Your Present Makes Your Future
(I Kings 21:1-3, 17-21; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)
You’ve heard more than one coach say “you play like you practice.” That’s easy to say in the off-season, but there’s many a football player in late August who didn’t want to practice one more minute. The fatigue, heat and pain of practice just became too much. The amount and quality of effort put into such practice is far below the level expected of a game.
The same thing happens in life. We forget the lasting impact of our actions here and now on our eternal destiny. We somehow miss the impact of our present on our future.
I. We Will Reap the Results of Unrighteousness We Permit
Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard, but he didn’t want to commit an act of aggressive violence himself. Instead, he allowed others to do violence for him. Jezebel carried through on the action and Ahab did nothing to prevent it.
This passive approach to evil is a temptation to all of us. We do nothing to stop it from taking place, even when we could. Yet ultimately it provides the same results as acts of aggressive violence. We just excuse ourselves by saying that we weren’t really the cause of the injustice.
How many issues have you avoided? How many fights have you sidestepped because you are reaping the benefits of things which are wrong? Whatever you believe about divestment from South Africa, one of the prime reasons given for failure to act is economic loss to some large American corporations. Is that sufficient reason to fail to act on a moral principle? To allow evil to happen when we could work against it will cause us to suffer the same consequences as if we had directly caused the injustice.
Yet there is another side to this …
II. We Will Reap the Rewards of Righteous Actions
Jesus sent the seventy out to do the work of the Kingdom. It was not an easy task; they would face opposition, rejection, hostility. The temptation to quit or to do less than the best were present then as now. But they were faithful; when they returned, Jesus said He “saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven.”
The rewards for doing right are just as sure as the punishment for doing wrong. Participating in the work of Christ’s Kingdom allows us to see evidence of God’s triumph over evil.
Paul encouraged us to “never tire of doing good.” To be at work for justice and righteousness is a never-ending but always rewarding task. Though it may not be immediately evident, the reward will come.
One writer recently commented that Martin Luther King used nonviolence as a means of protest. The writer missed the point: King, his hero Gandhi, and the model for both of them — Jesus — believed first in non-violence, then used that principle to work for another belief, justice. Both principles were evident in their pursuit of doing good.
Doing good does not come without a cost, but it is the way God has chosen to work through us to change our world. (SNW)
The Cross: Our Only Hope
We have no reason for hope or pride in ourselves, but only in Christ’s cross which makes possible our salvation.
I. Externals Offer No Place for Pride (v. 12)
We have no place to glory in ourselves; not in church work, ministry, tithing, position, accomplishment. As v. 15 states, only the new birth has lasting results.
II. Our Own Lives Offer No Place for Pride
You and I, as the Bible tells us, are sinners. Over and over we have fallen short of God’s will for our lives. Apart from Christ, we face everlasting punishment. Is there room for pride in the face of that profile?
III. Only the Cross Offers a Basis for Pride (v. 14)
We have pride not for what we have done, but because of what He has done for us and in us. Because of the cross:
1. We are freed from sin’s domination.
2. We are commissioned as Christ’s messengers. (JMD)
(II Kings 2:1, 6-14; Luke 10:38-42)
Every parent of young children knows the universal question. It comes every time a parent gives instructions, pronouncements or corrections. The reply is, “Why?”
And what’s the usual answer? “Because.” In the parents’ mind, it is reasonable and right, but to the child it is no such thing. Reason hasn’t entered the picture. The main criteria are what feels good or bad.
What’s reasonable in the Kingdom of God? Aren’t we often guilty of assuming the child’s role with God — trying to impose our way of thinking on Him? The texts we have chosen offer two “rational” approaches to Kingdom living.
I. We Can Seek More
When Elisha realized Elijah was about to depart, he tenaciously held on; he would not leave Elijah alone. When asked by Elijah what he needed, Elisha answered: “A double portion of your spirit.”
Many of us can relate to the need for more of something, like power. We don’t feel we have enough education, enough money, enough experience, enough style, enough good looks, enough –; you fill in the blank. We just know we have to have more if we are going to succeed. We know because it seems reasonable.
