Last week, Pastor Mike told us the apostles continued their work in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was moving there and Simon, that misguided magician, believed in the power of God and was baptized and went with Phillip. Simon was continually amazed by what he saw, but thought he could purchase the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked Simon and encouraged him to repent of what was in his heart. We left with Simon asking Pete to pray for him not grasping the power of God. This morning, we’ll see what happens when you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at Acts 8:25-40.

We start with a Holy Spirit detour. How many of you are planners? Don’t you just hate it when you have everything all planned out and then something happens that causes you to change plans? Like Hurricane Irma? She messed up a lot of people’s plans. I had a haircut scheduled for the Wednesday after and it was cancelled. For many of us, Irma brought minor inconveniences, but for a lot of people in the Caribbean Islands and in south Florida, their lives were changed forever. I think we have all experienced the curve balls of life, but what about when the Holy Spirit redirects you? Acts 8:25 says, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” The apostles were working their way back to Jerusalem and were sharing the truth of the Gospel as they went. There was no exclusivity in the message; it was available and applicable to all who would listen. Phillip began his ministry to the Samaritans in 8:5 and that mission was very fruitful.

Sometimes the best laid plans are changed. Remember Samaria is in the northern kingdom and the apostles are going back to Jerusalem. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)” Instead of going to Jerusalem with the apostles, Philip is singled out for an individual mission. How do you respond when God changes your plan? Understand there’s a difference between God’s plan and your plan. Herein lies a real danger when you go around playing the “God is leading me card” to justify your scatterbrained plans. I know some people that God seems to be toying with. He tells them to do one thing, then He changes it a week later, only to change it again, and again. My God is not wishy washy.

I love how Philip responds to this change of plans. Luke tells us that Philip, “Got up and went.” Obedience. Nike faith. He just did it. I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before: “If God would tell me things, if He’d speak to me then I’d do it.” God tells us to do things all the time that we ignore. Honor your mother and father. Give generously and sacrificially to the work of the Lord. Study your Bible. Share your faith, love people, pray for those in authority. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. Be holy, be honest, be trustworthy. You see, God tells us a lot of things that we ignore or dismiss.        For most of us, a simple life of obedience is what God desires. There are people that God has called to a national or international platform to share the truth of Christ, but for most of us, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and living a life of obedience brings Him honor and glory and has God saying well done. So, Philip gets up and goes where God told him to go. Notice that there is no plan of action that the Spirit lays out, no guidance, no inkling of what God had in store for Philip – he is simply told to go. Philip heads down the desert road, the road that leads to Egypt.

As God’s timing would have it, Philip comes face to face with a guy that, “was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” Really get this in your mind. Philip is walking where God wanted him to go and because of his immediate obedience, he meets a man that is coming from Jerusalem where he worshiped. Luke gives us some pretty good details about this man. He was Ethiopian – a Gentile. He was a eunuch. In biblical days, slaves were sometimes castrated as young boys and then used as keepers of harems and the treasury. One Bible scholar says that eunuchs were particularly trustworthy and that’s why they were often put in charge of the treasury. This practice became so widespread that the term eunuch and treasurer became synonymous. I share this because it is likely this man is a physical eunuch because both terms are used. That’s important because the man had just come from Jerusalem where he worshiped so he was probably a convert to Judaism. Deut. 23:1 says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”  He would have worshiped at the court of the Gentiles and not in the temple. This man is an official of Candace who is queen of the Ethiopians. Candace is to Ethiopia as Pharaoh is to Egypt. Candace is her title, not her name. This guy is in charge of all the queen’s treasure. He’s sitting in his chariot reading from the book of Isaiah.       So now you’re caught up on this Ethiopian eunuch.

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip does and asks the guy, “Do you understand what you are reading.” Philip’s not being mean. In fact, the eunuch says, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me.” This is critical and I don’t want you to miss this. This man is reading Scripture through the lens of someone that does not understand Jesus, that has not embraced Messiah. He needs someone whose eyes have been opened to the truth to explain Scripture to him. 1 Cor. 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

So what’s the point? The eunuch is reading from Is. 53:7-8. We know this passage is talking about the Messiah, but put yourself in the eunuch’s place. He does not understand the passage. It’s confusing to him. He knows what it says, but not who Isaiah is talking about. I can picture the excitement building in Philip and he is probably praying and asking that the Lord would give him the right words to say. So, he asks Philip, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” And there it is. The purpose for God sending Philip down this long and dusty road. Acts 8:35 says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” Philip didn’t say, “Well Bub, here’s a pamphlet that will explain it.” He didn’t say, “I’ve got a great book that will help you.” He didn’t say, “Let me call Peter, he can explain this stuff really well.” He didn’t say, “Come back to Jerusalem, my small group is awesome and you can get your questions answered there.” Why am I telling you what Philip didn’t say? Because those are the things I hear people say in response to someone that is asking questions about Jesus. If you are a believer in the Messiah, you have the answers to the questions people are asking. So, you better be studied up, prayed up, and ready to tell people why you have hope. Don’t outsource your faith.

Philip opens his mouth and speaks on behalf of Jesus who is the Messiah. The Scripture the eunuch read from was the starting off point. “Beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” What did Philip say in response to that question? Philip must have presented the Gospel in a way the eunuch understood. He must have covered sin and its penalty. He must have shared the virgin birth of Christ and why that’s important. He must have shared about the sinless life of Christ and how the sacrifice of Christ atoned for sin. Keep in mind that the eunuch was coming from the temple so he would understand sacrifice and atonement. Philip must have shared about Christ’s crucifixion, His shed blood, and His death. I’m certain he shared about Christ being in the tomb for three days and then being miraculously resurrected in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He must have shared about Christ walking the earth for 40 days before ascending to heaven. He must have shared all about what Christ had done in him and in his friends. He must have shared about the picture of baptism. How can I come to that conclusion? After a while, “the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” The eunuch understood; he got it and wanted to have what Philip had. You may or may not have v. 37 in your Bible. It does not appear in early manuscripts of Acts. It was probably added by a scribe at some point during copying to bring a conclusion to the eunuch’s conversion. With or without v. 37, the conclusion is the same. The eunuch heard the truth and responded to it. He wanted to be baptized as sign of his conversion.

The story takes a shocking turn here. The eunuch stops the chariot and he and Philip go down into the water where he is baptized. Like other places in the New Testament, baptism is by immersion. They come up out of the water and, “The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” Standing there dripping wet, Philip disappears right before the eunuch’s eyes. One second, Philip is there, and literally the next second he is not. That would freak people out today, but the eunuch? He went on his way rejoicing. “But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.” Philip landed about 37 miles away and continued what he knew to do and that is preach the Gospel.

Philip surrendered to an unknown mission. God changed his plans to go back to Jerusalem and he was obedient. Because of his obedience, the Ethiopian eunuch was miraculously saved and became the first foreign convert in Scripture. The seed of the Gospel is carried to Africa. Philip’s ministry is really incredible. He began evangelizing the Samarians – a half-bred people despised by Jews. He shares with the crowds in Samaria and they responded. On the desert road, we see Philip engaged in personal evangelism – one on one. The message he shared was identical. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – the good news of the Gospel. The expected response was the same: believe and be baptized. In all cases, the response to the Gospel brought joy and it should be the same for us today.


Can You Hear the Angels Singing?

AngelsYou can listen to the podcast here.

Take a look at the familiar Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14.

Apparently angels are scary beings. The angel told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Put yourself in the shepherd’s place. All of a sudden, an angel appears and tells them that Jesus has been born. “And there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” The sky was filled with more angels than you could count. They were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This is the way it typically happens. The key word in that text is the word suddenly. God always works in His own time and I think we wish there were more of these types of moments. Suddenly means without warning, it means quickly and unexpectedly. The angels weren’t there and all of a sudden, they were and they filled the sky. The shepherds were out in the field taking care of their flocks by night, but could the angels be seen in Bethlehem? What about in Jerusalem eight miles away? Did the angel’s praise reach across the miles? These are questions to get you to think. Of course, we don’t know the answers, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the angels filled the sky and the shepherds saw them.

Are angels real? Of course they are. 2 Ki. 6 tells the story of Elisha and his servant when the Aramean army surrounded them in the city of Dothan. Seeing the enemy on every side, the servant cried out, “What shall we do?”  Elisha responded by declaring, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Ki. 6:16-17) The angels were always there, but the servant simply could not see them. When his eyes were opened, he saw what had been there all along. There are skeptics all around us so how should we respond to someone like that? It is a matter of faith. Just because you cannot prove something does not automatically disprove it. That was part of my journey to recognizing that God is real. There are things all around us that people take by faith, or I think a more applicable term is take for granted. How can you see the beauty of nature or the beauty of humanity and not see God? You cannot ignore the supernatural element of Jesus’ birth. Angels are a huge part of the story. An angel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus. An angel tells Joseph not to dump Mary. That angel would then tell Joseph what was going on and that the baby would be called Jesus. An angel warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt. An angel tells them when it’s safe to return to Israel. And in Lu. 2:11, an angel tells the shepherds that the Savior has been born and then the sky is filled with angels. Later, we have the mysterious star that led those far away Magi all the way to the very house where they found Jesus. And the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to go home another way. Angels and stars and dreams. Crazy supernatural stuff throughout this story. I think these are some things we know, but really have forgotten how incredible they are. When you reduce Christmas to good feelings and family time, you miss out on this incredibleness. This story helps us solidify that there is a heavenly realm. This world is not eternal. We look forward to the day when we join God in our eternal home. This world is not our home – that’s why we’re strangers and aliens here. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are pilgrims on a journey from this world that is passing away to a world that will last forever. We are looking for a city with eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The end is coming. What we know today will be gone soon. Those things that many feel are so important will pass away. 1 Jo. 2:17 reminds us that, The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” We are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35) Rev. 16:18 says, “There was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” That earthquake destroys all that we know. All the incredible architecture gone. The great masterpieces of the ages gone. All the earthly treasures held so dearly are gone. There is nothing we can do to save any of it including ourselves. Our salvation comes from another source. That’s why Christmas is so important. Miracles surround Christmas: the angels, the star, the dreams, the prophecies, and most of all, the virgin birth. But those miracles are just signs pointing to the greatest miracle of all. Since we get a play by play of events from Scripture, it’s only fitting that we look to the Bible to see why. Jo. 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Tit. 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.  Phil. 2:6-7, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.” One of my favorites is found in Jo. 1:14, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The birth of Christ is the incarnation of God. It is the unity of deity and humanity. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The Creator became the created. The omnipotent lived inside a young girl’s womb. The Almighty became helpless. The Deity was wrapped in rags. The King was born in a stable. The incarnation is essential in our faith. Without the incarnation, there can be no birth. Without a birth, there can be no sinless life. Without a sinless life, there can be no atonement for sin. Without atonement, there is no need for the crucifixion. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. Without hope, there is nothing.

I don’t want you to miss the main point. Having a biblical worldview is supernatural. When you take the supernatural out of Christmas, you’re left without the miraculous. You’re left without hope. You’re left in your sin. As Christians, why would we want to do that? The central point, the main thing, the primary focus, the theme, the moral of the story is all summed up in two words: “I am.” Christmas without Jesus is like a computer with no operating system. It’s like an iPod with no music. It’s like a phone that doesn’t make calls. It’s like cooking without food. It’s like Face Time with no face. Those things just don’t make sense.

Anytime we see angels in Scripture, I think they appear suddenly. Even though we might say we want God to work suddenly, I don’t think we really do. Especially when you consider how long you’ve prayed for lost family members and friends. Or when you consider that loved one that is dying. I think we often pray for more time. Right now we have some time, but who knows how long.

We have the time this moment to share the truths that the angels sang about that first Christmas. Today, we sing those same songs. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! If you listen with all your heart, you can still hear them singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased!” “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies with the angelic host proclaim: Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

A Tale of Two Men

TransformationYou can listen to the podcast here.

This time of year brings about lots of changes. The trees get new leaves, the flowers bloom, and the grass comes back to life. Our students took a break from school and eagerly await summer vacation. Is this what Easter has become in our culture? Is it just another day, another time of year that bridges the gap to something better? If Easter represents the risen Christ, what significance does that hold for us today?

We are in an age where simple profession of faith has replaced transformation. Churches seek the right mix of charismatic leaders to draw the crowds. Find the right mix of musicians, creative teams, and speakers and it doesn’t even have to be a Christian church. Elaborate, high energy worship services filled with emotion seem to draw the bigger crowds and people look around and conclude, “God must be doing something here.” In order to more effectively understand Easter, we need to go back in time. Does the resurrected Christ represent the same thing today as it did back in the first century? For many people in our culture, Easter is part of the semi-annual pilgrimage to church. For others, it represents the culmination of the truth that was foretold from the beginning of time. The church was growing dramatically in the first century and continues to grow at a rapid rate in countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. I want to look at a first century man that was considered extraordinarily religious, yet was not a Christian.

This is a tale of two people. Stephen was an example of Christ like behavior and our story picks up as his life is ending. I hope you’ll take the time to look up the Scripture references. Look at Acts 7:51-57. Stephen was brought before the religious leaders of the day. They were the Sanhedrin, the elders, and the scribes and he was brought before them because of his testimony of Christ. He told them the truth about the history of Israel telling the leaders about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. They had received the law yet did not keep it. This was total hypocrisy and when Stephen pointed this fact out, they became outraged. So outraged that they took him outside the city and began stoning him where we focus on a man whose story is just beginning.

Look at Acts 7:58-60. Who is this cruel, wicked, evil, heartless man that was so opposed to Stephen that he just stood there? His name was Saul. Stephen and Saul were polar opposites. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit and Saul is without the Spirit. But Saul is more than an innocent bystander. Keep reading Acts 8:1-3. There was no coercion for Saul, he heartily agreed with what was happening. Heartily means loudly vigorous and cheerful. Think cheering like at a sporting event. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem began that day at the hands of Saul forcing Christians to scatter and Saul begins, “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravaging means to cause extensive damage, to devastate. Saul wasn’t content to do this in public settings; no he went in people’s homes and dragged them out and it didn’t matter if they were men or women, he was an equal opportunity hater. To say that he was evil incarnate might be an understatement. But something happened in his life that would change the course of his life and change the course for humanity. Read some more from Acts 9:1-22.

Saul is an example of a total life make over. I want to compare his life prior to Christ with his life following his decision to follow Christ. The key for Saul was written in v. 18, “And he got up and was baptized.” We have to understand the biblical meaning of this word. It wasn’t just that he got put under the water. Biblical baptism comes after a change of mind and heart. It is the outward demonstration of what happened in Saul’s heart. It was a miracle. When you look at Saul’s life, there was a complete and total transformation that could only be attributed to the power of the Spirit of God. Look what happened immediately following Saul’s baptism. Read Acts 9:19b-22. Saul went from destroying Christians to preaching the risen Christ. What he was saying so upset the religious crowd – the Jews – that they developed a plot to kill him. The tables are now turned on Saul. The hunter now becomes the hunted.

In order to protect him, look what happens in Acts 9:26-30. We don’t hear anything about Saul until Acts 11 when Barnabas was sent to get him in Tarsus. Are you thinking, that’s just two chapters over? Even though it’s just two chapters, those two chapters represent about 14 years. Another year passes before the Bible calls this man Paul in Acts13:9. We don’t know all that went on in those silent years of Paul’s life, but I’m sure he knew firsthand the meaning behind 1 Cor. 2:14 as he wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We often think that Saul got saved, God changed his name to Paul and he packed his bags and began his first missionary journey. That just isn’t so. There was a period of years where he must have studied the Scriptures with fresh insight and renewed vigor. We know he taught some and shared the Gospel during that time. He was preparing for ministry during the time he was engaged in ministry. We do get insight that God had big plans for Paul from Acts 9:15, but for about 15 years, Paul did what he could where he could. Paul had a lot of baggage and I’m sure people had their doubts about his authenticity. This is evident in his later writings. Paul mentions his turnaround I his letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and to Timothy.

There was such a radical transformation in Paul’s life that after his first recorded sermon (which was off the cuff) in Acts 13, the people begged him to speak again the following Sabbath. Look at Acts 13:42-44. That kind of turnaround can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul went from being a persecutor of the church to one that was persecuted because of his faith. Why should we expect less of modern day people that are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead that we celebrate today? One last passage from Phil. 3:3-6. You see, Saul was very religious, but had no relationship with Christ. His attempts to get to God were fruitless because Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jo. 14:6) That’s the key to get to God. Saul resisted Jesus for the same reason we resist Jesus. We think we can make it on our own. We think we make the rules, we think we’re doing good and right in our own eyes. Easter is about the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Easter is about acknowledging what Christ did on our behalf and trusting that His words are true.

The teaching of Jesus was countercultural and it still is. We talk about self sufficiency and Christ speaks of total dependence. Living authentically for Christ is the best way to show others He is alive. Saul was a religious zealot, Paul considered himself the chiefest of sinners. That can only be accomplished through the work of a holy and perfect God. We don’t see a period where he did nothing for Jesus, we don’t see a period where he was too busy to serve, too busy to study, pray, or be with fellow believers. We don’t see where he ever quit or gave up when things got hard or didn’t go as expected. For all the incredible things Paul did through the power of God, his main purpose in life, his main goal is found in Phil. 3:7-11. It should be our goal too.

The Realization

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week the sailors found out the whole reason for the storm was because of Jonah. They found out Jonah was running from God. They needed relief from the storm so they reluctantly obeyed Jonah and threw him into the sea to face certain drowning. That’s where we left Jonah, so let’s see what happens next.

Look at Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 1:17-2:9.

Now we come to the misplaced focus of the story. Too often in our telling of the story of Jonah, the emphasis is placed on the fish. Call it a whale, a fish, a sea monster – it doesn’t matter. Some argue that if this verse and 2:10 were removed from the book, the story would be more realistic. The fish is not the star of the story, but the God that appointed the fish. People over the years have attempted to prove this is possible by telling us that a whale is air breathing so Jonah could really live inside. There is no need to explain the fish in any other way except that it is a miracle of God.  A miracle is defined as an act of God beyond human explanation or replication. We don’t need to waste time trying to explain how this is possible – it’s a miracle. Just like the parting of the Red Sea. Just like the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years with neither their shoes nor clothing wearing out. Just like Elijah raising the boy from the dead and Elisha raising the Shulamite’s son. Just like the cruse of oil never running out. Like the talking donkey. Like Joshua and the sun standing still. Just like Jesus turning water into wine, feeding the 5000, and most incredible of all? Jesus defying death!

Don’t worry about how implausible the fish may be – it’s a miracle and it really happened. The fish is definitely miraculous, but so is the fact that God sent the fish to save Jonah. Even with Jonah’s disobedience, his running, his turning his back on God’s call, his refusal to preach Christ to a lost and dying Nineveh, God did not turn His back on Jonah. Jonah had another opportunity. The word appointed in v. 17 means designated, it means equipped or furnished in a special way. Was this fish set aside in eternities past just for this reason? Did God have this fish in mind, or did He come up with the plan based on Jonah’s actions? Does it matter? What we know is God did not allow Jonah to die, but instead provided him with some alone time to reflect. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be. Jonah finds himself flying through the air and hits the water. As he floats down in the water, I think the fish came along immediately and swallowed him up. I don’t think Jonah’s head ever came up out of the water. Did he even try to swim or tread water? I believe in Jonah’s mind, he was dead as soon as the sailors picked him up. God’s mission for Jonah was so contrary to what Jonah wanted to do, he’d rather be dead than obey. The fish was designated to swallow Jonah. The fish knew its purpose and obeyed. Jonah knew his purpose and disobeyed. The vehicle for Jonah’s salvation was the fish. The vehicle for Nineveh’s salvation was Jonah.

Jonah uses his time effectively. Verse 17 tells us that Jonah, “Was in the stomach of the fish for three days and three nights.” Jonah had no reference point so the passing of time would only become apparent after he got out of the fish. What I’m sure was surprising for Jonah was that he was alive. Death did not come to him as he hoped for. We don’t know how much time passed between Jonah realizing he wasn’t dead until he began his prayer in 2:1. I wonder if he was disappointed? I’m sure he expected to wake up in heaven and he wakes up in hell. Remember the captain of the ship waking up Jonah encouraging him to pray? There is no account of Jonah’s willingness to pray earlier. To this point in the book, Jonah is a man of few words speaking only two sentences so far.

Now Jonah prays and it’s interesting to note that Jonah, “prays to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish.” Not just to the Lord as the sailors did earlier. Jonah is acknowledging that God is his Lord. Jonah was desperate. He cried out in his distress. Distress means extreme anxiety. Jesus was so distressed in the garden at His impending death that His sweat became drops of blood. Jonah’s desperation turned to prayer. Too often we’re just like Jonah. We run from God and get ourselves into situations and we wonder why is God allowing this? If only Jonah had prayed for a godly attitude, had prayed for strength, for commitment. If only Jonah had prayed for God’s love to fully encompass him to the point that he would love his enemies and tell them how they could know Jesus. If only had prayed these things when God gave him the mission to preach to Nineveh. Jonah prayed, “from the depth of Sheol.” Jonah was not dead, although he probably felt like it. You’ve heard the expression, “hell on earth?” That’s what Jonah was feeling like. He is overwhelmed by his circumstances.

Jonah ran from God and discovered you can run, but you can’t hide. Ps. 139:7-10 remind us, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” No matter where you go, God is there. Jonah ran from God, and God ran after Jonah. Even though Jonah is in complete and utter despair, God heard and answered him and that is extraordinarily significant. Don’t ever think there is a time when God turns His back on you. If you cry out to Him, He’ll hear and answer you.

Jonah knows what is going on. He recognizes God’s sovereignty in v. 3. It was God that prepared the ship. It was God that prepared the storm and the waves. It was God that prepared the fish. It was God that prepared deliverance for Jonah and for Nineveh. Jonah makes what looks like a really disheartening conclusion. He says, “I have been expelled from Your sight.” We know that God is everywhere so what Jonah is saying is, “I have fallen out of favor with God.” That’s how it is with us. Our own actions cause us to fall out of favor with God, but our relationship does not change. Sin does that. God cannot and will not look favorably on sin nor will He ignore it. In many cases, we don’t see any immediate consequences for our sin, so we wrongly conclude that it doesn’t matter. In Jonah’s case, he could have avoided the consequences for sin if he’d simply obeyed. But all hope is not lost. Even though he is in the belly of the fish, Jonah says, “Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.”  It’s never too late to turn from our sin to God.

Even though it looks pretty bleak for Jonah, he continues to pray knowing that his God will hear him. It was bad. Imagine yourself in this situation. Swirling around in the stomach juices of the fish, it’s slimy, smelly, disgusting, and dark. The fish is still swimming, taking turns, changing depths. Jonah is probably seasick. You can hear the despair in his voice as he continues to cry out to God, Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever.” And now the big turning point for Jonah. The big but. Look at Jonah’s prayer in 6b-9. You cannot acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of your life and not do what He tells you. In Acts 10, Peter was given a vision to kill and eat all kinds of animals and birds that were unclean. Peter protested so God told him again. Peter got the message – God speaks, we obey. “Salvation is from the Lord.” That is the unchanging message of hope. That is the message our friends, family, co-workers, and Muslims need to hear.

Jonah struggles to surrender to the Lordship of God. I struggle with that too. Are we going to run away? Or are we going to submit? With our mouths we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Are we serious when we pray those words? Are we willing to be part of God’s answer to that prayer? I can’t help but notice that it if it ever occurred to Jonah to pray for Nineveh, he didn’t do it. Jonah looked to the Temple. Today as part of the new covenant, our bodies are the dwelling place of God. Our bodies are the temple of Christ. Do we see Muslims as potential temples of the Holy Spirit?

The Wondrous Cross

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This is a great day in the life of every Christian – every person. It is Easter – a day we celebrate the greatest triumph ever recorded. It is a day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ. For some, the cross is a nicely polished piece of jewelry that is worn around the neck. For others, the cross is what is displayed in the church building.

I think many of us may gloss over the events leading up to this event and why it is the most important event in history. Perhaps it’s too personal; after all it was your sin and my sin that drove God to send Jesus to die for us. Maybe it’s the unfathomable pain He endured,  maybe it’s the blood that poured out of His body in order to pay the penalty of sin for you and me. Maybe you don’t really understand the importance of that wondrous cross. I pray this morning you’ll understand it and have a deeper appreciation for our Messiah.  Before we get to the cross, we need to look at the early days of Jesus’ public life.

In order to understand the message of the wondrous cross, we need to go back in time. Very little is recorded about the life of Jesus prior to coming on the scene around the year 30. We know that He was born of a virgin and lived in Nazareth. We know He grew and became strong.  He increased in wisdom and grace. We know His parents brought Him to Jerusalem every year for Passover and when He was 12, His parents left Jerusalem without Him. After three days, they found Him in the temple where He was listening and asking questions in the middle of the teachers. The people were amazed at His answers. For the next 18 years of Jesus’ life, the Gospels are silent. Jesus comes back into the public eye from relative obscurity when He walked up to John at the Jordan River. The baptism of Christ is recorded in Matt. 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3. Following His baptism, Jesus is tempted by the devil and after John is taken into custody, Jesus leaves Nazareth and settles into Capernaum and begins His public ministry. Matt. 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the message that He preached. Of course there are other great doctrines and principles Jesus taught. But the primary theme of Christ is repentance. Luke 5:1-11 tells us the story of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John to follow Him. These men willingly chose to abandon their jobs; they chose to follow a man they did not even know. But this was no ordinary man. This man was the One that John called the Word. This man was the One that when John saw Him coming to the Jordan River, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Over the next three years, Jesus was on a mission throughout Galilee. News about Him spread and large crowds gathered wherever He went. Jesus went on to choose 8 other men that would willingly follow Him. They witnessed firsthand the miracles Jesus performed. They saw people fed, they saw people healed, they saw demons cast out, they saw cripples walk, they saw people’s lives transformed by the Man they loved, by the Man that loved them. What Jesus taught was radical.  It was controversial. It upset the religious leaders of the day. Why? The message Jesus brought focused not on what you do to reach God, but what God did to reach you. Fast forward to Mark 14:1 that says, “Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him.” The religious leaders wanted to secretly seize Jesus and kill Him and so the stage is set for the most incredible event in human history.

First things first. Why did Christ have to come to earth? Too often we put the cart before the horse in our explanation of salvation. We talk about the depravity or sinfulness of man, but the beginning of salvation rests in the righteousness of God. In the introduction of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote that, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:18-21) Gentiles failed to understand their inherent knowledge of God. Jews failed to live up to their covenant relationship with God. Rom. 3:19 tells us that all are, “accountable to God.” This teaching was problematic for the religious leaders because it revealed that their way did not effectively deal with the fundamental problem of sin. Rom. 1:17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Righteousness is not found in maintaining or following a set of rules found in the Law. “The righteousness of God is revealed.” But the religious leaders were lacking in this area of righteousness. So what’s the answer?

The wondrous cross. For the Apostle Paul, the cross is the defining point in theology. It is the point from which everything else is drawn. To put it is simply as I can, the central theological message is summed up with two words Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1:23: “Christ crucified.” It was at the cross that God accomplished something extraordinary. Something beyond comprehension; something that was and is the defining moment in eternity.  The cross is something we have come to know as God’s demonstration of His great love for mankind. Paul refines his purpose by saying, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3)

Let’s look at one of the greatest passages of the Bible found in Rom. 3:21-24. Martin Luther wrote in the margin of his Bible that this passage of Scripture was, “The chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Why is this passage so incredible? It begins with two great words: “But now.” It introduces the beginning of something new, a new way, a new relationship, a new covenant. “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”  It’s apart from the Law, apart from our doing or not doing. This righteousness was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. This is another way to say the Old Testament. The O.T. points to something God would do in the future that would provide humanity with the solution to this fundamental sin problem. The O.T. points to the new covenant found in Jesus Christ. This is a radical plan. Humanity tends to be legalistic. We have laws in America with people elected to make new laws; we have judges to interpret the law, and courts to declare innocence or guilt. We have law enforcement agencies on the city, county, state, and federal levels. Our society is set up to follow the laws and that’s why this teaching is so radical. For God, it’s not what we do, but rather what He did. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping the Law. Paul said, “Apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.” If man developed a plan to get to God it most certainly would include what we must do. The salvation plan isn’t measured by what we do to attain righteousness. God’s system is different. God doesn’t need or want our help in doing what we could never do. Paul says, “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” No difference between Jew and Gentile; slave or free, church member or not. Rich or poor; black or white; good or bad. There is no difference because, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That word “all” is an interesting word. It means the whole quantity or extent and in this context Paul is talking about humanity. Everyone of us has violated God’s moral Law. We’ve lied; we’ve hated; we’ve taken something that didn’t belong to us. We’ve been angry, bitter, jealous, and proud.

God’s standard is perfection and even just one little slip in our actions or thoughts brings us short of what God requires in us. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, no matter how religious we try to be, we just don’t measure up. But God made a way to give His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ. “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” That righteousness is offered as a free gift. It cannot be purchased or earned. If it could, it wouldn’t be a gift. This is an inherent problem for some people. It’s hard to accept righteousness as a gift. We want to do something to earn God’s favor. This sounds reasonable, right? After all, we work in order to earn wages. We go to the grocery store and buy food; we don’t expect it for free. We live in a culture where money is the motivator; it is what makes the world go around. Whoever has the most money; has the most power.

God’s system is different than the world’s system. We have been justified. That means we have been declared righteous. You might ask, “But how can this be?” This is the incredible truth of the wondrous cross! God offers this righteousness as a gift because of His great love for you. God offers this gift to you by grace – undeserved favor. It may be free to you, but it wasn’t free to God. The redemption that He offers to us for free cost Him His one and only Son.

How did it happen? Paul describes it back in Rom. 3:25-26. This act of redemption occurred for everyone to see. Jesus Christ was our propitiation. Propitiation means removal of wrath. Some would argue that God’s wrath is old fashioned, that God is a God of love and would never condemn anyone. God’s wrath is spoken of 580 times in the O.T. and nearly 200 times in the N.T. God is absolutely right in His view over sin. What kind of parents would you be if you didn’t care about your children’s wrong doing? What kind of heavenly Father would He be if He ignored our wrong doing – our sin?  It is God through Paul that said, “all have sinned.” You see it’s not a matter of guilt – we are all guilty. God declared that we are guilty and the punishment is to be death, because that’s the right thing to do.    That’s the complete wonder of the cross. Even though we are guilty, God made a way to restore our relationship with Him and be declared righteous at no cost to us. What God did is much more than a pardon; there’s still the conviction of the crime, but a pardon removes the punishment. What God offers is so much more. We are declared righteous; free from the accusations; free from the guilt, free from the punishment. This occurred on the cross.

So what happened on that day nearly 2000 years ago? It is recorded in Matt. 26:59-66 through Matt. 28:10. Please take the time to read the conclusion to this great story.

It was for you that Jesus died. Paul concludes back in Romans by saying, Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” It is faith – trust in what Jesus did. What Jesus did for you.