Is There Any Hope For Me?
Susan’s life was shattered. Her marriage had fallen apart. Emotionally she was a wreck. She came to me asking, “Is there any hope for me?” I suppose that Zacchaeus may have asked the same question. Let’s look at Zacchaeus and see if there is hope for any of us.
I. The Context For Conversion (19:1-7)
Luke introduces Zacchaeus as a leader of the tax collectors. The tax collectors were notorious for their exploitation of the people and their lack of scruples. They were hated for their collaboration with Rome and their oppression of fellow Israelites.
Zacchaeus is also identified as wealthy. It is assumed that his wealth is a result of his extortion. Zacchaeus’ motivation for seeking Jesus is not stated. Perhaps he was curious to see the famous teacher. Regardless of his motivation, he finds his way to a sycamore tree and awaits the teacher.
Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. Approaching Jericho, he heals blind Bartimaeus. The anticipation of the multitude builds for his next miracle. As the crowd follows outside Jericho, the stage is set for a confrontation.
This story reveals the character of Jesus. Jesus is willing to ignore the social conscience of the multitude in order to restore one who is lost. Zacchaeus and the crowd are astonished when Jesus invites himself to be a guest in Zacchaeus’ home. Zacchaeus is exuberant as he joyfully responds to the invitation to serve as host.
The crowd begins to murmur. Why would the great teacher defile Himself with an unclean traitor? Not only does Jesus speak to this man, He is going to stay in his home. How could He approve of such a sinner?
II. The Consequences of Conversion (19:8-10)
Zacchaeus’ encounter produced results that indicate a changed man. The unconditional love of Jesus brought about a transformation in Zacchaeus.
Suddenly Zacchaeus saw people differently. Zacchaeus determined to give one-half of his wealth to the poor. Persons whom he had seen as valueless became objects of his concern. When he was treated as a person, he became able to treat others as valuable.
Jesus repeatedly demonstrated the value of other people. No event reveals the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees more than the incident of the woman taken in adultery. Even as they brought her to Jesus for judgment, they were using her as an object just as much as the man from whom they had taken her. They showed no concern for her worth as a person. They were interested in her only as an instrument of entrapment. Jesus acted with compassion and restored her dignity.
Zacchaeus now saw his wealth differently. He saw his wealth as a resource to be used, a responsibility to be executed. Instead of hoarding his wealth, he began using it to meet the needs of others (contrast with the rich fool in 12:16-20).
Zacchaeus also saw justice differently. He promised to restore four-fold to those he had defrauded. Truth and honesty became issues with him.
Jesus made it clear that no one is too far gone for Him to rescue. Those on whom society and religion have given up are prime recipients for the grace of God. Is there hope for you? There is with God! (WTP)
(II Thessalonians 2:13-3:5)
We are divided! Our churches, denominations, and families are engulfed in turmoil. Wherever I go, I find the lines dividing ‘us’ and ‘them’. Can we ever work together?
King David fought numerous battles. Yet the biblical writers spend more time describing the battles within the camp than those with the recognized enemies. The jealousy of Saul, the rape of Tamar, the deaths of Ammon, Abner, and Absalom combined to sap the strength of David in a way the Philistines never could. We must work together!
Our text reveal’s Paul’s relationship with his fellow believers. It is a model for working together.
I. We Should Give Thanks for One Another (2:13-14)
Inflated egos and sinful pride can keep us from working together. Luke records an incident in which the disciples found someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name who refused to follow them. Jesus rebuked their arrogance by saying, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Lk 9:49-50).
Rather than being preoccupied with labeling who’s in and who’s out, we should give thanks for those who name the name of Christ.
1. We should give thanks for those things we have in common. Paul described our unity as “… one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). John identified our common ground as our confession that Jesus is the Christ (I John 5:1). Thank God for our common faith, rather than highlighting our differences.
2. We should give thanks for our diversity. God in His wisdom has created us as individuals. We have differing gifts, perspectives, and abilities. Paul uses the human body as a metaphor of the church. The body functions best when the diverse parts complement one another and work together.
II. We Should Encourage One Another (2:15-3:5)
Barnabas was known for his ability to encourage others. He brought out the best in others. When everyone else was afraid of Paul, Barnabas took him under his wing and introduced him in the churches. He took the young man John Mark and gave him a second chance.
Many great saints are never in the forefront. They work behind the scenes encouraging others to reach their potential. Like the Army, they push you to “be all you can be.”
1. We should encourage one another in faith. Growing in faith is a life-long project. Tragedies and frustrations challenge our faith. Thank God for those people who love us and encourage us in time of trials.
2. We should encourage one another in ministry. We need the encouragement and fellowship of fellow believers as we continue to be faithful to our God-given dreams and responsibilities. I believe that church and home should be two places where you know that people are on your side.
God has placed each of us in the body for a purpose. We need each other. Together we have strength and balance we can never have individually. It is imperative that we work together! (WTP)
The Dignity of Work
(II Thessalonians 3:6-15)
Our society is obsessed with leisure time. We live for the weekends. The lottery winner does what he’s always longed to do–quit his job. We work for forty years in order to retire.
Is there something wrong with work? Pyramid schemes thrive on the hope of “never having to work again.” But is leisure all that it has been cracked up to be? Listen to the words of Paul as he speaks of work and idleness.
Upon hearing of the Lord’s approaching return, some of the believers at Thessalonica quit work and awaited His return. In his first letter, Paul had instructed them to go back to work. Evidently some ignored his command.
In this text we read Paul’s instruction to the church concerning those who refused to work. Paul forbade the practice of indiscriminately feeding the idle. He encouraged work and industry. What is wrong with living off of someone else?
I. It Is Not Practically Feasible
1. Unwise charity destroys the dignity of the recipient. Dependent on others, the idle lose their independence and integrity. Paul described them as ‘truants.’ He uses a play on words to warn of the dangers of idleness. They are busy being busybodies–busy with everyone’s business but their own.
2. Unwise charity discourages the compassion of the giver. The sight of the healthy abusing the graciousness of others frustrates even the most compassionate person.
3. Unwise charity diverts resources from the needy. Those who are sick, aged, widowed, orphaned, or disabled are harmed by the manipulation of the healthy idle.
4. Unwise charity discourages the industry of society. Incentives for diligence and initiative are removed.
II. It Is Not Personally Responsible
Paul advocated making the healthy responsible for their own welfare. Those who refused to work would not eat.
The Jews placed work in an honorable position. They said, “He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal.”
Mr. Crit Clarkson, an eighty-seven year old member of my church, gathers the children around him and shares the advice his father gave him, “Chil’n, you’ve only got three options in this world–work, steal, or starve. I suggest you try the first one.”
The dignity of work is grounded in the creation story. Adam was placed in the garden to dress the garden. Genesis 3:19 may be the background for Paul’s proverb on work. It states, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.” If you’re not eating as a result of your own labor, you’re eating off of someone else’s work.
Be generous, full of compassion to the needy, but allow the healthy every opportunity to find fulfillment in their work. Leisure is meaningful when it is accompanied by purposeful work. The two go together; either is poorer without the other. (WTP)
Christ: All in All
Even among those who have not professed personal faith, Jesus stands as a unique character in history. Even a skeptic like George Bernard Shaw could say of Christ: “I am no more of a Christian that Pilate was … (yet) I am ready to admit that I see no way out of the world’s misery but the way which would have been found by his will.”
But is that all Jesus was: a guide, a teacher, a prophet? Paul’s message in this majestic text is that Christ is far more than a model or teacher. He is preeminent, and worthy of our absolute commitment.
I. Christ is Center (v. 15-18)
The Christmas season is approaching, and that brings to mind thoughts of nativity scenes and baby Jesus. Yet here we see that the same Christ who came to dwell among us as a child was the central figure in creation itself.
“Firstborn over all creation” does not mean Christ was the first created; the prologue to John’s gospel reminds us of the preexistence of the Word before creation. Rather, the “firstborn” carries with it the idea of the eldest son, with the power and authority that position carried in the families of the ancient world. “Firstborn” was a title of preeminence and power.
Not only was Christ creator of the natural order, He is also sustainer. In verse 17, we are reminded that we live in a Christ-centered universe; our very existence depends on Him.
II. Christ is Revealer (v. 15a, 19)
Some months ago you perhaps read in the newspapers the story of a new model airplane that was being sold. Why was that newsworthy? Because this plane is a model of the super-secret Stealth aircraft, designed to be undetectable by radar–and whose existence was not even known until rather recently.
The interesting thing is that no pictures or descriptions of the real Stealth aircraft have been released. The models are built on conjectures and assumptions of those who work with aircraft design.
For many people, that’s how their views of God are created: through conjecture, assumption, misunderstanding. I have heard persons explain why they cannot trust in God, and after hearing the kind of God they understand to exist I could hardly blame them.
We no longer have to guess about what God is like, for He has been revealed in Christ. Verse 15 describes Him as the “image” of the invisible God. Barclay points out that the same Greek word could be used for a portrait–a rendering or likeness. So Jesus can be understood as a portrait of God.
But Christ is more than a likeness, for as verse 19 points out, in Christ resides the fullness, the completeness of God. He is not just One who appears like God; He is the full and ultimate revelation of God to mankind.
III. Christ is Reconciler (v. 20)
A.T. Robertson observed, “Sin somehow has put the universe out of joint. Christ will set it right.”
Reconciliation is at the heart of Christ’s purpose. He came from God to restore men and women to relationship with the Father. The chasm that sin created has been bridged by God’s Son.
How did this take place? Through Christ’s own death. By shedding His blood on our behalf–laying down His life–Christ brought about reconciliation between rebellious man and a loving God. The cross which meant such agony has become the symbol of salvation for each of us.
Have you accepted this awesome gift? Have you allowed Christ to become your reconciler, to restore you to the Father who loves you? (JMD)
While preachers typically draw Advent sermons from the gospel accounts of the events surrounding Christ’s birth, some of the richest preaching materials for this season are to be drawn from the Old Testament. The outlines which follow are all drawn from the book of Isaiah, which looks forward to a coming Messiah who will be both redeemer and king. Such a series may offer congregations a new perspective on the story of the Incarnation.
The Peace He Brings
Pick up a newspaper any day of the week, any time of the year, and chances are that a large percentage of news stories will deal with conflict: war or terrorism in various parts of the world, conflict between nations or families, conflict between individuals, or even within individuals. Ours is a world ripped apart by conflict.
Isaiah looked forward to a day when conflict would no longer pollute God’s world–a day when men and women would “train for war no more.” Little did he realize that the hope of such a time would enter the world one night while shepherds watched their flocks and the world went about its business … that this hope would be laid in a manger in a stable while the animals looked on.
The God of the universe entered history in the form of a tiny baby, and changed the course of that history forever. It is in Jesus Christ alone–God became flesh to dwell among us–that we can know God’s peace, both now and in the future.
I. Christ Has Become Our Pathway to God
Isaiah looks to a day, as Page Kelley describes it, “When all nations will come to Zion to learn the ways of God and to walk in His paths.” But what Isaiah perhaps expected to be fulfilled through a literal temple is instead being fulfilled by One who Himself has become our Temple, our source of reconciliation and redemption.
It is through Christ that we approach the Father. It is through Christ that we learn to walk in the ways of God. And it is in Christ, raised high on a cross for our sins, who draws the nations to Himself.
II. Christ Has Become Our Pathway to Peace
If you have visited the headquarters building of the United Nations in New York, you’ve seen inscribed on the walls there those powerful words: “The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Yet centuries of human history bear grim testimony to man’s inability to create peace on his own terms. Rather, we have only created ever more deadly tools with which to destroy one another. Each year we spend billions of dollars to buy the illusion of security.
Isaiah sees the utter futility of such a road, for it leads only to destruction. True security will be known only when tools of war have been transformed into tools to benefit mankind–and that will only happen as we turn to the source of hope and love, Jesus Christ. We work for peace now, knowing that ultimate peace can only be possible through Him.
A story is told of a father who wanted to keep his little girl busy so he could take a nap. He took an old map of the world, cut it in many pieces, and told her to put it together. In only a few minutes she came in to him with all the pieces correctly in place. “How did you do that? he asked. “You don’t know anything about geography.”
She replied, “Well, there was a picture of Jesus on the other side of the paper. I figured when I had Jesus in the right place, all those countries would be in the right place, too.”
When we put Jesus into His rightful place in our hearts, other things do take their rightful place around Him. And then we know God’s peace. (JMD)
The Golden Age to Come
We’ve recently come through yet another political season in which we’ve heard countless promises by persons seeking office. If only we could see the fulfillment of half the promises made each election, we would have no budget deficit, a 5 percent maximum tax rate, world peace and cheaper groceries–a real utopia.
Of course, we know better than to expect our human institutions to create perfection. Only God can do that, and in our text the prophet Isaiah is looking ahead to an era in which God will do just that.
In verse 1, the word “stump” refers to the stump of a tree which has been cut down. The dynasty founded by David–Jesse’s son–was in the process of coming to an end even as these words were proclaimed; the Davidic dynasty was a tree being cut down. But God’s promise was that out of the remaining stump, a new “shoot” or “branch” would grow from David’s tree.
It is interesting to note that Jesse’s name is used rather than David’s, perhaps to emphasize that this is a new beginning. The new Messiah/King will fulfill the ideals of the Davidic kingdom that had never been fully realized.
During this season of the year we celebrate the coming of the King. The babe who was laid in a manger would become the Suffering Servant who would give His life for His people. That same Christ was raised from the dead and will some day return in power to rule over His people.
Like Isaiah, we look ahead to the day when God’s Messiah will return to inaugurate His reign in history and complete the work He began in His earthly ministry.
Notice how the prophet Isaiah characterizes Christ’s coming rule:
I. He Will Be Anointed by God’s Spirit (v. 2-3a)
Throughout the Old Testament we see individuals who are called to a special task by God, and who receive the Spirit of the Lord to equip them for service. Joshua, Samson, David–these and more were endowed with the Spirit of the Lord as a means of preparing them for service.
Christ stands in that line. He began His sermon at Nazareth with the words, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18). But unlike the great heroes of the Old Testament, Christ did not receive a partial and temporary measure of the Spirit, but was fully led by the Spirit. As Paul says in Colossians 1:19, the fulness of God dwelled in Him.
Notice the special gifts of the Spirit with which Christ will rule:
1. Wisdom and understanding
He will have the insight to see what is right. Implied here is the ability to perfectly understand the things of God. Human rulers judge from limited understanding; Christ will rule with perfect wisdom and discernment.
2. Counsel and power
Counsel expresses the ability to plan well, and power is the ability to carry these plans into action. These attributes are paralleled in Isaiah 9:6 and its description of the coming King: “And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God…”
3. Knowledge and fear of the Lord
To the Hebrews, knowledge was more than possessing certain facts about a person; it involved understanding that was only gained through a close personal relationship. Jesus walked closely with the Father, and reverenced His majesty and holiness, the heart of the “fear of the Lord.” The essence of Old Testament faith is to know and fear the Lord, and that calling claims us as well.
II. He will rule righteously (v. 3b-5)
Each of us has been given spiritual gifts, but too often they lay dormant because of our unwillingness to put them to work. The Messiah will put His spiritual endowments into action.
1. He will not base His decisions on surface judgments
How often you and I try to “judge a book by its cover”–sometimes without even looking at the cover! We are impressed by those who look good and speak well, even though those things can be deceptive. We can trust Christ to judge our hearts.
2. He will deal justly with the poor
Over and over the gospels relate Jesus’ love and care for the poor and needy, those who society has cast aside. His love reaches out to those who have been left behind.
In our status-conscious generation, when material possessions seem to have more and more significance in being “accepted,” this is an essential model for us as we seek to be His disciples.
3. He will deal harshly with the wicked
As a just and righteous judge, Christ will not only deal fairly with the poor, He will also judge the wicked for their evil.
It sometimes seems that evil isn’t punished, doesn’t it? We see people who cheat, cut corners, and yet seem to prosper. Yet the assurance of God is that evil does not go unpunished.
Christ will deal with us righteously and fairly.
III. He will bring in a new age (v. 6-10)
It is perhaps appropriate to see this entire text in two senses. In many ways, the prophetic picture painted by Isaiah has already been accomplished through Christ’s rule in our hearts. Surely He has already ushered in a new age as He has made us new creatures in Him.
Yet there is more to be. We yet look forward to an age in which Christ will rule and reign in Righteousness–an age which will be marked by peace and reconciliation.
1. He will reconcile the natural order
Isaiah describes a paradise of peace and cooperation in which the natural order is restored to its intended order, as it was before being disrupted by sin. There is something in all of us that longs for such a day, and some day that longing will be fulfilled.
2. He will reconcile us to God
The knowledge of the Lord, which was an attribute of the Messiah in verse 2, has now been given to mankind. It is an age in which, through Christ, we will walk with God and one another in peace and harmony. What a glorious promise for the future!
Yet we do not have to wait to begin that relationship with God through Christ. We can decide today to begin that new relation-shop that will reach its fulfillment in a future age. (JMD)
A Safe Way Home
Robert Henri once described some persons: “I can feel the sogginess of their footsteps. They bring the gloom of a dreary rain.” Some persons cast a pall wherever they go, living with no hint of hope. Such were the circumstances of the people of Israel to whom the message of Isaiah 35 was first addressed.
In Chapter 34, Isaiah has clearly pronounced a vision of doom and destruction. But the word of the prophet does not end with that word of judgment, with his description of the vengeance of God.
Isaiah describes just as vigorously a word of hope, a message of peace, and the dream of a joyous journey with God.
This text is easily divided into four parts. First, verses 1-2 are a description of the joyful shout of nature itself. Verses 3-4 are addressed to the weak and the feeble, to the sad and the disillusioned. Verses 5-7 picture the third step in the dramatic effect of God’s coming. Those who are diseased will be healed. The final part of the message in verses 8-10 describe the highway of a safe return.
I. There Are Those Who Seem to Thrive in the Desert of Misery.
A television commercial pictures the greedy service station attendants gathering around a rental truck hoping for a breakdown, only to discover that the driver is only looking for a restroom.
A husband stormed out of the house after a bitter argument with his wife. The wife stood at the door screaming after him, “You’ll be back! You’ll be back! How long do you think you can stand happiness?”
II. Even in the Worst of Circumstances, the Freeing, Encouraging God Comes to His People.
Moss Hart tells in his autobiography of the time his father was unemployed and the family lived in abject poverty. At Christmas time, the father took Moss down 149th Street in New York, a street lined with pushcarts filled with toys. No words were spoken, and Moss wrote about his regrets that he did not hug his father and tell him that it did not matter that there were no toys because he loved him.
Hart concluded the story, “Nor did I ever tell him how close I felt that night; for a little while the concrete wall between father and son had crumbled away and I knew that we were two lonely people struggling to reach each other.”
In this Christmas season, in these days of preparation for the coming of our Christ, even as we shiver in our loneliness, we do not need to hesitate to reach out in love, to grasp the hand that is nearest to us. We can acknowledge that we do know, deep within ourselves, that Christmas message of love and giving.
Godfrey Thring, in the mid 19th century, wrote the hymn which has this stanza:
Jesus comes in joys and sorrows,
Shares alike our hopes and fears;
Jesus comes, whate’er befalls us,
Glads our hearts, and dries our tears;
Cheering e’en our failing years.
Call His Name Immanuel
“Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, RSV)
This verse is quoted in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew immediately after a description of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph and the discovery by Joseph that Mary is with child. Then Matthew adds the comment, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 1:22).
The temptation is to spend our time discussing the nature of and the circumstances surrounding that unusual conception and birth. We want to dig deep to discover Joseph’s attitude or Mary’s feelings and emotions. But the key to the story is not found in such discoveries.
The key is found in the word, “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” That is the meaning of Jesus’ birth. It means that God is present in this world in a unique and special manner. Because God has come in the form of the man of Nazareth, the world shall never be the same again.
I. The Truth of Christmas is that God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways
Mary was a simple, insignificant peasant girl. That is not our way to start such a story. Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit is God’s way, not ours. The birth of the Savior of the world in a stable is not our way to begin the most important and significant event of human history. But it is God’s way.
The whole of Jesus’ life seems to be out of step with our ways. A righteous and innocent man, Jesus still died the death of a common criminal. The one who was called “mighty God” begins as a weak, tiny baby. That is not our way.
He who is called “everlasting Father” was just a boy in Nazareth. That is not our way. He who was and is Lord and Master was a servant, washing the feet of His friends. That is not our way. He who was raised from the dead, as the first fruits of those who sleep, first suffered the death of a cross. God’s ways are certainly not our ways.
II. The Truth of Christmas is that Our Ways May Become God’s Ways
Because God is with us, “Immanuel,” God is here. God is in us; and life is special, sacred, holy, unique. Life may seem meaningless, senseless, useless to some, but not when God is in us and with us.
When God is incarnate in life, life is special. Every person who is the dwelling place of God has meaning and significance.
That is true not in general, but specifically. You have meaning. You have significance. You have purpose. Not only all the world, but you! You can stand straight and tall, because you are God’s and God is with you. You can stand firm, because God is with you. You can labor against all odds, because God is with you.
Such is the glory of Christmas, the reality of “Immanuel.” It is not only a promise; it is reality. God is with us! (HCP)
He Became Their Savior
How eagerly we have waited for Christmas! For so many days we have been making our plans for the celebration of the Holy Day. What excitement we have felt as we waited! What a tinge of anxiety we have endured through it all!
These verses from Isaiah help us, as they have helped Christians through many centuries, to discover four great truths about Christmas.
I. God Declares That We Are His People
When we read the story of Israel and all their grumblings and desertion of God, when we examine our own failures, we could wonder if God did not make a mistake selecting them and us. But God looked beneath the surface and saw the hearts of men. Then God did know that they were His.
II. When the People are Afflicted, God Suffers With Them
At the center of the meaning of this Christmas season is the truth that God hurts with us in our hurts simply because we are His. It is more than coincidence that in the pictures of the nativity, that shining star beams out in the shape of a cross.
III. The Message Focuses on the Love and Pity of God
Leon Griffin tells the story about a doctor, Patrick Doyle, whose 15-year-old helper, Johnny Lake, sat beside the bed of a young girl whispering, “Breathe, Kathy, breathe!” The doctor had given up the girl as a dying and hopeless case. The family, discouraged and upset by the presence of Johnny Lake, asked the doctor to tell him to stop and leave. Dr. Doyle replied, “Interfere with a miracle? Never! Kathy is improving.” Out of love and pity comes the restoring and healing power of God for our lives.
IV. God Shelters and Cares for His Children All Their Lives
The image of a helping, lifting brother is found in that prophet’s phrase, “He became their savior.”
That is the meaning of Christ. The steadfast love from God is so powerful, so meaningful, so ever-present that we are sheltered by Him. God saves us from ourselves, from the ravages of evil, from the hurts of our own making. God redeems us and restores us.
Seeking the value of each of his children, God brings newness of life to us even as he brought a new life in Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem.
The Gospel of John sums up the meaning of our Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father… And from His fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14, 16 RSV) (HCP)
William T. Pyle is pastor of Rocky Ford Baptist Church, Houstonville, KY, and a doctoral student in homiletics at Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Harold C. Perdue is pastor of First United Methodist Church, San Angelo, TX. Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching.