December 2, 1990
Watching for His Coming
It is ironic that as we begin Advent, we do so using a text which focuses on the parousia — the return of Christ. Yet Jesus provides an important truth in these verses that relates to both His first and second coming.
Christ emphasizes the importance of watching — keeping alert to and prepared for God’s activity in the world. In an age that often seems oblivious to anything spiritual, God’s people are to watch for His movement among us.
I. We Watch For Him at Advent
Advent is a time of personal preparation for Christmas. We think about what God has done for us in Christ and what that means in our lives. That requires watching — developing a spiritual sensitivity, an alertness to what God is doing in the world.
Few were watching that night in Bethlehem as the special star shone overhead. People went about their business at home, in their shops, in the marketplace, while God was doing His greatest work right under their noses. It’s not likely we’ll see God’s work if we aren’t watching for it.
That’s one way to make Advent a meaningful time in our lives. In these weeks of preparation for Christmas, we can keep spiritual watch for God and His work among us. Will we see him among children at play, or working among the homeless, or at a youth shelter? Where will you watch for God during this Advent season?
II. We Watch For His Return
“Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come” (verse 33).
Though He must go to the Father, Jesus assured His disciples that the day was coming when He would return. They could not know the time, so He urged them to watch, to be prepared for His return at any moment.
That is still the challenge for His believers in every age — to watch for His coming. What does it mean to watch for His return?
His illustration in verses 34-35 makes the meaning clear. The master of the house goes on a journey of unknown length, and leaves each servant with an area of responsibility. Suppose they said to themselves, “Our master won’t come home any time soon; let’s relax and forget these things he told us to do.” Upon his return, they would be caught unprepared, their duties incomplete, and would face the wrath of their master.
Christ has called us as His disciples and has left us with certain responsibilities — to share His love with a lost world, to be faithful stewards of His resources, to be instruments of His peace. We must watch for His coming — faithful in His service, obedient to His Word, ready for His return any day, any hour. (JMD)
December 9, 1990
Preparing the Way
Before an army steps onto the field of battle, much preparation has taken place — surveying the territory, evaluating the enemy’s forces, mapping out the strategy for the conflict. Without such planning, they would inevitably face defeat. Virtually any effort or project of significance requires preparation.
Before God sent His Son to be born on that first Christmas day, much preparation took place. God prepared a people into which Jesus would be born. He prepared a moment in history — a single government, a common language, relative peace, unhindered travel — when the Christian faith could develop and expand rapidly throughout the Roman world.
Now, before Jesus begins His earthly ministry, God again prepares the way through a unique messenger named John the Baptist. Stepping into the role predicted by prophets centuries ago, John helped prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
We, too, have been called to prepare the way for Jesus in our own age and our own area. John provides a model for our own service. How do we prepare the way for Jesus?
I. Through a Powerful Message (verse 4)
After many years when no prophetic voice had been heard in Israel, John burst on the scene with a powerful compelling message: God is about to do a great work among you, and you must prepare your hearts — through repentance and faith — to receive Him.
And the people responded. Throngs came to hear John and be baptized by him.
In our day, there is also a hunger for some meaning and purpose. Many are waiting to hear a clear, powerful message of God’s love for us and His claims upon our lives.
How do we prepare the way for Jesus?
II. Through a Personal Example (verse 6)
John would never have made the “Best Dressed in Jerusalem” list, nor would he have been invited to many social events. But his concern was never to fit in and get along with his society; rather, John was called to stand apart from the norm and be a living example of God’s demand for righteousness and repentance.
It is easy for us to succumb to the temptation to “fit in” with the culture around us. We can let society set the agenda for us — or, like John, we can choose to stand apart from culture and become living examples of God’s love, God’s righteousness, God’s holiness.
How do we prepare the way for Jesus?
III. Through a Primary Focus (verses 7-8)
The people were captivated by John and his message and many sought to follow him and become his disciples. John had the opportunity to stand at the center of his own new religious movement. Yet John always remembered that he was a forerunner; his primary focus was always on the One yet to come, the One “mightier than I” (verse 7).
In the midst of busy church programs and activities, we dare not lose our primary focus on the One we serve. We must always point people to Jesus, and to Him alone. (JMD)
December 16, 1990
Sometimes a song takes on a meaning and significance beyond itself. Those who were young in the 1960’s will recall certain songs that came to have tremendous power as anthems of that generation.
In this text Luke records a song of incredible power and significance. Mary, a young woman who has just learned she is to give birth to a miracle child — the Messiah — expresses herself in this majestic song. Observe first of all ….
I. The Response of the Servant (verses 46-48)
Her response is one of praise and thankfulness. The Latin title given to this verse — the Magnificat — means “praise.” It is a song of praise from the handmaid, the servant of the Lord.
The response of the Christian to God’s grace in our lives must inevitably be one of praise for His greatness and mercy. As Mary praised God from her soul — from the totality of her being — so we should praise God with all that we are — our thoughts, our words, our actions.
If we know so little of the abundant life, perhaps it is because we have given so little in praise. Beyond the response of the servant, notice also ….
II. The Reflection of the Divine (verses 49-50)
As Mary is gripped by the Holy Spirit in praise and adoration, she sings of the characteristics of God — a reflection of the Divine.
She sings of God’s power, the very event which has touched her life is evidence of the creative power of God. A Roman Emperor once boasted that with the stamp of his foot he could call all of Italy to arms; yet God, with a single word, can bring worlds into being. He is a God of power.
She sings also of His holiness. If today it is easy for us to go along with the moral corruption of our society, it is because we have lost this vision of the absolute holiness of God — the burning moral perfection of the Almighty. He calls us to that same holiness.
Mary sings of God’s mercy. He gives out of His unlimited love, not because of anything we deserve or merit. God’s mercy is best seen at Bethlehem and Calvary — giving His Son as a sacrifice that we might share in His life.
In the coming of the Messiah, we see a reflection of the Divine. Note finally ….
III. The Result of the Event (verses 51-54)
Mary’s baby would produce a revolution in human history.
It was a moral revolution. The coming of Christ meant the death of human pride, for who can set his life beside that of Christ’s life and feel anything but shame?
There is an O. Henry story about a lad who grew up in a small village, where he was very fond of a young girl. As time went on, he moved to the city, where he got involved with the wrong crowd and became a pickpocket. One day he snatched the wallet of an elderly lady and was feeling quite pleased with his clever work when suddenly, down the street, he saw that same girl from the old village. She still had about her the sweet look of innocence, and suddenly he saw himself for the corrupt young man he had become. Burning with shame, he said, “Oh, God, I wish I could die.”
Christ allows us to see ourselves for what we truly are, and that is a death blow to pride. Yet it is only when pride is destroyed that we can recognize our need for Jesus; it is only when we say, “Oh, God, I wish I could die,” that we are ready for Him to produce that moral revolution within us.
It was also a social revolution. The coming of Messiah was a challenge to the unjust classes and structures that oppress men and women.
Muretus was a wandering scholar in the Middle Ages — a man who lived in great poverty. One day as he entered a new city he became ill, and was taken to some doctors. They began to discuss his case in Latin — never dreaming this peasant would understand what they were saying. One of the doctors suggested that since he was a worthless wanderer, they might use him to conduct medical experiments. They were all shocked to hear their patient respond, in perfect Latin, “Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.”
When we realize that Christ died for every man, every woman, we understand that each person is of infinite worth. Then how dare we consider persons of different values? How can we care for the souls of some and not others?
It was an economic revolution. In a world without God, it is logical to grab all you can without regard for anyone else. Yet Christ would reverse the meaning of wealth and poverty; the person who is rich is the person who gives of self; the person who is poor is the one who gathers only unto himself.
What a revolution Christ brought! The foolishness of humanity has become the wisdom of God — you must lose your life to find it.
Have you experienced the revolution Jesus Christ can bring in your life? (JMD)
December 23, 1990
Keys to Spiritual Victory
Out of fear of worshipping Mary, many Protestants have overreacted and failed to give Mary her proper due. She offers a tremendous model of faith and obedience, as she allowed God to use her as an instrument of His power and grace. In her story, we see some principles — some keys to spiritual victory — which can also help us to experience God’s power in our own lives.
I. A Tremendous Task
The task that faced Mary — to give birth to the Messiah; to deal with a suspicious Joseph; to deal with the whispers and accusations of family and neighbors — was an awesome challenge for a young Jewish girl of perhaps 15 or 16 years of age.
It is amazing that the task came, not to a woman of royalty or wealth or power, but to a poor, teen-age girl in rural Galilee. God seldom chooses for the important jobs the people we might choose. The disciples were fishermen, a tax collector. David was a shepherd, Amos a farmer. They were average people whom God called to great tasks.
We may not understand God’s ways; we may feel unqualified, unprepared. Yet God never gives us a task He will not help us complete.
II. A Precious Promise
The angel offered her a promise (verses 31-33) — this child was to be the Savior of His people, the Messiah! Whenever God gives us a task, the promise is not far behind. God blesses those He uses.
Human promises are as stable as the people who make them. God’s promises are fixed, secure, unchanging.
III. A Submissive Servant
Verse 28 is a beautiful portrait of submission to God’s will. A “handmaid” was a slave; Mary was placing her life in God’s hands as His servant. She yielded herself to His purpose.
