Sermon Briefs for November 4 – December 30, 2007
November 4: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
November 11: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
November 18: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
November 25: Colossians 1:15-20
December 2: Romans 13:11-14
December 9: Isaiah 11:1-10
December 16: matthew 11:2-6
December 23: matthew 1:18-25
December 30: matthew 2:13-23
November 4, 2007
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Title: Ready or Not, He’s Coming!
Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
My grandchildren like to play hide and seek. Everyone runs to hide before they hear, “Ready or not, I’m coming.” For a while in her early pre-school years, my granddaughter Morgan would hide and if the seeker went past her place she would exclaim, “Here I am!” She liked to be found. It would be wonderful if everyone had that desire for the coming of the Lord. Yet, whether we are ready or not, He’s coming!
Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the triumphant return of Jesus at the close of this world age. That theme is expanded in the second letter to the Thessalonians. Notice in verse 7 this event is only a matter of “when” it happens, not if. His coming is a “revelation” (v. 7), like a curtain pulled back from the stage of history. The universe will see the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan. But what will God see in us? Will we be ready?
Be ready for His coming by persevering through your troubles (vv. 1-4).
Paul boasted about the Thessalonians “perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials” they endured (v. 4). Our conversion to Christ does not make us immune to trouble. The unbelieving world isn’t usually very responsive to a dedicated Christian life with new values and goals. Old friends may not share these commitments; Satan’s harassment tries to sidetrack our journey. The Tempter works hard to get a stronghold in our mind with the thoughts: Does Christ Care? Does God understand? Why doesn’t He do something about this trouble?
In view of His coming, we best persevere through trouble when “faith is growing more and more” and “the love every one of you has for each other is increasing” (v. 3). If we are looking up to Him and looking out for others, it will be much more difficult for trouble to get us down.
In trouble we discover the deeper reality of God’s sufficiency. Take a Bible concordance and check the many references that declare God “is able” to sustain us and carry us through every trouble until He comes.We are able to persevere because of His work of grace in us. In trouble we also discover the deeper relationships with God’s people in prayer, mutual support and sharing of resources.
Be ready for His coming by trusting in God’s justice (vv. 5-7).
The Lord’s coming is a revelation of God’s justice – “God is just; He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled” (v. 6). History’s last chapter is His Story. His righteous judgment will vindicate those who suffer for righteousness. This should remove any vindictive spirit and anger from a Christian.
Trusting in God’s justice brings “relief” (v. 7) to the believer.We have no need to be anxious about how things will work out. God is at work in all things for the good of those who love Him.
Be ready for His coming by obeying the gospel (vv. 8-12).
The Lord’s coming reveals how individuals have responded to the “gospel of our Lord Jesus.” The Scripture reminds us of the Great Divide that is coming between those who “do not know God and do not obey the gospel” (v. 8) and “his holy people and all those who have believed” (v. 10).
The future is not annihilation into nothingness. The future is not recycling into some better state here. The future is one of two options: “shut out from the presence of the Lord” (v. 9) or “glorified in his holy people” (v. 10). Are you ready? Are you believing?
The future reality should motivate God’s people to share the gospel with the lost and dying. It is not God’s will that any should perish; it is His will that we share the Good News so that everyone has an opportunity to believe and be saved.
Obeying the gospel is also more than a life insurance policy. Our sharing the good news must be backed up by living each day to fulfill God’s purpose (vv. 11-12). “With this in mind,” Paul wrote. With the Lord’s coming in view, how should we live? Live by obeying the gospel through which you were saved. Live worthy of His calling. Live by walking in His power. Live according to His purpose. Live by faith. Live for His glory.
Ready or not, He’s coming! Be ready!
By Bill D. Whittaker
November 11, 2007
24th Sunday after Pentecost
Title: The Darkness before the Dawn
Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
With sensitivity and compassion, a physician gave the results of medical tests to the parents of a seven-year-old. Struck with a rare form of cancer, their son faced a long road to recovery. The doctor tried to encourage and yet be honest about the risks. They were told there would be much darkness before the dawn. The brightest light came on the day their son acknowledged Jesus as Savior. He was prepared for any darkness.
The Thessalonian Christians were given an honest word about the future they faced. We face it also. It isn’t a word we like to hear in this Thanksgiving season. We like to feast and celebrate the good things of life. We need to be reminded about the darkness before the dawn. No one can adequately face that darkness without Jesus.
Many times Paul wrote about the sudden return of the Lord. Apparently some misinterpreted that message and thought “sudden” meant “immediate,” or that the Lord had already come. This text clarifies that word and describes two events that will precede the Lord’s return. Prior to His coming, a “rebellion” against God will occur and “the man of lawlessness” will be revealed (v. 3).
Jesus had predicted this falling away in Matthew 24:10-13. It doesn’t describe believers falling out of grace. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and no one shall snatch them out of His hand. This does mean the faith of the fathers, adhered to by the children in a merely formal way, will be abandoned by many. This apostasy will have a leader, “the man of lawlessness.” This active and aggressive transgressor is lawless because He is aware of God’s law and defies it.
The Revelation (vv. 1-4)
We are not left without help in recognizing this “man of lawlessness.” He is to be “revealed” (v. 3). It is clear that this is an individual and not Satan, but he will come “in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (v. 9). This is definitely a person of the end times, not an abstract power or the concept of evil.
The principle of lawlessness, present since the rebellion of Adam and Eve and powerfully at work today, will finally become embodied in “the man of lawlessness.” The description of this individual is filled with personal aspects – opposes, exalts himself, seats himself in the temple of God and proclaims himself to be God.
It appears this “man of lawlessness” is the Anti-Christ. Christ is a person; is it not likely that the Anti-Christ will also be a person. He isn’t the Roman Emperor, for he will come at the end time. Throughout history other individuals or positions, some religious persons included, have been pointed to as the fulfillment of this man. We await the revelation.
The background for this passage is in Daniel 7-8 where similar words are used to describe the great and final prince of wickedness. The bottom line is an individual who opposes God’s law, the very personification of rebellion against God’s way. He is the final Judas, the utterly lost one. He is the adversary of God, God’s people, God’s word and God’s way. He will exalt himself against all that is sacred and recognize only one god – himself. Be aware of this revelation and constantly on guard.
The Restraint (vv. 5-7)
Our Sovereign God restrains this evil one until “the proper time” (v. 6). Yet the “power of lawlessness is already at work” (v. 7). The Holy Spirit seals the believer and we are protected against the ultimate power of evil. The conflict continues until God’s time is fulfilled.
Why the restraint? Is it to give us time for evangelism? Is it to give us time for harvesting? How frustrating it must be for Satan and his forces to be under restraint, unable to put his plans into operation. How pleased he must be about our reluctance to take advantage of this restraint and become bold witnesses.
The Requiem (vv. 8- 17)
The death song can be started – “the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming” (v. 8). The outcome is already settled, only the final battle remains. The man of sin will be slain and his plan abolished, utterly defeated and rendered useless. Just Christ’s appearance will be enough!
The end will be a requiem for the man of lawlessness and “all who have not believed the truth” (v. 12). As in 2 Thessalonians 1 with the coming of the Lord, here Paul also emphasizes the need for a personal decision. Why do some people perish? It is not the will of God. “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). Why do some people live? They are “saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (v. 13).
Dark days are coming; how shall we face them? We must “stand firm and hold to” the gospel. We can live through the darkness and rejoice in the dawn of Christ’s glory because “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope” (v. 17). From Him we find encouragement for our hearts and strength to accomplish his good will.
(Bill D. Whittaker)
November 18, 2007
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Title: No Time to be Idle
Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Thanksgiving brings to many of us an opportunity to relax, enjoy family and feast on favorite family recipes. But it doesn’t happen without somebody paying the price of work. Your kitchen may contain the sign that hangs in my youngest daughter’s house, “The kitchen is only here because it came with the house.” But if you feast, even in a restaurant, somebody does the work of preparation and somebody will do the follow-up.
While teaching ministry students, I often told them there are three secrets to a successful ministry – work, work, work. The same is true for all of life. Paul affirms the value of meaningful work in the closing section of his second letter to the Thessalonians. Did some of Paul’s hearers interpret his frequent emphasis on the Lord’s coming as a time to stop working and just pray and watch? If so, he firmly corrects that fallacy. His word remains relevant. Why is it not a time to be idle?
Idleness is contrary to God’s truth (vv. 6-10).
Paul held the idle to a two-fold standard – “the teaching…our example,” God’s truth is the source of this standard. Paul’s life lived out the teaching of the Lord Jesus. He had passed that teaching on to them and now some of them lived in violation of that deposit of truth.
In contrast to Greek myths and gods who laid around in leisure, God’s word opens with the account of a working God creating the world and then “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Gen. 2:2). Humanity, created in God’s image, was given a world to care for and a life of creative, purposeful work opportunities.
Idleness is contrary to God’s truth. God manifest Himself in Christ, a carpenter until He launched out “to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Jesus said, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17).
Idleness undermines the testimony of a person who claims to know the truth. Paul was not exalting himself when he encouraged the Thessalonians to “follow our example.” All of us need mentors and examples of the Christian life. Paul claimed the record that he was “not idle when we were with you” (v. 7). He refused to take advantage of his position and try to get something for nothing. The example of truth is to work, even “laboring and toiling” (v. 8) when necessary and certainly not becoming an unnecessary burden upon others. This is all done to “become a model for you to follow” (v.9).
Is our work life an incarnation of Christian truth? Statistics indicate business and industry lose billions from employee theft, unproductive use of time and abuse of benefits. The Christian should be the best employee a firm has on the payroll.
Idleness is counterproductive to life (vv. 11-12).
Those who are idle “are not busy; they are busybodies.” You may have heard your parents say, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.” Fewer children are reared on farms and have fewer options for chores, but a parent still has amble opportunities to assign tasks and teach children the value of work and the reward of achieving results from work. Idle time filled with computer games and “MySpace” chatting can be counterproductive.
2007 celebrates the 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown. One problem in their survival was the attitude toward work held by the aristocrats in the settlement. In England their servants had done the work and many of them felt manual labor was “beneath them.” The new colony needed everyone involved. Settlement leaders applied Paul’s injunction, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
Since idleness is contrary to the truth and counterproductive to life, what’s the remedy?
Instead of idleness do what is right (v. 13).
One action in the right direction involves those whom we adopt as models and allow to influence our lifestyle. Scripture tells us to “keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received” (v. 6). Our attitude and action toward these poor examples must be positive – “do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (v. 15).
What is the right thing to do? Live and work according to God’s truth. While time is still available, work as God’s steward (Matt. 25:14-30; Eph. 6:5-7; Col. 3:23-24). Refuse to be an unnecessary burden on others. Utilize your work relationships as a positive witness for Christ.
All time is holy; regard none as “idle.” With the strength supplied by God utilize time for “every good deed and word” (2:17) and “never tire of doing what is right.” (Bill D. Whittaker)
November 25, 2007
Christ the King Sunday
Title: Can The Center Hold
Text: Colossians 1:15-20
In a time of societal drift and moral free fall, the question can fairly be asked: “Can the center hold?” William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet, in his work The Second Coming is dubious:
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Yet Scripture is clear: “He (Christ) is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus Christ is the unifying and cohesive center of all reality.
He is the connector, the living linkage, the vital bond of all things, the glue which holds. He “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
What the nucleus is to the atom and all of its particles and quarks, so is Jesus Christ and we can count on Him!
Jesus Christ is the cohesive center of all creation (vv. 15-17).
Jesus Christ – who is “the image of the invisible God” – is the Lord of the whole of creation. He is “the firstborn over all creation” (not a created being Himself but preeminent over the entire creation; cf. Exodus 4:22 of Israel among the nations). He has this rank because He is the creator of all things. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). When Jesus said: “Behold the lilies of the field and the birds of the air,” He was calling attention to His own magnificent handiwork.
And he also keeps it all going. Kierkegaard told of a man who worried that the earth would stop rotating on its axis. He went bananas. There are 10 octillion observable stars in our infinitely expanding universe (our sun being a very minor star). Traveling at the speed of light (186,282 miles per second) it would take us 10 billion years to reach the farthest of these stars. And who keeps all of this in sync? Do you think we who are His children can trust Him?
Jesus Christ is the cohesive center of the Christian Church (vv. 18-19a).
Jesus Christ is “the head of the body.” The body is the church, which consists of all who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into that unique spiritual organism Christ is building. The blight of sin ruined and ravaged the first creation. But “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). The Church is “his new creation, by water and the blood.”
Sometimes the church seems to precarious, so fragile. After all we are but one generation from extinction. A recent book is entitled: Love Jesus. Hate the Church. At times the church seems so inept (aren’t we though?). Someone has said the church reminds us of Noah’s ark – if it weren’t for the storm outside, we couldn’t stand the stink inside. How can we fly like eagles when we are cooped up with all those turkeys?
Yet the church, with all of our human imperfection, will be presented to the Father by the Son as “a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph. 5:27). The church is being built by Christ on a firm foundation, for He is that foundation!
Everything depends on the foundation! Our beautiful John Hancock Center towering over the “miracle mile” on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, sends 239 giant steel and concrete caissons far below the sandy loam soil into the Niagaran bedrock which undulates beneath our city. 181 caissons go down one hundred feet; 58 go down two hundred feet. We are anchored in Christ who is head of the body and Lord of the church!
Jesus Christ is the cohesive center of Christian experience (vv. 19b-22).
And all of this occurs through a wonderful way of salvation. Christ – in whom all of God’s fullness dwells – has decisively attacked the sin and alienation which bind and enslave us. Now God proposes reconciliation through His Son, “who has made peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
The Chicago Temple is housed in a tall office building on top of which is a lighted cross. A crowd of onlookers watched some men way up at the cross. “What’s the problem?” some asked. Someone answered, “The problem is, the cross isn’t working!”
But the cross of Christ is still working after 2000 years. All kinds of folk all around the world are still coming into a right relationship with God through the perfect atonement of the Lord Jesus. [A good conclusion and bridge to the invitation would be a personal testimony of coming to faith by or from the preacher or someone else.] It is Christ the center who holds everything together! Glory! (David L. Larsen)
December 2, 2007
1st Sunday in Advent
Title: The Trumpet Call to Transformed Life
Text: Romans 13:11-14
The first advent of Christ had been long-promised and it seemed long-delayed.
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:5). The religious establishment and most in Israel had seen expectancy dim and die out.
Yet a remnant, “the devout in the land” they were called, was ready – Simeon in the Temple and aged Anna, Joseph and Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43).
Similarly, God’s own are often told in Scripture to be ready for the Second Advent. Are we among those who “eagerly wait for” his second appearance (Heb. 9:28)? Do we “long for his appearance?” (2 Tim. 4:8).
A resounding blast of the Biblical bugle is calculated by the Apostle Paul to arouse and startle us out of our lethargy and carelessness.
We need to be aware (v. 11).
“Understanding the present time, the hour has come…” Christians must be in a constant state of readiness and alertness “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). Discernment is required to “test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). In this we need to resemble the men of Issachar in the Old Testament, “who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron. 12:32). Our Lord himself had such a deft and clear understanding of “his hour” (John 17:2). He faulted religious leaders for not “interpreting the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3).
We need not only careful exegesis of Scripture but we need to exegete culture – what are the trends in the world, the nation, the family, in our society, the church, etc.? What are those realities to which we need to be alert and aware?
We need to be awake (vv. 11b-12a).
The world slumbers in the deep sleep of spiritual death but we have responded to His call: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14). In the darkest midnight in Egypt, the children of Israel “had light in the places where they lived” (Ex. 10:23).
In Pilgrim’s Progress, as Christian and Faithful were almost at the end of their journey, they came to the Enchanted Ground, one of the most dangerous places they encountered. Here a miasma of deep sleep threatened ruin. Are we awake or have we dozed off into spiritual slumber-land? The offspring who sleeps in the day of harvest brings shame (Prov. 20:5). While men slept, the tares were sown in the field (Matt. 13:25).
Sleep can be a fatal disengagement, as when the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration were heavy with sleep (Luke 9:32) or in Gethsemane where the followers of Jesus were drowsy (Matt. 26:40). All of the 10 virgins fell asleep (Matt. 25:5). Much of the professing church today seems to have succumbed to sleeping sickness (encephalitis lethargica). If our Master returns in the second or third watch of the night, will we be ready?
We need to arm appropriately (vv. 12-14).
The summons is to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The inappropriate behavior is catalogued (v. 13). Are we ready for the Lord’s return or are we reluctant to “come into the fight?” (John 3:19-21). Rather, we are to be “clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Recall how young Augustine – who was raised so soundly but long strayed from what he knew to be right – heard the voice in the garden: “Take up and read.” He opened the Bible on the table and read these powerful words (vv. 12-14). This was the turning point in his life. [You can review the deeply moving description of this awakening as found in Book 8 of The Confessions, where he says: “No further would I read, nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away,” 8:29-30]. Then he and those close to him went into the waters of baptism and totally new chapters in their lives.
Do you hear the trumpet? Christ is calling you to a transformed life. As the Word says, “The day is almost here!”
(David L. Larsen)
December 07, 2007
2nd Sunday in Advent
Title: A Profile of the Prince of Peace
Text: Isaiah 11:1-10
Eight hundred years before Christ’s birth, the prophet Isaiah gives us profile of the coming Prince of Peter 9Is.. 9:6). His prophetic vision is vast and spacious: “Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom” (v. 7).
We are living in a time when the approval ratings for world leaders are almost universally at record lows. People are dissatisfied and restless. Some of these high government officials may be upright, but the problems are so overwhelming and complex that leadership is unable to rise to the challenge.
Since we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven,” it would be profitable for us meditate and ponder God’s king, our Lord Jesus Christ.
“I have installed my King, on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6). How shall we recognize Him who is “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords?”
We’ll know Him by the character of his government (vv. 1-3).
Jesus is “a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch bearing fruit…” God promised King David a rule in perpetuity (2 Sam. 7:16). The Son of God “as to his human nature was a descendant of David” (Rom. 12). He is called the “Branch who will bear fruit” (11:1b). Four times in the OT Jesus is called “the Branch” (Isa. 4:2, Jer. 23:56, Zech. 3:8 and 6:12-13). But the word here is twig or sprout and describes “the insignificance and unobtrusiveness of the Messiah in his first advent’ (David Baron). He is the despised one.
Yet revel in how “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him….” and the sevenfold characterization of His reign. All of these qualities will overflow in this Spirit-drenched governance. His coming kingdom will be established and upheld “with justice and righteousness” (9:7b). This is why I am an optimist! I am a short-range pessimist about our human ability to solve problems but a long-range optimist because Jesus wins!
We’ll know Him by the quality of his judgment (vv. 4-5).
Even the United States Supreme Court speaks of “the changing standards of decency” in our country. But this means there are no standards of decency. The Kingdom of God in its present and ultimate form is founded on the unchanging standards of God’s moral judgment.
Daniel Webster testified that the driving awareness of his life was his “moral accountability to God.” God is the judge of all and he will do right (Gen. 18:25b). The message of Christianity is predicated on the Holy Spirit’s convicting humankind of “sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Paul’s message included “judgment to come” as an essential component (Acts 24:25). Preaching that skips divine judgment is seriously defective.
Ponder the qualities of his judgment – its fairness, equity, concern for the disenfranchised and the poor and helpless. He will bring every work of man into judgment but “righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (11:5).
Dickens’ Bleak House (recently shown on public television) is an unhinging take on a failed judicial system caught up in favoritism, delay and unfairness. We shall all give an account to God and we can be sure of it – there will never be any miscarriage of justice. Holy and just are all His judgments.
We’ll know Him by the consummation of His glorious kingdom (vv. 6-10).
The prophet returns to his theme of peace on earth when “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (2:4c). The agony of “nature red with tooth and claw” will be over and the carnage and violence which afflict humankind will be ended. At the center of this unspeakable bliss and harmony on earth is the reign of Christ, “whose place of rest will be glorious” (11:10). [This would be a great moment to flash on the screen Edward Hicks’ magnificent painting, “Peaceable Kingdom” with the carnivorous animals with the lambs and little children.]
In Christ, we share a vision for world peace. But unlike the world, we recognize that true peace will never come apart from the Lord Jesus Christ.
(David L. Larsen)
December 23, 2007
3rd Sunday of Advent
Title: Dumping Disappointment
Text: Matthew 11:2-6
It was stunning prediction. After years of Bible study, a Baptist minister named William Miller taught that Jesus would return to the earth sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. As the story dominated the nation’s headlines, scholars estimate that as many as 100,000 people aligned themselves with Miller’s teaching. They were called Millerites.
The dates passed. Miller revised his estimates and projected a new date of October 22, 1844, but it passed, too. All over the United States, people gathered on hilltops and in churches, looking for Jesus to return. As people grew disillusioned, they left the movement. Others left faith behind forever. Later historians called the event “the Great Disappointment.” Miller continued to wait until his death in 1849.
All of us have faced disappointments, sometimes quite severe. How can you survive an experience of deep disappointment?
Take every doubt to Jesus (vv. 2-3).
Doubt is the seed that bears the bitter fruit of disappointment. Do you struggle with doubts about God or His love for you? John found himself sitting in a cold, dark prison cell after preaching to vast crowds. His message forecast the imminent arrival of an awesome Savior, who would come and deliver His people from all of their enemies. He warned his hearers to turn to God and seek His forgiveness now, before it was too late! Many did.
Then it all stopped abruptly. Arrested by an offended king, John found himself cut off from the outside world. During those long, dark nights, did he wonder how long it would be before Jesus rescued him? It would have been natural to expect deliverance: John had baptized Jesus and heard the Father call Him “Son.” He knew Jesus as the Anointed One: the Messiah!
When the deliverance failed to come, did John experience doubt? Why was he still in prison? With mounting concern, John sent his followers to Jesus with the question burning in his soul: are you the Coming One?
John is a true seeker. He took his question directly to Jesus. When confronted with disturbing questions about God, life, or self, Jesus is the one I need to turn to, not run from.
Review every “faith-shaking” experience through the Scripture (vv. 4-5).
Jesus was not offended by John’s question. He calmly directed John’s followers to report the details of His ministry, marked by miraculous healings and a life-changing message of hope for the needy. The miracles perfectly paralleled the descriptions of the Messiah’s work found in Isaiah 35 and 61.
But John knew this already! John framed his question after hearing about the “works of Christ” (v. 2) being performed outside the prison. How was Jesus helping by simply confirming what John already knew?
He was pointing John back to the Scriptures as his only tool for processing a “faith-shaking” experience. In the face of disorienting questions, the Scripture alone will provide the emotional and intellectual handles to grasp all available truth about my experience. Although Scripture may not provide an answer to every question I have, it is in the Bible that I will find sufficient insight to calm the troubled waters of my soul.
Release unfulfilled expectations (v. 6).
“If God really loved me, then He should…” Have you ever thought like that? Similarly, John could confirm the biblical truth about Jesus and His identity, but how could he reconcile that truth with the fact that he was still in prison?
Theologians have long since pointed out that there is a “now” and a “not yet” arrival of God’s Kingdom rule among us. Through answered prayer and ongoing miraculous events, God’s rule continues to be expressed today. Yet sickness still prevails and evil still seems to triumph. The full expression of God’s rule and reign among men is yet to come – but “not yet.”
In verse 5, Jesus alludes to Isaiah 35:5-6 which clearly describes the miracles He was performing. The same passage also describes ultimate judgment, a message John had preached with fervor prior to his arrest. John clearly expected God to come immediately “with vengeance” and “with the recompense of God” (Isa. 35:4). John was not wrong about God’s ultimate triumph over His enemies – it was just “not yet.”
Disappointment grows in the gap that lies between my expectations of God and my experience of God. Expectations are raised when the eyes of faith pore over the promises of God found in the Scriptures, but God alone knows what He is going to do – I do not.
Jesus told John that great blessing belongs to the person who does not trip over his unfulfilled expectations of how God is going to do something. Never let go of God’s promises, but hang loosely to your expectations. God’s fulfillment of His promises may be very different from what you expect!
Pursue patient obedience to a living Lord (v. 6).
So what can you do? Be patient and seek an authentic relationship with the King of the Universe who has a plan for your life. He is no distant observer, but an active leader. He will come and guide your life. This is the blessing Jesus promised to John: do not let disappointment or dashed expectations drive you away from God; let them drive you to God. (Don Pucik)
December 23, 2007
4th Sunday of Advent
Title: What Do You Give The Person Who has Everything
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Have you ever struggled to locate the perfect gift for that special person who needs nothing, wants nothing, and seemingly has everything? Each year since 1926, Neiman Marcus has published the “Christmas Book,” filled with the best gifts for the very best people (of course). Recent gift offerings included a private water park for that special someone’s backyard ($100,000), or a limited edition BMW Individual M6 Convertible ($139,000) or a private charter trip to outer space ($1.7 million).
If these are the kind of gifts you might buy for the ultra-wealthy, what would you give the Person who truly owned everything? What can you give to God this Christmas season?
In the New Testament, Joseph illustrates the gifts God most desires from you and me. What are they?
A Merciful Spirit (vv. 18-19)
How would you have reacted? You make the shocking discovery that your fiancé is expecting someone else’s baby! The Jewish engagement in Joseph’s day was arranged by parents on behalf of their children. It lasted for one year and was a legally binding agreement: the couple was already considered man and wife.
So Mary’s apparent indiscretion was an outrage. The shame and the embarrassment must have been overwhelming. Although stoning was no longer the ultimate punishment for this sin (Deut. 22:23), Joseph still possessed the ability to hurt Mary deeply. In his mind he only had two choices: (1) a very messy, public legal proceeding involving charges of gross immorality; or (2) a very quiet divorce involving two witnesses.
Joseph pursued justice and mercy. He determined to do what was right, but he would do no harm to Mary. He chose to handle the matter quietly. Joseph displayed a merciful spirit.
Vengeance and retaliation should never be found in our relational toolbox. On one occasion a Samaritan village denied Jesus and his followers customary hospitality because of their race – a true hate crime. The angry disciples asked Jesus whether they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Jesus quietly replied: “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of ” (Luke 9:55 NAS).
Joseph’s possessed a merciful spirit, the perfect gift for the Person who has everything!
A Sensitive Conscience (v. 20)
As Joseph continues to reflect over his options, an angel from God appeared to him in a dream and explained what was really happening to Mary. In the announcement, the angel said to Joseph “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”
Joseph was afraid, but of what? Was he afraid of Mary? No. He obviously cared for her very much, genuinely struggling to know how to respond to her condition. Was he afraid others would think he was the guilty father of Mary’s child? Surely not. The humiliation of Mary through public charges would have been sufficient to clear him of being the father.
Joseph was afraid of offending God. The baby was not his. Mary’s baby and Mary’s heart belonged to another man (or so he would have thought). In Lev. 21:7 the priests who stood before God were forbidden from marrying a woman like Mary – would making Mary his wife now offend God? Joseph was clearly torn between his love for Mary and his desire to honor God in everything he did.
He struggled to maintain a tender, sensitive conscience, the perfect gift for the Person who has everything!
A Teachable Attitude (vv. 20-23)
The words from the angel were stunning! In a few phrases, Joseph learned the truth about the baby and Mary. The angel calls Joseph a “son of David,” but the baby has no earthly father, for he is “of the Holy Spirit.” His name will be Jesus – meaning “the Lord saves” – because His mission in life will be to rescue the people of God from their own sins. And the most stunning news item of all? Joseph understands that he is being commanded to take Mary as his wife (v. 24).
Up to this moment Joseph has been developing a well-reasoned, biblical course of action. He is going to do what is right, but not at Mary’s expense. He is wondering if there are any other options – the angel appears in a dream “while he thought about these things.” He is open to new information. He is ready to revise his thinking as contemplates the best course to take. He is teachable.
Joseph was easily re-directed by God because he had a teachable attitude, the perfect gift for the Person who has everything!
A Decisive Obedience (vv. 24-25)
Joseph awakened with a set of instructions from God Himself. The dream represented a life-defining encounter with the will of God. Joseph acts immediately, receiving Mary as his wife and giving the name Jesus to the baby born a few short months later.
Joseph does not hesitate. Once he reaches a conclusion regarding God’s will, Joseph decisively and aggressively obeys God. That’s the perfect gift for the Person who has everything. (Don Pucik)
December 30, 2007
1st Sunday After Christmas
Title: Born for Battle
Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Can you think of something that you were never any good at but wanted to be? You tried your best. You took lessons. You read books. You practiced. But it was no use – you were never going to be any good at it. Others may have been born for the task but not you.
Baseball was that way for me in the second grade. I was just no good. The coach did everyone a favor by leaving me on the bench most games. I got a “hit” once when the ball bounced off of my knee on a line drive to second base. I still remember the cheers from the stands as they carried me off the field. I had never heard cheers before!
Unlike my experience with baseball, Jesus was born for battle. From infancy, He encountered enemies that wanted to eradicate His mission by destroying Him! The fight rages on to this day and He calls us to join him. How?
Check your worldview (vv. 13-15)
In the middle of the night Joseph received a message from God: Herod is coming to “destroy the child.” Narrowly escaping to Egypt, the baby Jesus escaped the mass murder of all male infants and toddlers in Bethlehem.
Are you shocked? Or is this story a horrific reminder that the world we live in is at war? Evil is not simply an idea or an act. Evil is fueled by an individual consciousness nearly as old as creation itself. Millennia ago, the Bible explains that some of God’s creatures rebelled. The angels sinned. Man sinned. The world as God intended devolved into moral and spiritual chaos. Trapped in a very real spiritual war, we have enemies and we need a Savior!
Check your heart (vv. 16-18).
After a lifetime of hatred and power-mongering, Herod is now determined to stamp out a divinely prophesied rival for his throne! Angered when the wise men fail to lead him to the child, he sent his troops to massacre the little ones of Bethlehem. Like so many senseless acts of violence and cruelty in the modern world, Herod raises the question: why would God allow such pain?
Preoccupation with this question can derail individual faith. A better question might be “who is responsible for the pain? Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), a liar, and a murderer (John 8:44), who steals truth from the hearts of people who do not know God (Matt. 13:19), and is keeping them blind to the reality of a living God (2 Cor. 4:4). He animates evil in the world, influencing and empowering those who do not know God to reject God and do everything that is offensive to God (1 John 5:19). According to the Scriptures, human suffering is a consequence of a very deadly warfare raging around our souls.
The issue is not a question for the head. We need to check our heart. How does God react to widespread human suffering and pain? In Matthew 9:35-36, the Bible says Jesus was “moved with compassion” in the face of human suffering. He cares and so should we. We should not collapse into philosophical queries in the face of human pain, but we should care deeply enough to be motivated to action.
Check your leader (vv. 19-20).
In this story we observe evil in motion, making repeated attempts to snuff out the life of the young Jesus. We also see almighty God comprehending and thwarting the enemy. Through the wise men, He provided financial support for a move to and from Egypt. In his sleep, Joseph received clear direction about when to move, when to stay, when to return, and where to settle – each decision countering the destructive forces in the unseen world.
We should not slip into a cheap form of triumphalism, believing God is going to rescue all Christians from the conflict in this world. That would be an affront to the martyrs through the ages. In every war there are casualties.
But our losses are temporal, not eternal! God has a purpose and a plan for His people. He is accomplishing His purpose, no matter what our seen and unseen enemies may do. Every action of our enemies will always play into His plan for our lives. Jesus came to rescue us from the enemies of our soul, both in this world and the world we cannot see.
Is this your God? Do you reject the notion that God is the author of evil? Do you embrace the truth that God will ultimately triumph over all? He truly is the Lord of Lords. He is the King.
Check your mission (vv. 21-23).
Joseph’s obedience was instrumental at every step in this story, wasn’t it? With every direction, he responds with obedience. Apart from his sensitive, passionate pursuit of God’s purpose for his life, Joseph could have been a casualty in the conflict surrounding the birth of Jesus. He had a very significant role to play.
So do you. Someday you and I will be carried off the ball field of life by His angels – kind of like that second grader who was no good at baseball. And there will be cheers from the welcoming saints in heaven’s stands. But the loudest cheering will come from the throne – from the One who was born for battle! (Don Pucik) ?
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Bill Whittaker, Pastor of Glasgow Baptist Church in Glasgow, KY; David L. Larsen, Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL; and Don Pucik, Associate Executive Director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Little Rock, AR.