Luke 24:44-53 Spiritual Light from the Light of the World

A few years ago, I preached and led worship at a church in a community near where I live. During the children’s talk I mentioned that Jesus told his disciples that he would be returning to the Father, but that they would receive the Holy Spirit. I compared the Holy Spirit to the batteries in a flashlight.

Light is amazing. Without it, we would not be able to read and discover the world around us. Just like we need physical light to see the world around us, we need spiritual light to see and understand God. Jesus is that spiritual light, and we see in Luke 24:44-53 how he shined a spiritual light on the disciples before his ascension. He helped the disciples to see that shining a light on sin helps those who have lost their way to see him, and he helps us to see the same thing today. He also shined a light on the Old Testament prophecies about his death and resurrection. Luke reminds us that Jesus came to satisfy all of the prophecies made about him in the Old Testament.

The disciples heard the Lord preach many times. They watched him perform miracles for at least three years. They saw him crucified and now they stood in his resurrected presence, but until the Lord opened their minds to understand the Scriptures they did not truly understand everything.  Spiritual understanding comes through the Holy Spirit, or it doesn’t come at all. True understanding of the Scriptures is a gift from God. It allows us to understand how all of the parts of God’s plan of salvation fit together. Part of that plan includes Jesus’ death and resurrection. The disciples and other followers, including modern-day followers, would gain further understanding through the work of the Holy Spirit. In return, they would be able to fulfill their commission as Jesus’ witnesses.

In order for the Holy Spirit to come and continue Christ’s work, Jesus had to leave and return to the Father. Jesus in human form could only be in one place at a time, but the Holy Spirit can be everywhere all of the time. When Jesus blessed the disciples before his ascension, he probably showed gratitude to those who chose to walk with him. If we walk with him today, we will hear the Holy Spirit use similar words.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of how much Christ loves us and the sacrifice he made so that we could regain fellowship with God. The Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us. It steers us away from danger and toward truth. When the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are healed, changed, freed and sent on missions because God lives in us. It opens our minds to receive God’s truth. It enables us to withstand all of life’s challenges. Without it, we will be defeated by the world.  

Even after the disciples believed that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, they did not become effective witnesses until the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit came and filled them with his power and authority. Knowledge and conviction aren’t enough. The Christian mission depends on the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit for its success.

The disciples learned that it takes time and prayer to find one’s mission. Mission is based on taking time to assess the needs and what our strengths are. God wants us to have a heart for him and a vision for the world. He wants us to know, obey and share him. God entrusts us to live and teach the Gospel in spite of our faults and failures.

Luke makes it clear that the message of Christ must include a focus on repentance and remission of sins. One without the other is incomplete. Jesus shone the light on the need to repent. The same light allows us to take in the Scriptures and feast on the Word. In return, we are to preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1436)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Dr. Charles Stanley, “The Holy Spirit: An Absolute.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  4. “Use Even Me.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  5. “Where Thou Art.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983, pp. 356-357)
  7. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  8. Dr. Charles Stanley, “The Power of the Holy Spirit.”  Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. “This Little Light of Mine.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. “A Total Life Change.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. “What is Written.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Jill Carattini, “A Sign of Relief.” Retrieved from www.sliceofinifity.org
  13. Aaron Coyle-Carr, “He Ascended with Scars.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  14. Baptist Bible Hour, “Evangelism.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  15. George Hermanson, “Discernment.” Retrieved from www.georgehermanson.com
  16. Dr. Charles Stanley, “A Heart for God-A Vision for the World.” Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  17. “The Heart of Worship.” Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net
  18. Exegesis for Luke 24:44-53. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  19. Craig Condon, “The Light of the Holy Spirit.” Children’s Talk delivered during the weekly Worship Service at Bridgewater United Church, Bridgewater, NS on Sun., May 1, 2016. Sermon available from the author’s personal library or online at http://sermonsfrommyheart.blogspot.ca/2016/04/john-1423-29-light-of-holy-spirit.html

Acts 1:6-14 Waiting for the Power

What’s one of the hardest things you have ever had to do? For most of us, the answer is waiting, especially if we are sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. Frustration soon sets in. The disciples felt the same way, especially when Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem for the power He said would be coming to them. This was especially frustrating for Peter, who preferred to be doing something instead of waiting. Waiting is so frustrating because it means someone else or something else is in charge, not us. Being out of control and subject to the control of others reminds us of our finiteness and vulnerability.

The disciples wondered what type of power would be coming. Many people believed Jesus was going to bring a literal kingdom on earth. The disciples believed that this power would enable them to drive out the Romans and establish a Jewish kingdom. The disciples were not about to act on their own. They had the wisdom to wait and pray for guidance and leadership.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question took their focus off their timetables and put it on to what they needed to do to spread the Gospel to the world. Along with focusing on when Christ will return, believers should also concentrate on witnessing to a dying world. Jesus will fulfill all the Old Testament promises in the future. When God fulfills His promises, He always exceeds our expectations.

Jesus told the disciples how the gospel would spread. The Holy Spirit gave the early Christians power so that their accomplishments were supernatural. The Great Commission appears in all four gospels as well as in Acts 1:6-14. Jesus promised that the disciples would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This power would enable the disciples to do great things and be great witnesses for Jesus.

Jesus promised to send a guide and comforter. He sends the same guide and comforter to everyone-the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the same power it gives to everyone-the power of speaking, preaching the gospel, enduring life’s trials, etc. This power will be given to people who can accept Jesus’ authority over timing. God does things in his own time and in his own way. His concept of time is different from ours.

God wants to bless us with the power of the Holy Spirit. This starts with prayer and reconciled relationships with ourselves and the people in our lives. The process begins again and again throughout all our lives. When we receive this power, we can change lives and change the world.

When Alfred Nobel discovered an explosive element that was stronger than anything the world had known at the time, he asked a friend and Greek scholar for a word that conveyed the meaning of explosive power. The Greek word was dunamis, and Nobel named his invention “dynamite.” Dunamis is the same word that Jesus used when He told His disciples that they would receive dynamite power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

When we get the power, we have a choice. God has chosen us to be His light of hope in a world that has been darkened by sin. We must choose to use that power by surrendering our lives to Him. We should not be like the Scottish lady at the turn of the 19th century. She lived alone in a house on the west coast of Scotland. She was traditional and frugal. Her neighbours were shocked when she announced her plans to have electricity installed in her home.

Within a few weeks, the power lines were up and she had electric power, but the company noticed that she was not using the power. A company representative decided to visit her and find out why she wasn’t using any power.

He explained to her, “Your meter shows you’ve had power for three months, but you have scarcely used it.” She replied, “Oh, you see, I don’t use very much of it. Every evening when the sun sets, I turn the electric lamps on long enough to see that I can light my candle, and then I turn it off again!”

If we choose to live life in our own power, we will only accomplish normal things. If we choose to live life in God’s power, following His leading, our lives will be marked by the activity of God which can’t be explained by our own abilities.

God calls us to be His ambassadors in this world. He wants us to introduce Christ’s love and grace to people. We can only do this with the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s so easy to be mesmerized by the amazing power and miracles of God that we can become mere observers instead of active participants in what He wants us to do. God wants us to act, just like the angels told the disciples to act.

Christ’s work of salvation rests primarily on four pillars of truth: His birth, His crucifixion, His Resurrection and His ascension. The ascension was the exclamation point. It completely and finally demonstrated that His atonement had forever solved the problem that sin created. As believers, we are to be witnesses to His saving work, and like the original disciples, we are called by Jesus to spread the Good News to a world that desperately needs to hear His message.

Jesus did not want the disciples to be confused or discouraged by His ascension, so He sent the two angels to comfort them and order them to “get moving.” With the declaration in verse 11, the angels confirmed that the second person of the Trinity was then, and forever would be, God and Man. Just as He left, so would He return-in His glorified body. This is part of every Christian’s hope! Christ was the first fruit of the resurrection, meaning that when all things are made new, His followers will be made like Him.

When the disciples returned to Jerusalem, they were constantly grappling with the shock and emotions of what they had just seen and heard. They were embarking on a new chapter in history. So, what did they do? They prayed and drew strength from God as they went forward in faith to serve Him. The great preacher Harry Ironside once said that, “When God is going to do some great thing, He moves the hearts of people to pray. He stirs them up to pray in view of that which He is about to do.” The disciples needed that time of preparation, prayer and self-examination so they would be ready for the power to change the world.

The patience of the disciples was rewarded when, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrived and touched them. The Holy Spirit gave them the power to accomplish many things, including the ability to preach to the members of the crowd in their own languages.

The events in Acts 1:6-14 are all part of God’s plan for redeeming the world. We are a part of His plan. We don’t know when the kingdom will come, but we do know that we are called to spread the Good News. We can do this by being in contact with people and infusing them with the Gospel. When we do, the power of the Holy Spirit in us will be released.

It’s our duty to tell others what we experienced when we met Jesus, and it is a duty that we should perform joyfully. For us the focus of our mission is at home in life’s most intimate relationships. It’s where people really know us. It has a focus at work and in the community where the consistency of our life and witness can be observed. How can we keep the gift of salvation quiet and not share it with others?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1486-1487)
  2. Jeremiah, David: A.D.: The Revolution that Changed the World (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers; 2015; pp. 40-44)
  3. Jeremiah, David: Acts: The Church in Action, Vol. 1 (San Diego, CA: Turning Point for God;2006,2015; pp. 13-36
  4. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  5. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983, pp. 36-48)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  7. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  8. “Devoted to Prayer.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmaillcom
  9. “Power to Proclaim.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmaillcom
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Our Calling.” Retrieved from www.leadingtheway.org
  11. Pastor Greg Laurie, “The Explosive Power of Pentecost.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  12. Pastor Ken Klaus, “An Unstoppable Message.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  13. T.M. Moore, “Kingdom Power.” Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
  14. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, The Ascension of the Lord (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  15. Richard Neill Donovan, “Exegesis for Acts 1:6-14.” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  16. Pastor Ed Young, “The Joy of Witnessing.” Retrieved from www.edyoung.com
  17. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “The Joy of Witnessing.” Retrieved from www.leadingtheway.org
  18. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.; 2016; pp. 20-26)

John 17:6-19 Parting Words

What would you say to someone if you knew that you were seeing them for the last time? If you were dying, what would be the last words you would say to your family and friends? If you’ve ever thought about the answers to these questions, then you can appreciate what was going through Jesus’ mind in the Gospel reading from John 17:6-19.

This reading is part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. He is preparing them for his death, resurrection and ascension. He knows that his disciples will be rejected by the world as he was. In this passage he hands over his mission to his disciples and all believers who come after them. The disciples have spent the last three years in training. Now it is time for them to pass the final test and go into the world.

Jesus’ farewell address can also be our farewell address to the world. When we die to self, we die to our old earthly way of life. We are disconnected from the world and connected to God when we live our lives in God’s mercy and kindness. If we have accepted that mercy and in return we show mercy and kindness to everyone we meet, then we are connected and present to God.

Jesus’s request was an expansive one. It was made on behalf of the disciples, but his thoughts travelled throughout history to today. His heart of love is bursting with the same message. Jesus prays that those who follow him will be protected to the end. Since Jesus is the one doing the praying, his request will be granted. He also prays that all believers will be united. That unity should be the norm, but unfortunately today it is the exception. There are still differences within and between denominations. For example, within the worldwide Anglican Communion, there are divisions that have been caused by issues such as the ordination of women clergy and same-sex marriages. Within the Anglican Church of Canada, we have seen several churches leave because of the same issues. The only way Jesus’ prayer for unity can be achieved is through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Trinity.

The world Jesus lived in emphasized group identity or unity. People thought in terms of groups. We are to be a united group that does God’s work in our world. We are to be united in our homes, our relationships and our church bodies. We are a group that is set aside for a special use.

In spite of the lack of unity, we as believers are not to withdraw from the world. We are to stay in the world and be a positive influence. We must open our hearts to the real needs of our neighbours. We do this by putting aside our differences and working together to spread the Good News of the Gospel.

Jesus’ true followers know his name and keep his words. They are vulnerable in this particular other worldliness, especially since the world hates followers of Jesus. The world is captive to a spirit that is alien to God’s spirit. It is governed by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial love. It is easy to be obsessed with what is in the world. Jesus encouraged his followers not to embrace the world’s values. We must remember that even though we are in the world, we are not of the world. Christians need only to remember that Jesus has promised to keep them separate from the world. Jesus does not run away in the face of danger. He offers an alternative spirit and reality. We have different desires, goals and a different God than people who live in the world. Our God helps us to be different by continually sanctifying us with the truth.

We are called on to go out into a world which has declared that God is dead and has not risen, because God never was dead. We are to share the good news that there is a God and that he lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ. We must be careful not to water down this message by turning it into a model for social work. We must hold on to the truth that our actions are a sign and witness to God’s love for the world and the future promise for all people. We are to heed the words of the hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”:

My gracious Master and my God,

assist me to proclaim,

to spread through all the earth abroad,

the honours of your name

We are in the world not to condemn it, but to love it. How do we do this without condemning the world or judging it? The answer can be found in the words of the late Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities. He said, “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their true beauty, to say to them through our attitude, ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’”

Even though Jesus has left us physically, he is still with us in spirit-the Holy Spirit. We are not to dwell in feelings of despair or abandonment, because Jesus is always with us and we belong to him. Our belonging to him is an important part of the essential nature and purpose of God and Jesus. Because we belong to Jesus, we are holy and we are kept holy in the truth of God’s word. Because we are one with God, we will be rejected by the world. We don’t need to worry, because Jesus will protect us.

If we have an unfounded fear that causes us to withdraw from the world, we will fail to bring light into the world, and the dark world will remain devoid of the living church. This fear can be overcome by bearing our souls to our Lord and Maker, and being silent so we can hear his response. If we are transformed by God’s Spirit and have a strong spiritual core, we will shine a bright, holy light in the midst of darkness.

We are sanctified so that Christ can send us into the world to share the Gospel. Believers are to be united in the common belief of the truth of God’s Word. This unity in Christ is accomplished through God’s Word. It keeps us from evil. Our presence in the world blesses the world and protects fellow believers from evil. When we receive God’s Word and accept it, we glorify God.

Jesus sanctified himself for believers by presenting himself as a perfect sacrifice. He was the perfect sacrifice for us as well. He has the same concerns for us today that he did for his disciples. He sends us out into the world today in the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal his love and salvation wherever we go. We are to do this in spite of the challenges posed by our modern culture.

The disciples belonged to God the Father, and so do we. The origin of discipleship was in God’s heart. The operation of discipleship is through Jesus. The obligation of discipleship is obedience to the written word of God. The way a person regards the Bible is the way he/she regards Christ, the living Word.

Sanctification means that we must submit to God’s will for our lives. Submission to God is a key part of Jesus’ priestly prayer. It does not mean a loss of freedom. It means freedom from the bondage of sin and our own desires. It involves separating ourselves from evil influences and following the morals Jesus has given us. This sanctification is necessary because although Jesus defeated the devil on the cross, Satan is still loose in the world and conducting his campaign. We can’t be a disciple of Jesus without submitting to him in every area of our lives. Submission to Jesus is a life of liberty like we have never known before. Submission to God does not mean that we lose our identities. It is a sweet surrender to God. It gives us a purpose. When we die to our earthly lives, we live for Christ. Happiness depends on happenings in our lives, but joy depends on Jesus. Submission leads to happiness and joy. It mends our wounded souls.

When we submit to God’s will, he does not expect perfection from us in return. As long as we try our best to determine what God wants us to do in our lives, he will love us. Even though we live in a chaotic world where it’s hard for us to make sense of what’s going on and where there are too many things competing for our attention, we must remember that God’s love and our own call to love have to take priority. As long as we remember these two things, we will be living in the world but we will be part of what God wants for this world.

 Bibliography

  1. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  2. Frederikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol.27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Dr. David Jeremiah, “Not of the World.” Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  5. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  6. Michael Milton, “Four Myths about Submission in the Christian Life.” Retrieved from www.preaching.com
  7. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 7th Sunday of Easter (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  8. Pastor McGee, “Set Apart.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
  9. Christine Caine, “Not of this World.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  10. James Boyce, “Commentary on John 17:6-19.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1292
  11. David Lose, “The Other Lord’s Prayer.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1492
  12. Peter Lockhart, “Sent Into the World.” Retrieved from http://revplockhart.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/sent-into-world.html
  13. The Rev. Thomas Brackett, “The Prayer That Won’t Let Me Go.” Retrieved from www.day1.org/3821_the_prayer_that_wont_let_me_go.print
  14. Dr. James Howell, “In but Not of the World.” Retrieved from http://www.day1.org/1256-in_but_not_of_the_world.print
  15. Fr. John Boll, O.P., “Volume 2: Ascension May 17, 2015”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org

Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11 Unity

Several years ago, when I was working for a local lumber mill, the company had a contest where the employees were encouraged to come up with a slogan that portrayed the company’s mission. The slogan was to be used on all of the company’s promotional material. The winning entry was “Together We’re Better”, and it reflected the employees’ desire to work together to produce top-quality products.

Christianity can use the same motto, because together as Christians we can go a long way to fulfilling God’s call in our world. In order to do this, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples that they would receive God’s power through the Holy Spirit, and in John 17:1-11, Jesus prayed to the Father to send his power to all of Christianity through the Holy Spirit. Our definition of power is different from God’s definition of power. God’s definition of power is the ability to carry out a purpose-in this case, his work in the world. By coming together, we have even greater power.

The prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17:1-11 is known as the High Priestly prayer because Jesus offers prayers for himself, his apostles and followers-just like the High Priest offered prayers for people in the temple. Something else that Jesus prayed was for unity. After his Ascension, the disciples were united in prayer. Unity exists through prayer. Jesus prayed for unity, and the disciples prayed together to draw upon the only source of power that they had before they received the Holy Spirit-prayer. Christ’s unity still exists today, as can be seen through local ministerial associations and food banks. In both cases, men and women from different denominations come together to do God’s work in the community. Just think of how powerful our churches would be today if each and every one of us would pray constantly, devotedly, and with one mind!

We are also united through our common belief in eternal life. Eternal life is not reserved until we die; rather, it is something we can share now through Jesus. We receive eternal life the moment we have faith in Jesus and begin to have a relationship with him. We don’t just receive the gift of eternal life. We also have the privilege of having a vibrant, growing relationship with the Creator of all that exists. We receive this gift every week when we gather together to hear Jesus give glory to God by revealing God’s compassion, forgiveness, love and healing to us.

Jesus also prays for everyone who does his work in the world. He prays for us because he knows that the world will reject our message. The unity Jesus prays for will protect us from the grand predator-Satan. Our unity protects us-not some doctrinal purity or statements, not theology or worship. When Jesus prays for glory, he is asking for God’s presence to be felt throughout the world through our words, thoughts and deeds. Our purpose on earth is to glorify God. We must never give up in the face of persecution, because Jesus never gave up, even when he was on the cross. When he said “It is finished!” he was giving a strong affirmation that the work God gave him to do during his time on earth was now finished.

True life is all about knowing God and knowing Jesus. It is centered on our relationship with God, and that relationship comes through knowing Jesus. When Jesus prays for us, he is after something deep in us and in the heart of God.

Jesus did not pray that all believers would agree. The source of our unity is not in human structures or denominations such as Anglican, United, Baptist, Roman Catholic, etc. It is in Jesus Christ. Our unity gives us strength in difficult times, for there really is strength in numbers. It reminds me of some of the words in the song “United We Stand”. It was recorded in the late 1960s by a group called the Brotherhood of Man. The words I am thinking of are:

For united we stand

Divided we fall

And if our backs should ever be against the wall

We’ll be together, together, you and I

In order for our unity to be successful, we have to learn to work together in the things we are to do. When we pray together and work together, it increases our capacity to do God’s work in our world.

Jesus’ High Priestly prayer proclaims our hope and certainty. Jesus and God have glorified each other. Jesus has come from the Father. We are embedded in Christ as Christ is embedded in the Father. We belong to God and are on our way to unity with him and with each other. Unfortunately in our world, divisions can and do happen, often with negative consequences. God gives himself to the godless so that he can receive them into divine communion through atonement, and we should do the same. We are to be one with each other just like Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are one with each other.

When we divide people into categories of race, religion, sexual orientation or where they live, problems can occur. One only has to think of the Holocaust or genocides like those that took place in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and other places to see that this is true. It is also true in our own back yard. For example, one day, in the village where my family lived, my father was in the post office picking up the mail when a lady came in and started talking to him. At one point she asked him which church he attended (which was not one of the two churches in this particular village). After he answered her question, she said, “Well!! That’s what I was afraid of!” She turned around and stormed out of the post office!

When we come together as one body, our prayers and deeds are a very potent force to be reckoned with. We speak to God when we pray, and in return he touches, embraces, shapes and changes us through the gifts he gives us. We are to use these gifts wisely and for the benefit of the world. Sometimes we have to ask for help, but when we work together, we glorify God with integrity, with devotion, and through service and the words we speak.

As children of God, we are united in one faith in a living God who has revealed himself to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are united in faith in Christ whose word fills us with faith. We are also united in faith in the Holy Spirit whose presence guides us through life. Although we are one in faith, we have to put that faith into action, especially by being one in service. It is in serving that our faith becomes real. When we serve one another, we serve Christ. He is the inspiration in our lives. He is the living example of faith in action. He is the Lord, the Master of our lives and the heartbeat of our faith-and that faith becomes real when we go forth as one in service.

For most people, life is about getting the most stuff, and that expresses the consumer mentality that our society has today. Unfortunately, this emphasis is empty, because no matter how much we have or what we buy, there’s someone out there with more stuff and better stuff. If we live for stuff and prestige, our life is hollow, empty and meaningless. It is like the story of the burglar who was arrested and brought before a judge for trial. He was found guilty, and before he was to be sentenced, the judge asked him if he had anything to say in his defence. The burglar said, “Well, Your Honour, it’s like this. The more a man has, the more a man wants”. The judge replied, “Is that so? Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to sentence you to 15 years in prison. How many more would you like?”

A couple of weeks ago, our rector delivered a speech at our Diocesan Synod after delegates debated and voted on a resolution asking the bishop of the Diocese to grant permission for a blessing of same-sex couples who have had civil marriages. While it is not my intention to enter into the debate on the issue of same-sex marriages or blessings, some of his remarks are appropriate in light of my sermon today, and so I would like to close with some of the words from his speech. He said:

We are a church in which divergent/opposing theologies are able to exist and stimulate each other when we focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Changes in the practices and theologies of our church do not necessarily mean that what has been important to us must be abandoned. We have a place for ideas and concerns that are different and we are able to hold the biblical and Christian ideal and the reality of a broken and damaged world in a dynamic tension from which all sides should be able to witness to the love and saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is at the core of our Christian Faith and our Anglican tradition.

We can’t convert the world from its emphasis on self to a life in Christ unless we are united in purpose-unless we love one another. When we ignore the will of God in order to have our own way, the result is discord and disunity. Unity begins with us. We have to be proactive. We have to pull together. We have to keep going. We may never achieve 100 % unity, but if we work toward it, we will be going in the right direction. If we stand together, we can withstand the fiercest elements the world throws at us.

Bibliography

  1. Exegesis for Acts 1:6-14. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  2. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions: 7th Sunday of Easter (A)” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  3. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  4. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package
  5. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package
  6. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study on the Gospel of John, Fall 2010-Winter 2011
  7. Jim Collins, “Success Scripture of the Wee”. Retrieved from www.beyondpositivethinking.org
  8. Rebecca Barlow Jordan, “Perseverance”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  9. Lead Like Jesus Online Devotional. Retrieved from www.messagingstudio.com
  10. T.M. Moore, “Work Matters”. Retrieved from www.breakpoint.com
  11. Dr. Reginald Smith, “Jesus Prays for You!” Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  12. The Rev. Dr. Barbara K. Lundblad, “Still Praying After All These Years”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  13. The Rev. Larry Hill, “We Are One”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  14. Billy Graham, “Did Jesus Give Up Hope on the Cross?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  15. Dan Clendenin, “Everyone Has a Name”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  16. Scott Boder-Saye, “Long Division”. Retrieved from www.religiononline.org
  17. Lee Griess, “One in Faith and One in Service”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  18. Richard E. Gribble, CSC, “Reevaluating Our Mission for Christ”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  19. Dr. J. Howard Olds, “Resurrected Glory”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  20. Mark Ellingsen, “The Majesty of God’s Love”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  21. Kendall McCabe and Michael L. Sherer, “The Seventh Sunday of Easter”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  22. The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn, “Blast From the Past”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  23. Exegesis for John 17:1-11. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  24. The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn, “So That We May Be One in Christ”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  25. Dr. Keith Wagner, “In a Different World”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  26. Rev. Donald Lawton, “A Call to Move On”. Speech delivered at the 143rd Synod of the Anglican Diocese of NS and PEI on Friday, May 27, 2011
  27. Roland McGregor, “Easter 7, 6/5/11”. Retrieved from mcgregorpage@intenex.net

Acts 10:44-48 Visions and New Insights

The events in Acts 10:44-48 occurred as part of Peter’s first sermon to the Gentiles. Peter received a vision from God. In that vision, a sheet unfolded from heaven. On that sheet were animals of all kinds, including animals that were unclean under Jewish law. God commanded Peter to eat, but Peter refused because of Jewish dietary laws. God replied that He has made these animals clean and what He made clean could be eaten. This vision was a metaphor for God’s command to expand Christianity to include the Gentiles, who were also considered to be unclean by the Jews.

At the same time Peter had his vision, Cornelius had a vision. Cornelius was a Roman centurion in Caesarea. He and his family members and servants were God-fearing people. They accepted both the Jewish concept of one God and Jewish ethics. They may even have attended the local synagogue. Because they were Gentiles, they were not people Peter and others in the Jewish community would have thought to be included in God’s plan of salvation.

As a result of that vision, Cornelius sent representatives to see Peter and invite him to come and teach him and his family.  Just as in Peter’s vision, God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. It was during that meeting that the Holy Spirit came and touched Cornelius and his household. God sent several Jewish believers to accompany Peter, so together they could be witnesses when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his household.

Cornelius was a tough Roman soldier, but he was also drawn to the Jewish faith. He worshipped in the synagogue, but in a different section that was reserved for Gentile converts. Since the Jews treated the Gentiles with disdain, it’s a wonder that Cornelius put up with that treatment. Well, he did, because he was a seeker. Something told him that there was more to life than his earthly life. Something told him there was a God. His desire to know God was stronger than the rude treatment he received from the Jews. Even though the Jews welcomed Gentile converts, these converts were never completely accepted. Cornelius’ beliefs changed his behaviour and his personality. He gave alms to the poor and supported the synagogue.

Honest seekers find what they are looking for. Jeremiah 29:13 states that God promises to hear the prayers of those who are looking for Him.  God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles as a sign of His plan to accept them into the church without prior conversion to the Jewish faith. This more than makes up for humiliation and ridicule.

When God sent the Holy Spirit upon the Gentile believers, He sent a clear message to them and to everyone who witnessed the event. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nothing other than belief is required. Only trusting in Christ brings forgiveness of sins.

When the Holy Spirit touched Cornelius and his family, Peter immediately saw it as an opportunity to baptize them. Since they had received the substance of what the sign of water baptism points to, and since they had been changed by the Holy Spirit, it was inappropriate to withhold the sign that they were part of the body of believers. Baptism is not about salvation or going to heaven. The thief who died on the cross and believed in Jesus was not baptized before he died. Baptism is about being obedient to God, who commanded believers to be baptized once they became his disciples. The baptism of Cornelius and his household must have been one of the most joyous and moving in history. It, like all baptisms with water, was the outward sign of the inner Spirit baptism which had taken place. History was made, and consequently the Christian church took a whole new direction.

Acts 10 marks the expansion of Christianity to include the Gentiles. This expansion was approved by both Peter and Paul. Without expansion, Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism. Acts 10:44-48 marks a major shift in Peter’s ministry. It was his conversion of sorts. He was torn between custom and convictions. The Holy Spirit whittled away the hardness of Peter’s heart toward those he had been taught to avoid. The Holy Spirit was the true preacher. It makes God’s Word come alive through-or in spite of-our words. It changes our perceptions of others and what they can or cannot do. It changes our own character and leads us to other people whom God loves.

God knows how hard it is for us to change, but He can’t let us remain where we are. We can’t remain tied down with harmful ways of thinking and tied to human sin. He shows us the truth and challenges us to apply what He has taught. He expects a faithful response to His commands. Sometimes this makes us feel uncomfortable, but God doesn’t care about how we feel about His commands. He only cares that we act on them. God knows that our discomfort will pass. When we set aside our discomfort to do what He has commanded, He knows the experience will accomplish its task and we will be changed.

The Holy Spirit allows us to see things in new ways, just like Peter saw things in a new way because of his vision. The Holy Spirit opened Peter to new insights. It also gives us new insights into who needs to be a part of our church family. These insights force us to open our eyes and hearts to those who the world rejects. There is no room in the church for divisions caused by race, colour, social status or other reasons.