Yet faith is stepping beyond what is reasonable. The disciple of Jesus is called to risk, to step beyond the boundaries of our own capabilities and let God provide. It doesn’t always seem reasonable — but it is God’s way.
II. We Can Work More
Martha was the kind of daughter every mother could love. She felt responsible for taking care of Jesus while He was in their home, and when her sister Mary didn’t work as Martha expected, it provoked her to anger. The description of Martha could be used of so many of us: she was “worried and upset about many things” (Luke 10:41). Her approach to life what that of many Christians today — get in there and work harder and longer until it’s fixed. The only problem is that we don’t always give God a place to function in our lives.
We often shut God out. We work hard, try to conquer so many enemies. Maybe we Marthas need to remember the philosophy of the cartoon character Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and they is us!”
The life of the Kingdom is not reasonable. It is, by its very nature, beyond the understanding of this world’s reason. We must not try to limit God to the level of our own minds.
“Why?” we ask, and Scripture answers: “Because He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (SNW)
Putting First Things First (Luke 10:38-42)
We often concentrate on good things and miss the most important things.
I. We Focus on Our Own Activity
II. We Criticize Others For Not Being Like Us
III. We Lose Sight of the Ultimate Priority: Being With Jesus
Martha was “distracted” with much serving; her activities drew her thoughts away from Jesus. It’s easy for us to get so caught up in our busyness — even church work — that we lose touch with our personal relationship with Christ. (JMD)
A View of the Cross
Walk with Jesus as He carries His cross through the city, then out to Golgotha. Watch as He falls beneath the weight. See Him stretched out as nails are driven into His hand and feet, as He suffers and dies.
As we stand and watch this terrible scene, what do we really see?
I. We See What We Were (v. 21)
We see that we have been alienated/separated from God.
1. Spiritually — We were estranged from God; cut off by sin.
2. Mentally — There’s a psychological barrier. Paul says we were “enemies;” we have become hostile to God in our attitudes.
3. Morally — our “wicked works” or sin confirm that alienation.
II. We See What We Are (v. 20)
Now see how we have been reconciled to God through the death of Christ. Fellowship has been restored, the barriers are broken down. Notice that …
1. The initiative is with God, not man. God is the one who reconciles man to Himself. God is not the one who needed to be reconciled; we did. God’s attitude toward us has always been love; He reached out to us long before we responded.
2. We have peace through the cross. Millions of dollars are spent in our day in a search for inner peace; meditation and analysis are multi-million dollar industries. Others use charity or even church services to seek peace in their own lives. Yet peace is only available through the cross, because only the cross makes reconciliation possible.
III. We See What We Shall Be (v. 22)
Just as our alienation was threefold, so shall be our saving transformation through Christ.
1. Holy. Consecrated to God. Since coming to know Christ, our lives have been going through a process of being cleansed, purified, being made more and more in the image of Christ. The Christian life involves growth and maturity. Are you moving in that direction?
2. Unblameable. That doesn’t mean you aren’t guilty; it means you will no longer be accused. A prosecutor studying a crime from years ago may choose not to prosecute if he sees that the long-ago offender has changed. Jesus, in reconciling us through His cross, allows us to stand before God unaccused. When God looks at us, He sees not our sin but a cross.
3. Unreproveable. We live not in fear but in joy, because our freedom has been purchased. Our salvation is provided. Christ has assured our standing before God.
Christian development/maturity is part of our daily walk with God. Each day as we yield ourselves to Christ, we become a little closer to where He wants us to be.
2000 years ago, the cross was jeered. Today it is adored; it has become the dividing point in human history. That cross calls you to decision. (JMD)
What Do You Expect?
(II Kings 5:1-15a; Luke 11:1-13)
One evening my daughter and I went for a walk and entered some unfamiliar territory. As we approached a corner, she asked: “What will we find, daddy?” That’s one of life’s most significant questions: What will we find? What do we expect?
The desire of every follower of Jesus is to achieve what Paul called “fullness in Christ.” To become identified with the person of Christ is to have the world be able to identify Him by our actions — and our actions reflect what we expect from life.
I. Our Expectations Can Be Centered on Ourselves
Naaman thought that when he went to the man of God he would be treated with respect and honor. What a shock when he was told to bathe (an ordinary task) in a dirty river (beneath his dignity) by a common servant (not even his equal)!
