John 11:30-47 Jesus and the Power to Overcome Death

The passage from John 11:30-47 shows Jesus at some of the highest and lowest points in his ministry. Jesus was told a few days earlier that his friend Lazarus was sick, but he waited for two days before he and the disciples went to the home of Mary and Martha, who were Lazarus’ sisters. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been dead for several days, so it’s not surprising that Mary and Martha were disappointed with Jesus.

Sometimes Jesus disappoints us as well. We’ve prayed, but no answers have come. We’ve pleaded, but God has delayed. We’ve waited, but he hasn’t arrived. Why has Jesus waited? Possibly it is because our faith and hope in Jesus have to be proved and/or tested. Our faith depends on the faith that comes from experiencing God’s power in our lives. That faith needs to be as deep as Martha’s was when she said that God could do for Jesus whatever he asked. She had a faith experience because she had seen him work miracles throughout his ministry and she knew what he was capable of.

When he saw the mourners and their raw grief, Jesus wept. Why did he weep? There are several possible reasons. Jesus could have been genuinely moved by his grief and that of the other mourners. After all, Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and as a human he experienced human emotions. Jesus was also in awe of the power of God that was about to flow through him to triumph over death. Jesus’ tears could also have been caused by grief for a fallen world that is caught up in sorrow and death caused by sin.

Jesus could have also been grieving because the people could not see that the Messiah had come and therefore they could not see what God would do through him. This is a good lesson for the church to learn. The church can be unbelieving, unconcerned and indifferent toward Jesus and God. Regardless of the reason for his weeping, the knowledge that resurrection and joy would follow were the underlying points of his grief.

It might be hard for us to believe that Jesus could cry. After all, we’ve been told for years that only babies cry, but as Dr. Phil said in an episode of the Dr. Phil Show a few years ago, “Big boys don’t cry, but real men do”. I’ve even cried. Jesus wept because he was sad and hurt, and his tears provided relief. Jesus was sad over Lazarus’ death. He could have spared everyone grief by coming sooner, but he didn’t because it benefitted them in the end to witness his power over death. His actions proclaimed his power and glory.

Jesus’ prayer to God shows the intimacy of their union and the gratitude that God heard and answered Jesus prayer. Jesus always did what his father asked him to do, so all he does is in reality a prayer to God. Jesus hoped that everyone who heard him pray to God would know that he was the long-promised Messiah.

Our suffering and grief matter to Jesus, and he wept in empathy many times. When we get to heaven, there will be no more sorrow, pain or tears. We will experience love like we have never experienced it before. This miracle set the stage for Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was his last miracle. Some of the people who witnessed the miracle reported it to the Pharisees, and that led to Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, and if Jesus can rise from the dead, he can bring new life to us as well if we are willing to profess our faith in him.

Jesus asked the people to unbind Lazarus and let him go. He could have done it himself, but when human beings are capable of doing something themselves, God will not intervene. Jesus calls us to unbind people as well-people who are bound up in prejudices, bad habits or other problems. They’ve heard the saving word of Christ, but they still need to be delivered from the bondage of sin. That is the ministry we care called to. When we unbind people, we show God’s love.

There is a lot of emotion in this story-grief/sorrow, sympathetic neighbours who shared the grief of Mary and Martha, Jesus weeping. In the midst of these emotions, there is an abundance of faith-faith in the words of Mary and Martha and faith in Jesus’ prayer to God. The most important feature in this story is the love of Jesus, especially as shown in his weeping. His love shows us God’s mind and nature, especially his compassion and sympathy.

The people were sad because they were stifled. Their lives were constricted. They could only see the darkness and finality of death. They knew that when Jesus’ hour came, he had to meet it and that there was no way out, and they also knew that the same thing would be true for them. They could not see the sunlight and eternity of life with Jesus in heaven until he died and rose again. Only then did they realize that Jesus made it through the valley of the shadow of death and came out on the other side. The other side was filled with light and glory.

Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus and answered the call. The voice of God reassures us and calls us from the past into the present. The voice of God keeps our faith alive. Jesus always seeks people out. He comes to us wherever we are. He calls us whoever we are. He can use us whatever we are.

When Jesus called to Lazarus, he brought Lazarus from death this time. Lazarus eventually died again. There will be a time when Jesus will call our names and bring us out of death into everlasting life. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus sent the people running for cover, and it should also send us running for cover too. We and they finally see that Jesus is Lord and liberator of all the people of God. Those who are oppressed in any way by society will be convinced that his power came from on high and could not be defeated by the evil forces of the world. Evil plotted to silence Jesus by crucifying him, but Jesus has silenced evil through the hope that his resurrection offers each and every one of us.

Bibliography

  1. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible Software package.
  2. Frederickson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
  3. “Bottle of Tears”. Retrieved from keys@lists.cbhministries.org
  4. Stanley C.F.:  The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  6. Joni Eareckson Tada, “God Weeping”. Retrieved from www.joniandfriends.org
  7. Harvey Stob, “He Will Call Our Name”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  8. The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “Who Gets the Last Word?” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  9. Dr. Mickey Anders, “Waiting and Weeping”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  10. The Rev. John Bedingfield, “Deconstruction”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  11. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “The Raising of Lazarus”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  12. Dr. Keith Wagner, “A Voice You Can Be Sure Of”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  13. Maxie Dunnam, “The Ministry of the Unbinding”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  14. Eric S. Ritz, “Called by Life”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  15. James W. Robinson, “A Cup Running Over”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  16. Thomas Peterson, “Come Out!” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  17. Carlyle Fielding Stewart III, “Take Off the Grave Clothes”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com

John 11:1-45 Death is Not the End of Life

Doug peered out the van’s back window as his dad drove down the cemetery’s narrow path past rows and rows of small gray tombstones. Snow and ice covered the ground from the last winter storm. When they reached the second to last row of tombstones, Dad pulled to the side of the road and turned off the engine. They all got out of the van, and Mom opened the back door and pulled out a colorful cross made of purple flowers. Purple had been Doug’s grandma’s favorite color.

Doug pulled his hood tightly around his head as he and his parents walked slowly down the row of graves. He counted the tombstones as they passed each one. He knew his grandma’s grave was the seventh in the row. When they reached it, the family stopped and read the inscription once again: “Beloved wife, mother, and grandmother.”

They stood silently for a moment as a bitter wind pierced the air. Then Doug spoke up. “It’s so sad and depressing coming out here.” He looked around the cemetery and shivered. “Just thinking about how many dead people are buried in these graves gives me chills.”

Dad put his arm around Doug. “I know, buddy. But we know the grave’s not the end. We have hope for eternal life. Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life, and anyone who believes in Him will live forever. Grandma trusted Jesus as her Savior. Even though our physical bodies die, Jesus has promised us eternal life if we trust in Him. After we die we’ll go to be with Him, and one day He will give us new bodies that will never die. Nothing beats that hope.” Dad gave Doug a pat on the shoulder.

“Do you want to put the flowers on Grandma’s grave?” Mom asked, holding out the flowered cross.

Doug took the cross from his mother and stooped down beside his grandmother’s tombstone. He pushed the stake down firmly into the ground. As he started to stand up, Doug noticed something green behind the grave. A few blades of grass were poking up out of the snow. There in the cemetery, out of the deadness of winter, the new life of spring was on its way.

Why doesn’t God stop suffering and pain? It is because he has given us a free will to choose-either to follow Him and obey Him or go our own sinful, evil way. When we choose the way of evil, God’s heart is grieved. In fact, because God loved us so much, He gave His Son Jesus to die for our sins and deliver us from evil and from sin’s eternal consequences-hell and eternal separation from Him, who is the source of all love and life.

In times of despair, we often ask, “Where is God?” It’s okay to ask that question. Many of God’s faithful servants such as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus have questioned God’s decisions. God’s heart breaks for us in response to the pain of death and grieving. He doesn’t resent our honest questions about His plans, but if we refuse to trust Him because we don’t like how He has spent His power, we cut off our source of comfort.

We often say, “I don’t understand why God let my loved one be taken. I don’t understand why He is allowing me to suffer physically. I don’t understand the paths by which He is leading me. I don’t understand why plans and purposes that seem good to me should be baffled. I don’t understand why blessings I need badly are so long delayed.” We don’t have to understand all of God’s ways. In fact, God doesn’t expect us to understand them, but some day we will see the glory of God in the things which we don’t understand.

Jesus meets us when we mourn, just like He met Mary and Martha in John 11:1-45. He meets us where we are with our needs and what little faith we have. God is far more concerned with growing our faith than with making us comfortable.

Why would Jesus not rush to Bethany? Jesus’ plan made no sense by human standards, but His friends would have to trust Him-for the timing and the outcome. Sometimes God asks His followers to walk by a different light source than that of their limited human judgment.

Sometimes Jesus disappoints us. We’ve prayed, but no answers have come. We’ve pleaded, but God has delayed. We’ve waited, but He hasn’t arrived. Why has Jesus waited? Possibly it is because our faith and hope in Jesus have to be proved and/or tested. Our faith depends on the faith that comes from experiencing God’s power in our lives. That faith needs to be as deep as Martha’s was when she said that God could do for Jesus whatever He asked. She had a faith experience because she had seen Him work miracles throughout his ministry and she knew what He was capable of.

Jesus was glad that Lazarus had died without Him. That doesn’t mean that He enjoyed knowing Lazarus had died or that He enjoyed thinking about the family’s grief and despair. He was teaching His disciples and us that there is a greater miracle than physical healing. It is the miracle of the Resurrection. Jesus was glad because He knew God would be glorified to a far greater extent by the death and resurrection of Lazarus then He would have been by Lazarus’ healing and recovery from sickness.

Jesus was continually teaching and preparing the disciples for life after He was gone. The raising of Lazarus from the dead did result in greater faith among them. In all circumstances-even in times of waiting-believers should interpret circumstances by the love of Christ rather than trying to interpret Christ’s love by the circumstances.

When Jesus saw the tears of Mary and her friends, He wept, responding both physically and emotionally as He identified with their sorrow. The Lord sees and feel the anguish of God’s people when their loved ones die. Why did He weep? There are several possible reasons. Jesus could have been genuinely moved by his grief and that of the other mourners. After all, Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and as a human He experienced human emotions. Jesus was also in awe of the power of God that was about to flow through Him to triumph over death. Jesus’ tears could also have been caused by grief for a fallen world that is caught up in sorrow and death caused by sin.

Jesus could have also been grieving because the people could not see that the Messiah had come and therefore they could not see what God would do through Him. This is a good lesson for the church to learn. The church can be unbelieving, unconcerned and indifferent toward Jesus and God. Regardless of the reason for his weeping, the knowledge that resurrection and joy would follow were the underlying points of his grief.

Jesus would perform the miracle, but He wanted someone to take away the stone, demonstrating that human obedience often has a place in His supernatural work. In telling others about Jesus, the Christian may have to roll away the stone of ignorance, error, prejudice, or despair. But it is still God-not the effectiveness of a person’s witness-that “raises the dead.”

Jesus assured Martha that everything would happen just as He promised-the way God intended-and that all would see the glory of God. Her role, and ours, would be to simply trust Him.  Jesus prayed aloud for the benefit of the Jews who were watching: “that they may believe that You sent me.” Belief was on the line, and Jesus wanted everyone to know that the resuscitation of Lazarus would clearly be the result of cooperation between God the Father in heaven and God the Son on earth.

The Greek word for “cried” conveys that Jesus was shouting, both for Lazarus and the people to hear. His was the voice of divine authority. Had Jesus not specifically called Lazarus, perhaps all the dead would have been raised. That is the power of God!.

Jesus asked the people to unbind Lazarus and let him go. He could have done it himself, but when human beings are capable of doing something themselves, God will not intervene. Jesus calls us to unbind people as well-people who are bound up in prejudices, bad habits or other problems. They’ve heard the saving word of Christ, but they still need to be delivered from the bondage of sin. That is the ministry we are called to. When we unbind people, we show God’s love.

Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus and answered the call. The voice of God reassures us and calls us from the past into the present. The voice of God keeps our faith alive. Jesus always seeks people out. He comes to us wherever we are. He calls us whoever we are. He can use us whatever we are.

When Jesus called to Lazarus, he brought Lazarus from death this time. Lazarus eventually died again. There will be a time when Jesus will call our names and bring us out of death into everlasting life. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus sent the people running for cover, and it should also send us running for cover too. We finally see that Jesus is Lord and liberator of all the people of God. Those who are oppressed in any way by society will be convinced that His power came from on high and could not be defeated by the evil forces of the world. Evil plotted to silence Jesus by crucifying him, but Jesus has silenced evil through the hope that His resurrection offers each and every one of us.

Do you know someone who has died? Are you afraid of dying yourself? Death can be a difficult reality to face, but those who trust in Jesus have hope beyond the grave. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, you can trust in Him today. If you do know Him, share His truth with others so they can have the hope that comes with knowing Him too.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1460-1462)
  2. “Dead Man Walking: Again, If You Had Been Here.” Retrieved from ysu@youthspecialties.com
  3. Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 185-194)
  4. Stanley, C.F; The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Craig Condon, “Jesus and the Power to Overcome Death.” Retrieved from the author’s personal sermon library.
  6. “Day 6 These: The Gospel Message.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Anne Graham Lotz, “A Greater Miracle.” Retrieved from info@angelministries.org
  8. Vanessa Small, “Hope Springs Up.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  9. Richard Innes, “Where Was God?” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org

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Romans 8:1-11 Good Versus Evil

The first seven chapters of the Book of Romans focused on the power of sin in our lives, and they have set the stage for chapter 8 by discussing Paul’s ideas about sin. Our reading today from Romans 8:1-11 is an entrance into friendly territory. It talks about the Holy Spirit, which was not mentioned in the previous seven chapters. In chapter 8 alone there are 21 specific references to the Holy Spirit because this chapter is practical in showing us how important the Holy Spirit is in our daily lives.

Paul contrasts life in the flesh with life in the Spirit, and Romans 8:1-11 focuses on setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. Paul works with the idea that God’s Spirit raised Jesus’ dead body and that same Spirit lives in each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit gives life to our bodies and personalities. We are like God because we are made out of the same stuff and substance as God. God’s Spirit sets off our spirits inside of us.

The power of evil is not dumb. It always attacks us when we are the most vulnerable and the weakest. Paul identifies our four weakest areas as sex, anger, drunkenness and orgies and pride. In other words, we are at our weakest when we are in our sin-filled nature. Romans 8:1-11 crucifies and kills our sinful nature and lets the Spirit gush out with great power.

Life in the flesh means a life of sin, selfishness and worldliness. In contrast, life in the Spirit is a life of holiness, giving and Christ-centeredness. Life in the flesh leads to a body that is dead in sin, but a life in the Spirit leads to a life in Christ. When the Spirit lives in us, we are brought to life and we are redeemed from the grave just like Jesus was brought back to life and redeemed from the grave after his crucifixion.

When Paul talks about the sins of the flesh, he talks about all the sinful behaviour that exists in our world, and that is in contrast to the peace, joy and love that exists in the Spirit. We have been created as embodied persons, claimed by the promise of baptism and focused on the Spirit who redeems us to all that is good and true. Concern for worldly pleasures is bad, concern for spiritual life is better. This is often difficult for us to do, especially if we have to work on Sundays or when we are tempted by the sinful world. If we have the Holy Spirit, God will give us the strength to resist temptation.

The Old Testament law was weak because humans could not keep it, so God sent Jesus. Jesus met the demands of the law that were rightly made against the people. The Holy Spirit living in us allows us to obey God’s laws. It helps us reject our old earthly ways. It is also the hope of every believer. It regenerates our human spirit when we accept Christ as our Saviour.