Jesus’ friendship is one of mutual love and respect. Friends like Jesus expand our world, expose us to new and creative possibilities and sustain us when we are in need. The disciples did not have any idea what God was doing, what God was capable of, and who God was able to reach. They were close-minded and thought that the only way to God was the same way they came to God. We are the same. We often think that the way people should come to Christ is the same way that we came to Christ. The problem is that this is not the way God thinks or acts. God sees the entire picture, but we can only see a part of it. God sees a church where everyone is welcome, but we sometimes only see a church where people who look, think or act like us are welcome. Jesus said that the two Great Commandments are to love God and love people. When we emphasize the love of law instead of the law of love, we are going against God’s will. We must suspend the rules we have come to rely on and welcome what God is doing in our churches, our communities and our world.

During World War I, a Protestant chaplain serving with American troops became friends with a local Catholic priest when his unit were stationed in Italy. When it was time for his unit to move on, the chaplain joined them, but he was killed shortly thereafter. When the priest learned of the chaplain’s death, he wrote to the chaplain’s commanding officers and offered to bury the body in the cemetery behind the priest’s church. The officers knew that the chaplain and the priest were friends, and so they gave permission. The Catholic Church authorities, on the other hand, were opposed. They told the priest that the body could not be buried in the cemetery because the chaplain was a Protestant.

After the war, one of the men who served with the chaplain visited Italy and met with the old priest. The veteran wanted to pay his respects at the chaplain’s grave, and to his surprise he was taken to a grave inside the fence! The veteran knew of the church’s refusal to allow the body to be buried in the cemetery, so he asked the priest if he had received permission to move the body. The priest shook his head and said, “They told me where I could not bury the body, but they did not tell me that I could not move the fence.”

God did the same thing for the Gentiles. He moved the fence that the Jews built to keep the Gentiles out. He moved the fence to include all of us.  He has a way of colouring outside the lines of our limited experiences. In return, we need to welcome everyone. Even though the local church may say that it welcomes everyone, there are people in our community who will never really understand that because they are suspicious of our motives or they have their own prejudices or attitudes.  

Sometimes we, like Peter, are called to a ministry of proclamation and closeness. We don’t know who received the greater blessing in this story: Cornelius or Peter. What we do know is that God was at work through the Holy Spirit to break down barriers so that God’s Word could be heard. The Word has the power to re-negotiate our prejudices of others, about what they can or cannot do. The Word has the power to change our characters as well by leading us closer to other people whom God loves.

We, like the Spirit-filled Gentiles in the Book of Acts, need to rediscover the depth of our disbelief and disobedience even if that is not the politically correct thing to do. We need to realize that we hunger and thirst for the story of Jesus and his love for everyone. We need to run to the waters of baptism and drown our old sin-filled lives. We need to be raised from spiritual death and filled with a passion for the Gospel, because it will make one helluva difference in our world.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
  2. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 6th Sunday of Easter (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  3. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
  4. Witherington, B. III: The Acts of the Apostles: a socio-rhetorical commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1998)
  5. Jacob Myers, “Commentary on Acts 10:44-48.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1294
  6. Rick Morley, “Even Astonished.” Retrieved from http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/1585
  7. Samuel D. Zumwalt, “Easter People Baptize.” Retrieved from http://www.predigten.uni-goettingen.de/archiv-81060-521-8-e.html
  8. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Revolution that Changed the World (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers. Inc.; 2015, pgs. 179-194)
  9. Exegesis for Acts 10:44-48. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  10. Rev. Gayle Pope, “Acts 10:44-48.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  11. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 6th Sunday of Easter (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  12. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: Acts (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers; 2016; pp. 206-208)

John 15:9-17 Love One Another-the Supreme Commandment

If you were going on a long trip, what would you say to your family and friends before you left? If you knew that you were going to see someone for the last time, what would you say to them? When your children moved away from home, what did you say to them? In each case you probably gave them some instructions of words of advice. Well, in the Gospel passage from John 15:9-17, Jesus gave us and his disciples some final instructions or words of advice. This passage is part of the final instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples the night before he was crucified. It follows the passage about the vine and the branches, but it goes even further. Instead of talking about abiding in each other or loving each other, it talks about serving each other, which goes hand in hand with loving each other.

Jesus knew that the disciples would not find love in the world. He knew that the world would largely hate them and his message. In fact, the world still hates his message today. Nevertheless, we, like the disciples, are called to love each other and our fellow man in spite of opposition. When we love each other, we will experience the joy of obeying God.

When we love one another, we also allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and grow in us. How it grows will depend on our connection to each other, to God and to his church. The stronger our faith, the more we will do, and it is the things that we do for God and for others that bring glory to God and strengthen the Holy Spirit within us.

Love for others means being willing to die for others. Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross for our sins. The men and women who serve in our armed forces also show this same type of love. They and countless other armed forces personnel who served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War as well as in more recent conflicts and peacekeeping missions, were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others. They were willing to go out of their way for others by dying to save others or coming to the aid of those who were in need-even at their own personal expense, and they are still willing and ready to do so today. Jesus showed how far that type of love can take someone when he died for us. If Jesus could lay down his own life for us, what part of our lives can we give up for others-prejudice, unwillingness to help, envy, material goods, hatred, unwillingness to forgive, or even something else? 

God wants us to have relationships that are more than mediocre. Relationship-building takes time and requires compassion, wisdom, empathy, kindness, courtesy and forgiveness. We can’t overlook what taking concrete action can mean. We can be active in love for one another. It is a lot of work, and that’s fine because God knows that we can do this work, and he knows that what we do will enrich both our lives and the lives of those whom we serve. When we love one another, we act as God’s hands and feet to those that he puts in our lives. It does take time, effort and money to be an active friend, but the blessings outweigh the costs.

Loving others as God loved us is the heart of Christian discipleship. Christian life can only exist through human relationships, especially when they are based on mutual respect and humane values-including love. The apostle Peter showed the same type of love in Acts 10:44-48. His love for others, combined with the visions he and the Roman centurion Cornelius had led Peter to minister to Cornelius and his family. When Peter proclaimed the Good News, the Holy Spirit moved within his audience, and it marked both a second Pentecost and the spreading of the Good News to all people (not just the Jews). If the Holy Spirit could move in the hearts of Peter’s audience, it can move in the hearts of people in our world today.

I actually prepared this sermon on Mother’s Day 2012, so the Gospel reading that this sermon is based on was very appropriate for that day. After all, a mother’s love for her children is a prime example of the love Jesus calls on us to have for one another. Mothers make sacrifices for their children, and in some extreme cases (such as domestic violence), they have literally sacrificed their own lives for their children.

People who do not love God will be his enemy until they allow God to be the centre of their lives. When they do, they will be in their appropriate places as obedient friends of God, and God will be in his appropriate place at the centre of their lives. This will happen in our lives at a time when we will surrender our personal desires and obey the will of God. If we are to be fruitful for Christ, we must seek his will for our lives and let him lead us to what he wants us to do for others and for him.

When we love one another, we fulfill the second of Jesus’ two Great Commandments. When we love Jesus, he becomes our true best friend. Friends have our best interests in mind, just like Jesus does. Friends will be with us in good times and bad times just like Jesus is. They help us to expand our world, expose us to new and creative possibilities, and sustain us when we are in need.

God has chosen all of us for the purpose of bearing much eternal fruit in such personal characteristics as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These characteristics will grow within us and help us when we tell others about Jesus and lead them into a fruitful relationship with him.

