Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Only Hope that Matters: Easter 2013

The Only Hope that Matters!
I Corinthians 15:1-11
Introduction:  Everyone wants something to hope for, but for many it is simply wishful thinking that “hopes” it will all work out. Someone said nothing in the world arouses more false hopes than the first few hours of a diet! (Even Celtic fans may have started the season with hope, but alas…).  A pessimist would agree with the little boy who said “Hope is wishing for something you know ain’t gonna happen!” The only hope that matters is one that is based on truth.  The Bible defines “hope” as a confident expectation about the future, a confidence that God will accomplish the Good Work that He has begun. In the sermons of the apostles in the book of Acts, there is one historical truth that is repeatedly mentioned, which, by its very emphasis lies at the heart of the Christian message and the sure hope the apostles shared.  It’s the truth that we celebrate today: the resurrection of JESUS CHRIST.  John MacArthur said:
Just as the heart pumps life giving blood to every part of the body, so the truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of Gospel truth.  The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter.  Without the resurrection Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.”   
Paul affirms the necessity of the resurrection in 15:13,14 “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.  14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”  Along with a lot of practical problems in Christian living, the Corinthians apparently had a serious doctrinal problem in terms of the future resurrection of believers.  The fact that Paul starts this great chapter affirming the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus may imply that some were even beginning either to question the importance of His physical resurrection or even if it really happened at all. Paul says it is the very foundation of our hope.
Context: Chapter 15 of I Corinthians is the most fully developed chapter in the Bible on the theme of the resurrection.  The empty tomb is the basis for our hope as Christians.  It explicitly links the resurrection of Jesus, with the future resurrection of believers. It also defines the basis and power of our life as believers.  A German theologian by the name of Erich Sauer said it this way:
“The present age is Eastertime.  It begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and will end with the resurrection of the redeemed.  Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life through faith in Christ.  So we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter, we go to meet the last Easter.”
The Big Idea: Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live with true joy today. 
I. First of all, we have a hope that changes lives (15:1-2)!  He starts off saying Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved…”  The first line of evidence that Paul presents is not stated explicitly but is clearly implied.  The very fact that the Corinthian believers, and all believers for that matter, had received the Gospel, believed in Jesus, is strong evidence of the power of the gospel, which is the power of the resurrection of Christ (Ephesians 1:19,20): “…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…”
         Paul preached the Gospel among them, they received it, stood in it and were saved by it (15:1-2).  Christians aren’t perfect, they are sinners saved by grace.  And they know it, for God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are His children.  Notice in our passage that Paul calls the Corinthians “brethren,” he recognizes them as fellow Christians.  “I declare to you…” he is reminding them of the message they heard and believed: the death of Jesus for our sins, his burial and resurrection. 
             This was the life changing message that impacted them in the past: “which you received…” There was a specific moment in their history when they heard the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus and they believed it. Whether or not you can remember and identify the precise moment, that is true for every believer.
            “…in which you stand…”  It was not simply something that happened in the past, but they continued to stand in the truth. Its not that Christians simply were saved, they are saved, they have eternal life as both a promise and a present possession.
             “In which you are saved if…”  The context of I Corinthians 15 definitely points also toward the future, and completion of the promise of salvation in the resurrection of believers.   Notice the qualifier: “…if you hold fast to the Word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” This is not a denial of the eternal security of true believers.  It is a warning however that saying you believe is not necessarily the same as truly trusting Jesus as your savior and Lord. 
There are a tremendous number of conflicting ideas that people believe to be true – just believing doesn’t make it true.  The only hope that matters is a hope that is based on truth.  Paul is showing the Corinthians the evidence for the truth of the Gospel, including the historical fact of the resurrection.  The evidence is clear, yet most people deny the implications of the evidence.  Like the story of the man who was institutionalized because he thought he was dead.  The psychiatrist had an idea, he began repeating a question to the man, “Do did men bleed?” He answered every time, “Of course not, dead men don’t bleed!” Then the Dr. took a pin and pricked the man’s finger, and he started to bleed.  His conclusion in the light of the evidence?  “What do you know, did men do bleed!”  Consider the evidence, including the evidence of lives transformed and empowered by the Good News.  Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today. 

II. A Hope based on Scripture (15:3-4).  Paul emphasizes the truth that the Good News of Jesus was not something that men made up, in fact His coming, death, and resurrection had been anticipated for centuries.  The Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly predicted the coming of the Messiah, a deliverer, king, and Savior.  By the time of Jesus’ birth, for the most part, current interpretation had missed the idea that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die.  A key aspect of the apostles’ preaching was to point the church back toward that scriptural truth.
          Paul says, “I delivered to you that which I also received…” He brought authoritative teaching, not something that he conjured up in his own mind. He simply delivered to them what God had revealed! It’s my prayer that as the Bible is preached from this pulpit we will do the same!  My ideas aren’t worth much. God’s Word is priceless, it’s true, and it can give us real Hope, a Hope based on facts, the only Hope that matters, that is, if we’ll receive it.
          Paul writes, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…”  He is emphasizing the fulfillment of God’s promises so he uses the title “Christ,” or “Messiah.” It’s so familiar to us we easily forget this it is not part of Jesus’ name, rather it is His title, “the Anointed One —the One predicted as the deliverer of Israel by the Old Testament writers.  Andrew said it in John 1:41, "We have found the Messiah " (which translated means Christ.).  Then in John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote-- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 
            This promised Messiah, “…died for our sins…” This is the heart of the Gospel message: the sacrificial substitutionary death of Jesus.  John the Baptist anticipated this truth when he saw Jesus in John 1, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Isaiah the prophet had predicted the coming of a suffering servant when he said: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  It all happened “according to the Scriptures”—as it had been predicted and planned by God himself.  You might think, “well that doesn’t sound very fair!”  It wasn’t fair, Jesus chose to give his life for us, The Good Shepherd “laid down His life for His sheep.”   It was the only way that a Righteous, Holy God could justify sinners. The wages of sin is death, and we are all sinners. Jesus, the only human that lived his entire life without sin, took the punishment that we deserved so that we could have life. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…” We’re saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor.  I like the acrostic for “grace,”:  G.R.A.C.E. = “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”   Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe!
        But that is not the end of the story!  Today we celebrate the truth that He “…was raised the third day, according to the Scriptures…” A second proof of the truth of the Gospel was that the resurrection of Christ happened in precise fulfillment of the Scriptures.  What had been foretold with respect to the Messiah was fulfilled in the experience of Jesus.  One of my favorite scenes in the Bible is at the end of Luke, where the two disciples on the road to Emmaus are confused by the death of Jesus, and the reports that the tomb was empty. Suddenly a stranger begins to walk with them on the way, asks some questions, and then begins to teach them in Luke 24:25-27…
“Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’  27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (See also Luke 24:44-46).
            Preaching on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter argues from the Old Testament scriptures,  Psalm 16 among other texts, that everything happened according to the prophecies God had given in ages past.   The scriptures revealed that Messiah, Christ, must be raised, Jesus was raised, therefore His claim to be Messiah is true, Jesus is the Christ! (see Acts 2:25-31).
             Paul makes a great summary of the truth, when, under arrest, in his testimony to Agrippa, he says in Acts 26:22-23…
"Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come --  23 "that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
*** Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today. 

