doesn’t promise that it will be easy, but He promises to be with us, and to prepare the path that He would have us walk.
What is God saying to me in this passage? *** Rather than relying on ourselves we need to recognize God’s presence and trust Him implicitly.  He promises to lead us on the right path.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  I have become overly reliant on my GPS.  I’ll use the thing even navigating around town! Will you rely on a real GPS in 2013 (God’s positioning system!) – taking God at His Word? Follow Him! Trust in the Lord (He is trustworthy) with all your heart (no reservations) and lean not on your own understanding (He knows best!) in all your ways acknowledge Him (know that He is there, working, guiding, teaching) and He will direct your paths.  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Worship the King!

Have you come to worship the King?
Matthew 2:1-12
Introduction: The story of the Magi is one of the best known and most loved stories surrounding the incarnation. We’ve all seen the phrase, “Wise Men still seek Him!”  Every nativity scene includes them. But we’ll see that some of the ideas associated with their visit are more traditional than Biblical.  Although these men are actually call “Magi” in the Bible, it is reasonable to call them “wise men” since Proverbs says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” True wisdom is associated with knowing and reverencing the God who is. 
     In today’s passage Matthew shows that even if the Jews would not recognize Jesus as their King, God had a remnant from the nations who would come to Him and worship Him.   The fact is, Jesus is Lord. The question for us is how will we respond to his sovereign rule in our lives?
The Big Idea today is in the form of a question: “Is knowing and worshipping Jesus at the heart of your life?”
I. People respond in different ways to the rule of God (2:1-3).
First we see the Wise Men who came seeking the King that they might worship Him (vv.1-2). “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." 
   Notice first of all the setting: It was after Jesus was born…  Some people conclude from this that this calls in question our traditional “manger scenes” with wise men showing up alongside the shepherds on the night of His birth.  It was “after” his birth, but we don’t know how long after. The word that is translated “young child,” [paidion] can mean anything from an infant to a toddler.  We know that after inquiring as to when the Star announcing his coming appeared, Herod ordered all the male children two and under to be slaughtered.  Apparently the Magi told Herod that the star had appeared two years earlier. Of course God could have arranged the appearance of the star before the birth, so that the Magi would arrive while Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were still in Bethlehem.  We don’t know for certain!
      Secondly, what do we know about these gentile wise men who came seeking Jesus?  They weren’t kings! (My apologies if “We Three Kings” is your favorite Christmas Carol!).  They are called “magi”, which was used to describe a priestly cast of wise men who served as advisors to kings. According to some sources they had an interest in astrology and spent time studying the stars. 
        And guess what, we have no idea how many of them there were! Only because there were three kinds of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincence, and myrrh, the assumption was made by some that there must have been three. The text doesn’t say – there were certainly more than one, but safety came in traveling in numbers, so more likely there was a small caravan.
       They apparently didn’t arrive at the Manger – they came to the house where they were. This could have been days after his birth, or weeks, or even months.
      Most importantly, their intentions are clear: they are seeking the new born king of the Jews, and had come to worship Him.   Their intention was to worship Him. Only God should be worshipped. How they knew so much we are not told. Could it be that some Hebrew prophets in the east during the captivity like Daniel taught pagan wise men about the promise of a coming deliverer and that hope was handed down?  It may well be.
       It is interesting to consider how God providentially works to carry out His purpose. Last week we saw how He worked through a pagan emperor, Cesar Augustus, and a new tax, to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.  He could have just told them to go, but He arranged circumstance to get them there.  He could have sent an angel to tell these Magi to seek out the newborn King of the Jews, but instead He arranged a star, and used that to get them to where He wanted them to be. He is the Lord of all Creation! We can trust the fact that God is sovereign, and that as we are obedient to His Word and seeking His will, He will make our paths straight!
        By the way, we should notice that these were gentile wise men. In this very Jewish gospel, we see an emphasis on the fact that Jesus came to be the Savior of the entire world, He would save a remnant from every nation. From the first chapter where Rahab and Ruth are mentioned in the genealogy of Joseph, to the last words where the disciples are told to “go and made disciples of every nation” its clear that the whole world is God’s world – and the whole world needs to know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to the Father.  We take seriously missions in our church – world missions as we partner with workers that God has called to other parts of the world, and Home missions as we seek to support ministries locally and to ourselves be the lighthouse He wants us to be right here.
  Wise men seek Him, while the fool resists and rejects Him (v.3). When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The term means “to shake up, to throw into turmoil.” Herod almost certainly wasn’t looking for the Messiah. He was however power hungry and paranoid. At one point he had some of his own sons executed because he imagined that they conspired to steal his throne. Herod was “troubled,” he was filled with that uneasy dreadful feeling that something was terribly wrong. What if it were true?  It was like the reaction of King Saul to David when he saw his popularity: he tried to kill him!
     I suspect that most unbelievers, who try so hard to suppress the revelation of God and to ignore it, experience the same feeling of uneasiness from time to time. They resist the truth, withdraw from it, at times even react violently against it.  The question for us is…
***Is Jesus your Lord? Is knowing and worshipping Him at the heart of your life?”
II. People have different attitudes toward the Word of God (2:4-10). Some people know the Word and don’t act on it. Others put on an outward mask of piety for their own reasons (we call that hypocrisy).  Relatively few hear it and unconditionally obey it.
            Vv.4-6 Show that while some people are “Religious” and may know what the Bible says but don’t obey it! The Chief priest and Scribes knew the Scriptures. When Herod inquired of them as to where the Messiah was to be born they were able to quote Micah 5:2 (Mt 2:5,6), probably by heart.  They correctly quoted what the prophet had said, but they didn’t act on it! They didn’t seek Him. Knowing what the Bible says is not the same as “hearing it with faith” and submitting to its authority.  There are “intellectual giants” who study the Biblical documents out of historical interest, but are not interested in submitting to what is says. James tells us to be doers of the Word, not hearers only who deceive themselves.
            Vv. 7-8 reveal that Herod exemplified hypocrisy at its worst.  He asks the Magi to come back and report to him, that he also wanted to go and worship Him also. The Magi might have been fooled, but God knew Herod’s heart. There are no doubt who hear the word, say they believe it and even announce their intention to obey, but all along are planning to do their own thing. Tragically, there are probably those who as so used to the mask they are wearing that they even deceive themselves.
            The Magi received the Word, obeyed it, and were led by it to Christ (see Micah 5:2). They obeyed just this one verse of Scripture, and it brought them to Jesus. I think it was Nate Saint who said that his life was changed when he came to grips with the fact the obedience is not a momentary option. It is a dye-cast decision made beforehand.  
Most of us have Bibles. Question: Do we receive it as the Word of God?  Are we committed to reading it and living it? We started a “Read through the Bible initiative last year, did you join with us?  Will you choose to be in the Word in 2013?  The song says “Trust and Obey, there is no other way….”     Is knowing and worshipping Jesus at the heart of your life?

III. The key question for every person is how they relate to the God who is (2:11-12). And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”
             Some worship Him and are led by Him as the wise men were (2:11-12a). Being led by God is normal, healthy Christianity (see Rom 8:14). They found Him and offered gifts in an act of worship. They were valuable but also symbolic.
·        Gold: perhaps symbolizing royalty. Matthew presents Jesus as the promised and coming King.
·        Frankincense: Costly incense used in certain offerings in the Temple: emphasizing Jesus’ deity. He is our High Priest as well.
·        Myrrh: A valuable perfume, sometimes used in wine as an anesthetic, but also mixed with spices and used to prepare a body for burial.
Gold his royalty, Frankincense His deity (and perhaps his priestly function), myrrh His humanity and sacrificial death. These gifts were possibly used to finance the family’s flight into Egypt and then helped them get reestablished in Nazareth when they returned.
              The Magi sought Him. Others reject God and His Word as did Herod. Herod’s rejection of the Messiah led Him to try to be rid of Him, by lashing out in anger and having all the male children under two years of age in Bethlehem put to death.  I’ve read this story many times, but the horror of it struck me in a new way last couple of weeks with the tragic events in Connecticut.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Is knowing and worshipping Jesus at the heart of your life?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? What would you give Him?  In Romans Paul outlines the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace. Then, Rom 12:1 says, “I urge you therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercy, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God…” 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Necessity of the Incarnation

[The horrible events last week in a Connecticut school remind us as to why the Incarnation was necessary. Sin brought death and suffering into God’s good creation (Rom 5:12ff.) and corrupted the human heart, separating us from our Holy God. Jesus came to pay the price that we could not pay, and to offer us salvation as a free gift. Only in Him is there hope.  In Christ, weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  SN.]
The Promise of Christmas: JOY to the World!
Luke 1:26-38
Introduction: One of the great themes that surround the life of Jesus is the humble circumstance of his birth, life, and death. Born in a stable to a working class family. Raised the son of a carpenter. Never owning a home or business of his own.  Dying a criminal’s death at a young age.  We would do well this Christmas to remember the song, “Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown when thou camest to earth for me…”  We would do well to remember as we look at our manger scenes and Christmas cards “Who He is in onder stall, at whose feet the Shepherds fall…”  He came to offer us a gift, through faith, “The wages of sin is death, but the [free] gift of God is eternal life…”  That is the truth we have received, and the truth with which we have been entrusted. Look around. If you were recruiting a team that was to have a part in God’s plan for saving the world, would this be it? 
The Big Idea: God has graciously chosen to use ordinary people in the extraordinary program of building His church. In view of what He has done for us, will we surrender ourselves to Him?
I. The People God uses: God has revealed that it is His plan to use ordinary people to carry out His program (1:26-28). God chose to use ordinary people to implement His extraordinary program. He continues to use ordinary people as He carries it out. In this passage the two key actors at the human level are Mary and her betrothed Joseph. Both exhibited remarkable faith and faithfulness.
          The first surprise is the location of the story in v.26. Nazareth of Galilee would not be the place one would expect to find the human mother of the Messiah!  It wasn’t the political center of the world in the day like Rome, or the center of learning and culture like Athens. It wasn’t Jerusalem, with all its history of significance, the center of Judaism.  It wasn’t even Bethlehem, where the Scriptures had prophesied the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2).  In fact Nazareth was somewhat despised by more pious Jews, probably because they had so much interaction with Gentiles. Nathanael asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46).  This already stands as a clue as to how God was working, contrary to human expectation.
           There is no indication that either Joseph or Mary were particularly exceptional people, the kind that would stand out in a crowd. Joseph was a carpenter, a person who worked with his hands, not a Rabbi or a priest or a leader.  He is called a righteous man, which indicates He was a sincere follower of God. There is certainly no indication to support the idea that Mary was sinless. In fact in 1:47 she refers to “God my Savior.” God chose to use ordinary people to implement his extraordinary program. So we see Jesus in the NT calling fishermen and tax collectors, others considered “sinners” by the religious Jews. In the OT some who God called like Moses, David and Amos were shepherds. Ordinary people who trusted in an extraordinary God. A song says “Its not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done, its not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are…” That’s grace! God’s unmerited favor! He chose ordinary people to carry out His extraordinary program.
            And He continues to use ordinary people: Paul said in
1 Cor 1:26-31  “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;  27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,  28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are,  29 that no man should boast before God.  30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,  31 that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’
Now Mary and Joseph certainly had a unique calling and a tremendous privilege. But each of us who know Him have a unique part in His program and we are all called to proclaim the Gospel, and the true message of Christmas: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!
          The messenger proclaimed to Mary, “the Lord is with you…” Jesus has promised us, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age!” A pastor once read that phrase to an elderly lady and said “Isn’t that a wonderful promise?”  She replied “That’s not a promise, it’s a fact!” Its fine to feel our weakness and inadequacy, as long as we remember that He is with us, and His strength is perfected in our weakness.    God has graciously chosen to use ordinary people in the extraordinary program of building His church. In view of what He has done for us, will we surrender ourselves to Him?

II. The Program God has revealed: Believers need not fear God’s plan, we can trust that it is good (1:24-34). Because we are ordinary people, we tend to feel unworthy or unqualified to be used by God.  “Who am I?” Well, if you know Jesus, you are a child of the King!
          1:29 says that Mary was “perplexed” or “confused.” This demonstrates the humility of Mary. She felt unworthy of divine favor. She pondered what the angel was saying.  Her head was spinning as she tried to make sense of his words. Could it be true? How?
 Then the angel’s explanation in v. 30, “You have found grace…” That’s the word, charis, the emphasis is on the free, gracious, choice of God. His unmerited favor.
  N.B. the description of the Child, His divine sonship, His eternal reign, His human lineage, even His name, which as we saw last week reveals what He came to do, all these are essential aspects of the predetermined plan of God. And God chose this ordinary Jewish girl to have the blessing of being part of God’s plan.  God has graciously chosen to use ordinary people in the extraordinary program of building His church. In view of what He has done for us, will we surrender ourselves to Him?

III. The Promise God has made: He will supernaturally work, as He has in the past, to carry out His program (1:35-37). It is not our ability, but God working in us and through us that brings results. As Chuck Colson said, “Its not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us…” 
          1:35 says that in response to Mary’s question “how?”, the angel answers: “The power of God, that’s how!” [See also Gen 18:14]. Yes, its not what we do that matters, but what our sovereign God chooses to do through us! “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord!” That was the message of Jesus in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power…” Not “give it your all, you can do it!” He said “I (Jesus) will build my church.”
           God calls us to a reasonable faith, based on His revelation. In vv.36-37, as evidence that nothing is impossible with God, the angel points to the fact that Elizabeth has conceived in her old age. God has established a pattern of giving us a reasonable basis for our faith (after 40 years in the wilderness, the new generation was given some preliminary victories east of the Jordan before they were sent into the land; Jesus resurrection assures us that we too have life in Him; etc.).
            “For nothing will be impossible for God…” Have you ever thought God might be leading you to do something, then thought, no, I can’t do it?  The truth is, we can’t do anything that will matter for eternity in our own strength. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength!   God doesn’t demand our success, he rightly expects our obedience!  And God has graciously chosen to use ordinary people in the extraordinary program of building His church. In view of what He has done for us, will we surrender ourselves to Him?

IV. The Proper Response of Faith: Believers should respond to their Creator and Savior by willingly yielding to His lordship (1:38). Mary responds in faith, with the attitude of a servant, submitting herself to God will.
Mary, no doubt stunned by the news, yields herself to God: “Behold the servant of the Lord!” This is the word normally translated “slave.” Her willingness to yield to God was a tremendous statement of faith: in that culture for her to be found with child before the marriage to Joseph was consummated could have resulted in the death sentence! At the very least she risked rejection by Joseph, misunderstanding from those closest to her, and scorn from the community.  She had no idea how this story would work itself out, even so, she said “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord…”  Your will be done. “Here am I…” 
  Are we willing to allow God to use us as He wills?  For a few that might mean being willing to sacrifice our comfort and security and going to serve Him on a foreign field.  Some of our missionaries like the Beliasovs, the Pierces, and others have done exactly that. For others it might mean full time ministry , like Fay has been trying to do. For most of us, it means being willing to use our gifts right here in the local church. Teaching classes, working with kids, or toddlers or adults, visiting, calling, bringing meals: encouraging one another to love and good works. Are you willing? God has chosen you for His team. He has a work for you to do.
What is God saying to me in this passage? You see, God has graciously chosen to use ordinary people in the extraordinary program of building His church. In view of what He has done for us, will we surrender ourselves to Him?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? There is a sense in which each of us has a unique calling: God has saved you and made you a part of His church by His Grace for His glory. Are you willing to consider the opportunities He puts before you? Are you willing to allow Him to use you, however He decides He will use you?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

God's only forgotten son... Matthew 1:18-25

 “Immanuel: God with Us”
Matthew 1:18-25
Introduction: Martin Luther: “When I am told that God became man, I can follow the idea but I just don’t understand what it means. For what man, if left to his natural promptings, if he were God, would humble himself to lie in the feedbox of a donkey or to hang upon a cross?  God laid upon Christ the iniquities of us all.  This is the ineffable and infinite mercy of God which the slender capacity of man’s heart cannot comprehend and much less utter—the unfathomable depth and burning zeal of God’s love toward us… Who can sufficiently declare this exceeding great goodness of God?”
We can easily be overwhelmed when we consider the pervasive presence of evil in the world and the reality of suffering for believers and unbelievers alike. Shakespeare called this life a “veil of tears” and since the Fall that at some level has been true for every human.  Suffering and the consequences of sin entered the world as the result of human rebellion.  Paul said it bluntly: “By one man sin entered the world and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all have sinned…”  That was our predicament.  No consider this:  God chose to make a way for us to experience forgiveness and life.  Of all things He sent His Son into this sin cursed world for us.  Isaiah prophesied of God’s response to our deepest need  when he said:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”
Luther was right, the plan was not something that you or I would have come up with. Contrary to the laws of nature, “A virgin would conceive and bear a son…”  When we consider the fact of his coming, let’s try to always remember the purpose of his coming.  
     The biblical doctrine of the virgin birth has been one of the most attacked doctrines of scripture. Yet the incarnation is at the heart our our faith, it is the foundational truth of Xnity. The essence and the power of the Gospel is that God became a man, and that, by being fully man and fully God He was able to make possible the reconciliation of sinful humans to a holy God. 
The Big Idea: The miracle of the virgin birth was a demonstration of who this Child was, and a prelude to what He would accomplish.

I. This birth would be unlike any other (1:18-20). Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’”
            A. The Bible records several miraculous births: the entire story of redemptive history is full of examples of God overcoming barrenness or old age to accomplish His saving purpose.
     The birth of Isaac to previously barren Sarah-Remember Sarah was 90 years old and when she heard the promise through God’s messenger she laughed at the idea of having a child. Yet God intervened and Isaac was born and the laughter of unbelief was turned into the laughter of joy!
       The womb of Manoah’s barren wife was opened to give birth to Samson, who would be a judge and deliverer, who would kill a thousand men with the jaw bone of a donkey and pull down a pagan temple with his bare hands.
      The birth of Samuel the prophet and anointer of Kings to the barren Hannah revealed God’s power and showed how He worked through prayer.
      Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, was barren, but through the power of God she gave birth to John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said there had yet been no one greater “among those born of women” (Mt 11:11).
            B. The virgin birth of Jesus surpassed all of these.  In each of these cases God intervened to allow conception through normal, biological means. In the case of Jesus God miraculously caused conception in Mary’s womb. N.B. v. 18, stated so simply, “…she was found with child of the Holy Spirit…” No fanciful elaboration, just the facts.
     There can be no question what Matthew is saying: She was betrothed to Joseph (in the first century this was more than engagement, they were committed to be married, but did not yet live together as husband and wife). The commitment was such that to break it a certificate of divorce was required.
     V. 19 affirms that Joseph was a “righteous man,” and when he found out Mary was pregnant he knew that he shouldn’t marry her, but he couldn’t bear that thought of shaming her publically, much less demanding the death the Law specified (Dt 22:23,24). Thus he determined to “put her away secretly,” i.e., to quietly divorce her.
      N.B. the timing in v.20, “…while he thought about these things…” The situation and his options were ruminating in his mind, the angel of the Lord speaks, revealing the nature of what had happened: “…that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…” An unprecedented intervention of God in human history: INCARNATION. 
***The virgin birth was a demonstration of who this child was, and a prelude to what He would accomplish. Not only would this birth be like no other, but also that….

II. This Child would accomplish what no other could (1:21).  "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
          “she shall bring forth a son…” There were no ultrasounds in those days, Mary was told her baby would be a boy. He did not merely appear human, He took upon himself a human nature. The Scripture had predicted the coming of the “Seed of the woman” who would crush the serpent’s head, And so, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…”
                  “…you shall call His name Jesus…” Y’shua, the Lord saves. Typically when God names someone in the Bible the significance of the name is stated, as it is here: “…FOR He will save His people from their sins…”
      First, notice that “…He will save His people …” The idea of a “deliverer” was very popular in the 1st century, but it was typically thought of in purely termporal terms. Once again the Hebrews were oppressed by a power from the outside, and many longed for God to send the promised deliverer. Most were probably expecting deliverance from the Romans, God was interested in offering salvation from sin.
     Secondly, we can celebrate the story of His coming, the people and images that surround the first Christmas, and that’s good (many of us have some kind of a nativity scene depiction). We mustn’t forget why He came, what He came to do, to be “….offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28), i.e. He came to die.  The babe in manger came as the sacrificial Lamb, the King who would be rejected, the Suffering Servant who would be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He came knowing He would be rejected, handed over to the gentiles, scourged and mocked and spat upon, and finally nailed to a Roman Cross. THIS is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
***You see, the virgin birth is not simply a nice story we tell at Christmas time, it is a redical demonstration of who this child was, and a prelude to what He would accomplish on our behalf. This birth would be unlike any other, and this child would accomplish what no other could, because….

III. This Child would be unlike any other (1:22-25). So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
“…you shall call His name Immanuel (God with us)…” (v.23).
            A. He would be the God-Man: “GOD with us…”
       Notice that Matthew emphasizes that the virgin birth was predicted—Matthew repeatedly uses the phrase “That it might be fulfilled…” Hundreds of OT predictions were fulfilled in the birth, life and death of Jesus. Matthew as much as any NT writer wants us to see that everything unfolded according to God’s plan. This was the one of whom the prophets had spoken.
        He would be called Immanuel, “God with us.” The presence of God was disrupted by the Fall, but we see the unfolding story of God reaching out to His people, showing the way to life and light. The Pillar and cloud and pillar of fire, the tabernacle, the temple, and then, the God who spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, has in these last days spoken in his Son (Heb 1:1).
            B. He would be the God-Man: the Word was made flesh. “…he did not know her until she gave birth to a son…” From the time of conception He experienced life with a human nature. He was “…made in the likeness of man…”    So He would be the perfect example, and the perfect sacrifice. Whereas Adam brought death through sin, Jesus made possible life through His death.
            C. Joseph was obedient to the Lord, he called Him JESUS.  He didn’t know a lot about God’s plan, but what he knew, he submitted to, he obeyed.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The virgin birth was a demonstration of who this child was, and a prelude to what He would accomplish.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Busyness, rush, be still and know that He is God.  Remember the story of a child who misquoted John 3:16, “For God so loved the world He gave His only forgotten Son…” Don’t forget God the Son, He came to die for YOU.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our part in His Mission

With respect to the purpose of the incarnation and the mission with which we have been entrusted I came across this quote a while back in "The Drama of Scripture" by Bartholomew and Goheen:
"Following the apostles, the church is sent– Sent with the gospel of the kingdom to make disciples of all nations, to feed the hungry, to proclaim the assurance that in the name of Christ there is forgiveness of sin and new life for all who repent and believe– To tell the news that our world belongs to God. In a world estranged from God, where millions face confusing choices, this mission is central to our being, for we announce the one name that saves."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent and the ordinances

[This year we initiated Advent with a more "interactive" message at Boothbay Baptist Church, with both a baptismal service and a communion service integrated into the message].
The Advent Season is one of the most anticipated and appreciated periods of the Church calendar. The celebration of incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Augustine eloquently reflected on the wonder and the theology of Christmas when he wrote:
“The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day. The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die. To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.”
Augustine, Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons
Christmas is the Story of His Grace. These last couple of weeks I was privileged to hold our newborn granddaughter. Strong and big (8 lbs 12 oz at birth) as newborns go, but still totally dependent on her parents for everything. Feeding her, changing her diapers, bathing her, keeping her warm and safe. Now consider this: God became a human infant. The Eternal Son entered this sin cursed world, for us! The Word was made flesh. Alfred Edersheim said it this way:
“Think of it… on such a slender thread as the feeble throb of an infant life, the salvation of the world should hang…”
(The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah). We are doing something different this Sunday in celebrating both baptism and communion on the Sunday we initiate our Advent celebration. It is different, but it is entirely appropriate. The ordinances Christ gave the church are an invitation to remember and reflect on the truth that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” Gal 4:4,5. Big idea: The purpose of the coming of Christ was to make possible the justification of sinful humans by a holy God. Baptism symbolizes our unity with Christ who died for us and rose again. The Lord’s table reminds us of His coming in the flesh and His dying for our sins.
I. The purpose of Advent was to make possible the justification of sinners by a holy God:
1 John 4:9-10 says:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
He sent His Son, so that we might live through Him! The love of God is central to the story of the coming of Christ. He came out of love. He so loved us that He came to give himself on the cross for our sins. The NIV says, “This is how God showed his love among us, He sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him…” Giving is at the heart of Christmas, but honestly we tend to focus on giving and getting for each other. God gave a priceless gift, He gave His Son. “Sending” is much more than simply indicating His first coming, but must also include the purpose of his coming: He came “…to redeem those who were under the Law…” “Redemption” implies purchase, a price being paid. John 3:16 says He “gave His only begotten Son…” He came as the substitute and sacrifice for the sins of all who would one day by grace, turn to Him in faith. Salvation is free to us, received as a gift, but it came at a tremendous price! ***The purpose of the coming of Christ was to make possible the justification of sinful humans by a holy God. Baptism symbolizes our unity with Christ who died for us and rose again.
II. Baptism symbolizes our unity with the God who became flesh in His death and resurrection:
Paul said in Romans 6:3-5,
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…”
Baptism as an ordinance is unique in that it happens once, at the beginning of the Christian life. It publically affirms our faith in Jesus, our identification with Him in His death and resurrection. It was the expected and normal response to believing in Jesus. The Great Commission says, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying,
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age"
(Mt 28:18-20). On the day of Pentecost, “As many as believed were baptized…” That was the normal response of saving faith. Please understand that baptism is symbolic not salvific. Like the Eunuch in the desert in Acts 8:37f., we believe and are saved by the grace through faith, then confess Him and are baptized as a public affirmation that we are followers of Jesus, identified with Him in his death and resurrection (Gal 2:20). Two young men are taking that step today… ****Advent reminds us that Jesus came to die for our sins. Baptism indicates our unity with Him in His atoning death and victorious resurrection. The Lord gave a second ordinance to the church…
III. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that God became a man in order to save us from our sins (I Cor 11:23-28).
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup…”
The Bread reminds us of His body: the Word was made flesh… “…this is my body which is broken for you…” The NLT says, “…this is my body which is given for you…” The incarnation was purposeful, intentional. He came to be the substitute, the atoning sacrifice for our sins. For God the Son to stoop so low is amazing love-amazing grace! *Martin Luther said “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” Paul refers to this in Philippians 2 when he says:
“…who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; 8 and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.”
The cup reminds us of His blood, shed for sinful humans: Rom 5:8-9
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
In 8:32-33 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect?”
What is God saying to me in these passages?
The purpose of the coming of Christ was to make possible the justification of sinful humans by a holy God. The ordinances He left us remind of that truth: Baptism symbolizes our unity with Christ in His death and resurrection; The Lord’s table reminds us of His coming in the flesh and His dying for our sins.
What would He have me to do in response to these texts?
We celebrate the incarnation without knowing for sure the date of the birth of Jesus. But beyond question is the fact that He came and the truth that was revealed: This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. Keep Christ at the heart of your celebration this month. Remember the step you took, by His grace, when you believed in Him. Have you publically affirmed your faith in baptism as these young men did today? As we celebrate the Lord’s Table, look back on His first coming, and choose to live in anticipation of this second coming. Amen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Vine, the Vinedresser, and the Branches

The Vine and the Branches John 15:1-8
Introduction: At the end of John 14 Jesus interrupts His teaching with the statement, “Arise, let us go from here!”, and then, in 15:1, the teaching continues. As the Rabbi walked with His disciples the teaching continued. Jesus was the Master Teacher. He has used several images from everyday life to teach His disciples about himself. I AM the Bread of life, I AM the Door to the sheepfold, I AM the Good Shepherd, I AM the Light of the World. He used simple images from everyday life to convey profound spiritual truth. It seems to me that in this image in John 15 He is shifting a bit from revelation of His person, to teaching about the Christian life, the relationship we wants us to experience with Him. How can we live in the world as His disciples? In first century Palestine vines were something people knew and could relate to. He may have walked with the disciples past some vines and pointed to them as He spoke. The metaphor of a vine, its branches, and the gardener expresses our dependence upon the Lord and the assurance that He is building the church and equipping us to carry out His mission. I am not a very good gardener. I really don’t have any experience with grape vines, but I’ve learned a few facts. To Jews in an agrarian society the imagery would have been quite clear: the branches needed the vine, they were dependent upon it and would quickly wither and die if cut off from it. They also need to be tended to, to be pruned, in order to experience their optimum fruitfulness. John MacArthur said the main point is that it is absolutely necessary that we abide in Christ. Only to the degree that the redeemed abide in Christ can we bear spiritual fruit. The Big Idea as I see it in this text is that We are dependent on God for life and can only be effective as He works on us, in us, and through us.
I. We are dependent on God for life and fruitful ministry (15:1).
This is the final time, until his arrest in the garden, that Jesus uses the term I AM – Jesus has used this phrase throughout the Gospel of John as He reveals himself to His disciples. He is affirming His deity, He is God, the Son, who was made flesh and dwelt for a while among us. Much of the Gospel until now has focused on this very idea: in order to really believe in Jesus we have to rightly understand who He is: The Eternal Son of God, The Great I AM, the Word who was made flesh. Here He say “I AM… the Vine” – He reveals a little more about His person and our relationship to Him. He is the source of life and nourishment. Grape vines were a part of life in first century Palestine. Vines were planted, cared for, pruned when needed, and as they matured and their roots were deep and strong, they would bear fruit—fruitful vines were one of the signs of the presence and blessing of God, it was one of the things the spies found when they looked at the land God was offering them (“Numbers 13:23 “Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men…”). That’s the kind of blessing God wanted for His people, but they didn’t trust Him! Israel is described as a “vine” in several passages in the Old Testament (see Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5 for example). Jesus says “I AM the True Vine” – The imagery of a vine was not new to Jewish listeners in the First Century. So Jesus is very specific here. He is not one, optional, vine, among many. He is the TRUE VINE. The One and Only—In the OT the Jewish nation was described as a Vine, now it is Jesus that is the One, True, Vine. Isa 5:1,2 “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit…” When Jesus called himself the “true Vine” his point is that Israel has proven unfaithful, most importantly they had rejected Him, so He has replaced Israel as the place of blessing and the source of salvation. Just as the Temple would now be obsolete, as He, God incarnate, dwelt among them, so He, and He alone, is the True Vine. *** We are dependent on Him for life and can only be effective as He works on us, in us, and through us.
II. God is molding the church and molding us into what He wants us to be. “…my Father is the vinedresser…” (15:1b-2).
The gardener plants the vines where He wants them. He doesn’t look for plants that have randomly sprung up, he is intentional and has a plan. Certain plants, like grapes, thrive in direct sunlight. I’ve had a problem growing tomatoes in the little patch behind the old parsonage, and I wonder if that might be part of the problem. There is a tree that is growing bigger each year and over shadowing the little garden area. He “takes away” the fruitless branches – they take up space, drain resources, block the light, inhibit the fruitfulness of other vines. One commentator suggests that this word here is referring to “lifting up” the branches that were down in the dirt where they couldn’t get light and would be dusty and dirt covered, and tying them to a stake or trellis so that they can be fruitful, not necessarily “removing” them from the vine. I like that image. God won’t allow us to wallow in the dust, unfruitful, useless, a drain on resources. He will pick us up so that the Son can shine on us and through us. He prunes the fruitful branches so that they can be more fruitful. Pruning was … an essential part of first-century tending of vines as it is today. The plants can’t be left to just run wild, they needed to be tended to and watched over. This involved cutting back the plant to that what was left could produce more and better-quality fruit; and the removal of some stray shoots that went out from the trunk and main branches so that the strength of the vine was not tapped by them. He has to work on us, to make useful, fruitful branches. We are being prepared for fruitfulness: living a life that reflects Jesus, and being prepared for our part in His mission. Jesus hinted at this idea back in John 13:20
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me."
The disciples would go out in the name of Jesus, bringing the Gospel to the world. That mission continues in us. Sometimes we have opportunities like Wednesday night’s Trunk or Treat outreach in which we were able to have a couple of hundred people pass through our parking lot, all receiving gospel tracts, many Bible portions or Bibles. About 40 kids went through the CEF booth and heard the Gospel along with their parents. The Word went out… all of that is good. But that is the exception. It is not our mission to bring the world to church so they can hear, its out mission to bring the Good News to the world. As we live as Christ followers where He has planted us, people can see a difference (or they should!) if we abide in the Vine. Like the branches receive life from the vine, we are dependent on God for life and can only be effective as He works on us, in us, and through us.
III. The Word of God is one means that God uses to cleanse us and prune us so that we can serve Him more effectively (15:3).
“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The Word of God is a sharp knife in the hands of the Gardener! The word “cleansed” here is the same word that describes the “pruning” work of the vinedresser. We read in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The Word of God “prunes” us as it convicts us of sin. More precisely the Spirit convicts us of sin through the Word. In the next chapter we’ll read in John 16:8 8 "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment…” The Spirit takes the living Word and applies to our hearts, like a light exposing our sin and leading us to repentence. He prunes as to help us grow, to make us stronger, more fruitful. Paul likewise said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate…” We are cleansed by the Vinedresser as He applies the sharp two edged sword of the Word to our lives, for our good and for His glory. After all, we are dependent on Him for life and can only be effective as He works on us, in us, and through us.
IV. As our thinking is aligned more and more with His, our prayers are increasingly according to His will. Prayer is for our benefit, teaching us that we need to rely on Him for everything
(read 15:4-7)...
John 15:4-7 4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
Six times in these four verses Jesus uses the word “abide.” We’ll spend another week in this series talking about this subject in more detail as we move ahead to 15:9-17 in the next message. But I like what Thomas Merton said about this idea of “abiding in Christ”: “Abiding is a consciousness of our union with God, of our complete dependence on Him, for all our vital acts in the spiritual life, and of His constant, loving presence in the depths of our souls…” Brother Lawrence spoke of abiding as a constant and conscious choice: “I do nothing else but abide in His holy presence, and I do this by simple attentiveness and an habitual, loving, turning of my eyes on Him. This I call… a wordless and secret conversation between the soul and God which never ends…” That kind of intimate communion is what God wants for us! We should want it too; it’s what we were made for. After all we are dependent on God for life and can only be effective as He works on us, in us, and through us.
V. The Purpose: God, the source of life and blessing, receives the glory (15.8). “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit…”
I used to think immediately of fruit as referring to people won to Christ, evangelism. That is true, but I think God is just as interested in what he is doing in us. Think of the “Fruit of the Spirit” as it is described by Paul: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self control…” That transformation brings glory to God. As we show the love of Christ to the world, it points people to Him. “Fruitfulness” is not only referring to our part in God’s mission, that surely is a part of it, but also to our conformity to Christ. Are we filled with the Spirit, allowing the Word of Christ to dwell richly within us? Are we “abiding in Him,” attentive to his Holy presence as we go about our lives? If so the fruit of the Spirit will be increasingly manifest in our lives. That is something people will notice. You will bear much fruit, “…and so prove to be my disciples…” Our changed lives are a testimony to Him – and bring glory to God!
What is God saying to me in this passage?
We are dependent on God for life & can only be effective as He works-on us-in us-and through us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?
God hasn’t called me to be a fruit inspector, except in my own life that is. How is the pruning going in your life? Are there things that sap your time and strength, things that block the Light of the Son, and so inhibit your fruitfulness for the Lord? The Vinedresser may be at work in you, pruning, cleaning areas of your life. Will you allow the Word of Christ to dwell richly within you? Will you trust the Vinedresser as He reveals areas that you must release to Him? Trust Him, He is working for your good, and for His glory. Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Shalom! John 14:25-31
Introduction: The recent presidential debate focused on foreign policy which in itself is enough to remind us that the world is a decidedly un-peaceful place. The mid-east, Israel in particular, is a key topic of discussion and dispute. Ironically, “Jerusalem,” at the center of it all, actually means “City of Peace”! In modern Hebrew the term “Shalom” is used as a simple greeting or farewell, “hello” and “good-bye,” with no consideration of a deeper, biblical meaning. Paul used it (in Greek translation) in many of his letters, “Grace to you, and peace…” As the term is used in the Bible it is looking toward that “peace” that we can experience in our new life through faith in Christ. If we look at the news and consider the world today, it would be easy to conclude that “peace” has alluded us. But that observation is nothing new. This week our Wednesday night devotional was on Psalm 10. It begins with a cry of pain and frustration from the psalmist at He looks out at the apparent injustice in the world: “Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1). Does it sometimes seem that way?
The Big Idea: Taking God at His Word is the Way to peace and real joy in a hurting world.
I. Jesus offers truth: He taught the disciples while He was with them knowing that the Holy Spirit would reinforce and continue His teaching after His departure (14:25-26). There was a television series named “House” that portrayed a character with a very abrasive personality. He had a skeptical view of people in general and one of his oft repeated lines was “Everybody lies!” You might feel that way during this political season as well. After the debates there is always a discussion of who did more twisting of the truth (or outright lying!) in terms of the facts. “Fact checking” is necessary because people lie! The problem is, even the “fact checkers” twist what was said to fit their own agendas. Pilate will ask Jesus, “What is truth?” The reader of John knows the answer: Jesus is. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Though humans will fail us, His word is true, it’s absolutely reliable.
Jesus was the Word incarnate.
He is truth. The idea that God would reveal Himself to humans was evident from the beginning. God walked with Adam in the Garden and spoke to him. He used language to communicate in a way that humankind could understand and relate to. He called Abraham and spoke to the patriarchs, he revealed Himself to Moses, first in the burning bush and continually as He brought His word to the people. He spoke to the people through prophets who called them back to covenant faithfulness. Then finally, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “God spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets has in these last days spoken in [his] Son” (Heb 1:1). The God who is, has spoken, and His Word is absolute truth (In contrast to humans who will stretch the truth, bend the truth, twist the truth, hide the truth, shade the truth… you get the idea!).
Jesus, the One who is the Truth, spoke truth to his followers.
The disciples didn’t necessarily take extensive notes! But the Holy Spirit would remind them of Jesus’ words. I believe we have to be careful about what this is saying. It is not a promise of “on going revelation.” The Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of what Jesus taught, bringing His words, supernaturally, to their remembrance. He would lead them into His truth as they taught the early church and proclaimed the gospel and wrote the documents that would become our New Testament. The writers were inspired, so the documents they wrote were the Word of God. We read for example in 2 Pet 1:21
“…for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved (carried along) by the Holy Spirit.”
Again Paul said in 2 Tim 3:16-17
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
What we have in the Bible is the very Word of God. True, absolutely reliable, trustworthy. GOD has spoken! Yet so many fail to even hear what He has said. In our country, many professing Christians take the Bible for granted and hardly pick it up except on Sunday. One of the biggest excuses for not reading the Bible is the people think its too difficult, they can never remember anything they read. I like the response of one pastor: “If you run water into a sieve you don’t collect much water, but at least you wind up with a clean sieve!” John Wesley once wrote “…God himself has condescended to teach us the way. He has written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the book of God!” That should be our attitude! After all, taking God at His Word is the Way to peace and real joy in a hurting world.
II. Jesus offers peace in a troubled world (14:27).
John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Jesus started this chapter with the admonition, “Let not your heart be troubled…” Here He tells us that rather than the anxiety that could so easily overwhelm us, and the fear that could effectively paralyze us, He offers us peace, HIS peace. One of the titles He was given by the prophet Isaiah was “Prince of Peace.” Yet there is so much turmoil in this world – war – earthquakes – hurricanes – famine and sickness – peace? Ron Hodgecraft told this story:
“The occasion was a city-wide art contest. They were told to paint paintings entitled "Peace." While the judges were understandably attracted to this beautiful pastural scene that a local painter had painted. It was a green pasture. It was the puffy white clouds and the beautiful blue sky and a little boy going by with a fishing pole over his shoulder and a quiet brook and some birds. That got second place. First place - well, the picture was of an angry, stormy day at the sea shore as the ocean was beating against the cliffs and the cliffs were stark and dark because of the darkness of the storm. The sky in this painting was angry and black, green and purple. You had to look twice to figure out what in world this had to do with peace. But if you looked halfway up the cliff these little baby birds were nestled underneath the wing of their mother, and they were sleeping totally oblivious to the storm that was howling all around them.”
He is our shelter in times of storm. It’s not that God promises us an absence of turmoil, conflict, or hardship in this life. But He does promise peace, even in the midst of storm and tempest, peace that passes understanding. Peace that comes from the presence of the Prince of Peace in our lives. It begins by believing God, taking Him at His Word. That is the Way to peace and real joy in a hurting world.
III. Jesus offers Joy: Jesus’ return to the Father (and promised return for us!) should be cause for Joy (14:28).
John 14:28 "You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I.” We have a couple of reasons for rejoicing here:
First, Jesus is now at the Father’s right hand.
He is our Savior, and our mediator. John put it this way in his first letter: 1 John 1:4 “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” Then again in 1 John 2:1 we read, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” He is there, on our behalf, at the Father’s right hand.
He also promises here that He is returning.
That’s not a threat, it’s a promise! He said in John 14:28 “You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice…” Salvation is motive for rejoicing to be sure – but the promise that God is sovereign and that His plan is unfolding on the stage of human history is in itself motive for thanksgiving. The psalmist said, in Psalm 30:5 “…Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.” A little further on in this discourse in John we’ll read in John 16:20, “…that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” The promise of His presence, His place at the Father’s right hand interceding for us, and assurance that He is returning is cause for rejoicing! Taking God at His Word is the Way to peace and real joy in a hurting world.
IV. Jesus gives us a reasonable basis for faith (14:29).
John 14:29 says "And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.” Herman Bavinck’s theology in English translation is called “Our Reasonable Faith,” and that title reflects the truth that God has not called us to blind, baseless trust. He has revealed himself in history. He has given us a basis for our trust. By predicting his betrayal, death, resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit, He gave His disciples a reason to believe: when these things began to be fulfilled, they could know that He was who He claimed to be. In the OT the Jews were not to believe everyone who claimed to speak for God. Dt 18:22,
"…when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Jesus is saying that his predictions concerning his betrayal, arrest, being denied, crucified, and resurrected would serve as evidence that He could be trusted, that His Word (and His promises!) are true. Since these things happened exactly as He said they served to confirm his identity. And so we can believe Him, and taking God at His Word is the Way to peace and real joy in a hurting world.
V. Jesus modeled obedience as He fulfilled the Father’s plan (14:30-31).
Jn 14:30-31 30 "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. 31 "But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” Jesus said that if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments. He modeled obedience while showing His love for the Father (and for us) by his willingly carrying out the Father’s plan. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on the cross.
What is God saying to me in this passage?
Taking God at His Word is the Way to peace and real joy in a hurting world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?
Are you in the Word? If not, why not? Do you believe it is God’s Word? Do you believe it is true? Do you trust that it is God’s map, showing the way? We are nearing the end of the year and some of you have been reading along with us in going through the entire Bible in 2012. But its never to late to start. The key is to be in the Word daily. To read the Bible systematically. The God who made you wants you to know Him, to trust Him, and to experience the peace and joy He designed you for. Think about that! Amen.