By sending Jesus, God fulfilled the law for us and condemned sin. We are freed by the Holy Spirit. The law of the Spirit is in contrast to the law of sin and death. The Spirit gives us a new focus and a new freedom. We do not need to fear death or God’s wrath. Death is not the end. It is the beginning of unending, complete redemption.

God is a powerful judge who punishes us when we need it just like a parent punishes a child when the child needs it. God punishes us because he loves us and he wants to keep us on the straight and narrow path. God convicts us of sin, but he sets the conviction aside when he says, “Go, and sin no more.” God will not judge us unless we have never been saved. Our good deeds are not enough to save us because even our greatest deeds are filthy rags in his sight because of his perfect standards. If we are in Christ, our punishment has been transferred to Jesus, so we are not condemned. Judgement Day for us took place at Calvary, so our judgment days is behind us. Non-believers still have to face their own Judgment Day. As pardoned sinners, we live our lives by following the Spirit. Only then can we be a true image of God.

Christ and the Spirit are fully God and work together. Since Christian bodies are not yet redeemed, they still die even though they are freed from the condemnation of sin. The presence of the Spirit within believers testifies to the new life they enjoy because of the righteousness of Christ that is now theirs.

The Holy Spirit is the cure for sin and death. The law of sin and death is more deadly than an electric shock. Life in the Spirit changes us. Sin has killed our bodies and we can’t help ourselves, but Christ helps us. To live in Christ requires a radical transformation that renews our minds. That does not mean that we will not have any more struggles. In fact, Paul mentions his own struggles with sin in Romans 7:15-25. Walking in the Spirit is a relationship issue. Specifically, it is an issue of our relationship with God.

A few years ago,  the Huffington Post ran an article about the brain-training secrets of the athletes. Gold medal champions know how to train their minds like they train their bodies. Using mental exercises, they’ve learned to tune out distractions, reduce stress and focus on staying on top of their game. Using mental imagery, they visualize their performance in exacting detail, for studies have found that mental practice is almost as effective as physical training. Olympians meditate to calm themselves down. When they get into a “flow mindset,” they say they’re “in the zone.”

Christians should be experts at cultivating the mind and soul. The Bible tells us to train our minds as we train our bodies—to reject anxiety, to focus on trusting the Lord, and to visualize the green pastures, still waters and abundant life God has promised. The Bible tells us to meditate on His Word and get “into the zone” of the spiritual mind. Peace comes from trusting our Saviour—to be spiritually minded is life and peace—and that’s why he keeps those in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on him.

When we set our minds on the things of God, we do not allow sin to gain a foothold in our lives. If we do not forgive ourselves we remain enslaved to sin because we still feel guilty. We still condemn ourselves, but Jesus will never condemn those who believe in him. If we do not believe in Christ, we can’t please God by being good.

God does not save people who do good deeds unless they believe in Jesus. We can‘t escape sin by our own efforts. We can only escape sin through faith in Christ as mentioned in Romans 7:26.

Good deeds by themselves do not fulfill God’s law because they are produced for selfish reasons by a heart that is opposed to God. Jesus even said in Matthew 9:13,”I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  

To put it another way, a couple recently wrote a letter to Billy Graham. In that letter they stated that another couple in their apartment complex said they know they’re going to go to heaven when they die. The writers asked how the couple could say that. The writer added that the couple seem like good people, that it’s arrogant for anyone to claim they’re good enough to get into heaven. Here is Billy Graham’s reply:

“Many people, I’m afraid, hope that God will let them into heaven, since they’ve been honest and good and kind toward others. After all, they think, isn’t this what God expects of us?

But you may be surprised to learn that the Bible tells us otherwise. The Bible says God’s standard is nothing less than perfection — and who can claim to be perfect? In other words, if you had committed only one sin — just one — it would be enough to keep you out of heaven. God is absolutely pure and holy, and we’ll never be able to stand in His presence on our own. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

This is why we need Christ, for only He can forgive us and cleanse us — and He will, as we turn in faith to Him. And this, I suspect, is what your neighbors have discovered. They know they aren’t good enough to go to heaven on their own, and they have turned to Christ for the forgiveness and mercy they need.

And this can be true of you. God loves you, and He offers you the gift of eternal life right now — a gift paid for by His Son, Jesus Christ. Why not reach out and accept that gift today, by inviting Christ to come into your life? The Bible’s promise is true: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).”

Jesus said in effect that the things we offer to do and the promises we want to make in exchange for our forgiveness are just offerings to help us get over our guilt. He would rather give us forgiveness as a gift. The Holy Spirit is a gift for all believers. It does not have to be earned. When we are saved we can repeat the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m free at last!”

The process of change from life in the flesh to a life in the Spirit is a gradual one. This can be very frustrating to us because we live in a society that promises instant results and instant gratification. We want to make real changes in our lives, but many of us are looking for a magic pill to solve all of our problems. We have to open ourselves to the wonderful and unpredictable Spirit that is flowing so freely and so full of life all around us. True change is a long, slow process. It is a daily practice that will eventually result in change and growth.

Bibliography

  1. Cecil Murphy, “My Powerful Judge.” Retrieved from www.cecilmurphy.com
  2. Dick Inness, “The Law of Life.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  3. Dr. Tony Evans, ”Extreme Makeover.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  4. Exegesis for Romans 8:1-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  5. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Relationship, Not Regime.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
  7. Dr. Ed Young, “Watch Your Mindset.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  9. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  10. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  11. Dr. David Jeremiah, “Get in the Zone.” Retrieved from www.davidjeremiah.org
  12. Jon Walker, “Jesus Offers Mercy, Not Condemnation.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  13. Stephen Davey, “Hiding Our Sin.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Christ’s Spirit and My Spirit.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  15. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Christ’s Spirit and Put to Death Our Human Nature.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  16. Billy Graham, “How Can Someone Know They’re Going to Heaven?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com

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Ephesians 5:8-14 The Light of Christ Versus the Darkness of Sin

is the story that won the amateur writing contest,” she said, and then she began reading. “There was excitement in the courtroom as one witness after another told of his relationship with the defendant. All agreed that he was fun to be with. He amused and entertained them, he told them of his travels, and he passed along a wide range of knowledge. But after he had established himself in their houses, many parents noticed he often used very bad language, he told dirty stories, he often displayed anger and violence, and he taught their children evil ways.

“‘Because of a story he told, I ran away from home,’ testified seventeen-year-old Sally when she was put on the witness stand.

“‘He taught me that it’s smart to drink,’ added Julian.

“Another boy was crying as he said, ‘He told me and my friend Josh that he had a foolproof plan for robbing a store. We tried it, but the store owner had a gun. Josh was killed.’

“‘He told me that whatever I want to do is okay-even if it goes against the Bible-and that others should accept me as I am,’ stated a girl.

“So it went. Finally the defendant himself was called to the stand and asked to state his name. ‘I am Mr. T. Vee,’ he said. ‘I was only exercising my rights to freedom of speech. Besides, I was invited into each home by parents and children. They could have asked me to leave, but they never did.’

“When all testimony had been heard, the judge spoke. ‘Although I believe Mr. T. Vee is guilty of the charges brought against him, I cannot convict him,’ stated Judge Smith. ‘He was an invited guest in each home, and the law does allow free exchange of ideas. It was the responsibility of those in the home to ask him to go. Since they did not, they are as guilty as he! Case dismissed!'”

Dad looked at the family. “I hope this helps you understand why Mom and I don’t allow you to watch certain programs,” he said. “Let’s all share the responsibility of turning off the TV when bad programs come on.”

We live in a dark world that is full of temptation and evil. We try to live our lives as Christians, and sometimes we go astray. Most temptations are not great, obvious ones. We may never have been tempted to murder, commit adultery, or worship idols. Can we say the same thing about common sins like gossip or backstabbing? Have we never repeated a juicy rumour, even though we knew it was hurting a friend’s reputation? Have we assumed that everything we read on social media is true?

What about quarreling and refusing to forgive other people? It only takes a moment for a difference of opinion to turn into a nasty argument. We stomp away and vow never to speak to that person again, and a friendship is lost, a marriage is ruined, or a church is divided. The darkness creeps in. Too many people, including Christians, are living carelessly, without an appreciation of the dangers they face. The devil is at work in our lives, and some of his favourite tools are his lies. If we believe them, our relationships can disintegrate before our eyes and we’ll wonder what has happened.

In Ephesians 5:8-14, the apostle Paul laid out a counter attack. He calls on us as Christians to pursue goodness, justice and truth. Pursuing truth involves exposing that which is false (also known as sin) or secretive to community discernment.

How can we determine what is good and what is evil? We can’t make that determination on the basis of outward appearance. What is good in the world’s eyes can actually be evil. The only way to determine what is evil is to study the Scriptures.

We should live like people who have seen the evil of sin. By doing so, we will do what is acceptable in God’s eyes. Evil hurts the body and the soul. By living Christ-like lives, we rebuke a sinful world. Evil is so bad that its deeds can’t be described or spoken unless we as Christians rebuke them. Believers must not only remove themselves from darkness, but they also have a responsibility to expose and stand against the darkness. This is hard to do. We want to be minor players who move in and out of God’s plan of redemption as we please. It can’t be so. When we shine the light of Christ, we must do so in love and with a lifestyle that honors God.

Sins are called “works of darkness” for two reasons:

  1. They spring from darkness or the ignorance of God.
  2. They are committed in darkness. They shun the light.

Christ’s light shines anywhere and everywhere. It cleanses and purifies. It shows the way to spiritual safety for those who are about to sink into the abyss of sin.

The church is called to let its light shine. It is to be a beacon of light in a sin-filled world. The light should attract people like a light attracts moths in warm weather. It should draw people away from the darkness of our sin-filled world and lead them to the light of Christ. It must make people dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Before we can be like Christ, and before we can shine His light in the world, we need to have the nature of Christ within us. Only after He does this will our identity be changed. Only then can we change our behaviour.

When we face life’s trials, we will always find a verse in God’s Word to sustain us. Becoming strong in faith and strong in the Bible happens as we apply the truth of His Word in our lives. Then we will grow spiritually and live lives that will please Him.

Paul declares that believers were once darkness, not that they were in darkness. In other words, they were not innocently surrounded by sin and evil but were wholly part of that environment. Now they have become light and should have no fellowship with darkness. We as Christians are called to walk as children of light. We are to determine what is acceptable to God, and the only way we can do that is to study the Scriptures.

Life without Christ is like a power outage-survival mode in pitch darkness. Without Christ, there are no absolutes. Hope, truth and even morality are relative. When Christ is not the foundation of our lives, we spend our lives stumbling around in spiritual darkness hoping that we don’t bump into anything.

Many years ago, a prominent minister had a very eccentric man in his congregation who was trying to be a zealous Christian. Unfortunately, he usually did the wrong thing. He was a barber, and one day he was lathering up a customer for a shave. He came at the man with the razor in his hand and said, “Sir, are you prepared to meet your God?” The customer was scared out of his senses, jumped up and fled the barbershop with lather on his face!

It’s easy to allow our zealousness to get in the way of our common sense. We are to be zealous for God, but we must do it with wisdom. We are to love others in a way that is guided by the Holy Spirit and truly communicates God’s love for people. We are to speak the truth in love as a means to grow and as a goal for growing. We are not to go along with abusive behaviours or turn a blind eye to any kind of sin.

 In the darkest places and the darkest times in our lives, we realize the true power of light. When we seek out the caves and darkness of truth, we see that the depth of darkness can’t put out even the smallest spark of light.

Exposure of negative behaviour and lifestyles by positive Christian conduct and speech can become a tool for evangelism. When those who commit sin see how we as people of light walk the walk of our Christian faith, they have the potential to be converted so that they also become light.

Darkness is not the problem to be solved by God’s light. Paul is speaking of the foolishness of hiding in the darkness of the world. It makes us prisoners of fear. It doesn’t let us be free to live in faith. We don’t need a great light to banish the darkness of this world. All we need is faith. p:non�:��U

John 9:1-41 Spiritual Darkness and Spiritual Light

How many of your either know or knew someone who people might say is “different?”

They end up in this category for many different reasons-race, colour, creed, beliefs, religion, the community they live in, or even a disability. I can tell you from personal experience that it is no fun to be labelled as “different.” I can sympathize with the blind man in John 9:1-41. I hope that all of us as Christians can sympathize with him as well.

When the disciples saw the blind man, they saw an object of theological curiosity. In contrast, Jesus saw a man in need. There was a common belief at that time that suffering was the result of sin. The New Testament argues that this is not necessarily true, although situations such as cirrhosis of the liver and lung cancer are caused by the sins of drinking and smoking respectively. Even today, there are some people who look for someone to blame when tragedy strikes. They would rather call it a curse of God or a fitting punishment for some previous fault or crime instead of admitting that such things just happen or might happen to them.

Jesus used the metaphors of night and day to highlight His identity as the light of the world. Then he brought light to the blind man by healing him. Jesus could have simply spoken and restored the man’s sight, but his instructions to go and wash in the pool of Siloam were perhaps intended to test the man’s faith.

Jesus saw the blind man who was in physical and spiritual darkness and responded to his need. Similarly, he responds to our need for spiritual light because we live with the handicaps of our sin, limitations and false ideas about God. Baptism gives us our initial sight, just like washing in the pool at Siloam helped to give the blind man his physical sight. As we continue our journey through Lent, we have a chance for a spiritual eye exam. Just as we need to have physical eye exams on a regular basis, we need to have our spiritual eyesight checked regularly.

Sometimes our spiritual blindness is the result of the influence other people have on us. As someone once told me, “You are who you associate with.” We live in a world where sin is waiting to pounce on us just like a lion or a tiger pounces on its prey.

Spiritual vision allows us to see who we are before God, where we are going and what we have to do along the way. Jesus’ gift of spiritual sight gives us the direction we need in our lives today.  Sin is the rejection of the light that was brought into this world by the Light of the World. Our response to that light is important.  The Light of the World has the purifying power that cleanses the worst of sins just like many cleaners can clean the worst types of physical dirt.

The way the formerly blind man reported his encounter with Jesus provides a pattern for sharing faith: “Here is my story. This is who I was—blind, helpless and hopeless in my sin. Then I met Jesus, and this is how my life changed.” It is difficult for people to argue with a person’s story.

The Sabbath was established as a day of rest, but the Pharisees had added numerous regulations to make sure everyone “rested.” In their thinking, this healing—if in fact the man had actually been healed—was “work” and thus violated the Sabbath. The law about not healing people on the Sabbath was not God’s law. It was their interpretation of God’s law. To make matters worse, the Pharisees were important, educated, prosperous, respected—and it went to their heads. As we might say locally, they were “too big for their britches.” They assumed that they had the answers, so they closed their minds to new ideas. Instead of celebrating the man’s good fortune, they saw only a violation of their rules and a threat to their power.

Their power was also threatening. The man’s parents acknowledged that he was their son. They acknowledged that he was born blind and could now see, but they either did not know or were afraid to acknowledge the source of his healing. Perhaps they were afraid that if they said that he was healed by Jesus, they would also be expelled from the temple.

Unfortunately, a similar situation exists today, especially for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Third World. Many of them face opposition and persecution because of their faith. The difference between them and the blind man’s parents is that these Christians are proud of their faith and are not ashamed to speak about Jesus.

God’s healing presence was felt through the healing of the blind man’s sight. If people believed that his blindness was the result of sin, then Jesus’ healing should have proved to them that God works through Jesus to forgive sin. The blind man saw what the Pharisees refused to see. Jesus was more than a mere man. The blind man could see God and His truth. The Pharisees could not see this.

The Pharisees rejected the blind man’s healing as a miracle. They held on to their understanding of the man born blind as a product of sin and nothing else. They rejected the evidence of the miracle for the sake of the comfortable worldview that they had been trained to hold.

The worst thing the Pharisees could have done was to assert that they were not sinners. The best thing they did was cast the man out of the synagogue, where he saw Jesus with his own eyes and worshipped Him. Jesus did not rob the Pharisees of their sight, but they were blinded by their refusal to see. They assumed that they could see clearly and rejected anything that was different from their beliefs. Jesus did not condemn them, because they are condemned already because they did not believe in the Son of God.

As is often the case with those who reject Christ, the Pharisees were blinded by their pride, not by ignorance. They chose not to understand. They preferred the darkness of their own self-interests to the Light of Christ. The Pharisees are on trial, not the blind man. His newly found freedom judges their darkness. The Pharisees used their so-called superior spiritual position as teachers of the Law as a weak, pathetic defense. Those of us who are Christian leaders can be tempted to fall back on our credentials such as a seminary degree or certificate of ordination when we are confronted by the witness of a newly born disciple of Jesus.  

The Old Testament phrase, “Give God the glory” is a Hebrew phrase that often meant “Confess your sins and repent.” Many religions will say we know, just as the Pharisees did, but traditions and prejudices blind their followers. The newly sighted man challenged Jesus’ opponents with his “I know” declaration. His experience was not second-hand faith but the result of a direct encounter with Jesus. In anger, the Pharisees threw the man out of the synagogue. When Jesus heard about this, He sought out the man, just like he seeks us out, offers us His help and encourages us in our walk with God.

There have always been people who reject the truth in order to maintain the status quo, but there have also been those who are willing to stand up and speak up about this bad habit. When someone who tries to live up to the truth is rejected by society, he or she will be sought out by Jesus and called to a new life in Christ.

Through His healing of the blind man, Jesus confronts our spiritual blindness and reminds us that we must look beyond our own perceptions, rules and biases. If we allow our self-righteousness to blind us, we will never see the face of Christ. We will never meet him if we close our eyes to His presence in the world. We can learn to see clearly by doing these three things:

  1. Changing how we see God.
  2. Changing how we see and what we see in our lives.
  3. Changing how we live.

Like Jesus, we must work the works of him who sent us while it is day. That work is the work of shining light into the darkness and leading those who seek the light of God’s truth into Christ’s presence. It is there where we will find life eternal and light perpetual-and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the best light to see.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1456-1458)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Fourth Sunday of Lent (A).” retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  4. Frederikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 162-173)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  7. Pastor Dick Woodward, “A Definition of Sin.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Bayless Conley, “Not Ashamed.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Ryan Duncan, “Born Blind.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Exegesis for John 9:1-41. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com

John 4:5-42 A Heavenly Well Full of Spiritual Gifts

John 4:5-42 marks a shift in Jesus ministry. It marks a shift from ministry to the Jews only to ministry to both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus had to go through Samaria. God is willing to go anywhere to meet us as sinners. No one is outside the reach of God’s love. God’s gifts are for outsiders. Those who consider themselves worthy of those gifts will be in for a nasty surprise!

It was ironic that he, as a Jew, went through Samaria. The Assyrians defeated Samaria and took many Samaritans into captivity. Those remaining in Samaria intermarried with non-Jewish people, which compromised their ethnic identity and went against many Jewish customs regarding cleanliness.  Later, the Babylonians defeated Judea and took many Judeans into captivity.  The Judeans managed to maintain their identity while in captivity.  When they were finally allowed to return to Judea, they rebuilt the temple.  The Samaritans offered to help, but were rebuffed because of their mixed heritage.  They later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which started a continuing controversy regarding the proper place of worship. John Hyrcanus destroyed the Gerizim temple in 128 B.C.

Because he was human, Jesus was tired. To make matters worse, he was travelling during the hottest part of the day, so he was thirsty. Jesus took the initiative by speaking to the woman. In Jewish society, that was a taboo. It was against the culture and traditions for a man to speak to a woman in public unless she was his wife. The woman also broke with tradition by going to the well during the hottest part of the day. Normally women came to the well in the morning or in the evening. While they were getting water, they would catch up on all the news or gossip (much like people do when they go to the barber, the beauty salon or a local coffee shop). If the immoral woman showed up at the same time, she would have been the target of their gossip.

Jesus often used physical things to teach spiritual lessons. When he mentioned living water, he was referring to the spiritual water that he can offer to all believers, but the woman thought he was referring to physical water. Jesus knew that the woman was searching for something that would give her life meaning. That is why he offered her living water. That is also why he made the comment about her five husbands. The woman did have a spiritual hunger, and so did the Samaritans. They thirsted for the truth, and their thirst made it possible for them to see that Jesus was the living water gushing up to eternal life.

We are also restless and unsatisfied even though we have access to all sorts of earthly treasures. Just look at all of the rich celebrities who have died because of drug overdoses. The world searches for relevance and significance without success. People go from one relationship to another, from one activity to the next, and from one fashion or “in thing to do” to the next. They are literally dying of thirst and hope that the “new drink” will satisfy them. It never does. Earthly “drink” can never satisfy our desires like the living water Jesus offers can.

Once we have tasted Jesus’ living water, nothing else will satisfy our thirst. The living water provides cleansing and a spiritual life. It flows through true worshippers who worship God and Jesus with all of their heart. In order to drink the living water, we have to repent. That is why Jesus brought up the woman’s past. She needed to see and admit that she messed up and needed God’s help. We also need to admit that we are messed up and that we need God’s help. When God looks into our souls and sees our dark side, our secrets, our guilt and our motivations, he loves us anyway. That love is the living water that renews us and restores us. When God sees how we are dying inside, and when he tells us everything we have ever done, he still gives us living water. The Holy Spirit helps us to see our mistakes and failures.

The woman was open to the truth that Christ taught. As a result, she came to faith in Jesus. She reminds us who doubt or struggle with faith to stay in a conversation with Christ. God’s grace drew her to Christ, and she became an evangelist. Likewise, God’s grace draws us to Christ, and now we can be evangelists. We, like the woman, are to listen to the Word of God and look for opportunities to share it with others. We will never be alone, because Jesus’ living water will stay with us and will be there when we need it. 

Jesus also offered something meaningful to her, and it is the same thing he offers us. He offered her the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would live in her like it lives in us. God is not made of physical matter, so he can be everywhere and with everyone all at the same time. Spiritual food is important to our eternal life, just like physical food is important to our physical life. Spiritual food was more important to Jesus than physical food. That is why he dismissed the disciples’ concern that his behaviour with the woman was caused by physical hunger.

The other aspect of food and water that this reading talks about is the process of growing food. Those of you who have grown vegetables or flowers know that it takes time for a plant to grow from a seed. The same thing happens in the spiritual realm. It takes time for a spiritual seed to mature once it is planted in our souls. In addition, one person can plant the seed while another person waters it and still another person reaps it. There are times when sowing and reaping take place at the same time, as was the case with the woman at the well and the people of her village.

The spiritual harvest is now, and we are missing it. We can stay by Jesus’ side and be part of powerful encounters by doing the following things:

  1. Ask God every day where he is at work around us.
  2. Be open to the Spirit if he asks us to go into an unlikely area.
  3. Understand the harvest is now.
  4. Press in a bit. We need to get people alone, ask some questions and find out what God is doing below the surface of their lives.

Jesus made himself known to the Samaritans as the Messiah. How ironic it was that he made himself known as the Messiah to people who were seen as outsiders. By doing so, he made them insiders in his kingdom. The insiders of society often became outsiders in his kingdom. Sometimes God uses the most unlikely people to do his work, while those who should have been at the forefront of God’s work fail him. The heart of a worshipper is the most important thing to Jesus. He hates pompous attention-getters and loves true believers. He seeks out authentic worshippers, and when he asks them to do something, he gives them greater things to do. Legitimate testimony glorifies Jesus rather than the person making the testimony.

So how should we share the Good News with people, especially people from different backgrounds? Jesus shows us how.  We must put aside our own agendas and ask questions. We must not condemn them or condone their sin. We must offer them the bright hope of a future that is God’s gift. We must look beyond their sins, their outside appearance and their cultural differences. We, like Jesus, must see everyone as someone God loves and not as a person of a certain race, background or reputation. When we approach God in spirit and truth, we touch his heart and move him in a special way. In return, we are to reach out to others and spread our faith by reaching out to one person at a time.

It might seem as if the task is hopeless, but it’s not.  It might seem as if our neighbors are hopeless, but they aren’t.  We don’t have the responsibility to bring them into the church.  We have only the responsibility to be godly people in their midst.  We have only the responsibility to invite.  We have only the responsibility to plant the seed.  God will send other people to water it, and others still to harvest. God doesn’t need us to succeed.  God just needs us to be faithful––to do our part. The Samaritan woman was faithful. She did her part.  She ran into town to tell her neighbors about a Jew who might just be the Messiah

Sometimes we are reluctant to do this. Why? It is because we are comfortable with our existing lives. Sometimes we don’t want to take the simple actions we need to change our lives or the lives of other people. Making small changes in our lives or the lives of others can have big impacts, especially since we live in an area that is spiritually dry and thirsty.

In his article entitled “The Last Crusade”, Major V. Gilbert told of the early 20th century battle for Palestine against the Turks. At one point Allied forces outpaced the camel caravan that was carrying their water. There were wells in the territory occupied by the enemy. Gilbert rote, “We fought that day as men fight for their lives. If such were our thirst for God and for righteousness, for his will in our life, a consuming, all-embracing, preoccupying desire, how rich the fruit of the spirit would we be.” This is a good lesson for all of us to learn.

Bibliography

  1. Exegesis for John 4:5-42. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. Frederickson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
  4. White, J.E.: Holman Concise Bible Commentary: John (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  7. Radmacher, G.D.; Allen, R.B. & House, H.W.: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1999)
  8. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Conveying Eternal Love.” Retrieved from www.leadingtheway.org
  9. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Heartfelt, Honest Prayers.” Retrieved from www.joniandfriends.org
  10. Don Johnson, “From Facebook to Faithbook.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Don Johnson, “What Are You Doing With Your Life?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Pastor David McGee, “Give Me Some Water.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Jennifer Hereen, “How to be a Witness for Christ.” Retrieved from www.christianity.com
  14. Stephen Davey, “Thirsty People…Living Water.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Beau Crosetto, “The Disciples Missed It!” Retrieved from http://blog.exponential.org
  16. Rev Dr. David Sapp, “He Gets Me!” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  17. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Third Sunday of Lent (A), March 23, 2014.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  18. John van der Laar, “Out of the Shadows.” Retrieved from http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=889
  19. Peter Woods, “High Noon at Jacob’s Well.” Retrieved from http://thelisteninghermit.com

John 3:1-17 The Greatest Gift of All

Good morning boys and girls!

Who likes getting gifts? I certainly do.

Let me ask you this. Is something a gift if you have to pay for it? If you have to pay for it or do something for it, it isn’t a gift. When someone gives you a gift, it doesn’t cost you anything. All you have to do is accept it. What is the one thing you should not do when someone gives you a gift? The one thing you should never do is ask “How much did it cost?”

What do you think is the greatest gift anyone can receive? It is the gift of eternal life. Jesus talks about this gift in John 3:1-17.

Now let me tell you a story that will explain why Jesus gives us the gift of salvation. It’s a story about Mia, Rafael and a dog. As Mia and Rafael walked down Main Street with their father, Rafael noticed an unusual display in a shop window. “Hey, Dad!” he exclaimed. “There’s a real dog in that cage!” Rafael stooped and looked at the small, brown dog. A large hand-lettered sign was attached to the cage.

Mia read it aloud. “Death row! Without your help, this animal will have one more day to live. Call the local animal shelter and make arrangements to adopt this puppy.” She looked at her father. “What does that sign mean, Dad?” she asked.

“It’s a new program the animal shelter is trying,” said Dad. “They can’t take care of all the stray animals they find, so by letting people know about the problem, they give the animals a better chance to be adopted out. If no one takes this dog, they’ll have to put it to sleep.” The kids stared in dismay at the little animal. “I’ve heard that the program is very successful,” Dad assured them. “I’m sure someone will claim this cute little puppy.”

“But, Dad! What if nobody does?” wailed Mia. “Can’t we take him home with us? Look-he likes us already. He’s wagging his tail!”

“Yeah, and he needs us, Dad!” Rafael pleaded.

“Well . . .” Dad hesitated. “Let’s wait till this evening, and I’ll call and check on him. If nobody rescues this little guy by then-and if Mom agrees and you kids promise to take care of him-we’ll come back and get him tomorrow. Okay?” Mia and Rafael nodded eagerly.

When Dad called the animal shelter, he learned that the dog was still waiting to be rescued. Since Mom had agreed, they went the next day to get the puppy. As they drove home, Mia looked up at Dad. “It’s kind of like what Jesus did, isn’t it, Dad?” she murmured.

“What do you mean?” Dad asked.

“When we had devotions yesterday, the verses you read from the Bible said that before Jesus saved us, we were condemned,” explained Mia. “In a way, that’s like being on death row, isn’t it? But Jesus died on the cross to take our punishment. When we trusted in Him, He rescued us-kind of like we rescued this puppy.”

Dad smiled. “Good thinking,” he approved.

“The puppy will be a reminder that we’ve been rescued by Jesus,” Rafael added.

Boys and girls, God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to earth to die on the cross so that we could have the gift of eternal life. Can you imagine how much Jesus loved us to be willing to die on the cross so that we can have eternal life in heaven? Jesus paid the price so we could receive the greatest gift of all.

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for the greatest gift of all. Thank you for Jesus, who loved us so much that he paid the price for our sin to give us the gift of eternal life. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “The Greatest Gift of All.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
  2. “Rescued.” Retrieved from newsletter@cbhministries.org.
  3. Real Life Devotional Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderkidz; 2008)

John 3:1-17 How Can We Measure God’s Love?

Good morning boys and girls!

One of the most famous Bible verses is John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world.” Just how great is God’s love and how could we measure it?

Sometimes we use a measuring cup to measure things. If we make some cookies, we would use a measuring cup to make sure that we put in exactly the right amount of flour, sugar, and milk. Is there any way we can use a measuring cup to measure God’s love? In Psalm 23, the Bible says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….my cup runneth over.” Well, if our cup runs over with God’s love, I don’t think we could use a measuring cup to measure it.

If we were building something, we might use a tape measure to measure the length, width, and height of different things. Can we use a tape measure to measure God’s love? In Psalm 108, the Bible tells us that God’s love is higher than the heavens.  If God’s love is higher than the heavens, I don’t think we could use a tape measure to measure it, could we?

We use a watch to measure time. I wonder if we could use a watch to measure how long God’s love will last. In Psalm 103, the Bible tells us that God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. Wow! If God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting, I don’t think we could measure it with a watch.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How do you measure a love like that? We can’t measure it — we don’t need to — but we do need to experience it.

My hope for you today is found in Ephesians 3:18-19:  “That you may understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience it, though it is so great you will never fully understand it.”

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love — a love so great that you gave your one and only Son so that we could have eternal life. Amen.

Bibliography

  1. “Measuring God’s Love.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com

John 3:1-17 God in Three Persons-Blessed Trinity

The minister gave his Sunday morning sermon, as usual, but this particular Sunday, it was considerably longer than normal. Later, at the door, shaking hands with parishioners as they moved out, one man said, “Your sermon, Pastor, was simply wonderful – so invigorating and inspiring and refreshing.” The minister of course, broke out in a big smile, only to hear the man say, “Why I felt like a new man when I woke up!”

Actually, I can understand if you do happen to fall asleep during this message (and hopefully you won’t!!!!!!!) because the topic is very “dry” and hard to understand. We’re doing something a little different today. Instead of talking about Jesus and his parables or teachings, we’re talking about one of the key doctrines or teachings of the Christian church. Why talk about doctrine? Simply put, the doctrine of the Christian church is the substance of our faith. If we do not show any interest in biblical doctrine, then we do not show any interest in our roots.

The Trinity is a difficult concept to understand let alone preach about, and part of the reason is because the Trinity is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Scriptures, even though the concept of the Trinity is mentioned throughout the Bible. There is always a danger when a man-made concept is introduced into something God has created. The early church introduced the concept of the Trinity to explain how God works in our lives to restore our relationship with him.

In essence, the Trinity is the belief that God is one in essence, but distinct in person. In other words, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are somehow distinct from one another, yet at the same time they are completely united in essence, will and tasks. God has a life in which all three members of the Trinity relate to each other, give to each other, and love each other.

This is the concept behind the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed. The intention of the creeds was to affirm these three core beliefs:

  1. The essential unity of God
  2. The complete humanity and essential divinity of Jesus
  3. The essential divinity of the Spirit.

Christians affirm the unity of all three members of the Godhead. We worship and glorify the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The three members of the Trinity-God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit-are three unique “individuals” (for lack of a better word), but they are one in that they are part of God’s master plan to restore our relationship with him. God is dynamic and unpredictable, just like the wind, and just like the wind comes from all directions, sometimes God convicts us of our sin, sometimes God denounces us and our sinful nature, and other times God opens Christ to us, yet at all times God still loves us.

God created the plan of salvation, Jesus put the plan in place, and the Holy Spirit implements it in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit is the invisible force that allows us to accept Christ and what he did for us. The Holy Spirit allows us to walk with God along the straight and narrow path in our new relationship with God.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus did on earth. It tells us what God is thinking. The Holy Spirit is infinite and indefinite. It can be everywhere and with everyone all of the time. In contrast, Jesus could only be with a few people in one place and at only one time because of his finite, human form. Only through his death on the cross does he disclose what it means for him to have been the mind and will of God in human form.

Like Christ, we have to suffer a form of death and resurrection when we allow God to enter our lives. When we do, we die to our own sinful nature and rise again into a new life that is energized by the Holy Spirit. To be born again means that we see things in a new and different light and in a way that is broader and deeper than we can understand now, and to be energized by God’s power-a power that is greater than ours. The only way we can gain this new insight into God’s kingdom is to be born again with the Holy Spirit through God’s grace and truth. We receive the Holy Spirit through baptism and acceptance of Christ in our lives. The water of baptism washes away our sinful nature and allows the Holy Spirit to enter and teach us all about what Jesus said about himself and God the Father.

The transition to our new relationship with God can be painful and full of conflict. It involves letting go of our sinful earthly life, which can be difficult. After all, change can be uncomfortable. The status quo is like our favourite pair of shoes-it just feels so darn good! Change is sometimes necessary. We need to be shaken up if we want to walk with God. Just like we trade cars when they wear out, we have to trade in our old, sinful life for a new one modeled on the life of Christ. Faith heals our sinful nature when the Holy Spirit is born in us. It also heals the conflict that results from our change to our new life. It also heals our relationship with God, and relationships are the foundation of our lives.

God is so vast and so infinite that we can’t even begin to understand him on our own-the gap is simply too great. God bridged this gap by sending his son Jesus. In other words, God became human so that he could understand our human nature. Only by becoming human and by understanding our human nature could God bridge the gap between him and us and begin the process of restoring our relationship with him.

A good analogy is the trips our Canadian Prime Minister takes to visit foreign leaders who can’t speak English. When you see pictures of the two leaders sitting down and having a conversation, you often see more people with them, and one or more of these people are translators. They translate what our Prime Minister says in English into a language that the other leader understands and vice versa. When God became man, not only did he bridge the gap between him and us, he was able to translate the mind and will of God into terms that we can understand. That is also why Jesus often spoke in parables. He used ordinary experiences that his audience could understand to teach them about God.

We are never too old to accept the Trinity and what it offers. The Holy Spirit gives us a spiritual awakening. In John 3:1-17, Nicodemus thought that because he spent many years climbing to the top of the Jewish faith he could not change, but the encounter with Jesus changed him. How do we know this? It is because Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial after his crucifixion.

None of us can enter God’s Kingdom on our own, because we cannot measure up to God’s spiritual standards by ourselves. Why it that? It is because God’s spiritual standard is perfection. We need the help of all three members of the Trinity. We are and always will be sinners, but with the Trinity we become sinners saved by grace. Even though the Holy Spirit restores our relationship with God, and even though our sinful nature has been removed, we still have to accept the consequences of our past sins. God can’t overlook sin. Sin demands punishment. God took our punishment on himself as our substitute when he as Jesus died on the cross. When we accept him as our substitute, the Holy Spirit lives within us and reestablishes our relationship with God.

When we look upon the crucified Christ, like the Israelites who were bitten by serpents in Numbers 21 looked at the bronze serpent on the pole and lived, we are given a new life. In other words, we are born again. When we are born again, we receive the Holy Spirit. It encourages us to meet our needs in a way that honours God. It leads us to salvation, regenerates us, convicts us of our sinfulness, teaches us to live for Christ, and seals us for redemption. It also leads us in truth. The Spirit will guide us to remember the truth, reproduce the truth, receive the truth, act upon it and speak it.

God works at the highest levels of power and the greatest distance from us. He enters history uniquely identified with Jesus, who was fully human and fully God. God also personally encounters us in our ongoing history.

The most difficult truth for us to understand is that our sinful nature has made us spiritually dead to God. That is why we need to be reborn spiritually. Baptism is the sign of a new life in Christ. Baptism allows the Holy Spirit to enter us. Once the Spirit turns on the light in our souls, we can understand spiritual things. Our soul comes into union with God and gives us eternal life. God adopts us, makes us his own and promises to be with us forever. This is the heart of being born again.

When we re-establish our relationship with God, he becomes our Father by rebirth and adoption. God loves us because of his nature and he won’t stop loving us. The Spirit gives us rebirth and new life, and God gives us the Spirit because he loves us. God’s work in Jesus through the Holy Spirit is to save ourselves from our own foolishness and our destructive nature. In return, God uses the Holy Spirit through us as a voice of humanity in an inhumane world. We gain the confidence to speak out because the Holy Spirit has touched us like the fiery coal touched the lips of the servant in Isaiah 6:1-8. Life in the Spirit does not have the problems or temptations that exist in life in the world.

God is Father, Son and Spirit, co-equals united in mutual love and divine essence. When we remember this, we can understand what Jesus meant when he said that he and the Father and the Spirit are one. We can’t have one without the other. Jesus reveals God and reconciles us to God. He is the one through whom we are able to enter God’s kingdom, and the Spirit takes us there. The Holy Trinity is God (who is love) coming to us in whatever way we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we become new people who express God’s love in everything we do, say or think.

Bibliography

  1. Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XXIII, No. 4 (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary; 2012; pp.1-9)
  2. Craig Condon, “The Three Musketeers-Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Sermon on John 16:12-15
  3. Craig Condon, “No Greater Love”. Sermon on John 3:1-17
  4. Alan Smith, “Both Born and Adopted”. Retrieved from thought-gor-the-day@hub.xc.org
  5. Gerrit J. Bomhof, “Wind”. Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net
  6. John Piper, “The Free Will of the Wind”. Retrieved from www.desiringgod.org
  7. Richard Innes, “Do Good People Go Into Heaven, Part II”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  8. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  9. Steve Arterburn, “Never Too Late”. Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Anne Graham Lotz, “A Spiritual Implant”. Retrieved from angelmin.info@angelministries.org
  11. Pete Briscoe, “Is It About Your Behavior or Your Being?” retrieved from crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, PCUSA, “The Threefold Nature of God”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  13. Exegesis for John 3:1-17. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  14. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Jesus Christ, the Seeking Savior”. Retrieved from In_Touch_With_Dr_Charles_Stanley@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Jim Burns, “New Life”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  16. The Rev. Dr. David Lose, ELCA, “Like It or Not”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  17. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  18. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  19. Albert Mohler, “Does Doctrine Matter?” Retrieved from Jesus.org@crosswalkmail.com
  20. C.H. Spurgeon, “Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle”. Retrieved from Biblegateway@lists.biblegateway.com
  21. Daniel Clendenin, PhD, “The Infinite God as Truly Intimate”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  22. Roland McGregor, “McGregorPage #820, Trinity Sunday, 6/3/12”. Retrieved from mcgregorpage-bounces@mcgregorpage.org
  23. The Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Long, PCUSA, “The Start of the Trail”. Retrieved from www.day1.org/3832-the_start_of_the_trail.print
  24. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year B, Season after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod,org

Matthew 4:1-11 The First Temptation of Christ

Have you ever faced temptation in your life? Each and every one of us has faced life’s temptations at some point in time, and we are always faced with the issue of how we are going to face them. Even Jesus was tempted, as we have heard in today’s Gospel reading. We can be tempted at any stage in life. Do we fight temptation or give in to it? Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel gives us instructions about how we as Christians are supposed to deal with temptation.

The Gospel reading takes place shortly after Jesus’ baptism-a baptism that included the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus from heaven. Now, the Holy Spirit has led Jesus to a barren place where the devil waited to tempt him. You might wonder why the Holy Spirit did this. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation so that he would know what it is like to be tempted and so that he could emerge sinless and perfect-and thereby become the perfect, sinless lamb that would be slain for our sins. Our own wilderness experiences are an important aspect of our spiritual walk because they are designed to test us and teach us. We can look temptation in the face because Jesus has entered our desert experience and come out triumphant.

This happened at a spiritually significant time in Jesus’ life, and like Jesus, many of us are tempted at a spiritually significant time in our lives. Temptation is an active force today. If God calls us, we will be tempted. We are often tempted to see evil as the product of social problems such as poverty, racism or ignorance; however, the church teaches that evil exists because the Gospel writers taught that the devil existed and that Jesus had to deal with such an existence. Evil is a personal and sociological issue that lives in both our neighbourhoods and our hearts.

Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his physical hunger just like we can be tempted by cookies or candy or other snack foods. They satisfy our physical hunger for a short period of time, but in the long run too much “junk” is not good for us. The same is true of our spiritual hunger. We need spiritual nourishment as well as physical nourishment. God will provide us with the spiritual nourishment that we need. As long as we stay close to him, we will overflow with blessings and joy.

God has much to give us to feed our spiritual hunger, but today we are distracted from receiving his word by things such as shopping malls, catalogs, faster computers, TV shopping channels, men’s and women’s’ magazines and much more.  Only God can fulfill our longings. He is the hope we have when we look into the world and see so much evil. He is the hope we have when we look at ourselves and see our evil side.

If Jesus had given in to temptation, he would not have satisfied his spiritual hunger. He would have turned his back on God. He would have started his ministry by following the devil’s lead. Instead, he chose as his first duty the feeding of others on God’s word-a duty that must also be our first duty as Christians. In order to do this, we do not have to preach hellfire and brimstone. We can do this by serving others as Christ and the disciples served others.

Jesus was also tempted by Satan to jump from the roof of the temple. Satan even uses Scripture as a weapon! The three temptations are not incentives to do bad things. They are invitations to be someone else, to live some life other than that of the beloved son of God. While the devil and his disciples quote Scripture and thereby appeal to our lower nature, their strongest appeal is to our sense of right and wrong. They try to persuade us to do not what we know is wrong, but what we think is right. The devil hides his temptations. He will tempt us to do good deeds by using some sort of underhanded method. He offers us shortcuts that sound so good at the time, but work out so poorly for eternity. He will be like “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, so we must stay alert at all times and always pray for guidance. We must not be fooled by the beautiful package that the temptation comes in, because the contents are ugly. Temptations are everywhere-just like the devil and his fallen angels.

Sometimes even our worship is directed to man when it should be directed to God. A good example of this is the extravagant lifestyle some TV evangelists lead-a lifestyle that is financed by the offerings received from their followers. Of particular concern are evangelists who proclaim that Jesus will bring prosperity to our businesses, families, dreams and lives, especially if you send them money! They are the devil in disguise. Jesus will bless these things only if they are in line with his will for our lives and if we worship him in true faith. In contrast, evangelists such as Billy Graham and Franklin Graham live modest lifestyles while they do God’s work in our world.

Finally, Jesus is tempted with all the kingdoms of the world, but God has already promised them to him. In reality, the devil has a stake in all the kingdoms of the world. Many people willingly serve him today. Can we trust Satan to deliver anything, let alone the whole world? The answer is “NO!”. The offer is only the bait for a steel trap. The only thing that Satan can deliver is a one-way trip to hell for those who refuse to follow the narrow path God has laid out for their lives.

Jesus fights fire with fire by quoting Scripture back at the devil. Our greatest weapon in our fight against temptation is the word of God. It is the true armour of God that Paul refers to in Ephesians chapter 6. It will prove to others that God is more important than the world. God occupies the first-place space that we have reserved for him in our lives.

We should never doubt God’s leading us just because we run into temptation. Though God will never tempt us, he will test our faith to see if we will stay on the course that he has set for us to follow. If we are uncertain and need his assurance, all we have to do is ask him to confirm his will to us. He will answer whenever we pray and ask his guidance.

There will be times when we need his strength and guidance when we face temptations. Satan will never give up. He will stop at nothing to tempt us into doubting God’s word and his promises. Just as he did with Eve in the Garden of Eden, he will whisper words of doubt saying the Lord can’t be trusted or what he says is not the whole truth. We know Satan is a liar. When God speaks to us, we can believe whatever he says because he is the sovereign God of the universe.

How should we respond to temptation? Jesus gives us a good answer in his responses to Satan’s temptations. Jesus appealed to the unchanging word of God: “It is written!” If we want to successfully overcome temptation, we must also use God’s word as our offensive weapons against an inferior foe. This means we must take time to read and study his word. We can’t go into battle each day unarmed-and yet many people today do this very thing by ignoring the Bible and the principles it contains. In addition to the word of God, we have other ways to deal with temptation. First, we can face it for what It really is-an attempt to turn us away from God’s will. Second, we can flee from it-specifically, we must stay away from situations that always tempt us or cause us to stumble. We must follow the instructions Paul gave us in Ephesians chapter 6 and put on the armour of God when we do battle with evil. Only then can we follow the lines of the old hymn, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…”

Lent provides us with the training we need to fulfill our spiritual mission. Jesus was strengthened by his wilderness experience, and so are we. Jesus left the wilderness, called his disciples and started doing God’s work. We can also leave the wilderness and do God’s work, all the time being confident that we can face temptation by relying on God’s strengths.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Exegesis for Matthew 4:1-11. Retrieved from www.sermonwwriter.com
  3. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “All about Angels”. Returned from www.leadingtheway.org.
  4. John E. Werhan, “What We Worship”. Retrieved from www.forthright.net
  5. Billy Graham, “Why Do I Still Have Temptations?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  6. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Don’t Try This At Home”. Retrieved from www.lhm.org.
  7. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  8. The Rev. Michael J. Fish, “Victory over Temptation”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  9. The Rev. Dr. George Mason, “Training Days”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  10. Abingdon Commentary. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  11. King Duncan, “As the World Turns”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  12. King Duncan, “Beyond Temptation”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  13. Thomas Long, “Facing Up to Temptation”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  14. James McCormick, “Jesus’ Forty Days, and Ours”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  15. King Duncan, “Waiting for the Angels”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  16. James Merritt, “When I Am Tempted”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  17. Dr. J. Howard Olds, “Why Doesn’t God Do Away With Evil?” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  18. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package
  19. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package.