III. A Hope confirmed by witnesses (15:5-11) – Scoffers to this point might argue that all this is circumstantial evidence.  Paul next calls on his third line of evidence: eyewitness testimony!  Eyewitness testimony is powerful, in fact in the Bible it was required to have the testimony of two or three witnesses to confirm truth.  I’ve transcribed in the back of my Bible the English translation of a letter that was written in AD 107, perhaps ten or 12 years after the death of the last of the Apostles, by Ignatius of Antioch as he was being carried to Rome as a prisoner, expecting to be thrown to the lions. It is as relevant today as it was then:
If you come across someone who says that Jesus Christ never lived, or that he is just an idea, or a concept, or a myth- shut your ears to him.  Jesus Christ was born to a human family, a descendant of David.  His mother was Mary.  He was persecuted and crucified under Pontius Pilate, a fact testified to us by some who are now in heaven, and some who are still alive on earth.  How can this be a phantom, or an illusion, or a myth?  These are facts of history!
     It is also a fact that he rose from the dead (or rather, that his Father raised him up).  And that is the most important fact of all, because His promise is that the father will also raise us up, if we believe in Him. So if Christ is not alive neither shall we be.  There is nothing left for us to hope for if he is just an idea of a fantasy. 
      In any case, if he only appeared to rise from the dead—why should I be in chains for this “myth”?  Why should I die to support an illusion?  I am prepared to die for him, the true and real Son of God.  But no one is prepared to die for a shadow.”
 He heard from eyewitnesses and knew in his heart that it was true. Eyewitness testimony is compelling. Paul invites the Corinthians (and us!) to consider the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.
          First Paul points to the first of the apostolic witness (he doesn’t even mention the women who got there first!).  In 1 Corinthians 15:5 “…and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve…”  (vv. 5-7).   “Cephas” is of course the Hebrew name of Peter – he who had denied Jesus 3 times – became the first witness of the resurrection!  That is GRACE!  Our God specializes in second chances, after the resurrection Peter became a fearless proclaimer of the Gospel (read the first 10 chapters of Acts!).
            Then by the twelve… after that He was seen by over 500 brethren at once!  Paul was writing just twenty years or so after the resurrection and he makes the point that the majority of these witnesses were still alive as he wrote this letter to the Corinthians – if anyone had doubts they could go and speak to them personally and hear their stories about seeing the resurrected Jesus!
         Finally Paul mentions another witness in vv. 8-10, a special witness, “then last of all he was seen by me, as one born out of due time…”  Humanly speaking, the transformation of Paul is inexplicable – he was a zealous persecutor of the Church, and then on the road to Damascus he has an encounter that changed his life forever: he met the resurrected Jesus. The zealous persecutor of the church became a fearless proclaimer of Messiah Jesus!  That 180 degree change in direction simply could not be explained away then and it can’t be explained away now. The only explanation is that Jesus conquered death, and He is Lord.
         That is the common message: Every true apostle, prophet or pastor has preached the same message for 2000 years: God’s revealed plan was carried out to the letter: Christ, the incarnate Son of God, died for our sins and was buried, and was raised again the third day.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Do you have strength for today and hope for tomorrow?  You can!  And I’m not talking about wishful thinking or self-reliance. Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live with true joy today.  The truth of the Gospel hangs on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus.  The evidence is clear, the question is, how will we respond?  A book is entitled, “Evidence that demands a verdict.” There is no need for us to judge the evidence- it is compelling.  The real verdict will be how we respond to what God has done for us in Christ.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  Do you think that you just happened to come to church today?  God planned this moment – in your life and in mine.  It may be that you have been an interested listener, considering the Christian message for some time.  The facts: Jesus proved that He is the Messiah by dying for our sins, according to the scriptures and being buried, and then raising from the dead the third day.   He proved that He is the Son of God, now the question is, what will you do with Jesus? Won’t you receive the gift of eternal life that He purchased in His own blood? Won’t you submit to His Lordship, recognize that He is King of all creation? Who ever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. That’s truth, the only hope that matters.                   AMEN.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday: All Hail the Passover King!

John 12:12-16
[Just a reminder that this is not a transcript of the Sunday Sermon, but rather an expansion of the outline I prepared to preach from.  For the audio of the message as it was preached you are invited to go to the church website at and click on the “sermons” link and then select the desired message. Since I try to get this online Monday morning, please forgive any grammatical and spelling errors!]
Introduction: I read this week a reference to something written by the famous theologian Charles Schultz, o.k., it was a Peanuts comic strip… Lucy and Linus were looking at a rain storm through a window and Lucy asks: “What if it keeps raining until it floods the whole world?”  Linus replied “God promised Noah that would never happen again.”  Lucy sighs, “You’ve taken a great load off of my mind.”  Linus gets the last word: “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”  We teach and preach the Bible in this church, since God’s Word is the source of sound theology.  We’ve been studying the Gospel of John for a long time.  John wants us to know Jesus. To glory in His deity and worship Him. To marvel at His love demonstrated in the Cross and to love Him in return. To submit to His Lordship and to obey Him.  In the Bible we see hundreds of prophecies that were made about the Messiah fulfilled explicitly in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  God had a plan, that plan was revealed, in part, in advance, in these Old Testament texts, yet most people simply did not get it. Palm Sunday leads us into the last week of Jesus’ life before the Cross.  The story unfolds exactly as God had planned it—confirming Jesus’ identity, inviting us to consider how we should respond to Him.   
Context:  As always, it is important that we pay attention to the context of this episode in the unfolding story of Jesus as it is presented in the Fourth Gospel.  After the raising of Lazarus in John 11, the Jewish leadership conspires to put Jesus to death. Unwittingly, the High Priest even prophecies the substitutionary death of Jesus (11:49-51).  Chapter twelve begins with a reminder that Passover was only days away.  Since the first chapter the reader of the Gospel has had to struggle with the idea that Jesus is both Messiah (1:41) and a “the Lamb of God” (1:29,36).  How could this be?  What did the approach of Passover portend?  The anointing of Jesus “for his burial” (12:1-8) and the plot to also kill Lazarus (12:9-11) sound an ominous note as the story unfolds.   The contrast with what is about to unfold is an example of Johannine irony.   The crowds, even the disciples, did not understand the full meaning of what was happening, what it really would involve for Jesus to fulfill His role as the “King of the Jews” (see 12:16).  As  we consider this we’ll see…
The Big Idea: Palm Sunday teaches us some sound theology: It invites us to worship the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him and obey Him.
I. Jesus is the King, even though the crowd didn’t really understand! (12:12-13).  As John tells us the story of Jesus, there is a lot of irony in how it unfolds. The Jews were expecting a Messiah, a King, a Son of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel.  They had somehow lost sight of the truth that the coming King was also to be the Suffering Servant.  The title “King” doesn’t show up a lot in John’s Gospel, until chapters 18, 19 with Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. But there are some clues that John gives his reader early on:
            The first time Jesus is called “King” in this Gospel occurs in the first Chapter, the confession of Nathaniel: John 1:49   49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Before this confession however, the reader has heard John the Baptist, twice, calling Jesus God’s Lamb: John 1:29  "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!; John 1:36  36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" We read that and take it for granted, we’ve heard the phrases and this language applied to Jesus in church.  But imagine the disciples when they first heard it, imagine John’s readers when they first read this Gospel: for a Jew in the 1st century, “Lamb” whatever else it might mean, implies sacrifice. Lamb, and King? Sovereign and Sacrifice?
            The second time in John’s Gospel that the word “King” appears, is in Chapter 6, and comes in response to Jesus miraculously feeding the 5,000 with 5 small loaves of bread and a couple of fish. John 6:14-15  “Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world."  15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” In response to this miraculous provision, they wanted to make him king by force. Jesus knew their thoughts, what they intended to do, and went away. It wasn’t time for the king to be revealed.  John has reminded the reader of the Gospel, just a few verses earlier: John 6:4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.” After hearing John the Baptist call Jesus the lamb, the reader of the Gospel has a clue as to what is coming – the disciples still don’t understand. He is the King – but also the lamb.
            The third use of “king” in John’s Gospel comes that first Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry. The crowd quotes from Ps 118:25-26   Save now (hosanna), I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.  26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” Notice that they add something to the text: John 12:13  “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!" What they said was correct, and this time Jesus allows it, even though there is little doubt the crowd was still clueless as to what was about to happen.  The reader of the Gospel, however, has just been reminded:
     1. Passover was coming in just a few days; the Lamb would soon be sacrificed (12:1).
     2. Mary had just anointed Jesus, and he said it was “for his burial” (12:2-8).
     3. The chief priests were plotting to kill Lazarus, because his being raised from the dead was irrefutable proof that Jesus was from God, and they wouldn’t hear it (12:9-11). Their minds were made up, they would not consider the evidence that Jesus was the messiah (see Peter’s word in Acts 2:22).
            Part of the irony here is that the crowd, in quoting from Psalm 118 had forgotten part of the context: Ps 118:22   22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.” That rejection would reach its climax in just a few days when the leaders insist: “We have no king but Caesar!”   They were looking for a king like the nations around them.  Jesus is King, much more so than any merely human king.  He is the Lord of all creation, our creator and redeemer.  A merely human king can demand our obedience, but not our heart.  Jesus is the Shepherd King who would lay down His life for his sheep.  God showed us his live ,in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Palm Sunday invites us to worship the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him and obey Him.

II. He is the King, and He came in fulfillment of the Scriptures (12:14-15). John takes us from the shouts of the crowd, which were ironically true, even though they didn’t understand correctly who Jesus was, to the actions of Jesus, taken in deliberate fulfillment of Scripture:
 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:  15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey's colt." 
            The main point is that God had a plan, and every action of Jesus was taken in submission to and in fulfillment of the Father’s will. The cross was not a failure, it was not an accident, it was not plan B.  Peter said on Pentecost that Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God. That speaks to God’s love to us.  That is sound theology.
            It also speaks to the reliability of His Word. The Scripture, made centuries before was fulfilled precisely: He is the King. NB. John leaves out a word from Zechariah’s prophecy: “Lowly” or “humble”.  John was emphasizing his power, control, sovereignty, glory.
***Palm Sunday invites us to worship the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him and obey Him.

III. He is the King, the Passover King, both Sovereign and Sacrifice (12:16). John steps back for a moment and explains from his position years later what he and the other dsicples were thinking at this point in the story:  His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things...”
            The disciples didn’t understand at first what all of this meant.  Even though he had repeatedly, explicitly told them about the necessity of his death and resurrection, they couldn’t grasp it.
            “…when Jesus was glorified then they remembered…”  In John, its especially on the cross that Jesus is glorified (see John 3:14,15).  The cross was his lifting up, his exaltation, his glorification, because it proved who he was, fulfilling the Scriptures, and it accomplished what he came to do, giving his life for our sins.
          Notice in our context, John 12:25-28 "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.  26 "If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  27 "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour '? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name…"
          In John 18:36-37  Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."  37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.”  You see, He is the King, the Passover King. That is truth. That is sound theology, and it demands a response from us.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Palm Sunday invites us to worship the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him and obey Him.   What the crowds said on Palm Sunday was true, but they didn’t grasp the full implications. Jesus was not a victim. He was in control. And as Sovereign, he fulfilled the Scriptures, and came to give his life as a ransom for many.   In Rev 1:5 He is “…the ruler over the kings of the earth… [He] who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…” In chapter three John sees in his vision He appears “…in the middle of the throne as a lamb that had been slain…” The Passover King, exalted, on the throne of heaven, worthy to open the scroll and loosen its seals.  Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.  The One who was, who is, and who is to come.
What would he have me to do in response to these truths?  What difference does this doctrine make in my life?  Our response can only be to stand in awe of he matchless grace of God, to love the one who so loved us. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. The Passover King, who gave his life, so that we could have life. Praise him for his indescribable gift. All hail King Jesus!  All hail Emmanuel! And if we believe in who He is, we must also recognize His authority. Later in this Gospel He will tell his disciples: “As the Father sent me, so send I you…” At the outset of His ministry He warned them, “If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…”  My life is not all about me. He chose you on purpose, for a purpose. To be His witnesses. To love your neighbor so much, that it becomes your life mission to show them Jesus, to point them to the truth.  Will you love the King? Will you obey Him?     AMEN.

Monday, March 18, 2013

God's Mission and You

Matthew 9:35-38
After the visit of the Ministry Mapping team followed by hearing from our missionaries Fay, Eric Brown, and the Mansvelds, I thought it would be good to conclude our missions conference with a question they each raised in their own way: Why are we here? What is our part in God’s mission?  Should it really be a priority today?  Should we be concerned with the unsaved around us, isn’t that God’s business?  I’d like to reflect on those questions using a familiar text as our starting point, Matthew 9:35-38. 
“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.  36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.  37 Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  38 "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."
  As Jesus was ministering in Matthew 9 he looked out on the multitudes and was moved to compassion, literally he was “filled with pity” for them.  In modern English we might say, “His heart ached for them…” He saw their need and in response to that need he urged a specific response from his disciples.  Do we see the world as Jesus does? Do we have our Father’s eyes?  As we hear from various missionaries we can begin to see the world differently, we can be moved with compassion, and hopefully, to action. But what does that look like? 
Context: Matthew is interested in discipleship in the context of God’s worldwide program.  I believe Matthew 28:18-20 is the key passage, an interpretive grid that compels the reader to look back in the gospel and to give special attention to the commandments of Jesus.  Preceding this text at the end of Matthew 9, we see in Matthew 8-9 a series of 10 miracles in which Jesus reveals his messianic identity.  He can calm the stormy sea, heal the sick, cast out demons, even raise the dead.  The miracles he did proved who he was; they showed he had the right to teach with authority.  Chapter 10 might be called the missionary discourse of Matthew as Jesus sends out his disciples to preach and to heal. In between in the pericope we are looking at this morning. 
          This paragraph in its context shows the attitude of Jesus toward the need in the world, and his authoritative instruction to his disciples (and us!) concerning our appropriate response to that need.  Not everything in the Gospels translates directly to our situation (in Matthew 10 the disciples were sent exclusively to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” whereas the Great Commission makes it clear that we are to go to the world).  But if the situation that Jesus described in 1st century Palestine is still a reality today, then I the commandment he gave is one that we need to listen to as well.  If the world still needs the message of salvation, if the harvest is still plentiful and the workers still few, then we should be praying that the Lord of the harvest would send workers into his harvest field. And we’ll see that means you and me!
I. DO WE SEE THE WORLD AS JESUS SAW IT? Are people still “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a Shepherd”? Are we moved by that need?  Jesus’ insight into the condition of the world moved him to compassion. Do people still have the same tremendous spiritual need that Jesus observed in 1st century Palestine?    (9:35-36).
  First notice the condition of the multitude: “Harassed and helpless” (NIV). The English translations handle these adjectives in different ways:  NKJV “weary and scattered”  --  NAS “distressed and downcast”  --   One paraphrase says “their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help”     In this instance the compassion of Jesus is caused by quite specific needs that he observed, here the cause is expressed only in general terms: “for they were harassed and confused.” There was tremendous spiritual need.
The multitude were “…like sheep without a shepherd…”  What causes Jesus’ deep compassion at this point is not the abundance of sickness he has seen but rather the great spiritual need of the people. People long for life with meaning, most are just existing, far from the kind of abundant life that can only come from God.
The whole Gospel is a response to just this universal human need. (Cf. the reference to the gospel being sent out to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [10:6; 15:24]; cf. 18:12, “the lost sheep”; and 26:31, the “scattering of the sheep”; cf. 1 Pet 2:25.) Jesus, as the promised messiah, is to “shepherd” his people Israel (2:6, a quotation of Mic 5:1; cf. Ezek 34:23; 37:24). The Old Testament uses the metaphor of “lost sheep” to convey the idea of deep spiritual need. Isaiah says “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way…” (Isa 53:6).  In relation to the concern of the following verses with the need of workers, Ezek 34:6 may be in view: “my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (cf. Isa 53:6). Jesus himself is the shepherd of his people according to many NT references (cf. 25:32; 26:31; John 10:11–16; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25).
When we look at our Jesusalem, Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, Southport, is the need still great?  Can we say the people are “harassed & helpless”, in need of a Shepherd?  Could it be that there are unreached people since our church has been here for over 200 years?
One of the shocking statistics we heard from the ministry mapping team was that less than 2% of Lincoln Country residents are in an evangelical church on Sunday morning.  According to their data that qualifies us as an unreached people group! Think what that means: 98 out of a hundred people that we pass on the streets, in the shops and schools and offices, at the Y, 98 out of a hundred don’t know Christ. They are sheep, without a shepherd.  Does your heart ache as you lift up your eyes and see need around us?
The ministry mappers reported that census figures estimated 7,000 people in a five mile radius of our church. There are only a couple of churches reaching out to this needy mission field. We know the truth about the liberal mindset so prevalent in our state, as evidenced by the vote to legalize same sex marriage. We’ve heard reports of the world view that is increasingly informing the public education in our schools that would ridicule faith and idolize humanistic thinking. 
       So what do we do? Do we circle our wagons and prepare to ward off the attack of liberalism and humanistic thinking? Or, do we have our Father’s eyes? Do we see the world as Jesus does? Are we moved to compassion? Does our heart break over their lostness, do we ache for them to know the truth?   Boothbay and the region around us, our Jerusalem and Judea, is still needy, but can we still say that the task remains, that the “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”?

II.  Do we accept the evaluation that Jesus gave of the state of the missionary task (9:37)?  We know in this gospel that we have been given the task of taking God’s message to the world.
Jesus said “…the harvest is plentiful…”  Is this still the case today?  Is Jesus still building his church?  Are people still coming to faith?
 We have seen people coming to Christ, but honestly it is mostly been in the context of our Children’s Ministries, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and Word of Life (our Olympian and teen groups). Thank God that we can be encouraged that young people are hearing the truth and believing!  It is true that the older we get the more difficult it is for us to turn in faith to Christ.
Though our numbers are not great we can be encouraged that a group of families from our church have been able to establish a beach head for the Gospel on the next peninsula. We miss them, by Bremen needs Jesus too, so praise the Lord! The harvest is still plentiful.
 We have seen a steady stream of maturing disciples in our church – we can do better, and I’ve been encouraged to see a welling up of interest and ideas for outreach, suggestions for how we can do better at equipping our people – a burden to be the Lighthouse in this community that so desperately needs the truth. Jesus has not changed, He will build His church, and He is present and working in our midst.  
Jesus also said “…the workers are few…”  The harvest is still plentiful, but can we still say that the workers are few?  Every week churches close around the country. Get this: in our county, there is one evangelical church for every 5,000 people county wide.  The challenge is great!   There is still tremendous spiritual need in our Jerusalem, the harvest and still plentiful, the workers are still few…

III. The Command: If the conditions are still true then the com-mand is still valid.  Jesus’ instruction for addressing the need (9:38). 
“Therefore,” because these conditions prevail, “…therefore pray that the Lord of the harvest…”  Notice to whom we are to pray: to the Lord of the harvest. God is sovereign, he is the Lord of the harvest.  He is the Creator and Savior.  We can pray in faith, knowing that we are praying in accordance with God’s will, knowing that he is able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. So we are to look to Him the Lord of the harvest, and pray…
What specifically are we to pray for?  That He “…would send workers into the harvest…”  Pretty specific isn’t it?  But remember the context in Matthew:  In Chap 8-9 Jesus proved his identity through a series of ten miracles (he shows his authority).  Here He gives this instruction to the disciples: “…pray…”  But if we pray, we need to pray in recognition of the fact that we might be part of the answer!  Look at Acts 13:1-3…  What, do you suppose was their prayer?  Could it have been: “Lord, send forth workers in the harvest”?  If I am right about that, praying that prayer cost them something.  They had to send two of their best, two they had come to know and love.  Two who had significant ministry among them.  Sending out our families for the Bremen plan wasn’t easy, but that is what got call us to do in the context of His mission.
 Here in Matthew 9 Jesus urges his disciples to pray for workers for the harvest, and then what happens in chapter 10?  He sends them out! Do you see the need? Will you pray?  Will you go? Will you be God’s “undercover missionary” where He has placed you, always looking to give a reason for the hope that is in you? I’ve lost the source of this quotation but it is absolutely true:
“We live on a mission field not because our nation has abandoned its Christian heritage – though it has – not is it because people are any less Christian that they once were – although that is also true. We live on a mission field because we have been sent here as missionaries by God!”
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Missions are at the heart of God’s worldwide program:  “The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of Missions.  The closer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we must become.” Boothbay and the surrounding region, our Jerusalem, is still a needy. People are still harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  The harvest is still plentiful, the workers are still few.  Will you pray, as Jesus instructs, that the Lord of the harvest send forth workers into his harvest?  Will you pray, asking how you are a part of the answer? 
            1. Will you give, to support missionaries like Through the Fire, the Mansvelds, Word of Life, and the Hope Haitian Choir?
2. Will you look, with your Father’s eyes, at the lost sheep in your sphere of influence? Have you identified a group of people around you who you can pray for and seek to share Christ with?  Have you begun praying for them?
            3. Will you pray that the Lord of the Harvest would give us eyes, and hearts, for this field in which He has planted us?
     I sense a new sense of mission is welling up in our church, an excitement about what God is going to do. Will you ask Him, the Lord of the Harvest, how you can help show Christ to our neighbors? How can we, as His church, be more effective in the mission He has entrusted to us?  Are you willing to be part of the answer?    To God be the glory.               AMEN.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Missions and You

As our missions conference continues this week at Boothbay Baptist Church I've been challenged to consider our role as God's missionaries in this community.  After Eric Brown's visit tonite and Fay Christy's concert on Saturday, I'll be preaching next week on Matthew 9:35-38. This paragraph is "tucked in" to Matthews Gospel between a series of miracles that Jesus did, and his discourse as he sends out the disciples to preach and to heal.  Four verses, but there is so much here!  The attitude of Jesus as he considers the world, the condition of those who don't yet know Him, and the command He gives his disciples in light of the need.  Duane's message on Sunday, and the evaluation we received from the Ministry Mapping team have me asking myself, am I moved with compassion in view of the need in our community?  Do I see my neighbors as Jesus sees them?  Am I willing to be available, even if it means sacrificing, to reach out to them with the love of Christ?  Are you?  May we prepare our hearts together to hear from Him as our missions conference continues.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

God's Undercover Missionaries

This week I didn't preach - and I heard one of the most timely and relevant messages I've heard in a while as Missionary Duane Mansveld from Missions Door shared about the work he and his wife Miriam are doing on the streets of Montreal. This is the link to the audio of his message:

     When we were planning the visit of our ministry mapping team (last week) we already had the dates for our missions conference set.  I am always blessed to see how God in His sovereignty puts things together and amazed that His timing is always right.  The ministry mapping team challenged us to be more missional in intentionally reaching into our community.  Duane reinforced that message: that is what he and Miriam have been trying to do in Montreal, and that is what we must do here in Boothbay.  Do we see our neighbors as Jesus sees them?  Are we conscious of the fact that we have been placed where we are by God as a part of his missionary plan?
     Father, please, give me, give us, a heart to love our neighbors as you do, an awareness of the presence of your Spirit to empower us to reach out to them, the faith to trust you to accomplish your purpose through us and in us, the boldness to give a reason for the hope that is in us.  To God be the glory, Amen.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ministry Mapping - A Shepherd's initial reactions

Someone said as they were leaving church yesterday afternoon, "That was a bit like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose!"  We were certainly given a lot to consider, think about, and pray over.  One thing is certain: how we respond to this weekend's visit will have a profound impact on the future direction of our church.  My first concern however, is to temper the condensed and necessarily direct flood of assessment and information, with my perspective as one of the Lord's under shepherds entrusted with the care, protection, leading, and feeding of the "flock" here in Boothbay.  I know you, the people of Boothbay Baptist Church. I know that you love God, love each other, and hurt for the unsaved in our sphere of influence. If there is a lack of focus and vision in terms of growing in our walk with the Lord and being effective in His mission, that has to be a reflection on leadership (meaning me!), so please don't be discouraged by anything we have heard.  I will be discussing and assessing what was shared with the elders and other leaders of the church as we determine where we go from here. Please continue to be in prayer as we seek to hear what God would teach us through this process. As your brother and co-worker in Christ let me share with you the words of Paul in Philippians 1:3-6...   "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,  always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,   for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ..."