Submission is one of the great keys to spiritual victory. The greatest joy of the Christian life will never be experienced until we are fully submissive to God’s will for our lives. When God calls upon us for a task, it may not be easy, but as we submit ourselves to His call we come to know the power of God in our lives.
When Joan of Arc knew her time was near, she prayed, “I shall only last a year. Use me as you can.” Are we willing to pray, “Lord, use me as you can”? (JMD)
December 30, 1990
Some Unpleasant Truths
There are those who consider the purpose of religion as producing good feelings, helping people feel pleasant about themselves and others. There are some elements of the Christian faith, however, that don’t make us feel particularly good. There are some truths we must face, however.
Simeon represented the best of Jewish piety. He had been assured by the Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his eyes closed in death. Simeon was there that day when Mary and Joseph brought their baby to the Temple for ritual purification. Simeon takes the child and utters a prophecy that contains some unpleasant truths — but ones we must confront.
I. The Coming of Jesus Requires Decision (v. 34a)
Simeon echoes the Old Testament and foreshadows the New (7 Peter 2:6-8). Jesus was to be the cornerstone — precious to those who believe, a stumbling stone to those who reject Him.
Christ’s very presence among us demands a decision. We cannot ignore Him, for to refuse to accept Him is to reject Him.
A. T. Robertson said, “Jesus is the magnet of the ages; He draws some and repels others.” Even at Calvary, one robber blasphemed while the other confessed. We must all ultimately answer the question: what will you do with Jesus?
II. The Coming of Jesus Results in Opposition (v. 34b-35a)
Because of who He is and what He demands of us, Jesus inevitably arouses opposition. His popularity with many is perhaps due to the fact that He has been recast in our own image and to our liking — molded to fit our own preferences and desires.
The real Jesus confronted people with their sin. He had dinner with outcasts. He blasted hypocrisy. Some have said that if He returned in our own day, many would seek to crucify Him again.
If we are to be His disciples and speak His truth, we will also arouse opposition. If His apostles had been content to fish and attend church, no one would have bothered them. But they went into the world proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” and calling others to His cause. That’s why they faced persecution.
When God’s people serve Him faithfully, they will experience opposition.
III. The Coming of Jesus Reveals Hearts (v. 35)
The way we respond to Jesus reveals what we are on the inside. To be His follower means more than joining the church or living a moral life; it is a commitment of life, a surrender of the heart.
Christ is the great revealer of hearts. As He looks at your heart and mine, what does He see? (JMD)
January 6, 1991
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
Paul was amazed at the privilege he had to proclaim the gospel. In verse 8, he focuses on two characteristics of that proclamation.
I. The Attitude of the Messenger (v. 8a)
Paul saw his ministry as a task for which he was not worthy. First, because he saw his own sin. He confessed the sin in his own life (Romans 7:15-19). If God’s work depended on perfect servants, none of us could participate. No matter what you have been and done, God can use you!
Paul also saw his own inadequacy. He knew that the task was greater than his own skills or talents. If we depend on our own abilities, we are doomed to failure. Only Christ is adequate to reach a lost world; only as we lean on His power can we experience lasting success.
Joseph Parker was a great preacher in 19th century London. One day a man asked Parker, “Why did the Lord choose Judas to be one of the twelve, knowing he would betray Him?” Parker answered, “I don’t know, but the greater mystery is why the Lord chose me!”
To see our own unworthiness and to marvel at His grace brings us to the point of usefulness.
II. The Glory of the Message (v. 8b)
Paul also recognized the incredible glory of the gospel message. It was beyond words, beyond measure. The riches of Christ are beyond human understanding.
The riches of Christ are not in doctrines or creeds; they are in His person, in Christ Himself. They are the riches of His life — that God came to dwell in human form, bringing healing, love, good news. They are the riches of His death — at Calvary, God gave His only Son to die for us. Amazing grace!
They are the riches of His resurrection — Death could not hold Him! Satan could not conquer Him! In the resurrection, God vindicated His Son, and overcame sin and death. They are the riches of His return — the promise is that the same Christ who gave His life as a suffering servant will someday return as a conquering king. What a glorious truth! (JMD)
January 13, 1991
Jesus at the Jordan
Although we do think of baptism as a particularly Christian action, the use of baptism actually had its roots in Jewish practice. Baptism took on a new significance in the ministry of John the Baptist, who called people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
But why was Jesus baptized? Even John asked that question when the Lord came to him at the Jordan. And what does His baptism mean to us?
I. As an Affirmation of John’s Ministry
John was a forerunner of the Messiah, come to prepare the way. Following many years when no prophetic voice was heard in Israel, he helped to focus the nation’s attention on God’s activity among His people — and what that required of us in repentance and righteous living.
By coming to John for baptism, Jesus was affirming the work John had done. That baptism was a link between Old and New Testaments — between the prophetic work of John and the redemptive work of Jesus.
II. As a Model for Us
Jesus is the supreme model for our Christian lives. Even in baptism, He models this act of obedience in which we follow Him.
In the earliest days of the church, baptism was the first public profession of faith made by a new Christian. In baptism, the new believers told their community, family, friends that they were now followers of Jesus. In the very act of baptism, they modeled their death to the old life and their resurrection to a new life in Christ.
In baptism, we too model the Christ-life for others.
III. As a Confirmation of God’s Presence
What a vivid picture Mark offers in verses 10 and 11, as God places His mark of approval on Jesus and His ministry.
As we are obedient to Him — in baptism, in service, in sharing our faith — we will also be able to sense God’s presence in our lives. (JMD)
January 20, 1991
Honor God With Your Body
(1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
Through television, movies, popular music, and other media, western culture is bombarded with a view of sexuality completely alien to the Christian faith. Pop culture tells us that sex is just another tool for immediate gratification — like fast food — and that we ought to do whatever feels good.
Yet today — in an era of AIDS, “safe sex,” increasing numbers of abortions and unwed mothers — Paul’s counsel in this text takes on a remarkable relevance. What are the reasons for sexual purity?
I. Our Bodies Are Meant to Serve God (v. 13b)
Millions of parents know what it’s like to be up late on Christmas Eve giving new meaning to the term “Some Assembly Required.” Most such products come with directions (hopefully written in English!). Suppose you just threw out the directions with the box and tried to determine for yourself whether Part A goes in Slot B or in Partition K. You could have a real mess on your hands!
That’s exactly what we have with sexuality torn from its original purpose and meaning. Our bodies were created to honor God; when we use them to practice sexual impurity, their very purpose and meaning is distorted.
God wants us to enjoy our sexuality — within the bonds of marriage as He created it. How much greater is our pleasure when we use our bodies as they were created to be used!
II. Our Bodies Are Part of Christ’s Body (v. 15-16)
When we give our lives to Christ, we become part of His body. We find the greatest satisfaction — the abundant life — as we function properly within that body.
How tragic, though, to take a part of the very body of Christ and defile it with sexual impurity!
III. Our Bodies Are No Longer Ours, But God’s (v. 19-20)
Would you let me borrow your car? I’ve always wanted to drive a car up to the edge of a cliff, then push it off and watch it fall and explode. Would you let me borrow your car?
Of course you wouldn’t! You aren’t about to let me take what is yours and destroy it for some fleeting moment of pleasure.
Yet why do we think it is acceptable to take our bodies — which have been purchased with the very blood of Christ — and destroy them through sexual impurity. Your body is no longer yours to savage and defile; if you have given your life to Christ, then it is His.
The greatest joy in life comes not through sexual impurity but through a life lived in the center of God’s will. (JMD)
January 27, 1991
Fishers of Men
I’ve never been very good at fishing. I just don’t have the patience to sit there and wait for a fish to bite. I have great admiration for those who have such skills.
Jesus spent a great deal of His time with fishermen. Here he uses fishing as an illustration of the role of the disciple: to be a “fisher of men and women.”
Just as Andrew and Simon were confronted with the claims of Christ, so we must decide. Notice three things about this story:
I. The Invitation: Follow Me (v. 17a)
It is an explicit invitation. He told them what to do: follow. When you follow someone, you seek to follow in their steps, to emulate them. Our task is to be like Jesus — to be conformed to His image. Like the boy following his father through the snow, trying to put his own tiny feet in the prints left by his father, so we seek to walk in His steps.
It is an imperative invitation. It is not optional. It is required if we are to experience the Kingdom of God and to know fellowship with the Father.
It is an urgent invitation. They must follow now, not later. The decision must be made. We cannot toy with God. If He is calling you today, you will decide today — one way or another.
II. The Implication: Become Fishers of Men (v. 17b)
The invitation carries a clear implication: as we follow Christ, we become fishers of men and women. We are invited to a task, to a mission.
The call of Christ is a call to action. “Go ye therefore” — not “Sit ye therefore.” The New Yorker carried a cartoon several years ago which pictured two seedy-looking characters walking across campus. One says to the other, with a disgusted look on his face, “I have a desperate need for commitment, and what happens? I’m offered a job!”
If we have committed our lives to Christ, we have a job, a mission –to become a fisher of men and women.
III. The Inauguration: They Left Their Nets and Followed (v. 18)
They yielded to His call, following Him and accepting His mission as their own. They did something. God is not seeking intelligence, good looks, ability — He’s looking for a willingness to be obedient. That day their mission was inaugurated. Jesus says he who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom. They left their nets where they were and followed Him.
Today Christ places a claim on your life. Will you decide for Him? (JMD)
December 2, 1990