John 1:43-51 Come and See

Come and see.

Think for a moment about the effect those words might have on you if you were to hear them in an everyday context. Would they generate a sense of excitement about whatever it might be you were being invited to witness? Perhaps they might ignite your curiosity. Perhaps you might be thankful that someone thought to include you.

Come and see.

The words are both simple and warm, issuing an invitation not only to see something, but also to join a community. To come along and be part of something.

Come and see.

Have you ever used those words to invite friends to come to church with you? Have you ever talked to your friends about Jesus and what He has done in your life? If some laugh and say you’re foolish to believe as you do, don’t argue with them. Be friendly and accept them as Jesus does. After a while, your friends may be curious and willing to “come and see” what church is all about. Best of all, they may come to know Jesus.

We see a good example of this in the passage we heard from John’s Gospel. Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see the long-promised Messiah. The law and the prophets were the two most important parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. Philip told Nathaniel that he found the one that the Scriptures had been telling them to anticipate. The Messiah was now in their midst, but He went beyond the prophets of the Old Testament. He was the Word-the one who most perfectly revealed God and God’s will.

Nathaniel couldn’t believe that the Messiah came from Nazareth. Nathaniel was prejudiced. He came from Cana, which was another town in Galilee. Galileans were hated by the Judaeans, and Galileans hated people who came from Nazareth. The reason might be because Nazareth was an insignificant village that didn’t have prophetic importance. Today, many people allow their minds to be filled with prejudice against religion, and they pronounce their prejudice without examining the subject. The invitation to come and see is an invitation to join Jesus as He walks in the footsteps of the poor and stands in solidarity with those who suffer from systems of injustice and prejudice.

The darkness of the sin called prejudice allows us to sit and judge everyone and everything around us. It allows us to jump to conclusions about people without knowing their full story. It’s too bad for the people who don’t fit into our nice, neat categories. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nerdy kid at school who doesn’t dress like we do or that estranged family member, the strange neighbour or a congregation full of hypocrites. We even do the same with God. We judge His holiness and faithfulness by the circumstance of our lives. We don’t give God the right to be God.

The world is prejudiced against Christianity today. The world asks if any good can come from the One who calls us to stake our whole existence on Himself, and who calls us out of our individual worlds to follow Him to His cross. Our culture finds that offensive and labels it as a need to bring punishment on ourselves. The person of Jesus is the great cleaving sword of humanity. He divides those who come to faith in Him from those who reject Him. He separates the sheep from the goats as written in Matthew 25.

People do not need to be argued into the kingdom of God. Philip simply told Nathaniel, “Come and see.” The role of believers is to introduce people to Jesus, share His story and their stories of what He has done. Philip didn’t try to reason with Nathaniel. He asked Nathaniel to go and examine things for himself, to see Jesus, to hear Him speak, to lay aside his prejudices and to judge after he made a fair and candid personal inquiry.

Similarly, we should encourage people to lay aside their prejudices against religion and Christianity. If people want to know what God is like, they can look to Jesus. If they want to know what Jesus is like, they should be able to look at His followers. Can people see Christ in us? Seeing Jesus is the most compelling argument that exists for Christianity.

The heart of Christian evangelism is inviting people to come and see Jesus, God’s gracious Word and flesh for themselves. To come and see those who are inspired by Jesus enough to follow Him. To come and see how God continues to work in the world and in our lives. The invitation to “come and see” is the only appropriate response to having seen the grace and mercy of God taking shape among us.

Despite the setbacks of being from Nazareth, Jesus had insight and intuition that the best family, geography and education can’t give. He knew people, their nature, their motivation and their desires. That’s what drew him to Nathaniel as He saw him sitting under the fig tree.

Jesus sought out Philip and went after Him. Philip was an ordinary man, but Jesus invited Philip not just to stand out, but to keep on following Him. This encourages those of us who are shy and feel that we have so little to offer, just like the little boy in the Christmas Carol, “The Little Drummer Boy.” These are the type of people He looks for most eagerly. Similarly, Philip sought out Nathaniel and invited him to come and follow Jesus.

Jesus saw Nathaniel for who he really was. Nathaniel lived up to everything he saw and did. He was sincere and upright. Jesus knows who people really are. He sees their hearts. He sees their true motives. Jesus is divine, so He sees what we do when we think we’re doing it in secret. He sees us even when we don’t think He sees us. He sees us in our private devotions, hears our prayers and sees our meditations. He judges our character chiefly by our private devotions. If we have faith in Jesus, it will always be strengthened. If we believe His Word, we will see proof that it is true. Jesus was under God’s protection, and His friends will also be protected. God will defend us and save us if we put our trust in Him.

When he addressed Jesus as the Son of God, Nathaniel didn’t understand the full meaning of that title, but he knew that Jesus had an unusual relationship with God. Nathaniel called Jesus the King of Israel, but since Jesus referred to Nathaniel as an Israelite, Nathaniel surrendered to Jesus as his own king. This should encourage all of us to surrender to Jesus as our own king.

Nathaniel will be given far deeper grounds for belief than Jesus’ perception of who he is. As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, Nathaniel will see mighty works, great and wondrous surprises that will reveal God. We will see the same things when we surrender our lives to Jesus. It’s only as we get real and courageously honest with ourselves and God that He can help us become the people He wants us to be. If we live up to all we know, we will know more. If we are all we can be, we will become more.

Nathaniel went on to become a disciple and friend of Jesus. He traveled across India, Armenia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia, sharing the gospel and drawing people to Jesus. When he encountered Jesus, he stood under a fig tree minding his own business. As he trusted that Jesus knew him inside and out, it changed the direction of his life.

What gifts are inside of you? They may seem ordinary to you, but not to Jesus, He sees our gifts of hospitality, deep compassion, music or writing. He is happy that you are good with kids or a good planner, or that you have a natural ability to lead others. Jesus sees those gifts because He gave them to us. Are we using them to their fullest potential? Are we using them to do God’s work in the world?

What does it take for us to believe? God doesn’t need to prove He is God as much as we need to prove we believe He is God. Despite how we feel, what we see or how we think, in the words of Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Faith goes beyond the senses to a deep understanding and knowing that He is God in the midst of a hassled day and the hurts from life’s circumstances. Faith is believing without seeing, as Jesus told the apostle Thomas.

The essence of discipleship is to follow Jesus. It’s what most of us want for ourselves, our family members and our friends. Life is much better for people when they follow Christ. To be a Christian is to realize that we have been called by God. Called to grace, called to life, called to move. Our proper response is to follow Jesus-slowly, perhaps not perfectly, but to try and follow nonetheless.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1443)
  2. “Come and See.” Retrieved from www.KeysforKids.org
  3. Barnes, Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package
  4. Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 56-60)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010, pp. 1451-1453)
  7. Suzie Eller, “He Sees the Gift in You.” Retrieved from devotions@proverbs31.org
  8. Richard Innes, “Authenticity.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  9. Pastor Dick Woodward, “A Fig Tree Fellowship.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. “Just Believe.” Retrieved from www.dailydisciples.org
  11. Rev. Wayne Palmer, “The Darkness of Rash Judgment.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  12. Matthew A. Maus, “John 1:43-51.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  13. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for John 1:43-51.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  14. David Lose, “Come and See.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org.
  15. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Come and See Gospel Analysis.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com

Mark 1:4-11 The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

If the passage from Mark’s Gospel sounds familiar, it’s because we heard part of the same reading a few weeks ago on the Second Sunday of Advent. On that Sunday, we heard John the Baptist talk about the coming of Jesus and the baptism that he would provide-the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John saw Jesus as both mightier than him and more worthy than him, and Jesus said that no one greater than John had ever lived. John saw himself as not being worthy enough to untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet, and that was a task that was dirty and not very appealing according to the culture of that time.

Today, we heard about Jesus’ baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit on him.  John proclaimed Christ’s superiority by distinguishing between his own baptism with water and the baptism that Christ would provide with the Holy Spirit. Several Old Testament passages speak of the Holy Spirit being poured out like water. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit supplies us with supernatural power just like the Holy Spirit revealed its supernatural power at Jesus’ baptism.

All three members of the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-were present at Jesus’ baptism. The parting of heaven was a foretaste of both Jesus’ statement in Mark 1:15 that the kingdom of heaven was near and the tearing of the veil of the temple when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus’ birth ended the separation of God and man that was created when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The Holy Spirit changes things. It works through Jesus to bridge the gap between us and God. Reconciliation with God was possible because of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Not only was this gap first bridged at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a dove, it was also bridged at his death when the veil in the temple was torn in two. The Temple was divided into several sections, including the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. The only person who could enter this particular part of the temple was the High Priest, and even then he could only enter on the Day of Atonement. No one else could enter, so a rope was tied to the high priest’s waist so that if anything happened to him he could be removed without anyone else having to enter. A bell was attached to the high priest so that people on the outside could hear him move. If the bell stopped ringing for any length of time, the people would know that something happened to the high priest and that they needed to pull him out of there immediately.

God claims us through baptism. In the waters of our baptism, God speaks our name, unites us to Christ and grants us the promise of new life. He says that he loves us, he claims us and he is proud of us. Nothing else is needed. No one can take our new identity in Christ away from us. No matter what other names we are called by others or even by ourselves, we are now beloved children of God. In the Baptism Service in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services, there is a line that is read when a person is baptized-“I sign you with the sign of the cross, and I mark you as Christ’s own forever.” We have been adopted into God’s family. God’s love for us can’t be changed. It guides our behaviour. Because of God’s love, there are certain things we won’t do and there are certain things we will do-things that we must do. Through Jesus, we have a love that will take risks and a family identity that can’t be broken.

Baptism tells us that we are deeply rooted in the possibility toward goodness. That is a revelation to us. It goes against the stain of original sin which I mentioned earlier. It encourages us to take a risk by going into this unknown territory. God offers harmony, intensity, peace, compassion and justice-things that are alien to our world.

Why did Jesus have to be baptized? After all, he was sinless. Jesus said in Mathew 3:15 that he needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was God’s counsel in Luke 7:29-30 that people be baptized of John. In other words, God tells us to repent. Jesus asked John to baptize him as an act of obedience to God’s purposes. Jesus wanted to set a good example for us by doing the Father’s will. His baptism also served to introduce him to John and the people of Israel as the long-promised Messiah.

Jesus’ baptism was necessary in order to fulfill the requirements of the Old Testament law, which required repentance from sins and hence John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. Jesus had to be baptized because he was born and died under the law to deliver us from the law (which was so strict that it could not be obeyed perfectly). The Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptism commissioned Jesus for a unique service. Jesus carried the Holy Spirit wherever he went and gave it to those who were receptive to his message. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we are empowered to do God’s work in our world.

Jesus was God’s answer to Isaiah’s prayer that God would come down to earth and be fully present with humanity. He was and is God’s son in a way that others created in God’s image are not. Jesus was the Son of God, but his baptism gave him the verbal assurance that he was indeed God’s son. He was born of the Holy Spirit, but his baptism gave him the visible assurance that the Spirit was certainly present with him. Jesus’ baptism gave him the positive assurances that he would need during his temptation, his time of ministry, his sufferings and death.

We long for someone to tell us the truth even if it will hurt us. God created this longing in our hearts. We long to have someone who can help us understand what is going on in the world and what we need to do. That person may or may not be a prophet as long as he or she speaks the truth of God’s word. Take me, for example. I don’t consider myself to be a prophet, but each and every message I preach is based on the truth of God’s word as written in the Bible.

Jesus and John the Baptist also spoke the truth. They spoke of the need for repentance, and repentance is the first step in a journey that leads us to baptism by the Holy Spirit. It requires us to change our direction. In other words, we have to “turn or burn.” Baptism is the second step in the journey. It means a burial with Jesus and resurrection to a new life in Christ. Baptism with water is a symbol of the washing away of the dirt of our old, sinful life. Forgiveness of sins is the third step. It is ushered in by our baptism and our repentance. When God forgives us, he wipes our record clean. He takes his big bottle of Liquid Paper or his big roll of correction tape and crosses out the mistakes of our lives, just like the father forgave his wayward son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Jesus’ baptism ushered in a new way of dealing with sin. People did not have to go to the temple in Jerusalem because Jesus became the new temple. Repentance is not something we can do only once in our lives and then forget about it. Repentance must be done each and every day because each and every day Satan will try to get us to move in a different direction. When we come together in worship, God tells us that he loves us, and in return we tell him that we love him too.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit allows us to see ourselves as gospel peacemakers in our world. It allows us to be merciful to those who ask for forgiveness. It allows us to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves-the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, prisoners and so on. It allows us to spread God’s love to everyone.

A few years ago, I read a story about a mother who was at home with her two young daughters one lazy afternoon. Everything seemed to be just fine until the mother realized something strange. The house was quiet. And as every parent knows, a quiet house in the daytime can only mean one thing: the kids are up to no good.

Quietly walking into each of the girls’ rooms and not finding them there, she began to get worried. Then she heard it: the sound of whispering followed by the flushing of a toilet. Following the sound, she soon realized where it was coming from. It was coming from her bathroom. Whispers, flush. Whispers, flush. Whispers, flush. Poking her head into the room, she was able to see both of her daughters standing over the commode. Whispers, flush. One of them was holding a dripping Barbie doll by the ankles and the other one had her finger on the handle. Whispers, flush. Wanting to hear what her daughter was saying, she slipped quietly into the room. Whispers, flush. And this is what she heard: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and in the hole you go.” Flush.

We know what it feels like to have life grab us by the ankles and dangle us over the waters of chaos. And we know that this happens in spite of our faith. We even know that, at times, it happens precisely because of our faith. When this happens, we can take comfort in the knowledge that because we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, we have the strength we need to face life’s challenges.

Baptism means that God has broken through the barrier between him and us. In return, we are to break through the challenges and problems of the world with everything we have been given by the Holy Spirit. Saying yes to our baptism means saying yes to facing the challenges of our world and yes to a life torn open by God’s love. Saying yes to our baptism means that our sins have been forgiven and we have been given a new start in life through Jesus Christ.

As soon as he was baptized, Jesus was on the move, and that fits in with the urgency of Mark’s Gospel. We have a similar calling. We are baptized for action. We are baptized to go out into the world and be the hands, voice and presence of Christ. We are baptized for the sake of others and for the sake of the world. For example, I publish all of my sermons on my blog-www.sermonsfrommyheart.com-and they have been viewed many times by people from all over the world.  Regardless of what we do, say or think, we must be bold in our actions and faithful to our calling. That way, when we get to the Pearly Gates, we can hear God say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  3. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  4. Exegesis for Mark 1:4-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  5. Kristopher J. Hewitt, “I Love You Too.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  6. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, Baptism of the Lord, (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  7. The Rev. David Lewicki, “As It Was in the Beginning.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  8. The Rev. Timothy T. Boggess, “In the Hole He Goes.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  9. Rick Morley, “Handling Sin: A Reflection on Mark 1:4-11.” Retrieved from www.rickmorley.com/archives
  10. Brian P. Stoffregen, “Mark 1:4-11, 1st Sunday after the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord-Year B.” Retrieved from http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark1x4.htm
  11. The Rev. Maxwell Grant, “Torn Open, By God.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  12. Pastor Dave Risendal, “Baptism: the Heart of our Faith.” Retrieved from http://onelittleword.org/?p=6765

Ephesians 3:1-12 The Greatest Gift of All is for Everyone

Well, Christmas is almost over for another year. For most of us the holidays are over, and our lives get back to normal this coming week. Children will be going back to school, people will be going back to work, family and friends will be going home (if they haven’t gone home already), and we will be settling back into our normal routines.

There is one more part of Christmas to come, and that’s why I said that Christmas is almost over. There is one more gift for all of us, and on the Feast of the Epiphany we receive that gift. That gift is the fact that Jesus came for all of us-both Jews and Gentiles. This concept is represented in the visit of the Magi, which we read about in Matthew 2:1-12, but it is also represented in the legendary story of the fourth wise man-a man named Artaban.

As he journeyed with his friends, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, he became separated from them. He never made it to Bethlehem. For many years he sought the Christ Child and in the process had many adventures and assisted many people, including dying beggars and frightened mothers, to whom he gave two of the three great jewels he had originally planned to give to Jesus. He even traveled to Egypt, hearing that Jesus and his parents had gone there, but was again frustrated in his quest. Now, after 33 years of searching he arrived in Jerusalem, hoping at last that he might find the child.

 At Passover time, Artaban, now an old man, noted an unusual commotion and inquired about its cause. People answered him, “We are going to the place called Golgotha, just outside the walls of the city, to see two robbers and a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who are being crucified on crosses. The man Jesus calls himself the Son of God, and Pontius Pilate has sent him to be crucified because he claims to be the king of the Jews.”

 Artaban knew instinctively that this is the king he had been searching for his whole life. Thus, he rushed to the scene. On the way he encountered a young girl being sold into slavery. She saw his royal robes and fell at his feet pleading with him to rescue her. His heart was moved and he gave away the last jewel for her ransom. Just then, darkness fell over the land and the earth shook, and great stones fell into the streets. One of them fell upon Artaban, crushing his head.

As he lay dying in the arms of the girl he had just ransomed, he cried out in a weak voice, “Three and thirty years I looked for thee, Lord, but I have never seen thy face nor ministered to thee!” Then a voice came from heaven, strong and kind, which said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.” Artaban’s face grew calm and peaceful. His long journey was ended. He had found his king!

This popular story powerfully presents the Epiphany message. The three magi of whom Saint Matthew speaks in his gospel brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, recognizing Jesus as priest, prophet, and king. Additionally, their presence in Bethlehem demonstrated how Christ was manifest to the nations. In a similar way, Artaban’s adventure showed that Christ calls us to manifest his glory to all nations. Artaban’s goodness and openness to all, even those he did not know, brought the face of Christ, namely the one he sought, to him. Additionally, those to whom he came, the poor and destitute, became Christ to him. Without realizing it, all his life he had been achieving his goal, to see the Christ Child. We, in turn, are challenged to be Christ to others; we must be ambassadors of the Lord.

God came to us in the form of Jesus so that we could come back to him. When we come to Christ, we are adopted into his family. We are also freed from the bondage of sin. That freedom has a purpose, which is being part of God’s plan for our lives. Our lives and the paths we take in life matter to God. We are to remember this when our lives seem aimless and without direction.

The church was unknown in the Old Testament and the Gospels. It wasn’t fully revealed until the events in Acts 2 occurred, especially the events that happened on the Day of Pentecost. It was not fully explained until Paul began his mission. The heart and soul of the mystery of the church is that Jews and Gentiles are joined into one body. The Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews, fellow members of God’s household, and fellow partakers of the promise of salvation for everyone. This process started with the visit of the Magi, but it was not fully realized until Peter preached to and baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family.

Paul was the apostle, teacher and preacher to the Gentiles. The sufferings he experienced during his ministry were on their behalf, just like Jesus’ suffering and death were for everyone-both Jews and Gentiles. There are times when we as Christians will suffer for our faith like Paul, Christ and the disciples did. When we praise God, especially when we suffer, it forces us to keep our eyes on him and lifts us out of the pain of our suffering. It allows us to see clearly how God works in and through all believers to change something that is evil into something that is good. That does not mean that God causes pain and suffering. It means that God is with us and that he can use our suffering for his purposes.

Paul’s calling to preach to the Gentiles was the disposition of God’s grace. God not only appointed Paul a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles through grace but anointed him with power. This verified Paul’s apostleship-an amazing thing considering that Paul so violently persecuted the church previously.

Christ came to unite Jews and Gentiles into one body of believers through the Gospel. Christ revealed the mystery to Paul on the road to Damascus and at other times during his ministry. The purpose of his ministry was of interest to angels, especially since they rejoice when a sinner repents.

The mystery is made known to us through both God’s direct intervention in our lives and through Scripture. This revelation is a gift for everyone, whereas until Christ was born it was seen only as a gift to the people of Israel. We are to share the promise with everyone.

If we enlarge our horizons, our theology will not be restricted to a denominational understanding but will affirm the ecumenical affirmations of the Christian faith centered in Jesus Christ. To be sure, we ought to preserve the best in our own theological tradition, but admittedly we do not possess the whole truth. We can learn from one another, and as we dialogue we sharpen our basic convictions. I’m speaking from experience. I have learned from preaching and leading worship at other non-Anglican churches, and in return I have been able to share parts of the Anglican Church traditions.

In order to share the gift, we have to use the gifts God has given us. Some of us have the gift of preaching and teaching. Some of us have the gift of singing. Others have the gift of leadership, and still others have the gift of just being able to talk to other people and share what God has done for them in their lives. We know what our gifts are, but we also know our limitations. We don’t have to worry, because God will make up for our limitations.

God created the church to be a public testimony to his grace-a place where anyone (both Jews and Gentiles) can go to receive a constant flow of mercy, and a place to hear the message of the Gospel. Yet the church not only declares the truth to humanity; God also designed the church to display the truth to angels.

The church is called to be a house of prayer. God’s people don’t need a priest to be a mediator to approach him, as was required in the Old Testament. Jews and Gentiles both have full access to God through Jesus.

Within the church there are to be no divisions due to race, spiritual or social reasons. Faith gives us free and unlimited access to God. When we place our trust in God, it opens the way for us to communicate with and have fellowship with him at any time and in any place. Anyone and everyone can come to him. We can do so because of God’s grace.

God wants everyone to see and share his wisdom. It’s up to us to make certain that this happens. Sometimes we can’t see that Christ came for everyone and can use everyone. We need to share our gifts and burdens just like Christ shared himself with everyone-both Jews and Gentiles. We are to spread the Good News to a world that desperately needs to hear it. When we spread the Good News, we are to share it with everyone, because Christ came for everyone-and that is the greatest gift that everyone can give and receive.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1642-1643)
  2. Preaching Magazine, November/December 2015 (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing Inc.; p. 65)
  3. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  4. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pgs. 175-182)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Don Ruhl, “Our Job: Make People See the Manifold Wisdom of God.” Retrieved from comment-reply@wordpress.com
  7. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Moments of Weakness.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  8. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Let Me Not Shrink.” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  9. Dr. R.C. Sproul, “Answering the Ultimate Question.” Retrieved from Corsswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Pastor Bob Coy, “Access-able.” Retrieved from www.activeword.org
  11. Don Ruhl, “The Privilege of Sharing the Preaching of Christ.” Retrieved from comment-reply@wordpress.com
  12. Richard Hasler, “Enlarge Your Horizons.” Retrieved from http://sermons.com/sermon/enlarge-your-horizons/14228
  13. Richard Gribble, “Ambassadors of the Lord.” Retrieved from http://sermons.com/sermons/ambassadors-of-the-lord/1467337

Matthew 2:1-12 The Star That Leads the Way

Good morning boys and girls!

Did you have a good Christmas? Did you get lots of gifts?

Did any of you go on a trip over Christmas?  How did you get there? Did you have to get directions? How did you get them? Did you ask someone? Did you go online and get directions? Did your parents use a GPS system or a map?

A long time ago there were some people who went on a journey. Can anyone guess who they were? They were the Three Wise Men. Let me tell you the story.

After Jesus was born, some wise men, also called Magi, saw a star in the sky which they believed announced the birth of a king. They traveled to Jerusalem and began to ask, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”   Herod heard about the Magi and their search for a king and he was deeply disturbed. He called a meeting of the priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” The priests told Herod that the prophet Micah had written that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod called a private meeting with the wise men and said to them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

The Wise Men didn’t have a map or the Internet or a GPS system. They had something even better to guide them. They had a star.

So the wise men followed information that the priests had given to Herod and the star that God had given to guide them and it led them right to Jesus. When they found him, they gave him gifts and bowed down and worshiped him.   Wise men, women, boys, and girls are still searching for Jesus. There are people who want to help — people like pastors and Sunday School teachers. There is no map to help us find Jesus and there is no star to follow, but we do have the Bible. We can find the way to Jesus by reading God’s Holy Word! The Bible is the map and star that will lead to Jesus. All of us should read it every day to make sure we are headed in the right direction!   Let’s close our eyes and bow out heads for a moment of prayer. Dear Jesus, we seek you today because we want to worship you and crown you as our King. We are thankful for pastors and Sunday School teachers who want to help us, and we are thankful for the Bible which we have been given to lead us to you. Amen.

Bibliography

  1. “Seeking the Saviour.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 Our Christmas Gift from God

Thatcher and Mae had given up trying to eat the dry mints at their table at Jessica’s wedding. They had waited a long time already for their cousin and her new husband, Matt, to arrive so the reception could start.

As her tummy growled, Mae said, “Food sounds good, but I’m really excited to see Jessica’s wedding dress again!”

Thatcher didn’t respond. He was still thinking about Mom’s earlier comments about Jesus’ return being like the good wedding food they were waiting for. “Mom, you said that when Jesus comes back, He’s going to make all sin go away, right?” Mom nodded. “How is He going to do that exactly?” Thatcher asked. “If doing wrong things is the problem and Jesus fixes it, what if someone sins again after that? I mean, I still sin even though I’m a Christian.”

“You’re not alone, Thatcher,” said Mom. “All Christians do things that are wrong. We’ll struggle with sin as long as we’re still living in a sinful world, but we can live knowing Jesus has saved us and has promised us something better. And you know what? Wedding dresses can help us understand that.”

Thatcher looked surprised, and Mae squealed with excitement.

Mom continued. “The Bible uses wedding outfits to show how God saves us from sin by clothing those who trust Jesus with His righteousness, or sinlessness. That means even though we still do wrong things, God sees us as righteous because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins. It’s also a reminder of God’s promise that one day, when Jesus returns and makes everything new, He’ll give us new bodies so we’ll never sin again!”

“Kind of like Jessica knew she and Matt would get married when she put on her wedding dress this morning, even though it hadn’t happened yet?” Mae asked.

“Exactly,” said Mom. “The day Jesus returns will be a big day of celebration–just like today! And until then, we can go to Him whenever we do something wrong and confess it, knowing He’ll forgive us because we’re already wearing His righteousness.”

Suddenly, Mae jumped up from her seat, “They’re here! It’s time to celebrate!”

Thatcher laughed. “That’s probably what we’ll say when Jesus comes back, huh?”

“Yes,” Mom replied. “On that day, all of creation will celebrate!”

One of life’s happiest occasions is a wedding. It is the union of two separate individuals into one new entity. It involves lots of planning and preparation, including obtaining a wedding gown, bridesmaids dresses, and tuxedos for the groom, his attendants and ushers. These garments, although very stunning, pale in comparison to the garments that will be issued when Christ returns for his bride-the church and all Christians. This is what the prophet Isaiah refers to in Isaiah 61:10-62:3.

Isaiah speaks of a new age in which the people are clothed with garments of salvation. It will usher in an order in which hope abounds and shouts of joy are the order of the day. The old order is passing and a new age of beauty and justice is upon us. Isaiah proclaims that humanity is on the verge of a giant leap in awareness. Humanity has matured ethically in many ways, but we still have a long way to go.

Isaiah begins his message as a prophet released to enjoy God’s promises to restore the people, but it is not the joy that comes from overthrowing oppressors. It is the joy that arises from both God’s deliverance of His people and in the bringing forth of righteousness. Isaiah understands that God has taken His people in a covenant like a marriage. His faithfulness is predictable and reliable as the natural cycle of life. His people are to exhibit God’s righteousness in their own restored lives, and that includes us as Christians today.

Isaiah uses the image of a wedding to tell what it means for us to celebrate our freedom from sin. Clothed as His bride in the garments of righteousness, adorned with the jewels of servanthood and radiant with the glow of His glory, righteousness and praise will spring forth. The prophet proclaims salvation and forecasts redemption.

When she is restored, Israel will be clothed with garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness. These are wedding garments, with the metaphor of the bridegroom and the bride emphasizing the joy and delight shared mutually by God and His redeeming people. While Israel was guilty of being unfaithful to God, she will be restored to a relationship with its husband. The church is also portrayed as a bride, with Christ being the bridegroom. The same thing will happen to us when we accept Christ as our Saviour. When God redeems His people, there will be joy among the people.

The robe of righteousness is a robe of protection and an ornament. This is a metaphor of the church defended and ornamented by God. When the Messiah comes, truth and righteousness will spring forth like grass and fruit when it rains.

Because of His great love for His people, God sent a Saviour to comfort, heal and set His people free. God planned to deliver His people and He would not stop until the work was accomplished. God’s church and His people would be the object of His unceasing watchfulness and care until His glory filled the earth. He would clothe His people with goodness and salvation. God tells us that He holds Himself accountable for the promises He has made. From this perspective, His people will find new hope for the future, not just because He clears our vision once again but because He backs up the vision by holding Himself accountable for His own word, Isaiah’s words, His own oath, His own command, and His own purpose for the world.

When a sinner realizes that he can’t achieve his own righteousness by deeds and repents and asks God for mercy, God covers the sinner with His own divine righteousness by grace through faith. So what does God do? Exactly what He did for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He sheds innocent blood. He offers the life of His Son. From the scene of the sacrifice God takes a robe of righteousness. Does He throw it in our direction and tell us to shape up? No, He dresses us Himself with Himself. The robing is His work, not ours. This is why He came to earth as a tiny baby on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago.

Jesus began the process of redemption through his life, death and resurrection. He proclaimed God’s rule, and therefore we can rejoice in the knowledge that He has set us free and made the world right. On the other hand, we are works in progress, and there is much in our world that needs to be fixed. The job won’t be complete until Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom here on earth.

How often and how easily do we forget our value? How often do we believe the lies of the world instead of the words from God about us? We set aside the truth that Jesus came and lived and died to prove to us we are of great value to the God of the heavens. How we minimize Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice when we insist that more must be done to redeem our messy lives. We forget what God says about our identity in Him. We get wrapped up in things around us. Our families and jobs require so much of us we can lose ourselves and turn into people we never thought we’d become.

When you sin, do you worry that you’re no longer saved or that Jesus will stop loving you? If you know Jesus, you don’t have to worry because He has clothed you in His righteousness. He promises to forgive you when you do something wrong, and one day, when He returns, He’ll make you completely new so you’ll never sin again! You can trust Him to free you from sin forever.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 952-953)
  2. Kandi Zeller, “Wedding Waiting (Part 2).” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  4. McKenna, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 18: Isaiah 40-66 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 242-246)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2006)
  6. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1009-1013)
  7. Logan Wolfram,” Where You Sit is How You Stand.” Retrieved form Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Patricia Tull, “Commentary on Isaiah 61:10-62:3.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org.
  9. J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “Commentary on Isaiah 61:10-62:3.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org.
  10. Howard Wallace, “Year B Christmas 1 Isaiah 61-62.” Retrieved from https://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/ChristmasB/Christmas1.html
  11. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The First Sunday of Christmas-December 27, 2020.” Retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingahealthyadventure/2020/12/the-adventurous-lectionary-the-first-sunday-of-christmas-december-27-2020

Luke 2:22-40 Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Have you ever heard of the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait”? If so, the story of Simeon, Anna and the baby Jesus in the temple in Luke 2:22-40 is a good example. The coming of Christ involved all manner of waiting on God. A young maiden, a dying man and an old widow all model hearts yielded to God.

The tale of Simeon and Anna is a tale of grace. Anna’s name means “grace”, an early reminder by Luke that his gospel is a story of God’s free gift of self to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna are recognized and graced by God. That is why the aged Simeon, over a long period of waiting and from the numerous children brought to the temple, recognized God’s salvation in Christ.

Simeon and Anna waited for years for the coming of the Messiah. In Simeon’s case, the centre of his joy was the privilege of being God’s servant, and in return, God let him see the salvation of the world as it dawned. Simeon saw the baby Jesus as the fulfillment of all the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people throughout the years. In the Old Testament, God promised Moses that a prophet would come who would be unlike any other prophet. God promised David a son who would reign forever. God told Isaiah that a son would be born of a virgin and he would be called Emmanuel-God with us. The prophet Micah predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

Anna was an eighty-four year-old widow who stayed close to the temple and served God through fasting and praying. In return, God blessed her by allowing her to see the Saviour of the world as a tiny, newborn baby. God fulfilled the promise he made to Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When God fulfilled that promise, Simeon uttered the words that are part of the funeral liturgy in the Anglican Church-the Song of Simeon, also known as the Nunc Dimittis- “O Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which hath been since the world began”.

Simeon and Anna are symbolic and representative figures. The world has never been without people like them, people with a forward look in whom there burned a great hope, people on tiptoe, the flame of freedom in their souls, the light of knowledge in their eyes, living in hope and expectation that a great day was coming when wrong would be righted, when justice would be done, when God would reveal his arm and bring salvation to mankind. One night over two thousand years ago, the Word became flesh in a baby born in Bethlehem. One day, it will become flesh again when Christ returns to set up his kingdom here on earth.

Simeon also told Mary of the suffering and death Jesus would have to endure for all of his people. Most people thought of the redemption of Jerusalem and God’s people in terms of freedom from Roman rule, but some had a vision of an even greater redemption-a vision of spiritual renewal. God’s salvation is for all of us, but not all of us will accept it, just like some people did not accept Christ and his teachings and salvation. Those who reject Christ are already condemned.

God’s salvation doesn’t mean that we will never suffer troubles, illness, rejection or death. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Mary. It will happen to us, but if we endure hardships with faith, we will have a great future. It takes faith to know a blessing from God. It is the joy of celebrating God’s goodness in the midst of our chaotic, suffering world.

As life passes us by, how do we grow old in such a way to end well and finish awaiting Christ’s message, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Since many of us will end our earthly pilgrimage alone with our spouse preceding us, how will we finish when we will be alone and old for some of those years? We are never too old, weak or sick to make a difference. Our attitude and behaviour will make a difference. Like Anna, God will guide us to share the story of Jesus with everyone we meet.

We have also been told of the coming Christ. Like Simeon and Anna, we are heirs of a promise. We are prompted by the same Spirit. We long to see the same face. To do so successfully, we must wait forwardly, patiently and vigilantly. When we look at Jesus’ face, we will know that it is time for us to repent and come home to our heavenly Father, just like Simeon knew it was time for him to go to his heavenly home when he saw the face of the baby Jesus.

We have just come through the season of Advent and Christmas, and during those seasons we, like Simeon and Anna, had to wait and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. God works in a time zone where a day is as a thousand years. For those who have walked the long road of faith, who have held the long cord of life in their hands and felt all of its frays and burrs, but also found it very sturdy, for those who have waited on the Lord while holding on for their lives, they have received the reward of joy

When our dreams don’t come true in a day, we, like Simeon and Anna, need to keep in mind that God is still at work. He is still wrapping the package. He is still preparing the gift to fit our needs. We need to pray, not just for the gift, but also for patience to wait for God’s unveiling. As we practice faith, hope, attentiveness, submission and patience, we see the Christ child.

Like Simeon, our eyes have seen God’s salvation. When we receive the bread and wine during Holy Communion, we are holding Christ’s very body and blood, which was nailed to the cross and poured out for our forgiveness. We have seen it with our own eyes and felt it with our own hands and on our tongues. Having been saved, we glorify God and depart in peace to share Christ’s salvation throughout the world.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, Charles F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 2009)
  2. “Jesus: The Consolation of Israel”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  3. Pastor Bob Coy, “Anna”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  4. Exegesis for Luke 2:22-40. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  5. Pastor John Barnett, “Simeon and Anna: Single-Hearted Devotion”. Retrieved from www.dtbm.org
  6. Phil Ware, “Heartlight Daily Verse”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  7. Max Lucado, “Waiting Forwardly”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  8. Jill Carattini, “Remember Me”. Retrieved from www.rzim.org/Slice
  9. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions: Feast of the Holy Family”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org.
  10. David Timms, “Sacred Waiting”. Retrieved from www.ChristianityToday.com/global/printer.html?/moi/2011/006.december/22.22.html
  11. Jamieson-Fawcett-Brown Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  12. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  13. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  14. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  15. MacArthur, John: MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006;2008)
  16. Larson, Bruce; Ogilvie, Lloyd J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 26: Luke(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1983)
  17. The Rev. Dr. Ozzie E. Smith. Jr. “A Sight for Certain Eyes”. Retrieved from www.day1.org/1125-sight_for_certain_eyes.print
  18. The Rev. Beth Quick, Sermon 12-29-02. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermon12-29-02.htm
  19. The Rev. Dr. William K. Quick, “Seeing and Believing”. Retrieved from www.day1.org/702-seeing_and_believing.print.

Luke 1:26-38 The Promise of Mary’s Miracle

The passage from Luke 1:26-38 is the story of the greatest miracle of all. It is a hint of the awesome power of God and how he can use it in our lives if we let him. The virgin birth is a picture of how close Christ will come within us. Mary wondered how she could bear God’s son when she was a virgin, but the angel Gabriel reminded her that it would be possible because of the Holy Spirit.

Was Mary frightened by this change in the plans she had for her life? The Bible doesn’t say, but it is possible that she was frightened. After all, in the Jewish culture of that time, women were seen as being no better than property. To make matters worse, unmarried women who became pregnant were dealt with severely by the religious authorities. Mary is a good example of the kind of response to God’s surprises that we should have in our own lives. Even though God completely turned Mary’s life around, and even though He called her to something that was both wonderful and scary, and even though Mary knew that her life would not be what she expected it to be, she still offered herself to God in faithful, free submission.

The favour of God is worth any discomfort it might involve. God chose Mary to give birth to his son, but she also had to bear the public shame of people not understanding what He was doing through her. We can trust God even in the most difficult of circumstances because no problem is too tough for Him to handle and no challenge is beyond his power to overcome. He has the ability to do what he says he will do.

We have ordinary moments in our lives that do not seem significant by themselves but when weaved together by a heart of obedience they become something wonderful. One day God will ask us to trust Him for something extraordinary. Where will our heart be? Will we be ready to say “yes” to God, even when what He is asking seems impossible? If God can do such a miraculous thing in the life of Mary, just think of the miraculous things he can do in our own lives! All we have to do is take God at his word and expect the miraculous.  God speaks within our hearts, and his word is backed up with his power. If we hear something that we think may be coming from God, there are three ways we can find out if it really is God speaking to us:

  1. His Word
  2. The responsibilities he gives us to care for the less fortunate in society.
  3. Any burden or pain his request causes us.

When we place our faith in Jesus and let him come and live within us-just like Mary let the Holy Spirit work within her-the Holy Spirit comes upon us, and the life of Jesus is born within us.

Like Mary, we may be going through the most difficult time in our lives and still be in the centre of God’s plan. It is possible to live a godly life in an ungodly world. Nazareth was an obscure, wicked city that was known for its sin, and the same can be said of our world today. We, like Mary, are part of God’s plan to carry His light and love to a needy world. Each of us has been given different roles in His plan, but none are unimportant. It might be difficult to see ourselves as being active players in what God is doing in the world. It’s not always easy to say yes to God. Saying yes can mean facing difficulties and persecution, but God always provides the means of sustaining us when we choose obedience to His desires for our lives.

When we present ourselves as God’s servants and are open to hearing what it is God asks of us, we will take our places in a long line of faithful people who have done just that. Then we will find ourselves set free to perform both small acts of care and compassion and large ones. We will be made available for the adventures God has in store for us, for the work He needs us to do and the work He has designed us to do.

Each task fits into God’s scheme-of-things in ways that we cannot yet understand. It matters less that we complete our tasks with expertise than that we complete them with devotion. God desires not the skills of our hands but the love of our hearts. The person who has only the ability to love God and neighbour is all-important in God’s economy. We must remember that favour with God is a double-edged sword. God offers mercy but no life of ease. Our confidence in the Word of God will give us strength just like Mary’s confidence in God’s Word gave her strength. Because her whole identity was wrapped up in the promises of God, she was able to face her crisis with certainty. She gave all the glory to God. She praised God for His grace and mercy. She thanked Him for His favour. She never forgot His faithfulness. If our identity is wrapped up in the promises of God, if we give all glory to God, if we praise God for his faithfulness, and if we thank Him for his favour, we can also face life’s crises with certainty.

The marks of greatness in God’s sight are the same marks of greatness that Jesus showed us-humility, self-sacrifice, total dependence on God and total obedience even unto death. Mary showed these same marks of greatness and she was rewarded by God. The only place of honour in God’s kingdom is the place of service. If we can show the same marks of greatness, and if we show them in faith, God will reward us with the greatest gift anyone can receive, either at Christmas or at any other time of the year-and that gift is the gift of eternal life.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, Charles F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010)
  2. Steve Arterburn, “In Turbulent Times, Consider the Possibilities”. Retrieved from www.newlife.com
  3. F.B. Meyer, “Our Daily Homily”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  4. Anne Graham Lotz, “Overshadowed by the Spirit”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  5. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Jesus is Lord of All”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jim Liebelt, “Being Part of God’s Plan”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  7. Kevin H. Grenier, “Crisis Pregnancy”. Retrieved from www.loi.org
  8. Wendy Blight, “Let It Be with Me Just as You Say” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com.
  9. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Advent 4, Year B. Retrieved from www.seemslikegod.org
  10. Greg Laurie, “A Lesson from Mary”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  11. Lucado, Max: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010)
  12. Sarah Dylan Breuer, “Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B”. Retrieved from www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/12/fourth_sunday_o.html
  13. Exegesis for Luke 1:26-38. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  14. Dr. Philip McLarty, “A Faithful Response”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  15. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  16. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  17. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  18. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “God’s Unusual Selection”. Retrieved from www.leadingtheway.org.

Romans 16:25-27 The Mystery of the Revelation of God

How many of you like mystery stories? I certainly do. When I was younger, I loved watching mystery TV shows such as the “Perry Mason” movies, “Columbo”, “MacLeod, “CSI: NY” and all three versions of “NCIS”. I also like reading mystery stories and novels, so it’s not surprising that I really like the passage from Romans 16:25-27.

This reading is a prayer of praise to God. It ascribes glory and worth to God’s name. Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to be established, firm and unmoved in their commitment to the truth of the Gospel. There is a mystery surrounding the revelation of God. The part of God that was not revealed in the Old Testament was revealed in the New Testament.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans explains the salvation that has come by God’s grace for God’s glory. Romans 16:25-27 is appropriate for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Christ was born so that God’s glory and grace could be brought into our sin-filled world. God’s grace is the only way we can be restored to him. Since we are separated from him, we are in exile just like the Israelites were in exile in Egypt. God comforts his exiled people by promising the world-changing display of his glory.  That display was the birth of Jesus.

Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that God commanded that his Scriptures be preached throughout the world so that all people can obey God’s command to believe. We must remember that while we are celebrating the Advent of our Saviour, that Saviour is also the reason for the season. The reason we celebrate Advent is to remind us that the mystery Paul spoke of in this passage is no longer a mystery or a secret.

Romans 16:25-27 is a doxology or song of praise that praises God for his work through Jesus. It summarizes the major themes of the Letter to the Romans. Paul has outlined the great themes of salvation in this letter. He urges the Romans and us to live as Christians and spread the Gospel to the whole world. In order to have the strength to do this work, we must always look to Jesus and the mystery of salvation that was revealed on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago.

The gospel was revealed by the Father through Jesus Christ.  God revealed what had been hidden for so long when Christ died and rose again. Christ conquered death for himself and for everyone who believes in him in faith. Our sinful nature estranged us from God, but Christ’s death and resurrection reconciled us to God. Adam’s sin led to our condemnation, and Christ’s righteousness made our justification possible. God is wise and deserves glory forever and ever. He sees all, and he can take our foolishness and give us wise hearts. He knows our beginning and our ending, and his wisdom holds us together, especially when times are tough.

We are to listen to God with a heart that is filled with faith. We are to honor God because he plans to bring all peoples and nations together in faith. Obedience to God and listening to God means that we have to listen to what he tells us and apply our hearts and minds to those words.

Jesus is the access route that we have to take for our salvation. That’s why he was born on that first Christmas. He places us securely and permanently in a position of faith, blessing and peace. God gets us to a spiritual place where our faith can’t be shaken and where life’s trials strengthen our faith.

Why should God receive glory? He gives us strength through his message. He revealed his will in a way that was hidden in the past. Our relationship with him is based on faith. Romans 16:25-27 places Christ’s birth in the broad arena of God’s desire for humanity to live in peace. The reconciliation that is offered in the gospel is the reconciliation to what humanity was created to be. The goal of reconciliation has always been at the heart of the mystery of the revelation of God.

Luke’s Gospel relates the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, and then together with Mary we sing the reversals of the gospel in the Magnificat. This announcement was the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret throughout history. This revelation brings together the hopes of the Old Testament prophets, the longing of the Old Testament law and the yearning of all humanity. The history of salvation begins to unfold before us in full splendor and will be fully and finally realized in a meal in which this mystery is given and distributed to the community.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson INc.; 2006)
  4. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package
  5. Anne Jervis, “Commentary on Romans 16:25-27.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?community_id=183
  6. Dirk G. Lange, “Commentary on Romans 16:25-27.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?community_id=1152
  7. Exegesis for Romans 16:25-27. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org

John 1:6-8,19-28 The Light that Leads the Way

John 1:6-8, 19-28 sets the stage for Christ’s ministry. John the Baptist was the witness to the light of Christ. He was the light that would lead people to Christ. Jesus would fulfill the expectations the Jews had regarding the long-expected Messiah, but not in the way many Jews expected. He would meet these expectations through love and not by force as a military ruler who would drive out the Romans.

John the Baptist’s baptism with water was a sign of repentance, but Christ’s baptism was with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate purifier. Christ does not just come once with the baptism with the Holy Spirit. He comes to us all the time. He is not in some far off “heaven”, but is right here among us. He is always working in the background of our lives and he is always there for us, especially when we need him.

If Christ is the light, and we’re just meant to witness to the light, what does it mean if Jesus says to us that we are the light of the world? Just like John the Baptist prepared people for the coming of the Messiah, we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in our lives. We are called to witness to Christ by word and deed, in good times and bad, when it suits us and when it doesn’t, when it is dangerous and when it isn’t. We are to point people to the one who taught us to care for the less fortunate in society.

We are called to risk everything that John the Baptist risked, and that includes the risk that the person we are waiting for to do God’s will may reveal that God’s will is not identical to ours, that God’s plans for the world may not be the same as ours. John the Baptist prepared the way not for God’s people to return to the Promised Land, but for God to come to us. When we have Christ in our lives, we no longer have to be afraid.

Belief is the purpose of the testimony of both John the Baptist and the Gospel of John. To walk in the Spirit and not get rid of His authority in our lives means we immediately obey His initial promptings. Every area of our lives has been brought into submission to His will. No matter what happens or what He requires of us, we do not complain or become upset. Instead we follow Him in faithful obedience and joy. 

John the Baptist made an astonishing statement when he said that he was not worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. Such a task was usually done only by slaves, people whose lives were not their own. John the Baptist stated the he was not worthy to do even that. When we see that kind of utter selflessness shine forth, we know we are in the presence of something very precious. John the Baptist’s example is a powerful one for all Christians to follow. People such as health care workers are also powerful examples. They humble themselves to provide compassionate care to the sick-work that other people cannot or will not do.

We betray our Christian calling whenever we forget our servant role; whenever the institution becomes more important; whenever power is our preferred mode of operation; whenever we cling to our status and office; whenever we become just like everyone else in society; whenever we blend in. Instead, we must be like John the Baptist. Our voice must be heard in the desert called out modern society. We have to recognize our need for him and confess our need of his grace and love. Only then will we truly experience him as the Lord and Saviour of our lives.

Perhaps the voice we hear calling from the desert is telling us today that the way to prepare for the coming of the Messiah is to do the best we can. We can do that by not going off in seclusion. We are to do the best we can in our daily tasks, but at the same time we must stop and ask ourselves “What do you want me to do next Lord?”

God accepts us just the way we are, but he is not willing to leave us the way we are. He wants righteousness from us, but we do not have to earn his love. He calls us to justice and compassion, but first he offers his own justice and compassion to us.  Only by wading into the life that Christ offers and letting it wash away our sins, our false identity, our injustice and selfishness, our commitment to violence will we be recognized and worship the One who is coming in Bethlehem. As disturbing and inconvenient and disruptive as it may be amid the celebrations of the Christmas season, we have to drown our sins in the waters of repentance if necessary if we are to know the identity of the One whose birth we will soon be celebrating.

Bibliography

  1. Frederikson, Roger L.; Ogilvie, Lloyd J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series Volume 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1985)
  2. Sarah Dylan Breuer, “Dylan’s Lectionary Blog; Third Sunday of Advent, Year B”. Retrieved from www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/12/third_sunday_of.html
  3. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009)
  4. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Wordsearch Bible Software packages
  5. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Wordsearch Bible Software packages
  6. Fr. John Boll, O.P., “First Impressions, Advent 3, Year B”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  7. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Advent 3, Year B. Retrieved from www.seemslikegod.org
  8. Exegesis for John 1:6-8, 19-28. Retrieved from www.saermonwriter.com
  9. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study on the Gospel of John
  10. The Rev. Beth Quick, UMC, “Sing We Now of Christmas: I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermon12_14_08.htm
  11. Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, UMC, “A Necessary Step on the Way”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  12. Dr. Mickey Anders, “A Negative Gospel”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  13. Pastor Steve Molin, “Straight Paths in a Crooked World”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  14. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Are You the Messiah”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Prayer, Thanks and Obedience

Do you know what the key to a healthy life is? It is healthy emotions, and the healthiest emotion to have is gratitude. Gratitude actually helps our immune system. It makes us more resistant to stress and less susceptible to illness. People who are grateful are happy because they are satisfied with what they have. An attitude of gratitude reduces stress in our lives and leads to greater spiritual and physical health.

Having an attitude of gratitude is not easy. It involves lots of prayer. Paul revealed that he needed prayer just as much as other people. He wanted to be preserved blameless. Christians must remember to pray for their spiritual leaders, because their leaders, like all Christians, will face hardships. Every hardship is a gift from God that is to be used for our growth, sanctification and intimacy with God.

God wants us to be people of prayer. Regular prayer creates intimate fellowship with God. Through prayer we discover the goodness and faithfulness of God. While taking time to get alone with God is ideal, we don’t have to limit ourselves to such times. God hears our prayers no matter where we pray.

Will God’s plan fail if we don’t pray? God does not depend on our prayers. The time we invest in speaking with God affects the work that he is doing in our lives and in the world, but he will carry on without us. Does our prayer (or lack thereof) impact God’s work? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the situation.

Prayer will help us to abstain from anything that might lead us to sin or look like sin to others. Prayer will help us to have pure hearts and impeccable Christian witness. Prayer will help to warn us about the dangers of sin.

We are called on to pray for our Christian leaders. We are called on to respect and obey our Christian leaders as long as what they tell us to do is in line with God’s will for our lives and as long as these leaders are true followers of Christ and not false teachers. Being a disciplinarian is not an easy task, as those of you who have children know all too well. The health of a congregation depends on commitment to standards of conduct and doctrine. Leadership is hard work with a measure of authority from God to do that work. That authority is not personal power but moral responsibility to lead and guide.

The Thessalonians were not giving their church leaders proper respect. That’s why the apostle Paul was careful to defend his apostolic authority and the apostolic authority of elders and deacons in the church. Paul accused the Thessalonians of being unruly and out of line. Fellow believers must warn those who refuse to walk in unity with the Christian family. Believers must encourage those who are unruly, weak or new in the faith.

Part of the role of leadership involves discipline. All Christians share that responsibility. We are to tame the unruly and comfort those who are weak in body, mind and spirit. That includes praying for them. Discipline must be tempered with patience. There is no room for retaliation. Patience and discipline must have the ultimate goal of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus outlines the steps to take when imposing discipline in Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Discipline is in line with what the church is called to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18-rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything. We are called on to rejoice in our sufferings. When Paul tells us to give thanks in everything, he does not mean that we should thank God for the bad things that happen in our lives. It means realizing that God is working to produce something good even in bad circumstances.

On the surface this doesn’t make sense. Why should we rejoice when we are going through tough times? Why should we rejoice when the ravages of old age and age-related health problems have put us in nursing homes? Why should we rejoice when we are hurting? The answer is because we always have a basic joy called Jesus. In this season of Advent, we are celebrating both the joy of his birth over 2,000 years ago and his eventual return. The light of Christ that shone with his birth, ministry, death and resurrection shines through into the reality of our daily lives. This can only happen when we rejoice and pray constantly. When we do, God will work in and through us and in spite of our circumstances. Obedience to this requirement won’t be easy, but the rewards of obedience are rich and full.

The Holy Spirit will help us to be obedient. Our Christian life must be focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We must not allow people to quench the fire of the Holy Spirit in us. We must not put out the fire of the Holy Spirit. We put out the fire when we deny or resist the working of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

One of these gifts is the gift of prophecy. Like all gifts, the gift of prophecy must be tested, especially since false teachers can disguise themselves as genuine prophets. We must pay attention to true prophecies that are tested against Scripture. Prophecies must be rejected if they contradict God’s Word. The standard for testing these gifts is the Bible. It provides the standards by which prophecies, doctrines, practices, and other gifts can be measured. These standards can be summarized as follows:

  1. Is the person giving the prophetic utterance living a balanced and righteous lifestyle?
  2. Is the person committed to building God’s kingdom or his own? Is Christ being lifted up or is the person giving the prophecy being lifted up?
  3. Does the prophetic utterance establish confidence in the Word and is it consistent with a balanced presentation of it?
  4. Does the use of the spiritual gift bring unity to the church and build up the body?

Anything that does not measure up to these standards must be made subject to discipline, as I mentioned earlier. True prophecies are not to be treated lightly. When God’s Word is preached or read, it is to be received with great seriousness.

When we are evaluating something and we are using Scripture as our guide, there will always be some people (including Christians) who will disagree with us. How should we respond to this criticism? Here are some options to use, depending on the situation:

  1. Always leave room for opposing viewpoints.
  2. Don’t engage in “character assassination.”
  3. If you don’t get your way, get over it and get on with life.
  4. If all else fails, separation might be necessary. In other words, it might be necessary to leave the church or group that you are having disagreements with.

Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with a reminder that our being set apart from the world is the achievement of God himself. It involves every part of our being, our lives. Our lives are to be characterized by prayer. We are to be quick to pray in all circumstances, and not just in emergencies. We are to give thanks in everything through prayer. If we pray constantly, our faith will flow from the current of communication with God, and our faith will be bulletproof.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Demarest, G.W. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 32: 1&2 Thessalonians/1&2 Timothy/Titus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2005)
  4. Macarthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  5. Pastor Rick Warren, “An Attitude of Gratitude.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  6. Charles R. Swindoll, “Modelling Grace through Disagreeable Times.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  7. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Quenching the Spirit.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  8. Dr. Charles Stanley, “The Impact of Prayer.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Discerning the Truth.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com