We can say that Jesus is our friend, but can we say that we are his friends? Do we listen to him when he speaks to us, or do we only want him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on his heart and mind, or do we only want to tell him what’s on ours? Being a true friend of Jesus means listening to what he wants to tell us and then using that information to do his work in our world and in our lives.

Bibliography

  1. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
  3. Craig Condon, “We Will Remember Them”. Preached at the 2006 Remembrance Day Service in Liverpool, NS
  4. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslilkegod.org/archives/year-b-sixth-sunday-of-easter
  5. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  6. Roland McGregor, “Easter 6-May 13, 2012”. Retrieved from www.mcgregorpage.org
  7. Greg Laurie, “When God’s Will Is Difficult”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  8. Exegesis for John 15:9-17. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  9. Steve Preston, “Everyone’s Best Friend”. Retrieved from bibletalk@freegroups.net
  10. Marybeth Whalen, “Friends in Action”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  11. Steve Arterburn, “Love is a Choice”. Retrieved from www.newlife.com
  12. Leslie Snyder, “Friendship’s Ultimate Gift”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  13. Julie Ackerman, “He Calls Me Friend”. Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  14. The Rev. Susan R. Briehl, ELCA, “Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  15. Stanley, C.F., “The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version” (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  16. MacArthur, J., “MacArthur Study Bible, NASB” (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers:2006;2008)

Acts 8:26-40 Evangelism 101

Have you ever wondered how you can share the Good News with the people you meet? If so, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 is a good teaching manual. Philip was leading a revival in Samaria that was leading multitudes of people to Christ. God called Philip from evangelizing the crowds to evangelizing to one person, but that one person-the eunuch-led to the spread of Christianity to the African continent. Philip must have wondered why God would take him out of a revival and place him in a desert, but he trusted God.

Evangelism is like that. Evangelism is a team effort that involves each and every member of the body of Christ, but it eventually comes down to a one on one encounter between a follower of Jesus and a person who is following his or her own way. We do not have to be a Billy Graham, or a Franklin Graham or a Will Graham and lead crusades in major cities and large stadiums throughout the world. We can do the same thing in our own communities with the people we meet every day.

We don’t know anything about the eunuch’s spiritual background other than the fact that he travelled 1,200 miles to Jerusalem. Jewish law would have excluded the eunuch from the temple. This is an example of the Gospel spreading to the Gentiles. The passage the eunuch read was the passage from Isaiah about the suffering servant. There is no better passage with which to introduce someone to Jesus.

The eunuch’s baptism confirms that baptism is for those who profess faith in Jesus. Immersion equals death to sin, coming up out of the water equals rising to a new life in Christ. The eunuch’s joy represents a new spiritual state.

Philip had to overcome a lot of barriers to get to the eunuch’s chariot, but the barriers did not matter to Philip. Barriers should not matter to us either. We must be willing to go, sit and spend time with people who want to get to know God. Differences in race, colour, creed or culture must not be barriers to our mission. We need to pour out our lives for their sake.

The only way to reach people for Christ is to preach Christ crucified, dead, buried and risen again. Clever stories or preaching methods or living our lives in front of lost people won’t do the job. We are called to make disciples. It requires our willingness to become a mentor for new believers. We have to take the goodness God has poured into our lives and pour that goodness into the lives of the lost.

This story is fast-paced and full of action. These might not be the first words we think of when we think of the word “church”, but the intention of the Book of Acts is to show us that the Spirit is alive and we are too. If we are alive in Christ, we will obey when the Spirit says to us, “Get up and go.” We must be prepared to seize each and every opportunity to proclaim the Good News. If we are to discover God’s guidance for our lives, we have to be receptive to the Spirit, even if it does not fit into our plans, goals, prejudices, etc. Philip is a good example. He wanted to continue the revival in Samaria, but the Holy Spirit had other plans.

There are two issues in this reading-obedience and preaching the Good News. As I mentioned earlier, the eunuch spread Christianity to Africa. In the case of Philip, he obeyed God’s call to meet with the eunuch at that particular time and in that particular place. The eternal life of someone who would play a key role in the worldwide expansion of Christianity was at stake.

All believers have direct access to God through faith and the Holy Spirit. All believers are able to understand the teachings of the Scriptures and gain the benefit God intends-namely, the ability to share the Gospel with others. Sometimes we wonder about the people and situations God has guided us to. That’s only natural, because we can’t see “the big picture” that God sees. Sometimes the people and situations are difficult for us, but they often lead to blessings. God uses anything he can to convince us to follow his directions. The key for us is to be prepared to follow him, and that preparation includes openness, prayer, Bible study and surrendering to God’s will. If we are prepared we will be ready when opportunities arise.

If we, like Moses, don’t know what to say, that’s okay because the Holy Spirit will tailor our message to the needs of the people we speak to. It’s like advertisers who tailor the message of their products to a particular audience. For example, you rarely see ads for fishing gear in fashion magazines!

We need to consider the needs, background and experience of our audience when we are called to share our faith. When we find out about our audience, our natural desire to help takes over. When that desire kicks in, we have to start where our audience is in relationship to Christ, and not where they should be. When we are nearing the end of our witnessing, we have to wait for signs of readiness and response. If that readiness indicates belief in the resurrection, the audience is ready to begin their new life in Christ. All of this is only possible if we are willing to talk about Jesus and if we are willing to go anywhere to share the Good News. If we let God direct us where he wants us to go, he will give us the courage and the words. All we have to do is to step out in faith.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Tony Robinson, “Get Up and Go.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  3. James MacDonald, “Seize the opportunity.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  4. T.M. Moore, “Read with the Saints.” Retrieved from http://www.colsoncenter.org
  5. Lysa Terkeurst, “Might We Dare to be a Little More Common?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  7. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
  8. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2005)

John 15:1-8 I Am the Vine, You are the Branches

A newspaper reporter went to interview a successful small business owner. “How did you do it?” he asked. “How did you make all this money?”

“I’m glad you asked,” the businessman said. “It’s a great story. When my wife and I married, we started out with a roof over our heads, some food in our pantry, and five cents between us. I took that nickel, went down to the grocery store, bought an apple, shined it up, and sold it for ten cents. “

“What did you do then?” the reporter asked.

“Well,” he said, “I bought two more apples, shined them up, and sold them for twenty cents.” The reporter thought this would be a great human interest story, so he asked excitedly, “Then what?” The businessman replied, “Then my father-in-law died and left us $20 million”.

The businessman prospered not because of his own ingenuity, but because he was connected. What does it mean to be connected? Well, it means three things. First, it means that we have power. When we say we have connections, it means that we have access to power and wealth. It means that we can get things done. When we are connected to each other through our faith in Jesus Christ, it means that we are strong and can get things done. Our faith gets nourishment and strength from both Christ and our fellow believers. As our faith strengthens, it bears fruit in the form of bringing benefit to ourselves and to the lives of others while doing God’s work in the world.

The second thing that being connected means is that we have a presence. We are not alone. Someone shares our lives. Someone is there for us, just like all of you are here for each other. If we abide with Christ, it means that we have a close, daily relationship with him. Thus, we become a branch of the vine called Christianity-a branch that bears fruit. As such, our wants will be his wants, we will pray according to his words, and he will be pleased with our prayers.

Finally, being connected means is that we will live a productive life. A vine and its fruit point to the giftedness of discipleship while also indicating the substance that will sustain new branches and abundant fruit. The relationship between the vine and the branches, as well as the connection between source and fruit, lies in the love between God and Jesus, and between Jesus and us. In other words, we are to love one another as Christ has loved us

We can only be grafted to Christ by cutting our attachment to our way of life and its creature comforts just like a gardener prunes bushes to make then grow better. The useless branches have to be removed in order to save and strengthen the stronger ones, much like a surgeon cuts off a person’s diseased limbs in order to save his or her life. Only then can we truly be fruitful and multiply.

1 John 3:16-24 Christian Love

“Mom, there he is! Grab the bag!” Sophia pressed her nose against the glass of the car window as Mom smiled and handed the man on the corner a bag filled with food and treats.

The man smiled and said, “God bless you!” as he accepted the free gift.

Whenever they went out, Mom, Sophia, and Dustin would bring a bag of food for anyone they saw who was in need. They would pray for the person after they received their bag.

“Dear God,” Dustin prayed, “please help this man have enough food to fill him up today and give him a warm place to sleep tonight. Most of all, if he doesn’t know You, I pray that he would open up his heart to you. Amen.”

“I bet he will love those chocolate chip banana muffins that we made!” Sophia said with a grin.

Dustin laughed. “Yeah, good thing we went out today. There might not have been any left if we hadn’t–they were so tasty!”

Mom grinned. “You both are eating so much these days, it’s like you have hollow legs!”

Sophia grew quiet as she looked out her window. “Mom? Do you think that man knows what love is?”

“Do you remember the verse we wrote down and put in the bag for him?” Mom asked.

“Yeah! First John 3:16: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.'”

“Exactly right,” Mom answered. “Do you know the rest of that verse? It says, ‘And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.'”

“We can’t die for people every day!” Dustin reasoned.

Mom laughed. “No, we can’t. But we can let our words and actions tell others that Jesus loved them enough to die for them. We not only need to tell people about God’s love, but we also need to show it in the way we act toward others.”

“So I guess that man does know what love is, because we showed him!” Sophia said excitedly.

“Hey, Mom?” Dustin asked as they pulled into their driveway. “After we unload the groceries, will you show us the love of Jesus by making us more muffins?”


In 1 John 3:16-24, John is reassuring his readers. They are facing the problem of their basic relationship with Jesus. They are being influenced by false teachers. These teachers wanted to create an overall feeling of inadequacy on the part of Christians. This made the Christians receptive to teachings that contradicted the teachings of the Gospel.

These false teachers taught false ideas about the faith. John reassured his readers that because we are children of God and because He loves us, we can safely leave our futures in His hands. God has forgiven us. Jesus is that forgiveness. He offers us salvation by costly love. What He said and what He did are inseparable. Our ethics must also be the ethics of word and work. They must be inseparable.

Believers who want to obey and please God have tender consciences. Sometimes these consciences condemn us, but we must remember that we are children of God. The sin in our lives will be brought to light when we kneel before God. He will convict us of any hidden sins. We should want to obey and please God, and we should be glad when our consciences are sensitive to God. He might pierce our hearts, but we can take joy because we are children of God.

One of my ex-girlfriends once told me that true love means caring for someone else more than you care for yourself. Christian love is a good example of true love. Christian love is self-sacrificing and self-giving. It expresses itself in sacrificial giving to other Christians’ needs. This leads to confidence about the Christian’s relationship with God.

As believers, we can’t just sit back and do nothing. We can’t use our circumstances as an excuse to just sit around and do nothing. We have to get involved in His purposes. We are to serve God by spending our days doing good for others.

As Jesus exemplified, love always involves sacrifice, sometimes even unto death. Claiming to love others is easy, but true love translates into actions. Christians who love others are willing to give of themselves in costly ways. Christian love involves being Christ-like. Jesus had unlimited power, but He chose to live a simple life, teaching about God and heaven and investing in the lives of those who would continue His work. He gave up His privileges and His dignity in order to bring salvation to us. It makes us think: “What are we doing in our lives?”

One of the ways we serve God is by serving those in need. God often uses us to fulfill needs and answer prayers. As we serve others, our own hearts are encouraged as we encourage people and serve. As a result, our own faith will grow as God equips us for serving in new ways. The Bible promises again and again that God answers prayer. However, the statement “whatever we ask we receive” does not imply that if people just pray hard enough, they can have whatever they want. Their requests must be in line with God’s will, and they must be in a right relationship with God, as evidenced by their desire to do whatever pleases Him.

Some people say, “I’ll die for you,” but we do not always have to do this literally. Living sacrificially is a real death to self. It’s a killing of our selfishness and our own desires. To die for others, to live for others is a gift of love that can only come from God.

Our actions will speak louder than any words we will ever speak. When we call ourselves Christians, we are opening up our lives for inspection, and our lives become active witnesses for Jesus. People will respond to our good deeds and thoughtful acts of caring. In fact, people will want to know more about Jesus as our deeds prove to them that our faith is more than just talk.

For example, one morning shortly after the end of World War II, a soldier was making his way back to his barracks in London. As he turned the corner, he saw a little boy with his nose pressed to the window of a pastry shop. Inside the cook was kneading dough for a fresh batch of doughnuts. The boy stared in silence, watching every move.

The soldier walked quietly over to where the boy was standing. Through the steamed-up window he could see the mouth-watering morsels that were being pulled from the oven, piping hot. The boy’s mouth watered and released a slight groan as he watched the cook place them onto the glass-enclosed counter ever so carefully.

The soldier’s heart went out to the boy as he stood behind him. “Son, would you like some of those?” The boy said, “uh, yeah…I would!”

The soldier went inside and bought a dozen doughnuts, put them in a bag, and walked back to where the boy was standing. He smiled, held out the bag and said, “Here you are.” As he turned to walk away, he felt a tug on his coat. He looked back and heard the boy say quietly, “Mister…are you God?”

When we obey God and live a life that pleases God, we can be sure that we will receive what we ask for if it fits within His plan for our lives. God’s Word is His will. That’s why we have to make His Word the number one priority in our lives. When we keep God’s promises in our hearts and minds, it changes and shapes our characters. It makes our thoughts and desires in line with God’s thoughts and desires. Just as Christ grew inside of Mary until He had to come out, He will grow in us until He comes out of us. He will come out in our speech, our actions, and our decisions.

John writes to assure our hearts, provide confidence toward God and help his spiritual children know that Christ lives in them. Their lives are different because the Holy Spirit is working in and through them. With the words, “by this we know,” John assures all believers that they undoubtedly belong to God and are bound to heaven.

Sincere love hates evil and rebellion against God. It shows genuine appreciation and honour for others. It compels us to give to others who are in need even if it means sacrifice on our part. Sincere love is not selective but extends to people we find unlovable. It produces compassion that commiserates and celebrates with others. This kind of love may sound impossible to maintain, and in our human strength it is impossible to maintain. As Paul says in Romans 13:8, we could never pay our continuing debt to love one another, but God gives us the resources we need to make our payments.

If generosity became a way of life for the churches we attend, what would it look like? Widows, single parents and children of divorce would benefit from love that is expressed in practical and relational ways. Programs would focus on bringing the healing message of Christ to broken hearts. Every churchgoer would feel valued for his or her gifts and encouraged to use those gifts. New ministries would develop as members saw opportunities to express God’s love to those in need. When we please God by helping others we are gifted with the Spirit of quiet hearts, peaceful minds, mouths full of praise and hands that help.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1812)
  2. Savannah Corkum, “Even Muffins Matter.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Palmer, E.F. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 35: 1,2 & 3 John/Revelation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 49-62)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Pastor Allen Jackson, “Pause to Consider.” Retrieved from contact@allenjackson.com
  7. Jim Burns, “Actions Speak Louder than Words.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  8. Cindy Hess Kasper, “Relentless Love.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  9. Joni Eareckson Tada, “I’d Die for You.” Retrieved from response@joniandfriends.org
  10. Max Lucado, “He Lives Within You.” Retrieved from www.maxlucado.com
  11. “How You Can Live with an Attitude of Action.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Joel Osteen, “Confidence to Receive.” Retrieved from devotional@goto.joelosteen.com
  13. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Love in Action.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  14. Gary Chapman, “A Church That Cares.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com

John 10:11-18 Jesus, the Good Shepherd

John 10:11-18 is part of a longer discourse in which Jesus tells his disciples and us that he is the way to heaven and eternal life. In this passage he explains this concept by comparing himself to a shepherd. The image of a shepherd was one that was common among members of his audience. Palestine was more of a pastoral region than an agricultural region, so shepherds were very common. Sheep are quite dumb. They will follow anyone who leads them, even if it means that they will be led astray. A good shepherd watches out for his flock and protects them even to the point of sacrificing himself.

We, like sheep, are vulnerable and oblivious to the dangers around us. Like sheep, we live in a wilderness, and that wilderness is called our earthly lives. These earthly lives, with their emphases on putting ourselves first, shun the notion of putting off pleasure for the good of others. Our society emphasizes self-indulgence and shuns self-giving. In spite of this, there are people who are willing to give up something in exchange for something far greater. They sacrifice themselves for people they love and things they have faith in.  Sacrifice is a measure of their character and values. It proves the worth of their words and intentions.

There are many people in our world today who want to lead us. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Who can we trust to lead us and not lead us astray?” We can’t trust politicians because they often make promises and don’t keep them. We can’t always trust ministers because they are human and are subject to human weaknesses unless they lead us in true faith. Ministers are replaceable. Most churches change their ministers every few years, especially if the minister is called to lead another flock. The minister must not be the one who makes us stay or go. Something even bigger must catch us, connect us and make us want to go deeper.

That something is the only one who we can trust to lead us. He is the only person who can back up his claims-Jesus. He accepts us as members of his flock. He gives us boundaries that will protect us. He gives us spiritual nourishment, rest, refreshment and joy. He gives himself away by laying down his life for us. He gives himself away to bring us closer to God. He protects us from Satan’s attempts to distract us while we are on our Christian walk of life. He gives our lives meaning and purpose. He is good all of the time. He will give us a rich life filled with purpose and true happiness. The eternal life he offers is absolutely wonderful and can never be diminished or taken away from us.

Jesus is our shepherd. He gave up the splendour and glory of heaven so that we could have the type of eternal life I referred to earlier. He protects us and guides us if we let him. He gave up his life on the cross so that we would have eternal life. In contrast, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were nothing more than hired hands. They were poor shepherds. They were selfish, but Jesus was selfless. They abandoned the flock to save themselves, but Jesus laid down his life for the people. The religious leaders obeyed their own lusts, but Jesus completely obeyed his Father. The religious leaders cared only about themselves and their “chosen ones”, but Jesus was for everyone, even people who had not heard the good news-people such as the Samaritans and the Gentiles.

Our lives have a rhythm. We can feel when the rhythm is good. Everything is going well, and everything works together. We can also feel it when our lives are out of rhythm. They are forced. We feel drained. We ask ourselves why life is so hard. Jesus the good shepherd tells us that he came to show us how to live a life that is in sync with God. Like a good shepherd, Jesus came to show us the very best way to live the life God wants us to lead. 

A good shepherd has three outstanding characteristics:

  1. He has love and compassion.
  2. He knows each of his sheep by name.
  3. He places his body between sheep and vicious animals. He will die protecting the sheep.

Jesus has all three of these characteristics in abundance. His love and compassion are outstanding. He knows all of his people by name. He knows the weak and the strong, the stubborn and the submissive, the hurts and needs of every sheep. He sacrificed himself on the cross so that we could have eternal life.

Every day Jesus surrounds us with opportunities, challenges, difficulties and decisions…and his grace. Even more, he wants us to live that life to the fullest. We are not perfect people, but we can still have that abundant life. Because he gave up his life for us on the cross like a good shepherd, we can have that abundant life. We have forgiveness and eternity. We are not alone, because he is with us, and he will be with us for all eternity.

The image of a Good Shepherd is a comforting one. We can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus loves us and cares for us. We, like sheep, are vulnerable to attack. A good shepherd will protect us from attack, whereas a hired hand will flee to protect himself. A good shepherd leads his flock to where it needs to go for food, shelter and protection. We, like sheep, know and trust the shepherd. We, like sheep, know every inflection of his voice, the way he leads us to pasture, and his courage in the face of danger.

Jesus will never desert us. He will always be with us. He comforts us. Our sins have been forgiven. We have been adopted into the family of faith. Our prayers will be heard. We will have help for our problems. All we have to do is submit to his word and respond to his message in faith. That involves being thankful for Jesus and all the good shepherds who try to follow him and do his good work.

Jesus leads us to where we need to go. He leads us to the green pastures of our heavenly home. He protects us from the devil’s attacks. He laid down his life for us on the cross. The image of the good shepherd is a sign of Jesus’ divinity. The sacrificial lamb overcame Satan’s power. It turned the earthly view of power upside down.

Jesus is not an intermediary. He represents God’s love and our positive response. Jesus’ death reveals God’s love to us and our response to that love. We are called on to be shepherds, witnesses of God’s love. That love sustains us and the world. It also protects us and suffers with us. We are called on to show that love. That love encourages us to care for others, especially those who are suffering. It calls on us to move from words to action.

We are to care for others as God has cared for us. We are to work for their safety and security. We are not to refuse to help. We are to support others in using their own best instincts. If we do, we honour the Good Shepherd who leads us and cares for us.

We are called on to continue Jesus’s work. We are called on to be shepherds, witnesses of God’s love. We are to be there for each other. We are to care for and support one another. We must put ourselves in the path of evil when necessary. We are to go out and encourage other non-Christians and non-believers to join the flock, just like Jesus and other Christians encouraged us to join the flock. We are to guide Christ’s sheep, especially if we are in positions of leadership within the church. In other words, we are to be good shepherds ourselves, and with faith in Jesus we will be able to overcome any barriers that would otherwise hinder us in this task.

Bibliography

  1. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
  2. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  3. George Hermanson, “Saying and Doing.” Retrieved from www.georgehermanson.com/2009/05/saying-and-doing-year-b-easter-4-sermon.html
  4. Preaching Magazine, January/February 2015 (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing; p. 64)
  5. Pastor Ken Klaus, “A Very Real Gift.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  6. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Never Know.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  7. Mike DeVries, “Rhythm.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  8. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Your Journey toward Christ.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Anne Graham Lotz, “Because He Lives.” Retrieved from angelmin.info@angelministries.org
  10. Frederikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
  11. Pastor Ken Klaus, “An Act of Valor.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  12. George Hermanson, “Saying and Doing.” Retrieved from www.georgehermanson.com/2009/05/saying-and-doing-year-b-easter-4-sermon.html
  13. F. Dean Leuking, “Shepherding.” Retrieved from http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=680
  14. Lucy Lind Hogan, “Commentary on John 10:11-18.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1239
  15. The Rev. Dr. Laura Mendenhall, “Led from Behind.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/682=led_from_behind.print
  16. Exegesis for John 10:11-18. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org