Second Sunday after Christmas (B)
January 2, 2000
The Beginning Song of Salvation
Reading Jeremiah, one is struck by his urgent warnings, pleas, and dire announcements of coming disaster. Gloom and doom dominate his thinking, preaching and writing. Starting with Chapter 30 and running through chapter 33, his tune changes and a new song develops. The melody line reads that beyond the great tribulation period will come restoration of the land and a return of the people to it.
J. Vernon McGee calls chapter 31 the “I will” chapter because of the fifteen occurrences of the phrase, “I will.” The One who says “I will” is none other than God Himself expressing what He is going to do.
Here is a song of salvation weaving its way through this section of Jeremiah that is relevant for those who find salvation today just as the Israelites of the prophet’s day. At the beginning of this new millennium, let us sing the song of salvation!
I. The Song of Salvation Includes a Chorus of Praise (vv. 7-9)
Elmer A. Martin comments that Jeremiah sees ahead for Israel’s remnant “an anticipation of the reconstruction process, the return of joyful times, uninterrupted economic pursuits and vigorous religious activity … a united Israel in worship.”
With that anticipation comes a swelling chorus of praise. It is a …
– Praise mixed with joy
– Praise mixed with loud voice
– Praise mixed with human emotion
– Praise mixed with prayerful communication
Praise comes by keeping our eyes focused on God as the absolute source of our faith in anticipation of life’s goodness even when hope looks empty, circumstances seem overwhelming, and trials assail us. Augustine wrote, “The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot.”
II. The Song of Salvation Includes a Chorus of Proclamation (v. 10-13)
The chorus of proclamation will begin in the great shepherd’s saving act. He has proclaimed a ransom and a redemption of his people. The word ransomed means “to loose” or “set free by paying a great price.” Jeremiah proclaims that God has paid the price of grief over Jacob’s suffering.
The idea of redeemed is to “buy back.” The Hebrew understood this as a rich spiritual word that required a blood offering to avenge bloodshed that was happening in the siege and exile of Israel. The Christian of today understands the redemption of the blood of Jesus to buy us back from Satan.
A Christian woman working among the poor and neglected of London was observed by a reporter. He asked what had inspired her Christian faith. She told him that as a young Jew, she had fled the German Gestapo in France during World War II. The Gestapo was closing in on her when she found sanctuary in the home of a French Huguenot widow. The young Jew later was told she must flee immediately to a new place, but the distraught girl replied that it was no use as the Gestapo would find her anyway. The widow said, “Yes, they will find someone here.” She took the girl’s identification papers and sent her off with other Huguenots escorting Jews to safety.
The Jewish woman grasped the plan: The Gestapo would think she was an escaping Jew. The young woman asked, “Why are you doing this?” The widow responded, “It’s the least I can do. Christ has already done that and more for me.” As predicted the widow was taken and imprisoned in the Jewish girl’s place. Six months later she lay dead in a concentration camp.
The Jewish woman was able to out-run the German Gestapo, but could never outrun the Christian’s personal sacrifice. The Christian sacrifice was for one. Christ’s sacrifice was for all the world! We must proclaim the redemption of Israel’s God and our Savior throughout the new millennium.
III. The Song of Salvation — A Chorus of Peace (v. 14)
The peace that God ushers in for His people will be:
A peace of satisfaction. A contentment that brings one to their moorings, adrift on the sea of uncertainty.
A peace of abundance. A giving of more than we can ever dream or imagine in spiritual joy, hope, trust and life.
A peace of people’s spirits. Wondering and wandering will end when God resides and bring peace and permanence to our land.
A peace that embraces all people. No one is excluded from God’s arms of safety who seek Him.
Don’t search in all the wrong places or follow in the wrong direction — it will only bring a song of discord. God’s salvation brings a song of harmony. Sing now — out loud – to the God of glorious salvation in this new millennium! (Derl G. Keefer)
Baptism of the Lord (B)
January 9, 2000
Baptism — Our Testimony of Faith
The father of Matthew Henry, Philip Henry, wrote for his children his understanding of God. It became their testimony and statement of faith at their baptismal. His statement: “I take God to be my chief end in highest good. I take God the Son to be my prince and Savior. I take God the Holy Spirit to be my sanctifier, teacher, guide and comforter. I take the Word of God to be my rule in all my actions and the people of God to be my people under all conditions. I do hereby dedicate and devote to the Lord all that I am, all that I have, and all I can do. And this I do deliberately, freely, and forever.”1
In a spiritually polluted world, this is a refreshing commitment of faith as baptism becomes the outward expression of God’s antiseptic for the poison of life — sin.
Three concepts emerge in the scripture text for today.
I. A Baptism of Repentance (v. 4)
John’s call for repentance led to a renunciation of the old life of sin and an immersion into a new life of faith. This baptism call had three hallmarks:
1. A hallmark of the covenant between God and His people.
2. A hallmark of atonement between God and His people.
3. A hallmark of faith between God and His people.
This baptism of John was accompanied by confession of sin in the life of the individual.
Confession consists of admitting as a person that I have been born into sin and am in need of God. Confession consists of admitting that my actions indicate that I belong to Satan and am in need of a Savior. Confession consists of meeting God on His terms and asking for forgiveness for the poisonous sin in my life. It is kneeling in a humble spirit pleading with God to be merciful to me, a sinner. Baptism indicates that God has had that mercy for which I request!
II. A Baptism of Truth (v. 5-8)
John made a dynamic impact upon the people of his day, for his baptism was a baptism of truth. The Baptist lived the message through his life and confronted the people with the message of God.
His message corrupted the conscience of his hearers. The right and wrong of life were at stake. The people of John’s day reflect the people of our day — the conscience had become dulled, lethargic, and deadened. John’s message pricked their minds as well as their hearts with the truth. His message confronted the silence of prophetic truth. Three hundred years of not hearing from God was now re-awakened by the voice of John’s message of truth. John came from God, and to hear him was to hear from God. The people flocked to hear truth spoken.
His message of truth was cloaked in humility. Barclay wrote, “John asked nothing for himself but everything for the Christ he proclaimed. The man’s obvious self-forgottenness, his patent yieldedness, his complete self-effacement, his utter lostness in his message compelled people to listen.” (The Daily Study Bible, p. 17). Is your baptism one of truth?
III. The Baptism of Decision (v. 9-11)
Jesus no longer could stay in Nazareth as the carpenter’s son, but now had to acknowledge His divine sonship capable of taking away the sins of the world.
John’s emergence was Jesus’ signal to launch out to fulfill the Father’s will. Jesus’ decision was to identify with a movement back to the center of faith in the God of Israel. Christ took the challenge of the Father.
Jesus’ decision was met by God the Father’s approval for which the human Jesus needed and the divine Christ knew. Jesus’ decision was equipped by the Holy Spirit to begin the conquest of holy love for a lost people. He would not force Himself but rather be available upon request. He would need the Spirit’s power, comfort, and equipping ministry in His decision to take upon Himself the sins of the world — yours and mine Will we ask Him into our lives and be baptized with the decision to be identified as a follower of Jesus? (Derl G. Keefer)
1Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), p. 45.
Second Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 16, 2000
The Gospel Is Good News
People possess a desire to spread good news, whether it is news concerning themselves or news of others. I often observe enthusiasm in sharing good news during the course of a day. Perhaps our favorite sports team wins, or we get a new job, or a child is born into our family. In all these instances the excitement is spread as the news is shared. Christians have the greatest news in all of history, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have the great privelage of telling it to all people everywhere.
I. Jesus Is Our Good News (vv. 43-44)
After Philip met Jesus, his life was changed forever. Since childhood, he was taught that one day the Messiah would come. He read about Him in the Law and in the Prophets, and like so many, he too had come to trust and hope in the coming of the Messiah. What probably hadn’t crossed his mind is that he would be standing face to face with the Messiah on this day. The Son of God stood before Philip calling him to come and follow. I can only imagine the excitement welling up within Philip as he talked with Jesus.
Do we not have this same opportunity? As Christians, we have the privilege to meet the Son of God each day and submit our lives to Him. The Savior of the world is our elder brother. We are the adopted children of the one true God. This realization of our positions in Christ ought to stir our souls, and yet, so often it is clouded by the finite concerns and passing pleasures of this world. Shouldn’t we have the same reaction as Philip when we dwell in the presence of the Lord?
II. Good News Is Told With Passion (vv. 45-49)
Can you imagine Philip’s conversation with Nathanael? Gasping for breath with wide eyes, he grabs Nathanael by the arm: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth …” (v. 45). Nathanael responds with skepticism knowing the reputation of Jesus’ home town: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (v. 46). Tugging at his arm with anticipation in his voice, Philip says: “Come and see” (v.46).
I’ve observed passion like this during a football game in its fourth quarter. There are 20 seconds left, and the home team is down by three points. The ball is hiked, and the quarterback throws a bomb to the wide receiver who dives to catch it. As he tumbles across the painted line, the crowd rises to its feet with roaring cheers. And for the next two days, the conversation at work is centered on the final play. It’s as though the need flows out of them to share the good news. If only we were as passionate about the proclamation of the gospel as we are about the cause of college football.
III. The Good News Offers Eternal Fellowship (vv. 50-51)
Nathanael follows his friend to meet the mysterious Nazarene. As they are walking, Jesus spots Nathanael in the distance and greets him: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). Astonished at His words, he asks Jesus how He knew him. Though they had never met, Jesus reveals to Nathanael that He watched him under the fig tree before Philip came to Him. Nathanael new at that moment that this was truly the Son of God. He believed, and Jesus told him that this was just the beginning of what was to come. He promised Nathanael that he would see even greater things than these.
As followers of Christ, we have the hope of greater things to come. Though presently we see in a mirror dimly, we shall look upon God face to face and fellowship with Him throughout eternity. Like Philip, we have an exciting message to proclaim. It’s a message that gives hope to the hopeless, which tells us there is a way that sinners may be reconciled to a holy God. This is the good news, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3b-4). (Jonathan Kever)
Third Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 23, 2000
I Corinthians 7:29-31
Throughout Church history many of the saints have been called to do extraordinary things. We may observe in the Scriptures, those such as the apostle Paul who suffered greatly counting all things as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ and making Him known. Or we may peer into the lives of more contemporary examples such as Elisabeth Elliot who devoted much of her life to a people who took the life of her husband in order that she might further the message of the gospel. From the great men and women of the Faith and from the greatest example, Jesus Christ, we learn that we’re to always be ready as ambassadors of the gospel. Maybe we’re not called to become another apostle Paul or Elisabeth Elliot and leave our homes and families to venture out into the unknown, but we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and each one of us has a story of grace to tell.
As disciples we’re to shine as beacons of hope in a world of darkness wherever the Lord places us. The cares and concerns of our everyday lives seem often to distract us from this truth. We may have good jobs and wonderful families, nice houses and lots of things to fill them. And we may look around one day only to discover that we’re not so different from the world. Perhaps we’ve traded discipleship for creature comforts and a false sense of security. Maybe we look aside when the Lord places opportunities before us. Our text reminds us what it really means to live in this world as followers of Jesus.
I. Followers of Christ Have a Sense of Urgency (v. 29)
The apostle reminds us in verse 29 that “the time has been shortened.” No man knows precisely the day of Christ’s return, and there is constant debate among scholars of all denominations as to how He will return, but we can be certain that He will. Peter reminds us in his second epistle that “the Lord is not slow about His promise” (3:9), and he gives two reasons for the delay. First, God’s view of time is not the same as ours; second, he desires that more repent. As followers of Christ we ought to join one another in proclaiming the gospel under the guidance of our heavenly Father.
Every circumstance of our lives provides another opportunity to live for Him. The Scriptures stress the urgency of sending the gospel message. How many of us have family members and friends who don’t know Christ? How many of us are consistently praying for them and pursuing God given opportunities to share the hope we have?
II. Followers of Christ Have a Kingdom Perspective (vv. 30-31)
Paul is not suggesting in this passage that we disregard our spouses and give all our possessions away, but that we adopt the right perspective. He is saying that because our time is short, we shouldn’t get caught up in our own comfortable lives and lose sight of the goal. We are to press on and utilize ourselves, our families, and our possessions as resources of the Kingdom.
As Paul exemplified in his own life, sacrifice is really gain. When we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all that we need is provided. When we trade the world’s definitions of success with the Lord’s, we find true satisfaction. For we then “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Phil. 3:8a). The things of this world will pass away, but people will live forever. Where are you putting your investments? (Jonathan Kever)
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 30, 2000
There are those in history who have counterfeited the gospel message by claiming to possess authority from above, and some have even claimed to be the authority. Many people still remember the tragic events of November 18, 1978 when nearly a thousand people lost their lives at Jonestown in the jungle of Guyana. The leader of this massacre, Jim Jones, had disillusioned hundreds into believing he represented the voice of God. The San Francisco Chronicle published a two part special on November 12, 1998, twenty years after the incident, stating that initially “Jim Jones was the darling of San Francisco’s liberal establishment — a man who could spread the wealth to all the fashionable charities and, at a moment’s notice, marshal thousands of followers for a good cause.” He attempted to establish his authority and credibility through staged miracles, donations to charities, and other so called good deeds. Sadly, there were many who followed this charismatic leader to the end. Jones’ wasn’t a minister of the gospel; he was a cult leader who had deceived thousands in order to advance his own selfish and evil agenda.
Though Jones and many others before and since have tried to forge themselves as figures with divine authority, there is only one man who ever lived with such authority. Mark, tells us in his gospel of Jesus’ authority. It is an authority backed by both word and deed, and ultimately verified by the resurrection. Here in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus’ authority is illustrated in the synagogue at Capernaum.
I. Jesus’ Teachings Reveal His Authority (vv, 21-22)
In this pericope, Jesus and His new followers enter into Capernaum. Jesus immediately went to teaching in the synagogue. The author’s focus here is not on the content of Jesus teachings but on the startling authority with which he taught and on the response of His listeners. Jesus wasn’t simply passing down traditions and interpretations; He was giving the word of God. Jesus was fishing for men just as he called the first four disciples to do a short time earlier.
We, too, as followers of Jesus should become fishers of men by proclaiming the word of God. And we ought not rest on our own clever devices and programs to save men, but on the authority of the Word. For we “preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-34).
II. Jesus’ Actions Reveal His Authority (vv. 23-28)
It isn’t just with words that we observe Jesus’ authority. While He is teaching in the synagogue, a man approaches with an unclean spirit. The demoniac understands Jesus’ position and cries out defensively: “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” (v. 24). Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit before the people freeing the man from his bondage. Those watching were amazed saying “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (v. 27). Immediately news concerning Jesus spreads throughout Galilee.
Today we have the opportunity to spread the news of Jesus Christ. Our lives have been dramatically altered by Him. We too were freed from bondage and are no longer held captive to sin. The message we bring to the world is authoritative not because of our own merits and credibility, but because it is the message of the living God revealed to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Jonathan Kever)
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (B)
February 6, 2000
Becoming All Things To All People
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
A close friend recently told me of his progress in witnessing to his unbelieving teammates. He has played basketball with them for the past two years, and tried to live before them in the most righteous manner possible. He hoped that it would eventually rub off and open doors of communication whereby he might share the gospel. Eventually, he discovered that his strategy was severely lacking. There were few noticeable results, and it seemed like his teammates were distancing themselves. Prayerfully considering his ministry, he began to assess his approach. He shared with me that the answer was soon clear. Instead of meeting them where they were, he was trying to force them to become like him.
The guys used to tease him about going out after the games to a local dance club. He had always refused, but the last time they jokingly approached him, they were quite surprised to hear his answer: “Yes, I’ll go if we win the game tonight.” They did win and my friend proceeded that evening to meet his teammates at the club. After arriving, he made his way to the bar and asked for a large Sprite. For the remainder of his stay, he watched his teammates dancing and drinking from a nearby table. At various times throughout the evening, individuals on the team sat down to converse with him.
He had no idea the impact that night made on the rest of the team. They began coming to him on their own initiative and asking questions about God and morality. For the first time since he had been with them, he entered their world. He became all things to his teammates in order that he might win some.
I. Compelled To Preach The Gospel (vv. 16-19)
Paul had been ordained by God to preach the gospel. Since his Damascus road experience, he knew this to be his divine calling. This was nothing that he himself could boast. Paul was previously a persecutor of the Church, and it was only the direct intervention of Christ that changed him. The Apostle’s calling was special, but his call to preach the gospel isn’t an exclusive one. Like him, we should look for opportunities to tell the story of grace to a lost world. We don’t often consider our calling as ministers of the gospel and the consequences of not following the Lord in His calling — Paul did.
His reward was delighting in the free offer of the gospel. He worked with his hands in order that he might freely give the good news of Jesus Christ. This is especially effective considering that at the heart of the gospel is the free gift of grace. Though he was freed by grace, he chose to become a slave to all in order that the Kingdom might be advanced.
II. Becoming a Slave to All Men (vv. 20-23)
Paul goes on to explain what it means to become a slave to all men: “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (v. 22b). When he was preaching to the Jews, he became like a Jew under the law though he was free from the law by grace. And when he was with the gentiles who were without the law, he became as one not under the law. This doesn’t mean he was lawless; the law of Christ was written on his heart. In both cases what was at stake was not the appearance he might have before men, but the souls of those he came in contact with.
Paul acted on behalf of the gospel; that was his calling. He delighted in the fact that many would partner with him as fellow heirs. Paul put the needs of others before his own using every means available to him to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul models for us both the cost of discipleship and joy in presenting the good news. Though he made himself as a slave to men, he recognized the satisfaction found in obedience to the Lord’s call upon his life. How obedient are we to our Lord’s calling? (Jonathan Kever)
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (B)
Sunday February 13, 2000
Some Great Thing
II Kings 5:1-14
What is your wildest dream for our church? As you ponder that question, you may have a dream of a place where there is joy and excitement. You dream of a place where lost sinners are found, broken homes are restored, and those who are adrift find new purpose in living. That may be happening in our church, or sadly, it may not.
This may be an unusual place to begin a sermon about Naaman. We’re familiar with the story of Naaman. A heroic military figure is afflicted with leprosy and is appalled when he is told that in order to effect his cleansing, all he need do is dip 7 times in the Jordan River. He refuses to do what the prophet Elisha says to do until he is chided by his servant, “If he had asked you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it?”
Many of us would like to do some “great thing” to serve God. We dream of missionary crusades to the deepest, most remote parts of the jungle. We fantasize about preaching to stadia full of people who hang on our every word. We’d like to be the Christian philanthropist who is able to fund worthy causes out of our abundance. Most of us, though, don’t get to serve God in such “great” ways.
The story of Naaman is rife with irony. At first, we read that he is a heroic figure. He was influential in bringing victory to his king. He was the Norman Schwarzkopf of his day, one who was greatly admired and highly sought after. Yet, there was one sad circumstance in his life — he had leprosy.
It is ironic that fame and success and prestige don’t preclude tragedy and illness from invading our lives. Could JFK, Jr’s. wealth keep his plane aloft? Could Darryl Strawberry’s fame and fortune as a baseball player keep cancer from his body? Can Ronald Reagan’s status as a two-term former President forestall the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease? Naaman had access to the finest of medical care, but, alas, there was no cure for leprosy.
Another bit of irony is that the one who shows the most spiritual discernment is a servant girl in his household. An Israelite, she knew of a prophet in Samaria who could cleanse Naaman if only he could see him. How many times does God use the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise?
As one with political connections, Naaman attempts to go through channels to set up a meeting with Elisha. He has his king draft a letter to Elisha’s king. When Elisha’s king receives the letter, he thinks Naaman’s king is trying to pick a fight with him and asks, “Why would he send someone to me to be cured of leprosy?” Isn’t it ironic that Elisha’s king — and the king of God’s covenant people — doesn’t have enough sensitivity and discernment to know that there is a man of God in his midst?
Elisha heard of the king’s quandary and said, “Send him to me. Then he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Do people in your church community know that there is a prophet in your town? Is there a place where the lost are found, the broken are restored and those who are adrift are given direction? I ponder, “Is my church known for doing that?” Do people know that when they come through the doors of this church, they will meet God and be changed?
Naaman goes to see Elisha and is underwhelmed. He deals with one of Elisha’s lieutenants rather than “the man” himself. Elisha wanted to communicate that the healing came from God and not him. Elisha’s mode of cleansing is to have Naaman dip seven times in the Jordan River.
At first, Naaman is outraged. “If dipping in a river would cleanse leprosy, there are far superior rivers in Syria,” Naaman thought. His servant asked a question so powerful that it rings through the ages, “If he had asked you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it?”
Many of us would be willing to do “some great thing” in order to be right with God but what God really wants is simple trust and obedience.
What “great thing” brought Naaman’s cleansing? His obedience.
What “great thing” brings us salvation? Simple trust in the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ.
What “great thing” builds a great church? Simple obedience. (Mark A. Johnson)
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (B)
Sunday, February 20, 2000
Healed and Forgiven
Have you ever had the experience of battling a long and debilitating illness? During these past days, I have been taking chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. While I have been able to function and my prognosis for full recovery is excellent, it has increased my empathy for those who are battling long-term and persistent illnesses.
What if you have a problem and the doctors tell you that there is no cure for your condition? What if, after going through test after test, they are unable to name your illness? You can keep going to the same doctor and hope for a breakthrough or a burst of inspiration. You can try a specialist. Or, you may want to resort to a non-traditional therapy. Recently, I saw on the news a story about a clinic that was treating Multiple Sclerosis with bee sting therapy. The treatment is innovative — some may even call it quackery — but if that’s all the hope you have, why not give it a try?
What if you lived in Jesus’ day and there was little or no hope of a new medical breakthrough to bring healing to your body? The text contains one of the first stories that I remember from Sunday School. A paralyzed man has four friends who carry him to Jesus. The only problem is that the house where Jesus is teaching is packed to the max. An open door in Palestine was an invitation to “Come on in!” and the doors were seldom closed.
When Jesus taught, a crowd gathered. These friends were not to be deterred. Unable to get to Jesus the conventional way, they go up on the roof and lower the man through. It must have been a bit comical as a holy hush descends as the assembled congregation strains to hear the compelling teaching of Jesus. Unable to get the paralyzed man to Jesus via traditional means, his friends become innovative. They decide to lower the man through the roof.
Mark defines faith as overcoming obstacles to get to Jesus. The men were not deterred by an obstacle so inconsequential as a roof which kept them from getting their friend to Jesus. Imagine the scene as what sounds like four 150 pound mice gnaw at the corner of their attic. Then the debris — sticks, leaves, dried mud — begin to fall on the heads of those in the crowd as the man is lowered to Jesus.
Jesus saw faith. Jesus is motivated to respond to faith. Whose faith? Was it the faith of the paralytic or the faith of his friends? It was both, in mixed degrees. Can my faith be operative for someone’s healing? If I didn’t believe that, I would never pray for a sick person to be healed.
Jesus did more than just effect a physical healing. He also pronounced forgiveness on the man’s sins. The religious leaders could dispute that the man had been forgiven. They could not dispute that the man had been healed. In defiance of the religious establishment, the man walked out with his mat in full view of all who were assembled.
Jesus demonstrated His authority both to forgive and to heal. Which is the greater miracle? Both are significant. We need both. Where do you need healing? In what ways do you need to experience God’s forgiveness? Through faith in Jesus Christ — a willingness to overcome obstacles to get to Him — you can be forgiven. (Mark A. Johnson)
Eight Sunday after Epiphany (B)
Sunday, February 27, 2000
Good News, Bad News
It’s interesting to contemplate good news-bad news scenarios. Someone says, “I have good news and bad news. You’ll never again have a bad hair day. The bad news is you’re going bald.” Or, “You’ll never again have another toothache. The bad news is we’re pulling all your teeth.”
I had a man in a former church who worked in customer relations for a casket company. (How would you know if the customers were satisfied?) He shared with me that their business had seen an uptick in the previous quarter. That’s good news for the casket company but what about the families and loved ones of those who needed the product?
Jesus came preaching a message of good news, and indeed there were many who found Jesus’ message to be one of good news. One such person was Levi. As a tax collector, he was religiously unclean because of his association with Gentiles and was despised because he exploited his own people with unfair taxation. Jesus though, had the unique capacity to look into the very heart of an individual and see them as they really were. He didn’t see a despised tax collector; He saw a man with potential for service.
Jesus had earlier called James, John, Peter and Andrew to follow Him. Their call represented a modification of their previous life’s vocation. They shifted from being fishers of fish to being fishers of men, women, boys and girls. Levi’s call was a radical shift. There is one common thread in the response of these disciples, though. They followed Jesus immediately.
What wonderful news for Levi! He had been a despised and rejected outcast. Now God the Son chose him and demonstrated His acceptance of him. He didn’t say, “You can follow Me from afar if you really have to.” Instead, He went to his house and dined with Levi and a whole group of notorious “sinners” who were friends of Levi.
For those who had been outsiders and rejected by the religious elite, Jesus’ coming represented good news. While I may at times have an ornery streak that enjoys rattling people’s cages for no particular reason, I don’t believe Jesus does. I don’t think he necessarily enjoyed rattling people’s cages, it just happened. The religious establishment — the Pharisees — who thought they had a corner on God found that Jesus’ coming was bad news. Their “corner on God” wasn’t nearly as complete as they thought.
The good news, though, is that all of those who will acknowledge their brokenness and their incompleteness can find acceptance through Jesus Christ. It is ironic that those who were the religious elite were engaged in the somber activity of fasting. Jesus indicated that those who came to enjoy a personal relationship with Him would find that it was such an occasion for joy that any times of sobriety would have to come later.
The Pharisees had a joyless religion. What joy would be in your life if you constantly were concerned with tithing every spice in the cupboard, were bogged in the minutiae of the law, and felt that the slightest transgression would jeopardize your relationship with God? Jesus came and gave us a completely new paradigm. As Tony Campolo reminds us, the kingdom of God is a party. The presence of Jesus in your life is of such joy that fasting comes later.
If you think you have a corner on God or that you and your group are the in group with God, seeing Jesus reach out to someone that you’d just as soon not associate with is an occasion of bad news. If you’re willing to recognize your need and your brokenness and to be amazed by grace, Jesus’ coming is good news. (Mark A. Johnson)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Derl G. Keefer, Pastor, Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI; Jonathan Kever, Managing Editor, Preaching; and Mark Johnson, Pastor, Greenbelt Baptist Church, Greenbelt, MD.
Second Sunday after Christmas (B)