How often we allow our expectations to be focused on ourselves! Three of the deadliest words in the church are comfort, convenience and prestige. Naaman wanted to do that which was easy, comfortable. He didn’t want to be pressed into a situation which caused embarrassment or difficulty. Yet without submission to the task, he could not have been healed.
If our expectations are focused on ourselves, we will never be able to move beyond ourselves to God.
II. Our Expectations Can Be Centered on God
In the prayer He gave His disciples, Jesus taught them to ask for a simple but essential ingredient: daily bread. The disciples understood the significance of bread; in that age, it was the basic foodstuff. And they recalled manna, the miraculous provision of God to His people. Jesus told them to ask God for the provision of their needs for today — -and today alone.
To rely on God for our needs day by day requires faith. We prefer to look after ourselves, submitting to the deceptive philosophies of this world that tell us if we climb over the other guy and look after ourselves first, well be secure. What a deceptive security!
Jesus didn’t teach us that. He taught and demonstrated a life of total dependence on God. “Seek first the Kingdom of God” and our other needs will be taken care of.
Naaman nearly missed being healed. We, too, can miss out on the fullness of life by focusing our expectations on the wrong goal. Are you willing to look to God in faith? (SNW)
Sermon for a Poor Man
If we focus only on the parable of the Rich Fool, it might be a temptation to assume that Jesus is speaking only to persons of wealth, and condemning the accumulation of possessions. The introductory verses to this parable in Luke are a key for our understanding. The setting of the parable helps to define its meaning.
A family dispute has arisen over the settlement of an estate. The “inheritance” of land typically would go to the oldest brother, who had the rights over the land, and the younger heirs would have use of the “undivided” property. It was an unusual situation for property to be divided among the sons, or the “inheritance” to be given to one of the younger sons as happened in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The young son can use and live upon the property, but does not become a person of wealth. The one who comes to Jesus is obviously the poorer descendant. He seeks Jesus’ help in having the property divided so that he can become a person of wealth. It is a case of a “have-not” desiring to become a “have.”
Jesus declines to act like a rabbi, settling disputes about the law. Jesus understands that He has a much greater task to perform. It is Jesus’ task to teach, to serve, to illustrate the presence of God, and the invasion of a new standard of life for the followers of His message. It is not wealth which is condemned but the attitude toward possessions, whether it is expressed by rich or poor. But this parable is addressed to the one who is the “have-not.” It is a sermon for a poor man.
I. It is the attitude, not the wealth, which is condemned by Jesus.
Years ago, I served a congregation which had among its members two men of great wealth. One was generous to his church, to his community, and to persons. He never sought recognition, attention, or honors. When an area college wished to honor him for his generosity, he declined. The other man was of equal wealth, but his attitude was different. His gifts were small, his assistance to others grudging. Yet, that man would seek the attention of everyone for what little he did. He would threaten to withhold his gifts if he did not have his way.
The attitude of grasping acquisition was what disturbed Jesus. In the new order, one’s attitude toward God, one’s service to God, was much more vital than one’s accumulation of material possession.
II. It is the eternal which is commended, not the temporal.
Although Jesus spoke about a rich man who had many possessions, and sought to conserve his wealth for his own benefit, there is a message in the thoughts and words of Jesus which expand beyond the dollar value of the barns and goods of the Rich Fool. The same attitude which can be expressed about money can be expressed about any material reality. For some who may not be grasping about money, it is still possible to be grasping about other things. It can be one’s profession and employment, it can be one’s family or children, it can be a role of leadership in the community or in the church.
A recent national magazine editorialized about those who use their places of influence, after leaving public office in Washington, to accumulate great wealth. Although some such acts are inside the boundaries of legality, the editorial questioned whether or not it was moral to use a former place of leadership and respect to serve one’s self.
III. The key to the parable of Jesus is in the contrast between the words “for himself” and “toward God.”
When the parable is read in the light of the questioning poor man seeking part of the family inheritance, one notes the meaning of the parable in verse 21. Jesus applies this story about one man to all persons who seek to accumulate for themselves and are not rich toward God.
One of the characteristics of parables is to reach out and grab the hearer so that the truth must be applied to one’s self. For this parable to become our parable, we must hear the statement of Jesus, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” For this parable to affect us, we must question our motives and our attitudes. For this parable to communicate, we must turn to a new way of acting, seeking to be rich toward God. (HCP)
Be Prepared, Be Expectant!
These two paragraphs in Luke’s gospel combine two messages from Jesus. The first is about the determination of God to bring the Kingdom to His children as a gift. The second is an admonition to be prepared to receive and accept that gift of the Kingdom.
I. There are two approaches to life: material and spiritual.
The psychology of Carl Jung is founded on the premise that there is a spiritual dimension to life which cannot be properly ignored. This point of view has captured the attention of many Christians, including the popular writer, Morton Kelsey. His recent book, Christianity As Psychology, presents his case for an understanding of cooperation between psychology of the Jungian perspective and the Christian faith.
When the overriding concern of any person is for material well-being alone, a part of life is neglected. For the Christian, it is just as destructive of life to ignore material needs. It is this conviction which structures the mission outreach of the Christian community as a dual-focus: both material needs and spiritual growth together. A word of encouragement is fine, but better when coupled with physical aid.
II. We need to be prepared for the coming of God’s Kingdom.
The phrase “Let your loins be girded” is the admonition of Jesus. In the New Testament world, the long robe was worn loose when one was at home and inactive. Rather than having a wardrobe that was different, that loose robe was gathered and cinched up when one was to be active and work vigorously. Just walking without the robe girded would cause an uncomfortable swirl of dust.
To see someone with the robe cinched up was the clear indication that they were at work, they were active, they were prepared. Although Jesus uses a physical illustration, the application is clearly intended to be toward spiritual readiness to receive God.
III. Loyalty to God brings the most unexpected behavior.
The serving of the servants by the master is a ludicrous picture. Such is not the normal behavior of masters with their servants, even in the dark of night. One does not hire a chauffeur to sit in the back seat of the limousine while the employer drives the car. A housewife does not hire a cleaning person, only to spend the hours before their arrival making sure that the house is spotless — at least they shouldn’t!
Jesus’ admonition is to be spiritually prepared for the invasion of God into one’s life. And when that incursion comes, one is transformed radically. (HCP)
Peace on Earth?
In these statements by Jesus, Luke has joined a statement addressed to the disciples with a statement addressed to the crowds. Both deal with the nature of what can be expected from the ministry of Jesus. Both affirm that it is difficult to discern what will take place.
The first section, in verses 49-53, describes the outcome of Jesus’ ministry. Rather than the terms of love, peace and joy, these words focus upon divisiveness, upon turmoil, upheaval, and anger generated by His coming.
Jesus begins with an expressed desire that His work be accomplished. The phrase “baptism to be baptized with” carried the meaning of being overwhelmed by some catastrophe. The phrase “constrained” carries the meaning of “how I am totally governed by it until all is accomplished.
The outcome of Jesus’ presence is turmoil and divisiveness. Even families will be divided. The picture is of a five-member household set against one another. The phrasing follows the imagery of Micah 7:6. It is not simply a division of one generation for Jesus and another against Him. It is not strife caused by the difference between generations, but the strife caused by loyalty to different and divergent concerns and claims.
The Civil War of our nation caused just such strife in our land. Brother was pitted against brother because, even in the same family, the attitude toward slavery was different. Each saw the issue to be of such vital importance that it demanded total commitment to that cause. There are many stories from the border states between North and South that illustrate the strife and division in families, though such division was not limited to those regions.
The second admonition, addressed to the crowds, questions their priorities. They know how to predict the weather, whether it will be hot and windy, or whether it will be rainy, but they cannot focus on the signs of God’s presence. It is not that they are unable to understand the signs, it is that they are more interested in the weather than they are in the Kingdom.
Jesus challenges the crowds to turn to what is most important. It is much more valuable to their lives to sense when God is present than whether or not it will rain or be hot and windy. Their inability to be concerned follows upon His announcements to the disciples about the strife which He brings.
