Tag Archives: Messiah

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

Christmas – The Characters

5 Dec

Check out the podcast here.

mangerWe are all familiar with the Christmas story, maybe too familiar. In our over saturation of Christmas, the meaning of the message sometimes gets lost because of the season. It doesn’t make sense, but we see it over and over again. Sometimes when we’ve heard a story over and over through the years we get a little distracted because we think of it as a review. We don’t really listen because we know where it’s going because we’ve heard it before. In a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown exclaims, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” We then hear Linus reciting Lu. 2:8-14 and he concludes by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about.” Every year we hear preachers preach Christmas sermons, but do we really know the Christmas story? This Christmas, we’re going to take the time to walk through Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ. I encourage you to take the time to read it at home too.

I really encourage you to take the time to read Luke 2:1-20 for yourself.

Here’s the overview. When you study the Bible, you need to take a view from above. Too often, people want to get right into it and find all the answers they seek, but are not willing to do the work necessary to get it. Shortcuts may be awesome for computers or other electronic devices, but there are no shortcuts in understanding the Bible. When people take shortcuts in life, it rarely results in good things. Sarai tried a shortcut in Gen. 16 when she helped God make Abram a great nation. It didn’t work. Satan tempted Jesus in Matt. 4 to take three shortcuts. Satan came to Him when He was tired and hungry. He offered Jesus immediate satisfaction: fresh bread, a miraculous delivery by jumping from the Temple’s pinnacle, and then promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world. That was at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Satan was trying to get Jesus to bypass the heartache, pain, and suffering that He was destined to endure. You can’t watch A Charlie Brown Christmas to get an understanding of Christmas.

There are several characters introduced to us by Luke. Many of us can name the players. Mary and Joseph and the inn keeper. Of course, there is baby Jesus.    There is the angel of the Lord and the shepherds. There is the multitude of the heavenly host.  So let’s look at these people. Mary is a very holy figure to some people, but what do we learn about her from this passage? Mary was with Joseph. They were traveling from Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem. They were traveling because of the decree sent out from Caesar Augustus that said a census was to be taken. The census applied to men so they could be taxed by the Roman government. The number of people to be counted included, “all that inhabited the earth.”  In order to do that, everyone had to go to their hometown to register. The phrase City of David is used 45 times in the Old Testament and it refers to Jerusalem. It’s used twice in the New Testament and it refers to Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house of David and David was born in Bethlehem. Mary has a very unique condition that never occurred before or after. It wasn’t just that she was with child. We find out how Mary finds herself pregnant in Luke 1:26-35. That’s pretty exciting stuff. And then in Matt. 1:25 says Joseph, “Kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” By any account, the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem would have been very difficult even in ideal conditions. The conditions that Mary and Joseph found themselves in was anything but ideal. Given Mary’s condition, they likely would have walked the easier of the routes. It was about 90 miles from Galilee to Bethlehem. Think about how fast you can walk. Now think about walking on unpaved paths, carrying your gear, with a pregnant woman. They could have walked about 20 miles a day so the journey would take them four or five days. Have you ever thought about where they stayed each night? Did they camp or stay at inns along the way? When they finally arrived at their destination, imagine how they felt. Tired, hungry, dirty, smelly. All they wanted to do was find a room, get a bite to eat, and go to bed. Although the text doesn’t say anything about how they were feeling, think about how you feel after a long trip.

After they arrive in Bethlehem, “The days were completed for her to give birth.” We don’t know how long they were in Bethlehem before she went into labor. That’s one of the nice tidbits we put in the story. They got there just in time for Mary to start the delivery process. Perhaps all the walking helped Mary go into labor. Wait Pastor Ian, God orchestrated all of this to ensure the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was met. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” No one can choose to be born and certainly cannot choose where they are to be born. Luke very casually says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lu. 2:7) Did you know that the first gender reveal party ever held was for Jesus? Gen. 3:15 tells us, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” We quickly gloss over the first part of that verse in Luke and focus on the second part. Before He was laid in the manger, have you thought about the actual birth? With our modern medicine and technology, you really don’t even have to wait until it’s time. When the doctor feels as though the baby is ready or a certain number of weeks has passed, a woman can be induced into labor. No more inconvenient middle of the night births. Babies can now be born to fit into a more convenient time. For many women, gone are the days of waiting until the baby determines it’s time to make an entry.

This must have been a challenging birth. Notice Jesus was Mary’s firstborn giving insight that there would be other children. This birth was free from the numerous choices available today that can sometimes complicate the process. There was no talk of medication for Mary. There were no birthing suites and no swimming pool births. Luke doesn’t go into any details of the birth. How long was she in labor? Today when women choose natural child birth, it’s nowhere in the same ball park as what Mary endured. There’s typically someone close by that can help. A mid-wife, a doula, or mom. If something goes wrong today for someone that chooses natural child, EMTs and paramedics are only a phone call away. Not in our story. One minute Mary was pregnant, and the next minute she was wrapping Jesus in those swaddling cloths. I think this is interesting given that Luke, a doctor who desired to write with significant detail, left this part of the story out.

The picture portrayed in our modern day nativities do not accurately portray the scene. The beautiful pictures of the little manger is nothing close to reality. The manger or feeding trough is nothing more than a box or platform that was used to feed animals. I want you to picture this because it’s important to understand what God was willing to do to offer us redemption through this little human. If you have pets, think about what their food dishes look like. Hair, slobber, nose juice, bugs, and all sorts of unseen germs, and bacteria are around the dish. Into that environment was laid our Savior. I’m sure Joseph did the best he could with what he had. He probably scraped together the cleanest hay he could find. If he had a coat or covering, he probably laid it down. And Jesus was placed in the manger where we assume he gently drifted off to sleep without making a single noise.

I’m going to leave Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph watching over Him. Next week we’ll see how the other characters in the story responded to the birth of Jesus. Stay tuned as we continue to take a different look at this very familiar story.

A Savior is Born

21 Dec

shepherds-11You can listen to the podcast here.

God is amazing. Two weeks ago I preached about there being no room at the inn. I wanted to remind you of the incredibleness of one verse about the birth of Christ. Nothing happened by accident. It was all part of God’s plan even though it’s hard for us to understand. If Joseph and Mary had waited a month or if Caesar made that decree just a few weeks later or earlier, things would have been different. God is the God in all circumstances and His timing is always best.

Luke 2:11 says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This was a huge announcement. Notice the first phrase of the verse, “For today in the city of David.”       There can be some confusion about the city of David. In the Old Testament this phrase is used about 45 times and refers to Jerusalem. In 2 Sam. 5, David leads his men to Jerusalem which was under the control of the Jebusites. David defeated the Jebusites and 2 Sam. 5:9-10 says, “So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him.” In the New Testament the City of David is only referred to twice and it means Bethlehem. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinians – Arabs. Tourism is the main industry of Bethlehem and all the holy sites are very commercialized. At the center of Bethlehem sits the Church of the Holy Nativity. Inside this church you walk a long corridor that lead to a room where there is a very tight stairway leading down to the bowels of the church where it opens up into a larger room. In that room you find a silver star with a hole in the middle that leads down to the earth marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been born. During a trip to Bethlehem in 1865, Boston pastor Phillips Brooks looked over the hills of the little town and penned the now famous words, “O little of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” Back in 1865, all was still quiet in Bethlehem. Remember King David and his family lived there and David most likely tended his sheep on the hills just outside the little town.

This announcement was no surprise to anyone familiar with the prophecy. Micah the prophet told everyone this would happen in 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” That prophecy happened about 700 years before Christ was born. Bethlehem was, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Back when Bethlehem was no more than a little, inconsequential place, the Lord decided it would be this way. It wasn’t even big enough to have a flashing yellow light. The Jews of the day would certainly have known this, but listen to this exchange found in Matt. 2:1-6. Jews should have been well versed in this prophecy. It kind of reminds me about things that as believers, we ought to know, but don’t. Something else to think about is the magi came from the east and show up in Jerusalem and ask about the King of the Jews that had been born. The magi knew and went looking for the King. The chief priests and scribes certainly should have been looking for this. Bethlehem is such a short distance away so wouldn’t you think they’d have been watching and waiting for years? Even though they should have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to investigate, they didn’t. It’s not enough just to know, knowing should lead to action.

Here’s the reality of His coming. In Lu. 2:11 the angel says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” “Born for you.” Focus on those three words. The Son of God has been born for you. Oddly enough, for something so miraculous, the pregnancy and birth of Christ really was ordinary. The miracle occurred nine months earlier. Joseph had nothing to do with Mary becoming pregnant. When she asked how, the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lu. 1:35) In Matt. 1:20 an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “The child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” That’s when the miracle took place. I’m sure Mary battled all the things pregnant women face. Morning sickness, fatigue, swollen feet, intense hunger that occurs without warning. The virgin birth is incredibly significant because it comes after the virgin conception. He was born of Mary so He was human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so He was deity. God enters humanity just like us taking on all the issues we face and yet with one distinct difference. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He was fully God and fully man. Somehow this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit created life in Mary that was totally divine and totally human. How can it be? I have no idea. He was and remains totally unique. The totally unique became completely common for the following nine months.

This is a story of faith. Some people read Luke 2 and call it theological fiction. It’s a great story, but it’s simply a fairy tale with religious significance. It’s like Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Luke said, “for today” in his writing. It’s widely recognized that Luke’s purpose for writing was to provide a detailed account unlike any other biblical writers. That’s what he says in Luke 1:1-4. When you read the words of Luke, you need to read it like you are reading history. It is truth, not fiction and we believe it by faith. Look at the result of the coming of Jesus. Luke says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those three titles should jump out at you. Savior, Christ, Lord. Each word is significant. Savior is actually an Old Testament word that means one who delivers his people. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah which means the anointed One. Lord is a term for Deity. It’s a synonym for God. When the angel appeared in Joseph’s dream, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). No sin is too great; no one is too far gone. No one is beyond His grace and His mercy. That’s the message of Christ’s birth. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the essence of Christmas. God loved you so much that He was willing to give up His one and only Son so you could have life.

So what you ask, you’ve heard it all before. What’s the purpose of His coming? Look at our verse one more time. “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” Don’t gloss over those two little words, “For you.” Remember what’s going on here. There were unnamed and unnumbered shepherds in the fields. The angel is speaking to them collectively, but gives an individual declaration. Being a shepherd took little skill and was often fulfilled by young people. Remember David was just a boy when he tended sheep. Did you ever ask yourself, why did the angel appear to a bunch of shepherds. Why didn’t the angel appear to those Jewish scholars that were hanging out in the temple less than ten miles away? Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Ma. 2:17) Jesus came for you. It is the simplicity of the Gospel that gets so many people wrapped up. Why would He do that? It doesn’t make sense. Many people believe in the birth of Christ, but it’s not enough to believe that it happened. We must come to the conclusion that Christ came for me. The gift of God is available when you receive it as your own.

In five short days, Christmas will be here. Across the globe, people will celebrate in much the same way. They’ll gather around the tree that has presents piled high and often all around it. There are kids that wake up their parents literally in the middle of the night because they are so excited to open the presents. There are kids that know that Christmas is exactly 108 hours away. Do you ever leave presents under the tree that remain unopened? Of course not, yet we have been given a gift that came with incredible cost. As I reflected on this principle, I am more convinced than ever that we profess that we have received the incredible gift of God’s Son, but like that ugly Christmas sweater or tie, we simply don’t use it after it’s been opened. We put it in a closet and we’ll only wear it, or bring it out when the gift giver is present. Isn’t that like our relationship with Christ? Do we just wear it when the pastor or our church friends come over? Do we keep it in the closet until we need it. Over the years, Kari has given me some really great gifts. A shotgun. Reloading equipment. A basketball goal. I still have the shotgun, but haven’t used it in a number of years. Same for the reloading equipment. The basketball goal was sold on a yard sale.

As I get older, I need less and less things and want even less. As believers, the biggest, most incredible gift we’ve ever received is the gift of Christ. It’s a gift that is useful regardless of the season. It doesn’t wear out and it never gets old. It ever goes out of style. The gift of Christ is a gift that should keep on giving. It’s a gift that has immeasurable value. It’s a gift we should be grateful to use and show others how to use it too. What have you done and what are you doing with the most incredible gift ever given?

The Miracle of Easter

6 Apr

CrossYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we checked out Solomon’s words regarding wisdom and learned that no matter the path you’re on, there’s always opportunity to get back on the right path. Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, I don’t know the right path to take. I didn’t even know there was a path. Today is your lucky day! Today, Easter is celebrated all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits and enjoy chocolate and jelly beans? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier.

Take the time to read our passage for this morning found in Luke 19:28-40.

So who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds. Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. There are the not so great people like Ivan the terrible , Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John – the Baptizer. Lydia – the seller of purple. Few people call him just Thomas without preceding it with doubting. These descriptive names are no different for Jesus.

In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, f He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people of all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel, One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good. The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21 that says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now finally, what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. We live in such a hectic, no time for anything world; a world where we seek instant gratification. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter          is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe if we just try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him.

Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept you like you are. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Maybe you’re thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and I’ll trust in Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13 says, “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” You are that whoever. It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12) So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb.

The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you, because of His incredible, unending, unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?Risen

The Savior’s Triumph

22 Dec

TriumphYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the mission of the Savior in part 3 of our Christmas series in Isaiah. The Savior’s mission can be summed by saying He came to do the will of the Father and that included saving people from sin by acting as the substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve seen the sign, character, and mission of the Savior. This morning we’ll finish up by examining the triumph of the Savior.

I encourage you to take the time and read Isaiah 11.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, America was introduced to a man many people believed would be the savior of America. He became our 44th president with promises of hope and change for America. We see athletes and Hollywood stars elevated to a position of greatness and their incredible wisdom is sought over such far reaching issues as global warming, national security, America’s place in the world, civil unrest, and world peace. These people have been elevated by us to a position of worship. Like America today, the nation of Judah in Isaiah’s time was looking for a Messiah. They were faced with desperate circumstances the likes of which no one had ever faced. Their king had rejected God’s clear instruction and firm promises by forming political and military alliances with the Assyrians, only to see them backfire in the worst possible way. Now, it was either going to be death or deportation.  It was only a matter of time. In such desperate times, people look for a way to escape; they look for deliverance, they look for a way out. Sometimes those desires cause us to cry out, is there anybody out there who cares? Will somebody deliver me, will somebody rescue us?  That was the thinking of the people in 700 B.C. Judah and that was the feeling last month in the elections as the American people grew tired of unfulfilled promises. Isaiah’s message gives us the final answer to those desperate cries. He emphatically declared that God would send a true Messiah. His name is Immanuel – God with us. Although in appearance He is a child, His true nature is as a wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. His mission is to heal the wounds of the brokenhearted, to release those enslaved by sin, and to restore what has been lost in the years wasting away without Him. All this we now know was fulfilled by Christ Jesus.

In Isaiah 11, the prophet takes us back to the future. Centuries melt away as Isaiah takes us past the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior. We are taken beyond his time and ours and come to a day in the future when this same Messiah who came 2000 years ago will reign over the entire earth. Isaiah tells us what it will be like when His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. You have to wonder why the Holy Spirit wants us to see this vision of the future. Maybe it’s because we need to understand what kind of king was found in the manger of Bethlehem. During this Christmas week, will you come and worship with the shepherds and Magi, or will you dismiss the significance of this incredible birth? Jesus came from a very humble background.  He did not come from a family of incredible wealth, but from a family that was desperate to find some place just for Him to be born. The opening verse in Isaiah 11 tells us, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” God is always faithful and I don’t want you to miss the significance of this. When a living tree is cut down, a shoot springs forth bringing new life. The shoot Isaiah is talking about is from the stem of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, Israel’s greatest king. Isaiah mentions Jesse, but not David.  I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s because God magnifies His grace in ways that we don’t. 1 Cor. 1:27-29 says, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” You see, we tend to elevate the beautiful, the strong, those that are wealthy and powerful. God tends to elevate the meek, the faithful, the willing, those that seek His will. The One that would deliver the world from sin came in a very unpretentious and unpredictable manner. The Messiah would not be born into privilege. Jesse was never king so Jesus is not being born into the royal family and won’t grow up in a palace. He will not start out as royalty; He will inherit His kingdom. But Jesus will be more than an equal to King David. This baby born in Bethlehem will rise to do what no one has ever done.

Jesus will have God’s Spirit on Him in unlimited measure. Verse 2: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” We have never experienced a leader like this. The people in Isaiah’s day hadn’t either. This shoot from Jesse’s family will have the power of God on Him. He won’t try to accomplish the goals of His Father by human power – He will be controlled by the Spirit of God. The result is perfect wisdom and understanding. He will be unlike any leader in the history of the world. He doesn’t need a Cabinet of advisors. He will appoint no czars. He doesn’t need legislators or judges to help Him. He knows what needs to be done and He has the counsel and strength of the Spirit upon Him. The reign of Christ will bring every person face to face with the King. Look again at Is. 11:3-5. Christ’s rule can be summed up in three words: righteousness, fairness, and faithfulness. Each of these words is about conforming to a standard. From this passage we see that the benchmark for this final King doesn’t come from the people that are around Him. It doesn’t come from the latest research, seminar, or book. There was no election. He reigns by the authority of God and judges by the standards of God. I think the idea of these verses is not how He is going to judge mankind, but how He is going to judge each of our lives. You will be judged by reality, not by perception. He will not be swayed by emotion.  He will see you for who you really are. He will deal with you with precise justice, evaluating your life in accordance with the holiness of God. And when He pronounces His judgment, it is final. All who are made righteous by faith in Christ will be exalted.  All others, He will wipe from the face of the earth.

Nature will be turned upside down. Look at vs. 6-8. Wolf and the lamb – together. Cows and bears grazing; lion’s eating straw. Little kids will play with what used to be deadly snakes. Life becomes as it was in the Garden of Eden. The labor pains that the earth groans and suffers that Paul mentions in Romans 8:22 is over. The rest of the story is found in vs. 9-10.  All that is evil, all that is bad, all that causes pain is gone. All that caused decay and ruin is over. On that day, all crime will cease. Everybody on earth will know God. “The nations will resort to the root of Jesse” (that’s Jesus) Who will stand as a signal for the peoples” (a rallying point). “And His resting place will be glorious.”

Do you know who is born of a virgin in Bethlehem? Do you realize who you’re dealing with this Christmas? The world is divided over this child, for at His birth, God drew a line in the sand. You cannot be neutral about this baby who is called Immanuel – God with us because there is coming a day in which He will not be neutral about you. His first coming was marked by humility because He loved us so much that, though completely innocent, He willingly took the guilt of our sin and the wrath of God on the cross for our sakes. He shed His precious blood, died and was buried. But three days later, He rose from the dead by the same power of God that is available to you.  He later ascended to heaven where He patiently waits for the Father to say, “It’s time.” And then, He will come again to this earth, only it will not be in humility because the next time God, “Bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Savior’s Character

8 Dec

Savior's NamesYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we were introduced to a man named Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. He was on the receiving end of an Assyrian army bent on advancing their country while destroying all that stood in their path. Not only was Judah threatened by this massive Assyrian army, they were threatened by the continuing moral degradation led by their king. They were a nation of God’s people, yet the people were far from God. In Isaiah 7, we saw that Isaiah was sent to remind Ahaz to rest in God with the words, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” (Is. 7:9) God even said there would be a virgin that would conceive a child. That was the sign of the Savior.  This morning we’ll look at the character of the Savior.

Take a look at Isaiah 9:1-7.

 You would think that Ahaz, who by all accounts was raised in a godly home, would seek refuge in the One that can help. Ahaz discarded wise counsel from Isaiah and had to face the music resulting from his disobedience. He went ahead with his alliance with Assyria. Rom. 1:18 describes it this way: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in  unrighteousness.” Ahaz and those that followed him suppressed the truth. Isaiah 8 details how this happened. Despair and gloom descended on Judah.  Ahaz and the majority of the people of Judah had departed from God; so God handed them over to their sin and to their enemies. The northern-most part of Israel was feeling the Assyrian army coming down on them. As it became increasingly apparent that the godless plans of Ahaz were failing, the people began turning to superstition and the occult to find guidance. According to 2 Kings 16:3, king Ahaz even burned his son as an offering to the false gods of the Canaanites. It was a time of moral darkness, frustration, anger, and hopelessness under the judgment of God. Is this to be expected for those who depart from the Lord? Is judgment God’s only response to the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? As the anti-Christian sentiment grows here and abroad, you might conclude that God is judging us and we ask ourselves as David did in Ps. 94:3, “How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult?”

We are not in an age of despair, but an age of hope. We are warned with judgment to flee from wickedness and immorality. And we are also drawn by the Holy Spirit with love and kindness to turn to God. God has a glorious plan that sufficiently and completely deals with wickedness and sin. It is the good news of grace. Between Chapters 8 and 9, something happens to Isaiah. Isaiah is describing what’s going to happen to the people of Judah because of their rebellion and all of a sudden, he’s talking about things to come for mankind. Instead of war, Isaiah sees the boots of soldiers burned in the fire. Right in the middle of the war, there is something critical for us. V. 2 tells us, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Light will come to those that are in the dark. There is hope. There is still an opportunity to turn to God. That opportunity is available to you as well. In 1741, it was this section of Scripture that moved a man to compose an oratorio with perhaps the greatest chorus of all time.

In Handel’s Messiah, we see God’s character. Look at how Isaiah describes God’s character in vs. 6-7. He says. “A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us.” It is a real, physical birth. The child is human. That child is given to us. Remember who Isaiah is talking to. He is a gift to us.

Jo. 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
2 Cor. 9:15: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
Eph. 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” “And the government will rest on His shoulders.”
In Matt. 28:18 Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
Eph. 1:22 tells us that, “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”

He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Then Isaiah gives some names to this One that would be born. Call Him wonderful Counselor.  This literally means wonder of a counselor. Wonderful means marvelous, extraordinary, beyond the normal capacity to perform. The counsel of God in the flesh transcends human wisdom. Rom. 11:34 asks the question, “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” His ways are unfathomably deep. He is in a category by Himself. He is the supernatural counselor. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, no matter the person, He is able to provide perfect counsel and guidance.  He knows exactly what needs to be done. His course of action is perfect. When you are in need, look to the wonderful Counselor. Call Him the mighty God. Literally the heroic, strong God. This child is God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity and possessor of all the power of God. He is omnipotent. When you connect this name with wonderful Counselor, you get the idea that God in the flesh possesses the ability to carry out to completion all that His plans call for. He is able to say, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Is. 46:10) We tend to grow weak and weary, God does not. He does not sleep.

Call Him everlasting Father.  He is eternal. This child would be father to you and to me. He is always loving; always planning the best for us. Ps. 103:13-14: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” God knows our limitations and strengths, He knows our time frames, He knows what must be accomplished and what time is available to us. Call Him the Prince of peace.  He is the Prince of peace and according to v. 7, “There will be no end to the increase of His government.”  He will conquer the hearts of His people, He will start something as a child that v. 7 says will never stop growing and He will not do it by force, but with gentleness and with peace. The Lord has all it takes to accomplish His plans and will always do what is right and best for us. He draws us with kindness and unending faithfulness and goodness. Our desire should be to do God’s will.

Isaiah saw Him coming; the One that is God’s answer for sinners like you and me. He saw Jesus, the wonderful Counselor; He came with wisdom and purpose, with a perfect plan. Follow Him. As the mighty God, He will accomplish all His plans. Satan tried everything he could to thwart God’s plan through the baby Immanuel. Trust in Him. Rest in Him. He loves us endlessly. Enter into His presence. He reconciles us while we are still his enemies. Trust Him and welcome His guidance in your life. Rom. 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus is the greatest King; the King of all kings whose kingdom and peace will never stop expanding. He is the Rescuer and the Redeemer. He is Jesus, God with us.

Is There Eternal Life?

9 Apr

You can listen to the podcast here.

Today is Easter. This day is of great significance in the life of every Christian. With all the Easter sales around, non-Christians often ask the question, “Is there life after death?” Job asked the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” It’s a question most people ask themselves at some point. There are people that seek to prolong their lives here on earth as long as they can. Jesus asked the question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) The longer you live, the more you realize that life is short. Today we’ll answer the question, “Is there eternal life?”

Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:1-2, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

Paul begins this passage with what Jesus did. The word gospel here comes from the word that means good news. The resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ provides proof positive that there is life after death. Verses 3-5 contain the foundation of our Christian faith. It says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Prophecy in the Old Testament predicted that Messiah was going to die. It said that Jesus would be led like a sheep to the slaughter. His death was not the accidental death of a martyr. It was the deliberate death of a person who offered His life as a sacrifice. On that first Easter morning Jesus Christ walked out of that tomb as a living being. Later when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb to anoint His body, they discovered the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. In Luke 24:6-7 the angel said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?”

Paul goes on to say, “And that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Cor. 15:5-7) After the resurrected Christ appeared to all those people, in v. 8 Paul says, “I know that Jesus lives because I saw Him myself.” Before Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ, he was known as Saul. When Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Saul was not the great man of God that wrote 13 books of the N. T. He was on his way to Damascus with letters in his hand from the high priest giving him permission to bind anyone that believed in the truth of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem. Acts 9 tells us how God intervened in his life and radically transformed him into the man that we have come to know and love named Paul. I encourage you to read this incredible transformation. And now Paul is confused as to why people would deny the reality of life after death. He says, “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say, there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12) Jesus is not standing here and I would guess that no one in here would say they’ve ever seen Jesus physically, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. We’ve got plenty of Scriptural evidence as well as non-biblical evidence to support this fact. Maybe you discount the Bible as the true Word of God. What I know is what Christ has done and continues to do in my life so if you tried to tell me that Jesus did not rise again, I would take exception with you. It’s not just me though, Jesus has radically transformed millions of people. Each person has the choice to believe or not. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Jesus proved there is life after death in His own life and He’ll prove it in your life too.

If there is life after death, what is it like? Great question. In 1 Cor. 15:20 Jesus demonstrated this life after death. Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20) First fruits refers to the O.T. practice of giving the first part of the harvest to the Lord as an offering. Since this is the first part of the harvest, more is to come. In other words, Paul is saying that the resurrection of Christ is not the one and only resurrection, it is the first of what is to come. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 Jo. 3:2) If you want to know what it’s like for a Christian to die and live again, look at Jesus. There are two things we need to know about this life after death. First, there was a separation of the body. Jesus’ last words before He died were, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” (Lu. 23:46) His body died and was subsequently buried, but His Spirit went to be with the Father. To the thief hanging next to Him, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Lu. 23:43) When our bodies die, our spirits live on in eternity. Paul was emphatic in 1 Cor. 5:8, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Second, there is a resurrection of the body. We don’t come back to earth to take over some random person’s body, and we don’t spend a period of time in an undisclosed location to have our sins purged so we can go to heaven. Jesus left behind the cloth that His body was wrapped in. After three days He came back into the tomb to re-inhabit the body He left behind, but it had been changed. He showed people the nail scars in His hands and feet. But it’s not only Jesus that will be resurrected. “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (Jo. 5:28-29) What about those that have been cremated or blown up in a war? Remember that it was God that spoke the universe and all that it contains into existence. He made man from the dust of the ground; putting together a body is no big challenge for Him. Following the death of Lazarus, Jesus told Martha that He would take care of it. Martha protested, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.  Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Jo. 11:39-40) At the place where Lazarus was buried, Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.” (Jo. 11:43-44) Four days, four weeks, four months, four years, 4000 years is all the same. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17) Some might not be able to wrap their brain around that; perhaps it’s too strange. How a baby comes into being is pretty strange, yet no one would deny it. One egg, one sperm coming together – invisible to the naked eye. They form a cell that divides, and divides, and divides. 18 days later a tiny heartbeat begins. Some nine months later and out comes a little human being completely furnished with little hands and feet. Every life that is conceived is miraculous; but it happens so often that we dismiss it.

After Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to the disciples in the upper room. Read Luke 24:37-48. Jesus ate after He rose from the dead. I’m thinking we’ll be able to do the same. We’ll not be floating around playing a harp wearing a halo. We’ll have bodies like Christ’s resurrected body. 1 Cor 15:35  says, “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” Paul responds to this question. Take a look at 1 Cor. 15:36-42. Fish were created with scales so they can live in the water. Birds were created with hollow bones and with feathers so they could fly. God is certainly able to create us with an immortal body that will never perish, spoil, or fade. So if you’re old and decrepit, you’ll be renewed. If you’re blind, you’ll be able to see; the deaf shall hear again. Paul finishes by saying, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55) Just as the disciples recognized Jesus, we’ll recognize one another and the people that have gone before us. There are numerous Old and New Testament examples that confirm this.

So just one question remains. How can we attain eternal life? If life after death could be purchased, what would you pay for it? If I told you all the glorious things of heaven, what you would experience there, who you would meet, what kind of house you would live in: how much would it be worth to you? If I could guarantee that your life after death would be better than the life you now enjoy, how much would you be willing to spend on it? Fortunately, heaven can be purchased: unfortunately we can’t pay the price. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, a place of perfection, and we forfeited our right to be there because of our sin. The price for entry is the blood of a perfect person, and we just don’t measure up. We can’t earn heaven and we don’t deserve heaven, but the good news is that Jesus Christ stepped in to pay the debt for us. 1 Cor. 15:56-57 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The victory comes from believing in what Jesus did on the cross. So why would you refuse this great offer? We have a deep love for sin. On one hand, eternal life doesn’t cost anything. On the other hand, it costs everything. God’s desire is for us to turn from sin to Him. We leave our past behind us and become new. A new life, new goals, new desires, new passions all put in our hearts by a loving, holy, and perfect God. Being a follower of Christ is not in what you have to give up; that’s the wrong perspective. Personal pride gets in the way of this great offer. There are plenty of smart people in this room and maybe you’re too smart for your own good. There is lots of evidence to verify the resurrection of Jesus, but you weren’t there so maybe you doubt. You weren’t at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but you believe it happened. It takes faith.

Eph. 2:8-9 reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith is a simple yet difficult thing. It is a choice.

The Leaders who Missed Christmas

28 Nov

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Here we are in the Christmas season again. I wonder how many will miss the reason we celebrate Christmas? Even Christians who are pressed to the max with school parties, work parties, church parties, neighborhood parties, decorating, baking, and shopping for presents are prone to miss Christmas. In the classic movie A Christmas Carol, we find the tyrannical and unlovable business owner Scrooge complaining every step of the way because poor Bob Cratchet wants half a day off on Christmas. If the story was written toady, the roles would likely be reversed. We would see Scrooge looking forward to Christmas because as a business owner, he would see profits rise. He’d begin advertising before Halloween and offer ridiculous store hours on Black Friday maybe even opening at midnight. Maybe the story would follow how Bob Cratchet developed his complex shopping plan camped out hoping to find those trendy, state of the art gifts for his kids. He probably scanned the 102 million results found on Google by searching Black Friday 2011. Bob would come to despise the Christmas music that begins just after Halloween. Scrooge would love Christmas, Bob Cratchet? Not so much. In the ever increasing commercialism and materialism that is Christmas, can we change the pattern? Do you want to?

Missing Christmas is nothing new. Since the very first Christmas 2000 years ago, people looking for the real meaning of Christmas missed it. In the first century, the Temple was one of the busiest religious centers on the planet. Sacrifices were constantly being offered on behalf of people’s sin. Priests, worshipers, and the religious crowd were ever present. The religious crowd sat around and “discussed” the finer points of the Law. They evaluated the 613 rules they supposed people ought to follow as they interpreted the Law. Somewhat different form the 10 that came down with Moses from Mt. Sinai. They read from and memorized the Torah, they talked about the prophets. They looked for the Messiah. Messiah is born just about 5 miles from where all these religious leaders were. He was born in Bethlehem and not a single Jewish leader made it to the manger. Jesus was laying in the manger for just over a week and probably no one came to see this little boy.

So let’s look at the story that occurs eight days after Jesus was born. Grab your Bible and read Luke 2:21-38. According to Jewish law, male babies are taken to the Temple on the 8th day and circumcised because He was born under the law according to Gal. 4:4. Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the Temple. The reason for Christmas is taken to the Temple, the very place you’d expect to find Messiah. Christmas nearly comes and goes from the Temple just like it comes and goes for many people today. There were two people at the Temple that day however, that were eagerly anticipating Christmas. The religious leaders at the time who earnestly searched for Messiah did not find Him. Even as Messiah hung on the cross 33 years later, the leaders looking for mankind’s deliverer missed Him. How could anything good come out of Nazareth after all? (Jo. 1:46) How can people miss something so obvious? How could they miss something that is apparently so obvious to us? If we were in Jerusalem that day, we would see the hustle and bustle of Temple life. We’d see the steady stream of religious people doing religious things. We’d smell the smells of the sacrifices, hear the animals, hear people laughing and crying – we’d see all the activity. We’d see people so consumed with life and they’d miss Christmas because they were just too busy. These leaders would remain busy for the next 33 years. They missed the miracles, the teaching, the love, the authenticity, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. The religious leaders were so busy doing God’s work that they missed the most important work God ever did for mankind. They had the Law, the prophets, the very Word of God and yet they missed what all of these things pointed to.

It’s not a stretch when we consider what the holiday season has become. Children so excited about what they will receive that they can barely get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Sleep doesn’t last long as many families are awakened by their children in the wee hours of the morning to open presents giving little to no thoughts as to why they’re getting gifts. Christmas has been replaced with consumerism and materialism, with the rush to find a bargain on an item we don’t really need. It shouldn’t shock you to know that few people know the real reason for Christmas. We’ve lost the simplicity of the manger, of the shepherds that were watching their flocks by night. I wonder if we should spend some time in the Temple looking for Christmas.

Did everyone miss Christmas? If we were flies on the wall in the Temple mount, we’d notice two people. The first is a man named Simeon. The second is a woman named Anna. The Pharisees and the Sadducees and most of the religious leaders of the day missed Christmas. I want to focus on these two people that give us some clues on how to avoid missing Christmas. If you want to find Christmas, you must be willing to wait. Simeon is described as, “righteous and devout.” He was upright, just, and God-fearing. He was, “looking for the consolation Israel.” The Messiah was born of very humble beginnings. He didn’t come as the religious leaders thought He would come. The Christ child did not come as royalty, he didn’t come as a major league political figure. He came as a baby, born of a virgin.

Look at Luke 1:68-75. Simeon waited. Luke 2:26 tells us that, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon was apparently an old man that had been looking for that consolation of Israel for a long time. He waited because the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw Christmas. Luke 2:28-32 says, “Then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’” Can you imagine waiting for something for so long and then holding Salvation in your arms? Simeon offers a blessing to Mary and Joseph and then disappears from the pages of Scripture.

Then we come to Anna. 84 years old and she spent all of her time in the Temple area. She served, “Night and day with fastings and prayers.” Compare her to the religious leaders who argued the finer points of the Law, offered a life time of sacrifices and yet still missed the sacrifice for all life. The priests were engaged in continual sacrifices for the people. When you look at God’s design for the Temple, you’ll find the lamp stand, the table of showbread, the basin, the alter – all the materials needed to make sacrifices to God. Did you ever notice that there aren’t any chairs? There was always sacrifices to make; never time to sit. Heb. 10:11-12 tells us, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” The priests were so busy making sacrifices for the people that they missed the sacrifice made for them. Many people in today’s church have bought the same lie that the priests of old did. Busyness equates to spiritual maturity and that is just not true. Simeon and Anna were purposed to find Christmas – to find Messiah, the Christ Child, the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Israel. They waited – they were patient. What part of Christmas today is patient? Is it the packed shopping centers and the traffic jams? Is it the pushing and the shoving in the lines to get into the stores at midnight on Thanksgiving Day? Is it the after Christmas sales that now begin before Christmas?

What will you do to avoid missing Christmas? How will you reconnect with the original Christmas? You’ve heard of the still, small voice of God? I wonder how well you can hear that in a crowded mall? I encourage you at some point very soon, get alone with God and listen to Him – and wait until you hear Him. If you want to embrace what that first Christmas was like, you’re going to have to wait like Simeon and Anna did. And it doesn’t matter if everyone around you misses it.

You must trust that God will keep His promises. Simeon waited a lifetime to see God’s promise. When he saw Jesus, Simeon knew the promise had been kept. Anna waited decades. It’s significant to note that she was a prophetess. That means as she waited for the redemption of Israel, she told others about the Christ. I’m sure that included telling people of the promises of God. The promises that include telling people that God will never leave you nor forsake you. That is comforting considering that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. Maybe this holiday season will be filled with new normals. A new marriage. New babies. Maybe your children were married this past year. Maybe this is the first year without that loved one. We can stand on the promises that God will not leave you; He will be with you to help you as you go through this time of year. Contrary to popular opinion, this time of year produces 40% fewer suicides than at other times. He will be there with you, will you trust Him?

You must be willing to proclaim what God has done. Simeon and Anna never considered keeping the good news to themselves. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph what Jesus’ future holds. As soon as she saw the child Anna, “Came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Don’t neglect to tell people what God has done in you.

At the center of Christmas is this gift that has been prepared for you. Don’t miss the gift of God among the gifts of men. Don’t miss the center of Christmas and that is the Christ child that was sent to save mankind from themselves. God willingly sent Jesus just for you. He came as the King of kings and the leaders of His days missed Him. Don’t miss Christmas this year.

The Wondrous Cross

25 Apr

You can listen to the podcast here.

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.

The Miracle of the Message

13 Dec

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

While in Romania and Bulgaria, I found it difficult to communicate. My Romanian is limited and my Bulgarian is non-existent. I continue to be amazed by people who speak multiple languages. As I listened to people communicate in their own language and listen to the translations occurring in real time, I was amazed. We’re so busy pursuing our own agenda that sometimes when God is speaking to us it’s like listening to a different language. We can pick up bits and pieces of the conversation, but we don’t fully grasp what He is saying to us. We need to experience the miracle of Christmas in our own hearts and lives. Today, we’re going to focus on the miracle of the message.

Heb. 1:1-2 says. God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

In the past God spoke to our ancestors many different times and in many different ways. God has not been silent. God communicates.  He desires to connect with us. He is not an idea to be thought about. He is a person to be listened to and understood, enjoyed and obeyed.  God has been speaking throughout history to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to know Him, to love Him, to worship Him. Heb. 1:1-2 describe the incredible variety of God’s communication. God reveals Himself through His creation, through the sunrise and sunset. Through the sun, moon and stars. God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. He spoke to the Israelites through smoke and fire. He spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice; to Isaiah in a vision in the temple. God spoke to Hosea through his family circumstances and to Amos in a basket of fruit. He spoke to Jeremiah through a potter’s clay and to Joseph through dreams. God even spoke His message through a donkey.

God has been speaking His message through visions and dreams, through angels, through Urim and Thummim, through symbols, natural events, and many other ways. He revealed Himself in Ur of the Chaldees, in Haran, in Canaan, Egypt, and Babylon. There is no lack of variety in the way God chooses to reveal himself to us. Throughout history God speaks, but not always in the same place in the same way.

There were 400 years of prophetic silence before Christmas occurred. After Malachi prophesied, it wasn’t until the angel appeared to Zacharias with the news that Elizabeth would give birth to a son named John that prophecy returned. Then John the baptizer comes on the scene pointing to the Christ that is coming. The O.T. continually points to the Messiah, to the One that would save people from their sin. Many people just didn’t get the miracle of the message.

God sent His one and only Son in order to bring His message to us. He was a living example to us. Some people learn primarily from reading, some primarily from watching. Most learn best from a combination and Jesus provides us the best of both worlds. His message is one we can understand. “In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son.” That’s the miracle. God speaks to us through Jesus. It’s still in a variety of ways, but the message is Jesus. God sent Jesus to show us the way. We can understand God’s character by knowing Christ’s character. Jesus is the living God, the incarnate God, the perfect God, the loving God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jo. 1:14) God’s love for us is infinitely immeasurable. He didn’t just talk about His love. The miracle of the message is that God did something that we could see, something we could touch, something we could understand, someone we could believe in.

Heb. 1:3 goes on to say, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” John describes Jesus as the Word becoming flesh and living with us. If you want to find out what God is like, look at Jesus. Speaking to Phillip Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jo. 14:9) In John 10:30 Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” It’s not just that God spoke to us in the past; He still speaks today. We can know Him. We can draw near to Him. He understands what you’re going through. He loves us and cares for us and understands us. He understands our pains and problems, He understands our trials and temptations. He is trying to communicate His message to us today. The creator of the universe and all that is in it, the One that sustains all that exists wants to speak to you and me so that we come to know and love Him. The miracle of the message is not just that God speaks to us today through His Son, but that the message has the power to transform our lives.

Think about some of the messages that have changed history in our lifetime. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” We have lost the space shuttle Challenger. Y2K. A plane has flown into the World Trade Center. But messages don’t always have global or national impact. Many times messages are personal. Congratulations, it’s a boy. I’m sorry, we have to let you go. I’m sorry to tell you that your husband has been killed. There is no going back.  The message changes everything. The miracle of the message is the transforming power of the message. Christmas is the celebration of the greatest message ever proclaimed. God is with us. He came near so that we could draw near to Him.  1 Tim. 2:6 says Jesus, “Gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” The miracle of the message is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Jesus came so that God could reveal Himself and His plan to us in a way that we could understand. Jesus came to proclaim God’s message that we can be set free from sin’s power in our lives.

Why would God do that? Simply because He loves us with a perfect, everlasting love. He wants us to know He created us with a purpose. He wants us to experience the life He wants for us. We can live with hope – no shame, no guilt, no regret.

Some of you this past year have received messages that have changed your life. You heard the message from a doctor, or from your child, or from your spouse. Because of that message, your life has changed. Maybe you’re hearing a message that says you’ll never amount to anything; your life is not worth living. Maybe you feel like you are all alone. But in the midst of all the other messages that bombard us every day there is one message that stands out. God is trying to communicate His message to you this Christmas. He desperately wants to reveal Himself to you this Christmas. His message also changes everything. When we listen and believe His message, our lives are transformed. Prov. 3:5-6 tells us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

The miracle of Christmas is the miracle of the message – God loves you. Are you listening?

Thanks again to the good folks at Lifeway for providing the idea and some of the content for this message series.