Genesis 21:8-21 Jealousy Will Get You Nowhere

What happens when you realize that you can do something the boss can’t, or when someone who works for you suddenly surpasses your ability or status? The result is often instant conflict or role reversal. We see a good example of this in the passage we heard from Genesis 21:8-21.

First, a little background. In ancient culture, status for women came through marriage, but higher status came through childbearing. While Hagar started out with a lower status than her mistress, the roles between both of them were reversed when Hagar got pregnant. In Genesis 16, Hagar started looking down on Sarah, and in turn Sarah became abusive to Hagar, so Hagar ran away. God found her and told her to go home and put up with the abuse. God promised Hagar that her offspring would be so numerous that no one can count them, and she should call her son Ishmael, which means, “God hears.”

Isaac’s birth led to a change in Ishmael’s status. Ishmael was the centre of attention until Isaac was born. Ishmael, who was a teenager when Isaac was born, had to know that this birth was nothing but a miracle of God’s grace. Nevertheless, when Isaac became the centre of attention, Ishmael began to scoff at him, and perhaps even his parents. With his loss of status came a change in attitude. He was bitter. Sarah couldn’t stand his new attitude so she told Abraham to dismiss Ishmael and Hagar.

If this is only an example of how polygamy generates rivalries between wives and also between their children, or if it is only about a teenage boy needing to learn to love and respect his little brother, then why didn’t God tell Abraham to sit down with Hagar and Sarah and soothe their building anger, and then have a fatherly chat with Ishmael to help him begin to learn how to cope with the jealousy? Why does God side with Sarah in this situation and agree that Hagar and Ishmael must be driven from the household?

To answer this question, we have to realize that God is primarily writing a story about how to have loving, unified families. He’s writing a redemptive story that is centered in grace alone and totally dependent on his miraculous gift. Ishmael’s birth was the human way to provide Abraham with the son who would carry on the line that would eventually produce Jesus. This was the opposite of what God had planned. He sided with Sarah because only Isaac could be the son who received the heart of God’s blessing on Abraham. Ishmael was the natural child, the child of works, and God will tolerate no compromise when it comes to depending on His grace alone.

Sarah made the mistake of telling Abraham to mate with Hagar, hoping that the promised heir would be the result. When Ishmael started laughing at Isaac, she had no one to blame but herself. The anger simmered inside of her and caused her to order Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael into exile.

Sarah called Abraham “lord,” but the Bible also tells us that God told Abraham to listen to Sarah in this situation. The word “lord” as used with man does not mean that such a person knows everything, otherwise, he would not have to listen to anyone. In this case, the Bible shows that Sarah knew best and Abraham was to listen to her advice. Can we take advice from other people? Can we give advice without acting like dictators?

God supported Sarah’s demand. Isaac was to be the seed that would lead to the birth and growth of God’s chosen people. Sarah’s demand was both very displeasing to Abraham and distressing because he loved Ishmael. To banish a surrogate mother went against cultural norms as well. Ultimately, this was such a personal and painful decision for Abraham that the Lord had to tell him to listen to Sarah. Obeying God can be heart-wrenching, but it must be done. In the end, both sons were greatly blessed.

Isolation from our families can cause people to feel worthless. Isolation from humans does not mean isolation from God. He is always with us. He guides us to new communities to surround us with love and support.

This wasn’t the first time that Hagar was exiled to the desert. The first time is mentioned in Genesis 16, and I referred to it earlier in this message. In that case an angel came and told Hagar that God heard her plea for help. He also told Hagar that her son would have authority over his kinsmen. Hagar was moved by this encounter, but when she and Ishmael were exiled later, she forgot that God had provided for her before. She assumed the worst, and she and Ishmael cried out to God. God provided for them and watched over them. Is it our habit to look back and remember what God has done for us in our lives?

Sometimes God brings believers to a difficult place in the wilderness to discipline them so they can realize their need for Him. In the desert, people can see themselves as they really are. There they learn that He hears and will never leave or forsake His children.

God heard Hagar’s cries of despair in the wilderness, and He provided for her and Ishmael. Abraham mourning for his loss, Hagar mourning for her impending death, and Ishmael crying out in anguish combine to present a picture of our world. The world knows so much about the time to mourn, but it often lacks the resources to meet tragedy when it comes. The chief resource that we need is God. If we believe in Him, He will provide for our needs. That is the mission of Christians and the church today-to meet the needs of the people as God would.

Like Hagar, we will learn more from our valley experiences than our mountaintops. She found hope in God when she believed that all hope was lost. Similarly, we often find hope in God when we believe that all hope is lost. Many of us have to go through life’s tragedies before we can find hope in God.

God will fulfill His promises, no matter how difficult our problems are. Even when we don’t know how God will act, we must trust that He watches over us. When we make mistakes, or when we face life’s trials, God can help. His Word is a great source of comfort. He can calm our fears and worries.

Who are we in this story? Are we Sarah and Abraham, fearful of what it might mean to take God’s covenantal love seriously, wanting to push out those that threaten our places of comfort and security? Are we Hagar and Ishmael, the ones excluded, the ones pushed out into the wilderness with little to nothing to help us find our way? Could we be either one at different times or in different circumstances?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p.31)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  3. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: Genesis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 178-180)
  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. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  7. “Déjà Vu.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Dave Wyrtzen, “Ishmael and Isaac.” Retrieved from truthenote@gmail.com
  9. T.M. Moore, “Triggered.” retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  10. Nissa Peterson, “Genesis 21:8-21.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu.
  11. “I See You.” Retrieved from www.theologicalstew,com/abraham-3-i-see-you.html
  12. “Desert Scribbling, June 22, 2008.” Retrieved from https://gmcelroy.typepad.com/desertsribblings/2008/06/june-22-2008.html

Romans 6:1-14 Dead to Sin and Alive to Christ

How many of you have heard of a weapon called the AK-47 assault rifle?

It was invented by a Russian general named Mikhail Kalashnikov. The gun became popular with terrorist groups and many nations because it is simple and almost impossible to destroy. When the general was confronted about the number of lives his weapon had taken, the general replied, “I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it.”

The general died in December of 2013, and shortly before his death he might have regretted his words. In a letter he wrote to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, he asked, “If my rifle took away people’s lives, then can it be that I am guilty for people’s deaths, even if they were enemies?”

All of us have sins hidden in the back of our minds and in the corners of our hearts. These private sins give us grief any time they come to the surface of our thoughts. Even though they might have been forgotten by others, and even though we have been forgiven by God, the sins still bother us. The apostle Paul offers us this assurance: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law, but under grace.”

There are other people who believe that by doing good deeds they will get to heaven when they die. Unfortunately, they are dead wrong. The only way we can gain the new life that salvation offers is to die a spiritual death. In other words, our sin-filled nature has to die, and the only way it can die is if we accept Christ in faith. That is the point of Romans 6:1-13.

Just like Christ died, was buried, descended to hell and rose again, we have to be “buried” with him by baptism into faith. Only then can our link to our old, sinful life be severed. When we die to sin, death has no more dominion over us. We are reborn into a new life in Christ, just like Christ was resurrected from the dead. Our new “body” is clean, and it must be kept free from sin.

Some people also believe that once our sins are forgiven, they will continue to be forgiven, so we can continue to do whatever we want to. The German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this attitude as “cheap grace.” People who have this attitude are forgetting one thing. Grace may be cheap for us, but it was not cheap for Jesus. He paid a heavy price, because he paid for God’s grace with his life. Grace is not a ticket to a sin-filled life. Grace does not give us permission to sin. God’s loving grace is the free offering that leads us to salvation. Grace is not the same as salvation. Grace is the coming together of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and his obedience to the gospel. We do not go to heaven because we want to go. We get to go to heaven because of God’s grace, but only if we accept it by faith.

Reconciliation to God requires repentance, and repentance requires remorse. Remorse requires responsibility because we have to accept responsibility for our actions. Repentance restores relationships. Reconciliation reaps rejoicing, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son when the father rejoiced at the return of his wayward younger son.

The key to salvation is baptism. Water baptism is an outward expression of the inner transformation of Christ. As we step into the water, we are in Christ. As we are immersed in the water, we are buried with Jesus, and as we rise from the water we are raised with him to a new life. As we walk away from the water, we show that we are walking with Jesus in a new way of life. We can also cry “It is finished” because everything that can be done about our sins has been done by Jesus. Our old way of life has been crucified with Christ and we have been freed or justified from sin. Once we have been freed from sin, we have to apply what we have been taught about our relationship to sin to our own lives. Once we have done that, we must say “no” to sin.

When we are baptized, we die to sin just like Christ died for our sins. We become a new creation, and as such we must live a new, resurrected life. We are called to make the same type of sacrifice that Jesus made. We must make that sacrifice as an act of devotion for what Christ has done for us. We must also make this sacrifice because there are people who have not yet received Christ’s grace. People need to see God’s grace, love and peace lived out in human form.

When we are baptized, we become united with him in that we are buried with him. Our life to that point is over and a new life begins. Our sins have been removed. The barriers that have kept us from the joy and freedom of the Gospel have been removed. We are free to live Christ’s love. We have been made righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice. God declares that we as sinful people are righteous, and that righteousness is based on a belief and trust in Jesus instead of on our good works. God imputes or credits Christ’s righteousness to sinners who believe in Christ and accept what he did for them on the cross. God justified himself by punishing sin.

The Law of Moses was good, holy and righteous, but it could not be kept, and so it cursed the people. The Law could only show God’s standard and condemn people who could not keep it. It could only trouble people’s consciences about their deeds just like General Kalashnikov’s conscience troubled him. The Law kept the people in chains, and today we are still in captivity. Some of us are captive to shopping. They can’t pass up a sale, even if their homes are already full of unnecessary stuff. Some people are slaves to food. They have never met a Tim Horton’s donut that they didn’t like. Some people are slaves to their jobs. They hate their jobs, but they are being paid too much to quit. Some corporations are slaves to greed. Their only concern is the bottom line.

Some people are slaves to human standards. Human standards can only trouble people’s consciences because humans are condemned when they can’t keep human standards. We can easily distort the true Word of God by adding our own traditional practices and making them equal with God’s original plan. We need to stand against these practices as the Lord did before we become tied to man-made traditions.

On the other hand, God does not condemn us when we fail to meet his perfect standards if we accept by faith the knowledge that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. When God calls us into holy living, his call comes with the conviction that we are to be different. If we try to run our lives the way we used to run them, we will fail. The only way to succeed is to have faith in Jesus. If we do, God will accept us by grace. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less.

How many of you remember the Peanuts comic strip character named Pig-Pen? The creator of the comic strip, Charles Schulz, described Pig-Pen as “a human soil bank who raised a cloud of dust on a perfectly clean street.” Wherever Pig-Pen went, he had a dirt cloud that loomed around him. It was a nasty, ugly stink cloud. When we show a lack of self-control by allowing sin to enter our lives, it is like a big stink cloud that follows us wherever we go.

The winner of the battle between the Spirit and the flesh depends on which one we feed. It is like the trapper who owned two dogs that he trained to fight. Every month he brought them to town to fight. The townspeople would bet on the winner. The owner also bet on the dogs, and he always won. Some people caught on and asked the owner how he knew which dog would win. The owner answered “The one who wins is the one I feed.”

We must set our minds on the things of God, seeking to please him and be obedient to him in all we do. That way, we feed the Spirit and insure our victory over sin. Choosing Christ helps us make better choices in life. When people accept Christ as their Saviour, they live happier, more fulfilled lives. Christ has changed what they believe themselves to be. They can trust the promise God made at their baptism that they would always be his children, and that no sin would be too big for him to forgive.

Bibliography

  1. Jamieson, R.; Fawcett, A.R. & Brown, D.: Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbour, WA: Logos Research Systems Inc.; 1997)
  2. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  3. Norman, R.S., “Justification by Faith” as in D.S. Dockery (Ed.): Holman Concise Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers; 1998)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  5. Radmacher, E.D.; Allen, R.B. & House, H.G.: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1999)
  6. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  7. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Am I Forgiven?” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  8. Rev. Gregory Seltz, “Keeping Score When It Counts” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  9. Dr Ed Young, “Which Dog Wins?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Dr. Jack Graham, “What You Have to Do to Go to Heaven.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. John E. Werham, “Grace Understood.” Retrieved from www.forthright.net
  12. Doug Fields, “Pig-Pen.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Fences Around the Laws.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  14. King Duncan, “The Second Step.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  15. William G. Carter, “Thanks God, We’re Already Dead.”  Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  16. King Duncan, “A Lesson from Dr. Seuss.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  17. Steve Albertin, “Fido’s Dilemma.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  18. The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn, “The Repentant Life.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org

Matthew 10:24-39 Follow Jesus’ or Follow the World

A few years ago, a riot took place in the House of Representatives in the state of Kansas. The elected representatives started their session with prayer, but one day the prayer caused an uproar. The prayer went like this:

“Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and we have inverted our values.

We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism, and worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.  We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery and neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice, and shot abortionists and called it justifiable.  We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem, and abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition, and polluted the airwaves with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas and have been ordained by You to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

The passage from Matthew 10:24-39 is part of Jesus’ larger missionary discourse to his disciples. In this section, he talks about committed discipleship in the face of conflict. Jesus said that he came “not to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus’ sword is the word of God. Jesus came to divide his people into two groups-those who are saved by grace and those who reject him and are condemned to spend eternity in hell. 

When people follow Jesus, they can expect to have conflicts, even with their own families. Choosing loyalty to anyone other than Christ disqualifies a person from being a disciple of Christ. Peace is the practice of refining everything that is not part of God’s righteous realm. Once they are refined, righteousness and justice will reign. Peace will realign our priorities and relationships. It’s like a fruit grower who prunes dead branches from his fruit trees. The surviving branches will bear even greater fruit.

Being Jesus’ disciple is not an invitation for glory. It is an invitation for sacrifice and suffering in the presence of powerful opposition. Jesus never promised us an easy life if we become his disciples. In fact, being Jesus’ disciple is one of the hardest things we can do. In the words of Loretta Lynn’s famous song:

I beg your pardon

I never promised you a rose garden

Along with the sunshine

There’s gotta be a little rain sometime

Israel was famous for persecuting both the prophets and Jesus. If they were persecuted for their faith, we will also face persecution.  This is hard for us in the developed world to understand and accept because until now we have not been ridiculed or put to death because of our faith. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the developing world have not been as fortunate. For example, listen to these headlines from a few years ago:

“Pastor Beaten in Iranian Prison and Taken to Unknown Location”

“The ugly reality of present-day Iraq, where the nation, and the Christian church, is now being destroyed and taken over by extremist Sunni militants”

“Christian Refugees Flood Out of Iraqi City; Trapped Residents Describe “Apocalyptic” Murder, Terror”

The situation is beginning to change for the worse here in the developed world. Teachers are hesitant to say anything positive about Christianity. The entertainment industry portrays Christianity in a negative light. Stories about the church’s good works rarely make news, but the misdeeds of the church are reported. We are getting closer to the day when Christians here in the developed world will find out firsthand about the dangers and hard choices Jesus is talking about.

This does not mean that we are to provoke persecution or seek martyrdom. They will come naturally when we expose evil, challenge power, demand change or undermine the status quo. Persecution will come naturally when we do what Christ asks us to do. Telling the world that they’ve given sin respectable names and are in need of a Savior doesn’t go over very well. Even though we are not to seek persecution and suffering, we must still take up our cross. If we are persecuted, we are to accept it because God will give us the strength we need to cope. If we lose our lives for God’s plans, then our lives will have meaning.

We are not to fear the power of our opponents. They can kill our physical bodies (which will die anyway), but they can’t kill our souls. Only God can kill our souls. We must fear God. God will have eternity to right the wrongs people inflict. Evildoers will be punished for all eternity.

Those of us who fear God do not have to fear anyone else or anything else. In fact, we are told not to be afraid to be persecuted for our faith. We must be afraid of what will happen when we do not obey Jesus’ instructions. For example, we must not be afraid to proclaim Jesus’ teachings. We must preach the truth boldly and in love. We are free to preach the good news because nothing is secret or hidden about the kingdom. We are free from fear because of the goodness of God. It governs even the smallest or most mundane matters of our lives. God cares about everything he created-even a tiny sparrow. In this passage, a tiny sparrow has become a symbol of something of little value. If God cares for something that has little value, he will care much more for his children, especially if they are Jesus’ disciples.

Because God cares for us, he is loyal to us, and in return he expects us to be loyal to him. If we are loyal to him, Jesus will acknowledge us in heaven. If we are not loyal to him, Jesus will deny us in heaven. It’s like asking Jesus to be our lawyer. If he takes our case, we will win. If he does not take our case, we will lose. We acknowledge Jesus and God by our deeds and our words. If we worship Jesus with our words but not our deeds, our witness is compromised. For example, we can acknowledge Jesus with words by regularly attending worship services, but if our behaviour the rest of the week is sinful, we are being hypocritical. Our words and deeds have to be consistent if our witness is to be effective.

The focus of our discipleship is on our relationship to Jesus. To be worthy of Christ we are to put him first in all family relations. To be worthy of Christ we are to take up our cross and identify with him, to accept the scandal of identification with him. To be worthy of Christ we are to choose him and his life instead of foolishly preserving our own way of life. Finding the selfish satisfaction of life means losing life and missing its larger fulfillment, but to lose our own interests for the sake of Christ is to find life.

The anchor has long been a symbol in Christian art for the hope we have in Jesus. When the storms of life come, including persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake, we have hope. We can hold fast to the faith that is in us. In the words from the hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold:”

We have an anchor that keeps the soul

Steadfast and sure while the billows roll

Fastened to the rock which cannot move

Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

Bibliography

  1. The Rev. Canon Frank S. Logue, “Facing Battles with the Promise of Victory.” Retrieved from http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
  2. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  3. Exegesis for Matthew 10:24-39. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. The Rev. Robina Marie Winbush, “A Radical Reorientation.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  5. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 12th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  6. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible Software package.
  7. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  8. Selwyn Hughes, “The Deepest Law.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Stephen Davey, “Disturbing the Peace.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com

Matthew 9:35-10:8 A Commission for All of Us

Last Sunday we read Matthew’s version of the Great Commission. Today, we read Matthew’s version of an earlier commission, one where Jesus sent the disciples into the world in pairs to preach, heal, cast out demons and raise the dead. They were not men of rank and office. They were plain men of good sense, fair character, great honesty with favourable opportunities of ascertaining the facts to which they were witness. They were ordinary people who could fulfill the commission. We as ordinary people are also capable of fulfilling the same commission.

The word “compassion” suggests strong emotion and means “to feel deep sympathy.”  Christ’s humanity allowed Him to show compassion for sinners in terms of human emotions. He was literally moved to tears over the plight of sinners. He knew their spiritual needs were more desperate than the need for physical healing. The only way to meet that need was to have more workers.

Jesus saw these people as “weary and scattered…sheep without a shepherd” because the religious leaders, who should have been their shepherds, were trying to lead them away from the one true shepherd. Jesus saw people burdened with the rites of religion, the doctrines and teachings of the Pharisees and neglected by people who should have been enlightened teachers.

Jesus knew that the number of people who flocked to His ministry was great. He knew people expected the Messiah and were prepared to receive the Gospel. He also knew that there were few people engaged in teaching the multitudes.

Because Jesus saw the great need of the multitudes, He urged His disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more labourers. That prayer, which is at the core of the modern mission movement, is still the only hope for the “lost sheep” of each generation. We have a duty to pray for the conversion of the world. The harvest is just as plentiful now as it was in the time of Christ. Millions of people have not heard the gospel, and there are very few people to teach them. Evil runs wild in our world today. Only God can qualify those who go and preach the gospel to the world. We have a duty to pray to God to have pity on the world and send faithful people to tell the world about Jesus.

In the last verses of chapter 9, Jesus urges His disciples to pray for labourers. These verses summarize Jesus’ ministry of compassion. It is a presentation of the compassionate shepherd. It also shows the kingdom happens wherever Jesus is ruling. The kingdom creates a dualism in society, one that often pits Christians against the world and its evils. The kingdom calls us to a decision in the world.

In the first verses of chapter 10, He calls them to become the answer to their prayers as “sent ones.” They would be sent forth to share His presence, power and purpose. The answer to Jesus’ request came after prayer. Prayer conditions us to the will of God. Jesus prayed to God for more workers, and God answered His prayer. Prayer prepares us to share with Him. God often uses us to help answer our own prayers.

The 12 apostles were specifically told to take their message to the Jews and not the Gentiles or Samaritans. The message was for the Jews first. Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. They were God’s chosen people. They spent a long time looking for the Messiah, so it was appropriate that the Gospel should be shared with them first. If the Jews accepted Jesus as their King, the nations would be blessed through them.

Because God had freely given the apostles the resources they would need to perform their ministry, they were not to sell their services and make money for what they did. If they sold their gifts for money, they could have made a fortune. At the same time, they would have obscured the message of Christ’s grace. They could accept support to meet their basic needs. Similarly, we are not to sell the gift of Christ’s grace for money, but those of us who are ordained and preach the Gospel can accept support for our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

In the late 19th century, William Carey felt a call to travel to India as a missionary to share the Good News of Jesus. Fellow ministers scorned him, saying, “Young man, if God wants to save anyone in India, He will do it without your help or mine!” They missed the point of partnership. God does very little on earth without people like us.

Our ministry, like that of the apostles, falls into three categories. We are witnesses for the resurrection. We are teachers. We build on the foundation for the church. If we want to fulfill this ministry, we must be motivated. If we don’t have the motivation, we aren’t going to do anything.

Doing this ministry won’t be easy, just like the disciples’ ministry wasn’t easy. Jesus told the disciples that the world would be hostile to their message. He did not give them false hope. Hostility toward the disciples would not cease until they were martyred. Similarly, we will face various forms of persecution. The world is still hostile to the Good News.

A young person once told Billy Graham that he or she would be going on a mission trip with a church youth group. The group planned on serving a village in a very poor country, helping to put a roof on their church and doing some Bible programs for children. The young person asked Billy Graham for advice.

Billy Graham replied:

“But God not only wants to work through you to help others. He also wants to work in you while you’re serving the people of this village. Be alert to His leading, therefore, asking Him to use this experience to teach you new things about Himself and what He is doing in the world. You may discover, for example, that in spite of their poverty, the people of this village are actually rich in faith and love. Sometimes our wealth and comfortable lifestyle get in the way of a true commitment to Christ.” 

“God may also want to open your eyes to the needs of the world. Most people today have very little, compared with what we have; many, in fact, face hunger and disease almost daily. Do we care? Many also do not know Christ, and have never had an opportunity to hear of His love.”

Billy Graham’s message is also a message for us. As we serve others, God will work in us and teach us new things about Him and what He is doing in the world. He will teach us about other Christians through other people.

If we are to serve others, we must serve them as they need to be served and not as we decide to serve them. It is important for us to make faith in Christ an option-making faith a possibility to people. In doing so we respect their freedom while making them aware of their responsibility.

The nourishment Jesus offers us as the Bread of Life provides us with the fuel we need to serve others, and that’s what the life God gives us is about. God has given us the message and commissioned us to take it to the world. He has given us the methods. All He needs is for us to work together and do our share to reach the world for Christ. Will you make a commitment to help spread the Gospel and thereby be a part of what God is doing in the world today? I urge you to get out of your comfort zone. I urge you to care. I urge you to share. I urge you to pray, and I urge you to ask God for the boldness you will need to carry out His orders.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1297-1298)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p.18)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Greg Laurie, “Why We Must Care.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  6. Kenny Luck, “Flight Briefing.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Pastor Ed Young, “Diet and Exercise.” Retrieved from www.edyoung.com
  8. Richard Innes, “Exponential Growth.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  9. Philip Yancey, “The Likes of Us.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  10. Billy Graham, “What Should I Do on My Mission trip?” Retrieved from www.billygraham.org
  11. Richard Niell Donovan, “Biblical Commentary, Matthew 9:35-10:23.” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com

Matthew 9:35-10:8 Spreading the Good News

When I was a child, I had a paper route. Six mornings a week, I delivered newspapers to over a hundred customers before I had breakfast. One of the first sections that my customers looked at was the news, especially the front page. This was in the days before the Internet and email, so the newspaper was one of the main sources of news and information. Some of them also read the sports section to see if their favourite teams won. Many of them, including my own parents, also looked at the comics. That gave them a smile, especially if the news was full of stories of doom and gloom.

Jesus traveled all around the countryside. He went to many different towns and villages, and everywhere he went he saw crowds of people who were lost and helpless. It broke his heart. One day, he turned to his followers and said to them, “There are so many who need help, but there are not enough who are willing to help them. Get on your knees and pray that the Lord will send workers to help them.”

When they had finished praying, Jesus called twelve of his followers to come to him. “Go,” he said, “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Do you know what else Jesus told his disciples? He said, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.'”

Wow! That’s good news, isn’t it? Think about it. “The kingdom of heaven is near.” It isn’t some far off place where we will go at some far-off time. In fact, you might even say, “It’s right here — right now.” Of course, Jesus came to give us eternal life in heaven, but he also came so that we could have life, and have it to the fullest — right now. Now, that’s good news that everyone should hear!

As a “paper boy”, delivering the news was my job. If I didn’t do my job, my customers didn’t get the news-and I usually got an earful! Just as Jesus called the twelve to deliver the good news, he has also called you and me to deliver the good news. If we don’t do our job, someone won’t get the good news today.

Let us bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Father, there is no better news than the good news that you love us and sent your Son so that we might have life and that we might have it abundantly. Help us to faithfully share that good news with others. Amen.

Bibliography

  1. “Delivering the Good News.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.inc.

Matthew 28:16-20 The Power of the Trinity

On Trinity Sunday we celebrate not a religious holiday or occasion, but a doctrine-the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is a concept that is not explicitly stated in Scripture, but it is there. The Trinity is a concept that is not easy to describe or understand. In fact, some ministers take Trinity Sunday off!

The Trinity is referred to indirectly in the passage from Matthew 28:16-20. All three members of the Trinity are always with us. They give us their cooperation and support. They help us and protect us. The name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit means the combined authority of all manifestations of God. When we are baptized we become  subject to the authority of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consequently, we receive the remission of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The one true God has a personality that is threefold and indicated by relationship as Father and Son. It is indicated by a mode of being as Spirit. It is indicated by the various parts taken by the Godhead in manifestation and in the work of redemption.

Jesus’ resurrection proved that what He taught was correct. He used His ultimate authority when He gave the disciples and us the Great Commission. He showed His ultimate power by promising to be with us forever. When Christ rose from the dead, He created a new community with real change in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God in action for all ages.

When Jesus states that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, He declares His ultimate authority. He is the recipient of God’s authority. His deity is proved. As the Creator (God), He had the original right to all things. As the Redeemer (Son), even more so. The phrase “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is a strong affirmation of Trinitarianism. When He commissioned the disciples, Jesus instituted the three-fold formula prior to the development of the Trinity. It holds Father, Son and Holy Spirit together as three personae by whom God encounters us in His love from all eternity to all eternity. Since all three members of the Trinity are with us all the time, we have the same authority Jesus had. We can bring God’s truth to the world because of His divine authority. His word will prosper if we are faithful to His message.

The Trinity allows us to make sense of the God who loves us enough to send Jesus to die for our sins. God who is God the Son is Christ not dead. The risen God who is God the Holy Spirit is not Jesus gone but Jesus present.

So now that we have the Great Commission, what do we do? First, we must show Christ-like behavior, and that includes being righteous. In the Old Testament times, being righteous meant obeying the Law of Moses perfectly, and that includes obeying the Ten Commandments. The fifth commandment is “Do not murder.” The Jews believed this referred to only the physical act of killing someone. Jesus argued that there is a broader meaning. He argued that words and anger can kill. That is, they show the true heart of a person. Anger and words such as senseless, stupid, shallow and the like violate the spirit of that commandment. If used, they may lead to a more open and dreadful infraction of that law.

For example, thirteen-year-old Marcy had little use for her loud, obnoxious, smelly little brother. “You’re just a jerk!” she yelled again and again. Her ten-year-old brother Mike didn’t exactly like his older sister either. He would often fire back, “You’re really stupid!” Their rivalry and toxic words polluted their home. God says it’s wrong to insult, wound, tear down, cut up, threaten or intimidate another person with our words. Hurtful words are hateful words.

Jesus taught that it is more important to have a heart that is right than to conform to the outright act of worship. For example, if a person brought a gift to the altar and remembered that someone had something against him, he was to leave the offering on the altar and go and be reconciled. The worship of God will not be acceptable until we are at peace with anyone we have hurt or offended.

Similarly, Christians are not to bring lawsuits against each other. We are encouraged to come to an agreement before going to court. God will see anyone who does not reconcile with those who have been offended as a violation of the commandment against murder. He will punish them accordingly.

Someone once asked Billy Graham, “If you ask God to forgive you for something you did to someone, does that mean you also have to ask them for forgiveness? I’m a Christian now, but I’m not sure I can do it. I don’t see what difference it would make anyway, except maybe to open old wounds.”

In his reply, Billy Graham wrote the following:

“It’s always important to seek the forgiveness of those we’ve hurt, even if it is hard to do….They might not forgive you, of course; they may reject your attempt or react with renewed anger over what you did, but then it becomes their problem, not yours. You will have done everything you could to let them know you regret what happened, and that you want their forgiveness.”

“Why is it important to seek the forgiveness of those we’ve hurt? For one thing, it could bring about reconciliation. After all, you were the one at fault: you alone are responsible for the hurt that resulted. But that hurt will only be healed if you seek to heal it and if the other person responds.”

Reconciling with those we have hurt is not easy. One of the barriers is pride. No one likes to admit they were wrong, because it is part of our sinful, human nature. Pride is a sin that needs to be faced, dealt with and confessed to God. If we have offended or hurt anyone, we need to make peace today. We must not put it off. When we reconcile with the people we have hurt, our relationships will be healthier. In Christ, it is never too late for reconciliation. God wants us to live in peace with everyone by sincerely humbling ourselves and finding reconciliation through Him.

It is no secret that sin often leads to health problems. If we refuse to forgive, bitterness creeps into our hearts and plants roots. It can spread to those around us. If it hardens in our hearts, it is next to impossible to remove. Forgiveness depends on us. Reconciliation is the ideal to work towards, but sometimes it is not possible. It depends on both parties. What others do is their choice. What we allow them to do is up to us. We are responsible only for our own actions.

When we ask others to forgive us, we have an opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission. The Great Commission has not changed since the moment Jesus uttered it. Christians are to “go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey.” They are to accomplish all of this by His power and for His sake, through His Spirit. When followers of Jesus are slow to share their faith, or pour into the lives of others, it is often because they do not really take Jesus at His word when He says, “I am with you always.”

It’s isn’t easy for us to remember that the members of the Trinity are always with us. Sometimes we’re so blinded by disappointment that we can’t see Jesus walking with us throughout heartache and leading us to something better ahead. The Trinity shows us that there is a way for us that leads far beyond disappointment. The Trinity proves that we are in the presence of someone who cares, who leads, who has authority and wisdom.

All three members of the Trinity encourage us to get going. They are with us all of the time, so we have a life that is exciting and full of confidence that the members of the Trinity have done all things perfectly for us. Life with the Trinity is to be lived with their gifts and their blessing. When we read and study Scripture, when we are baptized into faith, when we take part in Holy Communion, it’s like receiving a kiss of grace from the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a confession, not a definition. Who can define God? We can only confess our history and personal encounters with God. To confess God apart from Christ is impossible. To confess Christ apart from God the Creator of everything is impossible. To confess God in Christ apart from our experience of both through the Holy Spirit sustaining the church is impossible. All we can do is confess our faith in the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1587-1588)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, p. 18)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Billy Graham, “How Can I Reconcile With my Sister?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  6. Rick Boxx, “Make Peace Today.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  7. “Hateful Words.” Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net
  8. Billy Graham, “Why Do I Need to Ask for Forgiveness?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  9. Steve Arterburn, “Handling Anger.” Retrieved from www.newlife.com
  10. Dr. Harold Sala, “The Biblical Pattern of Reconciliation.” Retrieved from www.guidelines.org
  11. The New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1-Matthew and Mark. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  12. Schofield’s Notes. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  13. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2006)
  14. Lucado, M: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp; 1348-1351)
  15. Christine Caine, “Something Better.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  16. The Rev. Gregory Seltz, “Living Life in the Power of His Name.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org

Matthew 28:16-20 The Trinity and the Great Commission

Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday in the church year when we do something just a little different. Instead of hearing about Jesus’ teachings, healings or miracles, we talk about one of the mist difficult Biblical concepts to explain let alone understand-the Trinity. In fact, one running joke among those of us who preach is that when Trinity Sunday comes every year, we take that Sunday off!

This year’s Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday is Matthew’s version of the Great Commission. The Great Commission has not changed since Jesus gave it to the disciples over 2,000 years ago. Christians today are also called on to go and make disciples, baptize and teach. We are to do this through Jesus’ power, for his sake, and with the help of the Holy Spirit. When we fail to obey the Great Commission, it is because we fail to believe Jesus when he said that he is always with us. Our purpose as believers is to continue reaffirming Christ’s commands and follow-up with explaining how to do what he said. By God’s grace we know that when we search the Scriptures we are given an insight into God’s will and wishes for our lives. God the Creator speaks directly to our hearts and shows us how important our salvation is for Him.

In giving the Great Commission, Jesus created the concept of the Trinity before it was developed in the early creeds. Jesus held the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together as three different persons by whom God encounters us in his love from all eternity and to all eternity. The three persons of the Trinity have the same substance but different expressions. Matthew says that we are to baptize “in the name of…,” thereby bringing people into a direct relationship with God as we know him: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. They are the way God exists, or how the mystery of God expresses itself.

The Resurrection did not transform the disciples into heroes of the faith. They still had doubts even after they saw and heard Jesus. What did Jesus tell the disciples they needed to do to obey his instructions? He told them the basics that all believers need to be told:

  1. Salvation must be genuine.
  2. God’s word must be our priority.
  3. Prayer is vital.
  4. Surrender and consecration must become our goal.
  5. Stay filled and in step with the Holy Spirit.

All of this can be summed up as worshipping God, Biblical ministry and glorifying God. They flow from God’s purpose to show the world that he is our Saviour.

Jesus came up with five tasks for us to do for Him:

  1. Evangelize
  2. Disciple or train those who are evangelized.
  3. Minister or serve people demonstrating God’s love.
  4. Have fellowship together
  5. Worship together.

None of these functions are more important than the others. They are all equally important.

A good example of how we are to apply the Great Commission today occurred during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Navy Chaplain Carey Cash, who is the great grandnephew of legendary singer Johnny Cash, asked the members of his regiment if they wanted to explore what it means to follow Christ. He led them in a 12-week Bible study, half of which took place before the invasion. He held classes and counselling sessions with Marines who grappled with Christ’s claims. As the eternal consequences of battle drew closer, their hearts softened, and just before the invasion took place, 60 Marines received Christ and were baptized. Several others were born again or baptized while in combat, and many more were baptized in their home churches when they returned to the United States.

At one point during the invasion, Cash’s regiment encountered a line of Iraqi tanks that American intelligence failed to notice. Their turrets were leveled at the Americans and their tanks were fully manned, but the guns were never fired and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered. The regiment was also protected during an ambush at the presidential palace in Baghdad, when rocket-propelled grenades would come right at them and then curve and go around them.

We are to baptize in the name of the triune God. Christ’s mission extends to the whole world, and baptism is part of that mission. Jesus is present everywhere thanks to the Holy Spirit, so his worldwide mission can be done easily. The mission involves helping new believers discover that God is a god of light, goodness, mercy, compassion, justice and reconciliation. This does not involve imposing our own cultural values and traditions.

We are called to unite others with the Divine. That unity is reflected in the unity that the Father, the Son of the Holy Spirit have. That unity is in the form of the Trinity, and it is about the nearness and involvement of God. God first entered humanity in human form. After his resurrection he continued to be with his followers in the form of energy and power for living the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a ceaseless flow of love that believers are caught up in.

When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is under the authority of Jesus, and Jesus is under the authority of God. The Trinity has its roots in Jesus’ teaching. The name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is an early sign of the Trinitarian Godhead. We need the gift of the Spirit, especially when life gets rough. We will be witnesses to Jesus by the integrity of our lives and the commitment to his ways. If we are faithful to what the Holy Spirit teaches, there will be suffering and challenges. We might be ignored, described as unrealistic or dismissed as idealists.

The Holy Spirit is always with us, so it will help us fulfill the Great Commission. It will allow us to go anywhere. It works supernaturally through us. We have nothing to fear because the authority of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit is greater than the authority of all the rulers of this world. In return, we are to obey God faithfully. Being baptized in the name of all three members of the Trinity indicates that our relationship involves all three faces of the Trinity. We have the belief that Christ reigns and will send the Holy Spirit to help us live the kind of lives that Christ wants us to live. We can’t speed up or slow down the pace that the Holy Spirit comes at because it is a gift that we constantly receive and constantly have to wait for.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a confession and not a definition. No one can define God. We can only confess our personal encounters with him. To confess Christ, the Holy Spirit and God apart from each other is impossible. The concept of the Trinity is a concept about the love of God. God loves us enough to be the Creator who created the whole universe and every creature. He created us and gave us life. God loves us enough to be the Redeemer who has saved us and the world from sin, sorrow and separation from him so that we might be joined with his love forever. God loves us enough to be the Spirit or Guiding God who is at work in us to inspire, strengthen, guide, advocate and illuminate us in our daily lives.

Jesus made the statement, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” He is with us because the Father sent him. He died for us in obedience to the Father’s will. He was raised from the dead by the Father. He spoke only what the Father told him to say. We have been born anew by the Spirit through baptism. Jesus is with us through the power of the Spirit, who will take what is his and declare it to us. By his Spirit we can bring the Gospel to everyone and use what the Father gave us for the well-being of others.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
  2. Pastor John Barnett, “Disciples: Follow Christ & Make Disciples.” Retrieved from www.dtbm.org
  3. Paul Estabrooks, “Are You Working or Functioning?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  4. The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, “Sermon for Trinity Sunday.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  5. The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler, “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah,…Love” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  6. The Rev. Robina Marie Winbush, “It’s Not Over.” Retrieved from ww.day1.org
  7. The Very Rev. Dr. Samuel T. Lloyd, “The Nearness of God.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  8. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  9. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible Software package
  10. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Is God in My Plans?” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  11. Cecil Murphy, “The Immanent, Present One.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Exegesis for Matthew 28:16-20. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  13. Mark Ellis, “Chaplain Led Revival in Marine Battalion, Saw Miraculous Protection in Battle.” Retrieved from http://blog.godreports.com
  14. Roland McGregor, “No Better Words.” Retrieved from RMcGregorAlbq@aol.com

Acts 2:1-21 Happy Birthday to the Church

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Church

Happy Birthday to you!

On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the birth of the church. On the day of Pentecost over 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, and through the Holy Spirit the church was born. It is a time when the church traditionally concentrates on the gift of the Holy Spirit and the ways in which it strengthens the church. It is a time to consider how the Spirit has created and sustained faith in our lives. It is a time to explore how the Spirit empowers our witness so that others might have faith.

The power of the Holy Spirit ignited the disciples. Peter was ignited and gave one of the most powerful sermons in history. It included both the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and a strong rebuke/accusation. The effect was remarkable. The message pierced the hearts of the people, and as a result more than 3,000 people were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. When these new converts returned home, they spread the message, and thus the church was born.

This would not have been possible without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not an impersonal force. It is a person. It possesses the mind of God, emotions and will—because it is God. It performs the actions of God. It has the attributes of God.

As a result of the Holy Spirit, the church opened its hearts to fellowship. It opened its hands to care for each and every member. Members opened their homes to each other, especially for worship. They devoted themselves to prayer. As a result of all of this, the church grew and found favour with other people-both inside and outside the church.

The term “Spirit” describes wind or breath. The Pentecost wind is no wind of destruction. It blows where it will and fires up people with faith and spiritual power. The church did not come alive until after God breathed the Holy Spirit. The wind was an outward sign of what was happening within the disciples. The Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind on the first Pentecost, and it still comes like a rushing wind today. We can’t control the wind, and we can’t control the Holy Spirit no matter how hard we try. We try to control what it tells us to do or who it wants us to allow into our churches. Many Christians want just enough religion to be comfortable, to be respected, to feel good about themselves, but not so much that it shakes up their routines and changes their way of living. Many Christians want the benefits of the Holy Spirit without having to experience much of the Spirit.

Differences can enrich and enliven our worship experiences. Differences force us to reach across what divides us. Differences and diversity force us to rely on the Holy Spirit in order to remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus in more creative and dynamic mission efforts. We are called on to share the Good News with others and welcome them to find love of each other and the love of God. If we do not share the Good News, it is wasted. The Holy Spirit calls on us to share our gifts and love with those who are different from us.

God gave the disciples supernatural ability to speak the languages of all those who had gathered in Jerusalem from around the known world at that time. The Spirit’s presence signified their baptism into the spiritual body of the church. This gift was the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit so the disciples could preach the Gospel to all the people.

God does the same thing today. He speaks through both chosen people and simple people like you and me. This message of being somebody again through God alone is communicated. Why? So that it might get through to everyone. As people who have received God’s grace we get to be a bridge of that good news to people we know and love.

Part of the Jewish liturgy involved reciting one of the great acts of God in their history. When the Holy Spirit came they all worshipped and rehearsed his wonderful works. Bystanders understood them because of the Jewish liturgy. When the Holy Spirit comes to fill a Christian, he/she speaks and acts in ways that weren’t possible before. Christians live supernaturally because the Spirit of God within them controls them.

For example, just a few days before Pentecost, Peter was too scared to admit he knew Jesus. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, God changed him. In Acts 2:16-21, Peter quoted Joel 2:28-33, which was Joel’s prophecy of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the last days. On that first Pentecost, the Spirit came to people in a new, more powerful way that signalled the beginning of the new covenant age, which runs from the time of Christ’s death until he returns at some time in the future. These are the last days in that the coming of the Messiah, which was foretold in the Old Testament, have now occurred. His saving death and resurrection have been accomplished, and now the Holy Spirit has to build the church before Christ returns.

Acts 2:1-21 is the marching orders for the church. The coming of the Holy Spirit was an awe-inspiring moment that changed the world. It was a tipping point when history was changed. We have to go with the flow. It asks us to go beyond our comfort zone. God’s dream was one where all believers would gather together in unity and faith. Gold calls on us to love one another. That love changes us. It allows us to show grace to everyone.

Sometimes we wonder if what happened at Pentecost can happen today. We wonder if we can gain a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit and experience its transforming strength. We want to deal with our own feelings of spiritual inadequacy. God answers these questions and other questions people are really asking. People want something more than ordinary, dull religion. They want the power and intimacy of the Holy Spirit. It changes us. We were created for union and communication with the Holy Spirit. The greatest need for both society and the church today is for a contemporary Pentecost. We, like the disciples, must be ready for the miracle of the supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit’s power.

The flames represented the purity and power with which the disciples would speak as they proclaimed what God had done. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns away anything that will keep us from being the people God wants us to be. It convinces us that God loves us unconditionally and that we can love others unconditionally. It gives us the ability to love others deeply. The Holy Spirit releases us so that we can praise others. That praise becomes very effective proclamation. It frees us from self-concern and to Spirit-consciousness. We are free to praise God and to receive what he will do.

When people hear a minister preach on a Biblical text with the power of the Holy Spirit, and the people have been prepared by the Holy Spirit, the result is conviction, faith and changed lives. In contrast to the baptism with the Spirit, which is the one-time act by which God places believers into His body, the filling is a repeated reality of Spirit-controlled behaviour that God commands believers to maintain. The work of the Holy Spirit in the church today is to dwell with believers so they will look like Christ and be empowered to continue his ministry here on earth.

How does the Holy Spirit work in the church today?

  1. He convicts us of our sin, shows us that none of us can live up to the righteousness of Jesus, and reveals to us the judgment that is coming to those who die without faith in Christ.
  2. He immerses us into the family of God.
  3. He encourages and comforts us when we are hurting or discouraged.
  4. We work with him to maintain unity among Christians.
  5. He brings peace in the midst of life’s storms.
  6. He pours out the power for victorious living.
  7. He helps us to study and understand the truths of the Bible.
  8. He intercedes for us when we can’t put our feelings into words.
  9. He gives us power for evangelism.
  10. He distributes spiritual gifts as he deems best throughout the Body of Christ.

A life in Christ is God’s will for his people. God’s plan can’t be stopped. Pentecost is a taste of what will happen in God’s kingdom when the Spirit is poured out on all people. The Holy Spirit will live in all believers.

The Holy Spirit is more than a tool to help us overcome life’s challenges, but much of what we are asked to do is far beyond what we are called to do. On our own, we are never enough. The outpouring of the Spirit is far greater than anyone expects. It will be poured out on all flesh and everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved. The Spirit will give us the strength we need to do God’s work in our world.

In return, we are called on to be wanders. We aren’t meant to be too settled, rooted or rigid. Our spiritual lives are meant to be a pilgrimage. The dangerous place is the place that gets too comfortable or stagnant. We are to be on the move, and our churches are meant to be on the move as well.

Pentecost is the day when we remember the eruption in which the Church came to birth. It is also the day when we remember the countless ways in which the Holy Spirit shapes the Church as an institution and ourselves as individuals. It is also the day when we are reminded that once we have received the Holy Spirit, we are required and enabled to take a stand for good and against evil in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. The Holy Spirit will teach us to love God and neighbour-and he will reward us by giving us a life worth living. That life won’t be easy or trouble-free, but it will be worth living and dying for-and that is the greatest birthday gift of all.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. George Hermanson, “All You Need Is Love.” Retrieved from www.holyscriptures.com
  4. David McGee, “Grace for Life.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
  5. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
  6. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  7. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  8. Rev. Gregory Seltz, “That’s Just Who God Is.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  9. Dr. Roger Barrier, “What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. The Rev. Dr. Charles Reeb, “Controlling the Wind.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  11. Pastor Dave Risendal, “The Holy Spirit Has Called Me.” Retrieved from donotreply@wordpress.com
  12. Jacob Myers, “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1296
  13. Rick Morley, “Wanderlust-a Reflection on Pentecost.” Retrieved from http://www.rickmorley.com/archives
  14. Jeremiah, Dr. David: AD: The Bible Continues: The Revolution that Changed the World (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.; 2015, pgs. 39-56)

Ephesians 1:15-23 Jesus Opens Our Spiritual Eyes

Seth crept into the dark room. He switched on the lamp and waved his arms back and forth above the crib. Leah didn’t notice him. She was blind.

“Hi, baby,” he whispered. She turned her tiny head toward the sound of his voice. He patted her hand through the bars.

“What are you doing in here?” asked Mom, coming in from the hallway.

“I’m trying to make Leah see me,” he said.

Mom spread a quilt on the floor. “I’m not sure she’ll ever be able to see you, Seth, but she can hear your voice and feel your touch.”

Seth sighed. “Why did God give her eyes that don’t work?”

Mom lifted Leah out of her crib and laid her on the quilt beside Seth. “We don’t always understand the ways of the Lord, but they’re always good.”

“Blind eyes aren’t good,” said Seth.

“The Bible tells a story about a man born blind like Leah,” said Mom. “People questioned Jesus about that man’s eyes, too.” Leah gripped Seth’s finger as Mom continued. “Jesus said the man was born blind so the world could see the great love and awesome power of God.” Mom stroked Leah’s cheek. “Then Jesus healed the man and he was no longer blind.”

“Is Jesus going to heal Leah?” asked Seth.

“I pray for that every day,” said Mom. “He answers when it’s time. As we wait, we can teach Leah to hear God’s voice. Then He will give her special eyes to see Him with her heart.”

“I don’t need eyes in my heart because my other eyes can see, right, Mom?”

“Everyone has heart-eyes,” said Mom. “We are all blind like Leah until we listen to God’s voice and obey Him.”

“My Sunday school teacher says the Bible is God’s voice,” said Seth.

“She’s right,” said Mom.

Seth jumped up and bolted from the room. He returned with his Bible and plopped onto the quilt. “She will like the rainbow story,” he said.  Leah turned her face toward Seth as he read God’s Word.

In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul prays for his friends to be illuminated here and now. He prays that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they get to know God. He prays that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened.  

This passage is a glorious portrayal of the exalted Christ. The church is a continuing incarnation of Christ. Whatever Christ could do, the church must do. The church must be Christ’s hands and feet. The church must be a true representation of heaven, but at the same time the church must not claim to be equal to Him. The church is full of sin and will be under judgment. God’s plan for the world is in the church’s hands.

Prayer that flows out of a deep sense of gratitude is forceful. Our praying should be rooted in thankfulness. Thankful people are happier people because they invite loyalty and generosity. They also know how to love others. They make the world a better place. Everyone has things to be thankful for and everyone has things to be angry about. Our challenge is to focus on the things that we can be thankful for.

Paul has worked to express the wonder of believers’ spiritual endowments. Now he prays that they may be able to embrace these truths with their hearts. In order to do this, we need wisdom. When we ask God for it, He will give it to us, and then we have to practice it. In time, we will live by God’s wisdom and not the world’s wisdom.

Paul does not pray that the Ephesian believers will receive some new revelation from God but that they will understand the revelation God has already given them, especially concerning the spiritual riches that are theirs in Christ. The Holy Spirit will provide revelation. Knowing this is ours, the Spirit of Christ becomes a living presence in us. Believers must truly know Christ, not just obtain knowledge about Him. Understanding can also be translated as ‘heart,” which includes the intellect, emotions and will. The heart is the channel through which God imparts the truth about His Son. Such understanding is unavailable to the natural (nonspiritual) person.

As the revelation of the Holy Spirit grows in us, our knowledge of God expands and matures. Specifically, we learn about three distinct attributes:

  1. The hope to which God calls us, especially the hope of life after death.
  2. The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.
  3. The exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.

God was not satisfied with possessing suns and stars; He wanted children and saints. This is God’s inheritance, not humanity’s; believers are His inheritance. There is a big difference between having God’s blessings and enjoying them. We move from the former to the latter by learning what those blessings are and then laying hold of them by faith.

In verse 19, Paul uses four different Greek words to describe God’s power; they can be translated as dynamic, energetic, mighty and strong. Thus power belongs to every believer who will use it.  God’s mighty power is anchored in heaven itself, since the Lord not only raised Jesus from the dead but took Him bodily into heaven and seated Him at His right hand-a place of authority.

Christ has conquered all things in this age and in the one to come, including the enemies of all people: Satan, sin and the grave. Personally knowing this victorious Christ enables believers to face the trying circumstances, unusual sorrows, and terrible persecutions of life. Because of Christ’s great power, no sinner is beyond rescue, and no saint beyond recovery.

God’s great power is given to everyone when they accept Christ as their Saviour. When we believe in Christ, He works a miracle in us. We are purified and empowered by God Himself. As our faith grows, we will change. Sin won’t have any more power over our lives.

Paul also mentions the riches of God, the riches of Christ, the riches of grace, the riches of mercy and the riches of glory. We hear that there is no way to measure the riches of God’s grace. We hear that there is no way that we can understand or intellectually absorb God’s grace. Paul has experienced and seen the riches of God’s grace and the lavishness of His generosity. Paul is overwhelmed by it, as should we as Christians. Creation reflects the luxuriousness of God, the lavishness of God and the excessive generosity of God.

We can easily miss the gift of what’s right in front of us, especially the beauty that’s part of our everyday lives. We can easily miss the beautiful ways God works in and around us daily. Believers in Jesus can ask God’s Spirit to open our spiritual eyes so we can understand how He is at work.

We don’t know everything. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow or next year. We need power, strength and wisdom. When we pray, we connect with not only the world’s most powerful being but the smartest being. God knows everything. All we have to do is listen and be quiet.

Godly wisdom gives us perspective, vision and a purpose for living. If we have godly wisdom, we will have balance in our lives. We will also walk by faith on the familiar roads of life and the unfamiliar ones. When we face difficult circumstances, we should focus on the blessings that God has given us instead of focusing on our problems. When we think of God’s blessings, we will have an attitude of gratitude.

If our reputations and perfection are more important than the states of our hearts and souls, we are on a slippery slope. If we constantly compare ourselves to others while focusing on what we don’t have, the devil has his way in our lives. Only Jesus will satisfy our deepest longings and desires. We must keep our eyes on the goodness, beauty, majesty and sufficiency of Christ. He is everything we will ever need.

When we go through difficult times, the eyes of our hearts will be opened. Walking through troubled waters is one way that God has of shifting our vision. When our hearts break, there is an avenue for God’s compassion to enter. We will look at others through the eyes of our hearts and not through the eyes of quick judgment, harsh conclusions or self-interest.

God wants us to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened in order to know the hope to which He has called us. Next, He wants us to know there is an inheritance of spiritual riches for each of us in Jesus. Finally, God wants us to tap into the power that is available to all of us. Satan also has power, but the only way he can use it is when we fail to operate under the power God has given us. When we function under the power of God, Satan can’t use his power.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1639)
  2. “Leah’s Eyes.” Retrieved from keys@lists.keysforkids.org
  3. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 156-164)
  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. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  7. Bobby Schuller, “The Lust of the Eyes.” Retrieved from hourofpower@hourofpower.org
  8. Pastor David McGee, “Stop Talking and Listen.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Amy Boucher Pye, “Just the Office.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  10. Bobby Schuller, “Thankful, Happier People.” Retrieved from hourofpower@hourofpower.org
  11. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Asking for Wisdom.” retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  12. Steve Arterburn, “The Eyes of Your Heart.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Os Hillman, “Three Things.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org
  14. Dr. Tony Evans, “All Things Under Christ.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “The Value of God’s Wisdom.” Retrieved form mydevotional@ltw.org
  16. “So That You May Know the Hope.” Retrieved from http://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/11/19/so-that-you-may-know-the-hope/
  17. “Books of the Bible-Ephesians.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com/books_ephesians_lavish.htm

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

Spiritual Light from the Light of the World

(Text: Luke 24:44-53)

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