Only when something is vitally important to the viewer will it cause strife. Just as parents only discipline the child that they love, so also we only commit ourselves to that which is of vital importance. If the signs of the earth are what is important, we shall miss the signs of God’s presence. If the signs of God’s coming in Jesus Christ is important, it shall change our world and our relationships, even to our own families. (HBP)
When Good News Isn’t Good
Ever heard a “good news, bad news” joke? Our text contains some good news and some bad news. The good news was Hananiah’s prophecy that God was about to break the yoke of Babylonian power that Israel wore. The bad news is that it wasn’t true.
Good news is only good when it reflects God’s truth.
I. Good News Is Bad When It Separates Salvation From Repentance
Hananiah proclaims a welcome message: God is going to break the yoke of Babylon and bring home Israel’s king, its captives, and the Temple furnishings.
Yet Jeremiah has made it clear through his prophecies that only repentance of the nation’s sin and rebellion will avert Israel’s inevitable judgment. Hananiah’s claim would only raise false hopes.
There are always those who want to ignore God’s requirement of repentance. Yet we must be aware that God demands our commitment just as He offers His love.
II. Good News Is Bad When It Puts Man’s Words in God’s Mouth
Hananiah had a message the people wanted to hear: God had promised an end to their suffering. But the message had not come from God. It came only from Hananiah. He had so wanted the message to be true that he falsely attributed it to God.
There is a danger in every age that we may falsely claim God’s sanction for our own words and beliefs. As Anthony Campolo has pointed out, the God of many American evangelicals is a “white, anglo-saxon, Protestant, Republican” Jesus. We must resist the temptation to project our own values onto God, so that the God of scripture may be clearly seen. (JMD)
Who’s to Blame?
(Ezekiel 18:1-9, 25-29)
What a pitiful, pathetic group they must have been! The exiles from Israel, now in captivity in Babylon, mourned the loss of their land, their way of life, their faith. And why? All because their ancestors had sinned against God!
At least that’s the way they looked at it. In this text, Ezekiel points out that their suffering could not be blamed on their forefathers; rather, they were paying for their own sin. Guilt is not transferable. Each of us must bear the responsibility individually for our own sin.
I. We Can’t Blame Our Sin on the Past
The proverb (v. 2) cited by the exiles was a handy way of avoiding personal responsibility. “If only our forefathers hadn’t been so sinful, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
That has a familiar ring to it. Most of us have had a time when we blamed a past event rather than accepting responsibility in the present. But what we or others did in the past doesn’t relieve our responsibility before God here and now.
II. We Can’t Blame Our Sin on Our Environment
It’s common these days to try to justify sin on the basis of one’s surroundings. “He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks … She’s had such a difficult life … We’re surrounded by so much temptation.”
Yet if ever a people had the ideal environment in which to live for God, it was Israel. A special relationship with God, the Temple and priests, prophets who brought God’s word in a direct and powerful way — there was every opportunity to live for Him. Israel sinned in spite of its environment, not because of it.
Neither can we blame our environment for our sins. Each of us makes a choice for or against God.
III. We Can’t Blame Our Sins on God
In their ultimate transference of guilt, the people tried to blame God for their sins (v. 25). God just wasn’t being fair; they were really good people, you know! They were like Adam in the Garden: “the woman you gave me made me do it!”
Even today there are millions who would deny their culpability before God. They’re “sincere, honest, good people” we hear. But the words of Paul in the letter to the Romans ring out: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Andy got up late that morning, and wasn’t ready for the test in his first class. As he walked down the hall on the way to that class, he spotted the professor coming toward him from the other end of the hall. In that moment, he decided to cut the class, so he ducked into the rest room. In a few seconds, the door opened and in walked the professor. Andy wasn’t as concerned about cutting the class as he was in discovering he was standing with his professor in the ladies room.
You may try to avoid responsibility for your actions, but “your sins will find you out.” Recognize that each of us stands justly accused before a righteous God. We have sinned, and we deserve to be condemned. Then reach out and accept the offer of free and full pardon from a Christ who loves you and gave His life for you. (JMD)
Outlines by Harold C. Perdue, pastor of First United Methodist Church, San Angela, TX; Sam Wilson, associate pastor of Murray Hill Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL; and Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching.