1 John 4 13-21
Text: 1 John 4: 19—“We love because He first loved us.”
How far would you travel to express our love?
In the Christmas Classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey was in desperate straits because of the missing $8000 and was on the verge of suicide, his guardian angel Clarence came to his rescue in an unorthodox manner. After Clarence revealed to him what it would have been like if he had never been born, George returned home full of joy—not in the least worried over possibly going to prison over what was thought to be embezzlement. But the whole town turned out to show their support and the money was quickly raised. And then, at the last minute, George’s brother, Tom Bailey entered. Tom was a decorated war hero—a pilot. His Co-pilot remarks that Tom had flown home in spite of the terrible weather conditions because he wanted to be there for his big brother! He had risked his life because of his love for George!
How far would you journey in order to express your love?
I remember the night my dad died. It was a Sunday night. I was just about to conduct the Sunday evening service when I got the call that Dad was close to death. We had the church service and then I left for home immediately after the benediction. My home in McCrory is 180 miles from Branson. I arrived there at midnight. Friends and family members were in the living room. Mom and my brother and sister were in the bedroom with dad. I went straight to the bedroom to my dad’s bedside. Dad was still alive, but just barely. I talked to him, prayed with him, and we all stood around him, each of us expressing our love as we said our goodbyes. Those who were there before I arrived said that Dad seemed to calm down after I got there. He had wanted all his children to be with him one more time. It was about 4:00 a.m. when he took his last breath. That 180 mile trip on those dark and in places curvy, narrow Arkansas roads for me had been a journey of love.
How far would you travel to demonstrate your love?
We are in the season of Lent. It is the time of year when we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord. Early on the Christian church has called for this to be time of self-denial as we search our hearts to rid it of anything that would obstruct our relationship with Jesus.
This is the time of year I like to meditate on the weeks leading up Holy Week. In Luke 9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
In years past I have preached on the various places where this final journey took Jesus and the different situations and people he encountered.
But in this message, rather than focusing on the “Where’s” and the “Who’s”, I want us to consider the “Why” What was it that caused Jesus to be so determined to go to Jerusalem?
There are three scriptures that come to my mind as I reflect on this question:
I. THE FIRST SCRIPTURE IS JOHN 3:16
a. “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
b. And while the message is God’s Love, the word that stands out to me as I think about Jesus and His final journey to Jerusalem is the word “World.” I have on several occasions stated that in John’s Gospel and Letters, whenever he used the word “World” it was in reference to this world system that is the result of mankind’s fall. It is the system that is currently under the dominion of Satan and it stands in opposition, in rebellion, to God’s Kingdom. It is the world where idolatry and witchcraft thrive. It is the world where lust and greed and selfishness dominate. It is the world where anger and hatred and murder are rampant. It is the world that opposes God in every way possible. It is our world that is riddled with wars, and sicknesses, drug addiction, alcoholism, and sexual promiscuity. This is the world that is stated in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….”
c. So when “Jesus set out determinedly to go to Jerusalem,” Jerusalem was a portion of the World that “God so loved…” Yes, I know that Jesus was in Israel and that the Israelite's were the “Chosen People of God,” but the even the people of Israel and Jerusalem were a people largely caught up in the world system that stands in opposition to God. The Romans who were the controlling rulers over Israel were idolatrous. They had their own Roman gods that they worshiped, including :
Jupiter, the King of Gods. ...
Neptune, the God of the Sea. ...
Pluto, the God of the Underworld. ...
Apollo, the God of Sun, Music, and Prophecy. ...
Mars, the God of War. ...
Cupid, the God of Love. ...
Saturn, the God of Time, Wealth, and Agriculture.
And along with several other lesser gods, in order to keep unity and control over the conquered nations, the Romans even declared Caesar to be a god.
· And the Greek culture which dominated the Roman Empire and was evident even in Israel had their own versions of gods: Zeus. God of the Sky (Zoos) ...
· Hera. Goddess of Marriage, Mothers and Families (Hair'-ah) ...
· Poseidon. God of the Sea (Po-sigh'-dun) ...
· Demeter. Goddess of Agriculture (Duh-mee'-ter) ...
· Ares. God of War (Air'-eez) ...
· Athena. Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Useful Arts (Ah-thee'-nah) ...
· Apollo. ...
The Jewish people after falling into Idolatry in the Old Testament and being forced into captivity and then dominated by foreign governments, had pretty much renounced the idols and claimed to serve the true and living God. But while they talked a good talk, their walk was often controlled by greed and intolerance of people who weren’t measuring up to their self-righteous standards.
And remember, the so-called religious leaders in Jerusalem had already determined to somehow get rid of Jesus—kill him any way they could because he was a threat to their authority over the people.
So when Jesus set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem, Jerusalem was very much a part of this Rebellious World System, the World that “For God so loved…”
Why did Jesus determine to go to Jerusalem? It was because “God so loved the World…”
II. THE SECOND VERSE THAT COMES TO MIND AS I THINK OF JESUS’S MOTIVE FOR THAT FINAL JOURNEY IS ROMANS 5:8.
a. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
While the focus of this verse is also on God’s love, the words that catch my attention as I meditate on Jesus’s final journey to Jerusalem are the words, “While we were still sinners…”
b. When I described my trip home the night my dad died, it is because Dad was in my beloved family. I would make that trip for my mother or my brother. While I didn’t have the opportunity to make the trip to see my sister before she died, I made the trip as soon as I could afterwards to honor her and support my other family members. Just a few weeks ago I drove to Indiana to show my love and support to my cousins and to honor my Aunt who passed away. There was never any doubt as to whether or not I would make those trips because these were people that I love and who love me.
c. But Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem and to die on the Cross for a people that did not love Him. As a matter of fact, they had him executed because of their hatred for him and their fear of him. They were sinners, people in rebellion against the very God they claimed to serve. And Jesus made that trip knowing what would happen when he arrived.
d. Why did he do it? And as we consider the ramifications of that final journey that ended with the Cross, we remember that Jesus made that trip not just for the people of Israel, and not even just for the people of that day and age. He made that journey to Jerusalem because of each one of us, for everyone from every age of time. And we are told that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means we all have been sinners. And it was while we were sinners that Jesus made that final trip to Jerusalem and died on the Cross.
e. Why did Jesus do that? It was a demonstration of how much God loves each one of us! Romans 5; 6-8 reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
f. Why did Jesus make that journey that led to the Cross? It was a demonstration of God’s love for sinners!
III. THE THIRD VERSE THAT CAME TO MY MIND WHILE MEDITATING ON JESUS’S FINAL JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM IS OUR TEXT IN 1 JOHN 4:19
a. “We love because He first loved us.”
b. We are born into the world as sinners. Ephesians 2:1-2 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
c. And there is one thing I know about a dead person: They are incapable of doing anything. They are done, helpless, incapable of understanding, incapable of changing, incapable of even knowing anything. They are dead, dead, dead.
d. And as people born dead in our trespasses, we are incapable of loving God and incapable of doing whatever it takes to save ourselves from damnation. If God had not taken the first step by loving us while we were still sinners in rebellion against him and controlled by this fallen and evil world system, we would have no hope. But, we are told, “We love because He first loved us.”
e. So, why did Jesus make that final trip into Jerusalem? Why did He go knowing that He would not be accepted, but instead would be rejected, tortured and executed? He knew that Jerusalem was controlled by the World System that was under the authority of the Prince of this World, Satan. He knew that while in that condition we were incapable of loving Him. Why did He go? He went because before we were ever even capable of loving Him, He loved us!
So, we prepare our hearts as we anticipate Good Friday and Easter, the Death and Resurrection of our Lord. We remember how determined Jesus was to make that final trip to Jerusalem, knowing that there was a Cross awaiting Him there. And we realize that the love that motivated Him to make that trip was a love that reaches out to each one of us today, some 2000 years later.
A certain medieval monk announced he would be preaching next Sunday evening on "The Love of God." As the shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lighted a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First of all, he illumined the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say.
Source Unknown, as quoted in Sermonillustrations.com/
This should motivate us to prepare our hearts for Jesus!
So, How far would you go for someone you love? Jesus went all the way to Calvary because of His love for you.
Why did Jesus determine to make that final trip to Jerusalem?
It was because of God’s love initiative!
Matthew 4: 12-17
It was 1985. Gloria, Jenna and I had been to California to our denomination’s General Assembly held in Anaheim. We had taken a few extra days to vacation, gone down to San Diego, visited Sea World, and rode the Trolley across the border into Tijuana and visited some of the Mexican shops. From there we had driven to San Bernardino to spend a couple days with my Uncle Billy Wayne who lives there. But now it was time to come home. We made our way up to Interstate 40 and started east. It took us a day or so but we reached Amarillo about noon and stopped at a mall for a break. When we started to leave the car ignition was broken and we could not insert the key. So we went to the Sears Auto center and they told us we would have to have a new ignition switch. Did I mention it was the 4th of July? Do you know how many Auto parts stores were open on a holiday back then? Not very many! But the Sears guys were very helpful and finally found a parts store across town that was open and had the switch we needed. There was a gentleman at the store who took pity on us and gave me a ride to the store and then back to Sears. The mechanics quickly made the repairs and after a few hours delay we were back on Interstate 40 headed home. As it grew dark, we began to pass communities which were off in the distance and were setting off fireworks. Cruising across I40 in our Crown Victoria, pulling a camper trailer, we enjoyed the scenes. It is interesting how on very dark evenings, the glow of cities off in the distance shine so brightly. I have always enjoyed seeing the city lights from a distance, especially from a higher altitude looking down towards the city. And the fireworks display certainly enhances the sights!
As I was reading our scripture and thinking about the words of Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” I can only imagine how the Glory of Heaven must look as we step out of this world of darkness into His marvelous light!
This words were spoken in Matthew 3: 1 by John the Baptist, and then repeated by Jesus in the passage we read this morning in Matthew 4.
We are in the season of Lent—a time of the year that precedes Easter. The early church declared this to be a time of repentance and spiritual renewal as we anticipate the celebration of the Death and Resurrection of our Lord.
The words of Jesus in this passage spoken early on in His public ministry are very appropriate for us during this season. The words are the very much the theme of the New Testament: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
I. WHAT DOES THE PHRASE “KINGDOM OF HEAVEN” MEAN?”
a. Google.com gives this definition: “Kingdom of God, also called Kingdom Of Heaven, in Christianity, the spiritual realm over which God reigns as king, or the fulfillment on Earth of God's will. The phrase occurs frequently in the New Testament, primarily used by Jesus Christ in the first three Gospels…Thought to be the main content of Jesus's preaching in the Gospel of Matthew, the "kingdom of heaven" described "a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as king or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men."
b. I’ve only been outside of the United States a few times. The first night in 1996 when a group of Branson ministers went to Israel and stayed at the Golden Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives, one of group who had made several trips to Israel asked some of us, “Do you want to walk over to the Wailing Wall? “ It was already dark, probably around 8:30 or 9:00. My thought were, “Is it legal –and is it safe—to walk there especially after dark?” I wasn’t sure about the laws in Jerusalem. On another night, several of us decided we would like to visit a modern day shopping mall in Jerusalem. The hotel worker called up a cab company who sent over a van to pick us up. There were 6 or 7 of us who crawled into the van. I don’t remember exactly what happened to cause this, but we hadn’t gone very far when we were stopped by a policeman. He talked to the driver and then he shined his light into the van checking each of us out. One or two of the guys did not have their seat belts fastened. The policeman gave us a lecture, but fortunately he didn’t fine us or imprison any of us. It was a case of being in another “kingdom” where we were not sure about the laws.
c. The Bible tells us that, after the fall in Genesis 3, the world was plunged into a spiritual darkness where Satan, or Lucifer, is currently ruling as the Prince of this World. In the Gospel of John, whenever the word “World” is used, it is in reference to the fallen world over which Satan has dominion—a world system that is in rebellion against God. So when we read in the Gospels, “The Kingdom of God” or “The Kingdom of Heaven” is at hand, it is referring to something other than this worldly system over which Satan rules. It is speaking of the domain where the Lord God rules. His laws are spelled out clearly for us in the Bible—they are laws that recognize and honor His Holiness. This is what Jesus meant when he taught the disciples to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
d. The New Testament is the record of how God, the King of Glory, has invaded Satan’s territory, reclaiming His creation. When Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near,’ He meant that God was moving in to reclaim His creation and to overthrow the rule of Satan. The Coming of Jesus, the Presence of the Holy Spirit, the visible expression of His Kingdom expressed in the Church pointing towards the ultimate fulfillment we call the “Day of the Lord” when Jesus returns and Satan and his cohorts are cast into the Lake of First---all that is wrapped up in the meaning of the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” The Church is the imperfect expression of what will ultimately be made perfect through His power and grace!
e. And when we come to Jesus and ask Him into our heart, we commit ourselves to being citizens of His Kingdom—The Kingdom of Heaven. It is not only near, it is here—in our hearts where we have made Jesus the King of our lives! And someday, it could be very soon, we will see Him face to face, and we will see the Holy City, adorned as a bride for her Husband.
f. That day will make any fireworks display or distant city glow pale in comparison. The Kingdom of God is at Hand!
II. BUT IN THIS PASSAGE JESUS SAID, “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND!” WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “REPENT”?
a. Again, the Internet google.com has this to say about repentance: “The repentance (metanoia) called for throughout the Bible is a summons to a personal, absolute and ultimate unconditional surrender to God as Sovereign. Though it includes sorrow and regret, it is more than that. ... In repenting, one makes a complete change of direction (180° turn) toward God.”
Wikipedia gives a little more detailed definition: “Repentance is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better. In Judaism and Christianity it is often defined as an action, turning away from self-serving activities and turning to God, to walk in His ways. 
In modern times, it is generally seen as involving a commitment to personal change and the resolve to live a more responsible and humane life. In other words, being sorry for one's misdeeds. It can also involve sorrow over a specific sin or series of sins that an individual feels guilt over, or conviction that he or she has committed. The practice of repentance plays an important role in the soteriological doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Analogous practices have been found in other world religions as well. In religious contexts, it often involves an act of confession to God or to a spiritual elder (such as a monk or priest). This confession might include an admission of guilt, a promise or intent not to repeat the offense, an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.”
b. I have heard repentance described as a military term meaning to do an “about face” where one is going one direction and literally turns and goes the opposite direction. It implies a drastic change in one’s life, a refocusing of one’s loyalty, a change in behavior, a surrender of one’s will, an admission of guilt, and a genuine commitment to serving the Living God!
c. Several years ago I read a biography of Robert Schuler, the founder of the Crystal Cathedral in California. I understand that church after his death finally went into bankruptcy and was sold. But in his heyday, Schuler was a very prominent religious leader in the USA. But one of the criticisms that was leveled against his ministry was that he did not really stress the importance of godly sorrow and repentance. I read his view on this and he felt that the repentance was taking place when people started to live for God. Whatever you thought of his position on this, I can say this: Jesus, from the very beginning of his public ministry, preached a message of repentance. And if you are going to be follower of Jesus, you must admit your guilt of sinning, and ask His forgiveness, and then turn away from that sinful lifestyle and follow Jesus. In the Church of the Nazarene we talk about “The Pursuit of Holiness.” That means, we strive with all our being and with the power of the Holy Spirit working within us to be as much like Jesus as we possibly can. Holiness is Christ-likeness. Jesus was perfect –We are works in progress. But that work begins with Repentance, turning away from Sin, and becoming a follower of Jesus!
D.L. Moody was one of the great evangelists back in his day, holding crusades all over Europe and the USA. In Sermon Illustrations.com Moody is quoted as giving this illustration about repentance:
“Professor Drummond once described a man going into one of our after meetings and saying he wanted to become a Christian.
"Well, my friend, what is the trouble?"
He doesn't like to tell. He is greatly agitated. Finally he says, "The fact is, I have overdrawn my account" -- a polite way of saying he has been stealing.
"Did you take your employer's money?"
"I don't know. I have never kept account of it."
"Well, you have an idea you stole $1,500 last year?"
"I am afraid it is that much."
"Now, look here, sir, I don't believe in sudden work; don't steal more than a thousand dollars this next year, and the next year not more than five hundred, and in the course of the next few years you will get so that you won't steal any. If your employer catches you, tell him you are being converted; and you will get so that you won't steal any by and by."
My friends, the thing is a perfect farce! "Let him that stole, steal no more," that is what the Bible says. It is right about face.
Take another illustration. Here comes a man, and he admits that he gets drunk every week. That man comes to a meeting, and wants to be converted. Shall I say, "Don't you be in a hurry. I believe in doing the work gradually. Don't you get drunk and knock your wife down more than once a month?" Wouldn't it be refreshing to his wife to go a whole month without being knocked down? Once a month, only twelve times in a year! Wouldn't she be glad to have him converted in this new way! Only get drunk after a few years on the anniversary of your wedding, and at Christmas, and then it will be effective because it is gradual!
Oh! I detest all that kind of teaching. Let us go to the Bible and see what that old Book teaches. Let us believe it, and go and act as if we believed it, too. Salvation is instantaneous. I admit that a man may be converted so that he cannot tell when he crossed the line between death and life, but I also believe a man may be a thief one moment and a saint the next. I believe a man may be as vile as hell itself one moment, and be saved the next.
Christian growth is gradual, just as physical growth is; but a man passes from death unto everlasting life quick as an act of the will -- "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life."
In just a few weeks we will celebrate the greatest event in Salvation History—the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. He suffered and died so that we could find forgiveness and deliverance from sin and this Sinful World System where Satan rules. Through Faith in Jesus Christ, we have our names recorded in the Book of Life and become citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.
It begins with Repentance. REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR!
No Sermon this week. Thank you to all the Testimonies we all heard this past Sunday. Very powerful stuff! These young women should be very proud of themselves for everything they have overcome and are still working on. Not Easy! Watch the live video and see for yourself.
Ephesians 5: 21-33
This month with its Valentine emphasis on Hearts and Love, we have been examining Biblical passages that address aspects of relationship. So far, we have considered “How to deal with Anger” and “How to properly Love your Enemies.” Today, on this Valentine Weekend, it just seems appropriate and natural to consider what the Bible has to say about marriage relationships. And, of course, at the very core of such relationships, the foundation upon which the whole relationship exists, there is Love. Paul says that love is the kind of love that Jesus had for the Church—His Bride.
Let’s consider the depiction of marriage in Ephesians 5 and then see what that tells us about our relationship with Jesus.
I. MARRIAGE IS ABOUT MUTUAL LOVE.
a. It is interesting from our perspective to learn that marriages in Bible times were often arranged marriages. For example, Isaac had never met Rebekah before their marriage. Abraham had sent his servant back to where his brother lived to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant had negotiated with Laban in order bring Rebekah back to be the wife for Isaac. And Jacob, escaping from his brother’s wrath, went to his relatives on the pretense of finding a wife. And while Jacob knew his wives before he married them, He had to work for 14 years to pay the bridal price for his two wives, Leah and Rachael. And Pharaoh, after appointing Joseph as 2nd in command in Egypt, gave Joseph an Egyptian wife. These are just a few examples, and, while arranged marriages were not always the case, they were common.
b. In light of that fact, it must have not been unusual for the newlyweds, who may have just met a few days earlier, to have no real strong emotional attachment to each other. They hadn’t even had time to determine if they even liked each other. In such circumstances the command to love your wife must have been necessary. The husband had to make a choice to intentionally love this new woman in his life whom he would live with for the rest of his life.
c. And the point is that we are not commanded to marry the one we love (though, hopefully that is the case), but, instead, we are commanded to “Love the One we marry.” The love that was expected first of all had to be a commitment of the will. The two chose to be committed to each other. They chose to support one another. They chose to embrace one another. The feelings of strong emotional attachment came as a result of their conscious decision to pledge themselves to each other. Love, therefore, must first of all be a commitment.
d. I have officiated several weddings in my 47 years as a pastor. In our marital preparation sessions, I have never had a couple tell me they were just going to try marriage out to see if it was right for them. And if it didn’t work out, they would simply get a divorce. No, they all tell me that their marriage will be for life. I have tried to impress on them that if they considered divorce an option, their marriage would never last. I wish I could say that every one of those marriages lived up to that standard. Unfortunately, it was not so. Too many reached a point where they “fell out of love,” and they opted to end the marriage. What was the problem? If they could “fall out of love,” then their love was not based on commitment. It was based on emotions. And emotions are not always reliable. Our hearts tend to be fickle! 1 Corinthians 13 describes for us the kind of love that is based on commitment: Verses 4-7 describes love this way: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
e. That’s the kind of love God expects us to have for one another!
II. Secondly, the marriage relationship must be one of MUTUAL RESPECT.
a. In Ephesians 5: 33 we read, “…the wife must respect her husband.”And while the command is directed to the wife, the underlying truth is that “Respect” is a mutual virtue that both husband and wife must have for each other.
b. What is “Respect”? It is recognizing the value of another human being and treating them as a valued individual. It is recognizing their worthiness. Google.com gives these definitions: >a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements; >due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. >admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
c. A person who gives respect to another is one who does not undermine or undercut the other person. If you disagree with your spouse about something, you do not publicly berate him or her. You certainly do not do anything to humiliate the other person. You do all you can to build up the other person.
III. A Third virtue that Paul includes in his description of a healthy marriage is the VIRTUE OF MUTUAL SUBMISSION
a. . Again, I must point out that this too is a Mutual Submission to one another. Most every man can quote Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, submit yourselves to you own husbands as you do to the Lord.” But we conveniently forget that verse 21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
b. Submission is the art of recognizing and respecting a person’s role in life. It is voluntarily placing yourself in a servant position in regard to the other person.
c. We sometimes get the concept of “Submission” confused with the concept of “Subjection.” “Subjection” is the act of forcing someone to do something that may be against their will. I cannot force my wife to be in submission to me. Nor can she force me to be in submission to her. Submission is a decision a person makes of his or her own free will.
d. Stephen P. Beck gives this illustration in (Sermonillustrations.com):
Driving down a country road, I came to a very narrow bridge. In front of the bridge, a sign was posted: "YIELD." Seeing no oncoming cars, I continued across the bridge and to my destination. On my way back, I came to the same one-lane bridge, now from the other direction. To my surprise, I saw another YIELD sign posted. Curious, I thought, "I'm sure there was one posted on the other side." When I reached the other side of the bridge I looked back. Sure enough, yield signs had been placed at both ends of the bridge. Drivers from both directions were requested to give right of way. It was a reasonable and gracious way of preventing a head-on collision. When the Bible commands Christians to "be subject to one another" (Ephesians 5:21) it is simply a reasonable and gracious command to let the other have the right of way and avoid interpersonal head-on collisions.
Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” And in this beautiful description of marriage, we are reminded of Christ’s love for the Church, which is in several places in the New Testament called “The Bride of Christ.”
Pastor Gordon Cook in his sermon entitled “The Church as the Bride of Christ” writes:
God has spent a lot of time at His painting easel, painting pictures of the church, and He doesn’t use dark colors. Not one of the paintings is ugly, not one of the paintings is repulsive or negative. No, we could say this: they are rather breathtaking, positive, beautiful pictures. Arguably the most beautiful picture we have of the church is the church is the spouse, the bride of Jesus Christ, and that’s how we want to look at the church today under that first graphic image…
So, who is the Bride of Christ? Who is “the Church”? And the answer is, we are! All who have made the decision to accept Christ as their Savior has become a member of The Church. If we are “The Bride of Christ,” what are the traits that give evidence of that fact?
i. Mutual Love. The Bride groom and the Bride have committed themselves to each other, to honor, protect, defend, build up one another. There is a commitment from both Bride and Bridegroom to enter into a forever relationship. That commitment is not based on some mutual, gushy, affectionate feeling, though such may be present. Rather, it is based on joining of the wills to each other, a commitment to stay true to each other for life.
ii. Mutual Respect. By definition, respect is honoring one another and recognizing one another’s value. Jesus demonstrated that respect in his statement in John 15:13, when he said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.” And that is underscored by Romans 5:8 which says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
iii. Mutual Submission. God does not force us to serve Him. He invites us to do so, but He does not force us. We each one must make that choice to place ourselves under His authority—to let Him be God, the Lord of our lives!
On this Valentine’s weekend, I pray for husbands and wives, and family and homes, and the processes involve that bring these into existence.
But I would remind you that marriages are institutions that point us to an even higher relationship—Our relationship with God. And the wonderful thing about that relationship is that God has promised Himself to us if we will promise ourselves to Him! We can struggle through life, determined to have our own way, refusing to commit to anybody or anything. Or we can surrender to God and enter into a relationship of mutual love that gives to us peace and joy and satisfaction in life and for eternity. Bruce Larson tells how he helped people struggling to surrender their lives to Christ:
For many years I worked in New York City and counseled at my office any number of people who were wrestling with this yes-or-no decision. Often, I would suggest they walk with me from my office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. 'Now that's one way to live,' I would point out to my companion, 'trying to carry the world on your shoulders. But now come across the street with me.'
"On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of
the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand. My point was illustrated graphically.
"We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, 'I give up, Lord; here's my life. I give you my world, the whole world.'"
Bruce Larson, Believe and Belong.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO MY RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST?
Matthew 5: 43-48
The Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, 6, & 7 is a discourse given by Jesus on how to live as citizens in God’s Kingdom. In simple terms the discourse tells us how to live a Christian life.
I often refer to this discourse as the Ethical Foundation of Christianity. Jesus addresses life issues that were relevant 2000 years ago and that are just as relevant in 2020!
This passage in Matthew 5: 43-48 flies in the face of conventional thinking. In it Jesus says that anyone can claim to love a friend—Christian or pagan, Jew or Greek—it is just common sense that we can say we love our friends. But the standard for those who would live the holy life to which God has called us is not content with just loving our friends. Jesus says that if you are going to be a child of God, you must choose to also love your enemies.
That is a radically high standard. Our immediate response is, “How can I love someone that I don’t even like? I have enough trouble trying to love the ones I do like!”
And I have to tell you it isn’t easy! It takes discipline and hard work. It isn’t the normal response that a person would choose. It is an intentional choice seated in one’s will. And it can only be accomplished when a person is totally surrendered to God and God is allowed to love through that person.
We are familiar with the command but let’s dig deeper into this call to “love our enemies.”
I. HOW DO YOU DEFINE “ENEMY”?
a. In the Learner’s Dictionary found on the Internet, the following definitions are given for the word “enemy”: 1: someone who hates another : someone who attacks or tries to harm another They are sworn/bitter enemies. He made a lot of enemies during the course of his career. If you are your own worst enemy you act in a way that causes harm to yourself or to the people or things that you care about. 2 : something that harms or threatens someone or something Tradition is the enemy of progress. In many countries today, drug abuse is public enemy number one. [=the most dangerous threat to society] 3 a : a group of people (such as a nation) against whom another group is fighting a war — usually singular… Some of the soldiers went over to the enemy. He found himself behind enemy lines. The plane was shot down by enemy fire. b : a military force, a ship, or a person belonging to the other side in a war — usually singular They targeted the enemy at close range.”
b. But just what did Jesus mean in this passage when he spoke of “Enemies”? Remembering that at the time when Jesus was living, Israel was a country controlled by an oppressive Roman Government. Roman officials and Soldiers were stationed throughout the land to control the population, to exact taxes, to force the citizens to obey the rules that were placed upon them, and to punish those who didn’t obey. Just a few verses earlier, in Matthew 5:41 Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” That statement pertained to the law that a Roman Soldier had the authority to force a citizen to carry his load for one mile. I would imagine that such an order would not cause one to have pleasant thoughts towards the Roman soldier making such a demand. So, I’m sure that the first “enemy” that came to the mind of the audience hearing Jesus’ words, would be the oppressive foreign soldiers who made life so hard for the common people. It would be like having Russia to take over our country and force us to do their bidding. We would consider them our enemy.
c. But I don’t think Jesus meant the Roman government exclusively. There were the tax-collectors—Jewish men who hired on to collect taxes for the Romans. They were considered traitors of their own people. And there were people who just plain didn’t like you and wished you harm—robbers, swindlers, slave drivers, murderers—anyone who opposed you and wished to force you to do something contrary to your will.
d. Unfortunately, the political climate in America has become so polarized that one could say that the Republicans and Democrats have become each other’s enemies. The Impeachment trial and the open hostility we have seen displayed would support that view. It shouldn’t be that way, but to a large extent it has become such.
e. And I would suggest to you that too often we have broadened our concept of “Enemy” to include anyone who disagrees with us or anyone that we do not particularly like. In too many cases it has become an “Us Against Them” society!
f. If ever there was a time when we need to take a step back and pause to reflect on this passage of scripture, now is the time!
II. HOW DO WE DEFINE “LOVE”?
a. This is a word that we use so often to express a variety of different ideas.” I love pizza!” “I love the color blue!” “I love Red Roses!” “I love chocolates!” “I love my dog or cat!” “I love my husband or wife!” “I love reading John Grisham novels.” “I love the Chiefs!” “I love summertime!” And it goes on.
b. You probably know that the Greek language in which the New Testament was first written there were several different words that are translated “Love” in the English language. These words specify the feelings we have for our parents, our spouse, our children, and even for our strong intimacy feelings. And the word used in this passage is “Agape.” The distinguishing feature of “Agape” is that instead of an emotion that we “fall in to,” it is a choice that comes from an act of the will. It may have nothing to do with how we feel emotionally but it has everything to do with our intentions. And the intention of “Agape Love” is for the good will or betterment of the person to whom it is directed.
c. With that understanding, when Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he didn’t necessarily mean that you have sweet, gushing feelings of affection for them. Rather, He meant that you decide in your heart that you will for their good.
d. It is easy to say,”I don’t like so-in-so, but I wish them no harm.” But that still falls short of what Jesus is saying. To truly “love your enemy,” you must actively seek to express that good-will. That’s where it gets tough.
III. SO, HOW DO YOU ACTIVELY LOVE SOMEONE WHO IS YOUR ENEMY?
a. I’m glad you asked—I think. It isn’t easy. It goes against the grain of our feelings. But this is the real defining difference between a true Christian and someone who is just pretending to be a Christian. And it is certainly the difference between a Child of God and someone who is not a child of God.
b. The best Biblical example that I can think of is the Old Testament account of David and King Saul. After King Saul had disobeyed God’s instructions the Lord withdrew His Spirit from Saul. And when that happened, an evil spirit would often come upon Saul causing him to have bouts of paranoia and to act crazy from time to time. His advisers had introduced him to David because of David’s ability to play the lyre. The music would help to calm Saul from his tormented behavior. But as David gained in popularity and fame as a warrior Saul began to fear David. And there were several instances when he tried to kill David. It became so bad that David had to flee and for a long period of time he hid from Saul even as he gained a following himself. On a couple of occasions David had opportunity to kill Saul but each time he refused to do so. He remained loyal to Saul even though Saul had become his enemy. David’s philosophy was, “Do not touch the Lord’s Anointed!” He loved Saul even though he had to constantly stay away from Saul in order to save his own life.
c. In my search for advice on getting along with one’s enemies, I came across these 8 suggestions on Google Search: >Stop, breathe, detach yourself. ...David certainly had to detach himself from Saul. It was a matter of life or death! >Put yourself in their shoes. ...David knew that God had anointed him to be a future king--and so he treated King Saul the way he would want to be treated. >Seek to understand. ... >Seek to accept. >Forgive, and let the past go. ... >Find something to love. >See them as yourself, or a loved one. >Find common ground.
d. Those are all good instructions. But there are some I would believe that are just as important:
i. Remember that everyone is created in the Image of God. Keep that in mind as you consider how to treat another person.
ii. The Bible in several places tells us to “Be courteous to one another.” I am troubled by the lack of courtesy and respect that is being displayed in our culture—name calling, poking fun at people’s appearances. While I am a supporter of President Trump I do not appreciate how he tweets character assassination remarks at those who disagree with him. And the disrespectful behavior we have seen this week on both sides of the political aisle is wrong. The Facebook posts I see from many of my Christian friends are heartbreaking. What has happened to dignity and civility in our culture?
iii. Take time to really listen to what our “enemy” has to say. Our tendency is to be on the defensive, to plan our next reply instead of listening to what our opponent is saying.
iv. The classic advice that was popular a few years back isn’t bad either—When we think of our “Enemy,” ask ourselves the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” After all, our desire should always act in a way that glorifies God!
v. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as lieth in you, live peacefully with all men.” You are responsible for your behavior. You cannot force another person to be your friend. His will is independent of yours. But if you do less that your best, you are falling short of the point Jesus was making in Matthew 5: 43-48. Agape Love demands your best!
This is February, the month when Love is a major topic. Next Friday is Valentine’s Day, a time to make a special effort to express your love and friendship to people you care about.
What if in addition to your friends and loved ones, you would reach out to those with whom you have had disagreements?
What if you sent a note of encouragement to someone who has personally spoken ill of you?
What if you would choose to let go of any bitterness you feel towards someone who has wronged you?
What if you made a decision to Love in the same way Jesus loves?
To whom in your life do you need to make a choice to demonstrate Christ-like Love?
It could be that you need to bow in prayer and ask Jesus to fill your heart with His love and remove those negative feelings and enable you to really love as He has commanded of us?
Remember; Jesus said, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
To whom do you need to extend Christ-like love in your life?
I have been known to be angry. I don’t like it when I am angry. Often, when my angry is growing, I find myself on the verge of tears. My voice gets broken, my face red, my breathing becomes labored, and my heart rate elevates. When I find myself getting in that condition, I am prone to do and say things that I later regret.
I remember one instance from my teen years. I had become a Christian in fall of my senior year in High School. I was very determined to be the best Christian I could be. I went to church every time there was a service. I was on the Bible Quiz team in my church and, therefore, carried my Bible with me most of the time, studying the Gospel of John over which we were quizzing. At that time there were 4 of us on the local team and we had an agreement. We had workbooks to study, and even though there were quiz question booklets available, we agreed that we would not look at those. That way, we would be on level terms at our practice quizzes. As the time for the zone quizzing approached, we scheduled a quiz in our local Sunday night service.
As our pastor begin to ask the questions one of the teens would pre-jump, complete the question and give the answer—almost every time. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that he had memorized the quiz questions—the ones we had agreed not to look at. Consequently, He won the quiz match and I felt that I had been cheated. After the quiz was over, the service continued, and I kept turning over in my mind how that boy had cheated. And I knew that his mother had gotten a copy of the questions and gone over them with her son. The longer the service lasted, the more I fumed. I wasn’t so much angry with the boy as I was at his mother. As soon as the service was over, I headed towards the lady and begin to give her a piece of my mind about how we had an agreement and that the boy had cheated and I didn’t appreciate it. Fortunately for me, my dad saw what was happening and he intervened before I had a chance to say very much and he made me go get in the car and go home. But I was very angry over that for a long time.
I had felt humiliated, cheated against, and betrayed. The injustice of it was overwhelming. And my emotions had exploded.
I wish I could say that was the only time that happened to me, but it wasn’t. Even after serving the Lord for many years, I have lost it a few times. Fortunately, I have mellowed out a bit as I’ve gotten older.
According to Gary Collins, a Christian Counselor who has authored many books and articles on counseling, the subject of anger is mention nearly 600 times in the Old Testament alone. It is a very real human emotion that often precedes some very negative behavior.
And so we read again the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. It is the first recorded case of extreme anger that led to the very first murder in human history. The pattern that is given in this account is a pattern that is repeated time and again in human history. And the fact that it happened within a family between two siblings makes it even more worthy of our close examination. Sibling rivalry has often been the occasion of extreme anger—Think of Jacob and Esau, Joseph and His brothers, even King David and his brothers at the scene of David’s battle with Goliath. And in the New Testament parable of the Prodigal Son, there is the account of the Elder Brother’s anger that his younger brother’s return was being celebrated.
Let’s walk through this account of Cain and Abel as we consider the problem of destructive anger.
I. THE EVENT
a. We read that Cain was the firstborn and then came Abel. Cain was in charge of the soil, indicating that he raised the vegetables and grain and probably tended to the fruit trees. Abel was in charge of the flocks—goats, sheep, and perhaps other livestock. Both of these responsibilities were noble and necessary. Neither responsibility should have been considered superior or inferior. That wasn’t the issue.
b. The problem arose when the brothers brought offerings to sacrifice to the Lord. There is much we do not know at this point. It is not recorded how or when God had given instructions about offering sacrifices. Later on, clear instructions are recorded as to the type of sacrifices to be offered on different occasions, but we have no such written instructions at this point. Perhaps, the instructions had been given when God had slain the animal to make a covering for Adam and Eve after the Fall. We just don’t know.
c. But we do know that Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s offering was accepted. And that made Cain very angry.
d. What triggered such a strong emotion in Cain? Perhaps it was sibling rivalry or jealousy. Perhaps It was his pride that what he thought should have been approved by God wasn’t. Perhaps he felt that God wasn’t being fair to him. And maybe he felt humiliated by Abel being favored. Whatever it was that triggered his anger, Cain was extremely angry. His anger may have been at his own disobedience and failure. Or it may have been at God for being unfair. Whatever else, it is obvious that his anger became directed at Abel. Abel had “one-upped” him!
II. THE WARNING
a. Verses 6 & 7 contain the warning: “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’” Interestingly, God does not call the emotion of anger sinful. Rather, He warns that disobedience is the problem and that had set up an entry point for sin. “Sin is crouching at your door…”
b. We must make a distinction between having an emotion and committing a sin. Anger is a normal, natural emotion. It is neither good nor bad. How we handle, or “rule over it” determines whether it is good or bad. Gary Collins writes, “In the Bible, God’s anger, fury, and wrath are mentioned more frequently than his love and tenderness. Since anger is a part of God’s nature, we cannot conclude that anger, in itself, is bad. God is completely good and holy, so we must conclude that divine wrath is also good…” Collins goes on to say, “Human Anger is Normal and Not Necessarily Sinful. Human beings were created in the image of God and given emotions, including anger. This anger is a necessary and useful emotion... It was seen in Jesus and is not sinful in and of itself…”
c. God does not condemn Cain for being angry. Rather, he warns him of the danger of being disobedient and allowing that anger to motivate him to do something that is wrong.
d. Dr. Collins goes on to say, “Human anger may result from faulty perception. Human beings…are imperfect and we see each situation from our own perspectives. We are not always able to judge accurately between real injustice (as perceived accurately by an omniscient God) and apparent injustice. As a result, we sometimes become angry over issues that we think are wrong but which, in fact, would not be considered wrong if we had all the facts. Sinful self-interest often causes our perceptions to be distorted. Because we feel vulnerable, threatened, or inclined to be critical, we can misinterpret the actions of others and jump to angry, perhaps unjustified conclusions.” (pp. 120-121, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide, Gary Collins, PhD, copyright 1988, publisher Word Books).
e. God was giving Cain a chance to come clean. Yes, he was angry, but he had the chance to see things from God’s perspective and make things right. But Cain insisted on hanging on to his anger and directing it towards Abel.
III. THE SIN
a. Verse 8 say, “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”
b. Anger wasn’t the sin—allowing that anger to motivate Cain to attack his brother—that was where sin became a reality!
c. There are many different ways we can react to anger. We can suppress it. But suppressing it can lead to a major eruption, or it can lead to psychosomatic diseases. Psychologists tell us that depression is really suppressed anger. Suppressed anger can also contribute to ulcers, heart disease, strokes, and many more illnesses.
d. Cain could have taken a different approach. He could have admitted that he was angry, talked things over with his brother, recognized his own pride or jealously and sought forgiveness, and even corrected the nature of his offering and made things right with God. But instead he harbored his anger, planned his revenge, and murdered his brother, and then tried to hide his sin from God.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES
a. Verse 11-12, “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” And then, in verse 15, “…then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him…” I’ve wondered what that mark was and wondered if God just made him incredibly ugly and mean looking –like a Neanderthal Man, so that no one would want to mess with him?
b. But the point is, you may have a choice as to whether or not to sin, but once you make your choice you set into place consequences over which you have no choice. Galatians 6: 7-8 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows’ 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
c. And so, Cain no longer had the honor of tilling the soil and providing grain and fruit and vegetables for his family. Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden of Eden. And now Cain was banished from the peaceful security of his family--a cursed soul wandering the world in search for that which he had lost.
V. THE REMEDIES
a. In verse 7 God had warned Cain of sin crouching at the door and then said, “…but you must rule over it.”
b. That is where we must learn how to properly deal with anger. How do you learn to control or rule over anger?
c. The Mayo Clinic posted these suggestions on its website:
1. Think before you speak
2. Once you're calm, express your anger State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.
3. Get some exercise
4. Take a timeout
5. Identify possible solutions
6. Stick with 'I' statements
7. Don't hold a grudge
8. Use humor to release tension
9. Practice relaxation skills
10. Know when to seek help.
Truthfully, there are many things that cause anger. And what would cause anger in one person may not even bother another. We are all unique individuals with unique personalities.
Regardless of our uniqueness, we must remember what God’s Word tells us. “Forgive one another.” “Love One Another.” “Never seek revenge—Vengeance belongs to the Lord.”
Hebrews 12:14 & 15 gives us great counsel: “”Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the LORD. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
Ephesians 4: 26-27 says, “”26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Let me ask you. Are you harboring anger in your heart for someone in your family? Or maybe someone with whom you have worked, or even someone in the church who has offended you?
Rather than hanging on to that anger which poisons your spirit and robs you of peace, try to be reconciled. Recognize that we are fallen creatures, imperfect in so many ways, and choose to let go of that anger. Forgive others as God has forgiven you...
Is there someone for whom you have been harboring anger in your heart?
>Illustration: The Sculpture
>Jesus reveals Himself with 3 different titles in this passage.
I. JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
II. JESUS IS THE DOOR THROUGH WHICH WE ENTER...
III. JESUS IS THE GIVER OF LIFE!
Conclusion: . Let Jesus be your Good Shepherd and then MARCH ON! LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST!
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST
The story is told of an artist who sculpted a beautiful angel and wanted the master artist, Michelangelo, to inspect it and offer his opinion. So Michelangelo was called in. The master artist carefully looked at the sculpture from every angle.
Finally, he said, "Well, it lacks only one thing." Then he turned around and walked out.
The artist didn't know what it lacked, and he was embarrassed to go and ask Michelangelo. So he sent a friend to Michelangelo's studio to try and find out what his statue lacked.
The great artist replied, "It lacks only life."
The same could be said of a lot of people today. They have the house, the car, the spouse, and the kids. They have the career. They have money in the bank. They have everything going the way that things ought to go to supposedly live life to its fullest. But there is that is something still lacking. They are still lacking life. (--Greg Laurie).
And so we have come to the last Sunday in January, the first month of the New Year 2020. What lies ahead for us? Truthfully, only God knows. But while I can’t know for certain what the future holds, I can know the God who knows. And He has told us that He came so that we could have life—Life to the fullest!
In this passage in John 10 Jesus has identified Himself as The Good Shepherd, as the Door or Gate to the Sheepfold, and as the Giver of Life. Let’s consider what this reveals to us about the road that lies ahead.
I. JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
a. Jesus states this in verse 11 and again in verse 14: “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD.”
b. In the immediate context Jesus points out that He is the One who has the authority to enter the sheepfold, He knows and is known by the sheep—they know His voice. And He is the One who protects them—even to the extent of laying down His life for them. King David told how, as a shepherd boy, he killed lions and bears who threatened the flock. A Good Shepherd does that. Jesus in Luke 15 told how the Good Shepherd would leave the flock to go search for the one sheep that had strayed away. In the Old Testament Psalm 23 tells that it is the Lord who is our Shepherd. He leads us to green pastures and still waters, carrying his Rod and Staff with him to protect us and to pull us back to safety. He carries oil—Olive Oil—to pour on wounds and scratches to protect against infection and to aid in healing.
c. These glimpses into the life of a Shepherd tell us that we need not fear 2020, we only need to allow Jesus to be our Good Shepherd. There are some interesting observations about Shepherds. The Biblical Shepherd leads His sheep. He walks in front of them and they follow. He doesn’t walk behind them and drive them or push them. The Sheep follow because they have formed a relationship with Him. William Barclay tells how in a certain community there was a large sheep pen. When the Shepherds came they all led their sheep into that community sheep pen where they would be watched and care for. But when a shepherd was ready to leave, he would come to the gate of the pen and call out his sheep by name. The sheep would hear its name and recognize the voice of its Shepherd and one by one the sheep belonging to that shepherd would walk out of the pen following its own Shepherd. They knew His voice. The Good Shepherd Jesus has promised to watch over and protect His sheep. In John 10:28 Jesus says that “no one can snatch them out of my hand.” I can see Jesus holding me close to himself, preventing Satan from grabbing me and pulling me away. I think of that scripture in Ephesians 6 about putting on the whole armor of God and realize that when I am covered by His Hand nothing can harm me. He is my armor. In Hebrews 4:15 we are told that Jesus has been tempted in all ways yet remained without sin. I’ve thought of how transformers convert high voltage electricity into voltages that are usable that will not burn out our appliances, and I think how every temptation that we face has first touched Jesus and because of Him we can find that way of escape. And as the Good Shepherd we can be assured that Jesus will never abandon us or neglect us. He is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother. No matter how alone we may feel, we can know that He is near, watching over us.
d. Today, determine that you will allow Jesus to be your Good Shepherd. Enter into His flock. Find rest in His Sheepfold. He invites you to be one of His family. It’s your choice as to whether or not you will accept His invitation.
II. JESUS IS THE DOOR THROUGH WHICH WE ENTER...
a. In John 10:7 Jesus said, “…I am the gate for the sheep…” and then in verse 8 He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” I am told that the Oriental Shepherds would find a place to shelter his sheep in the evening in an enclosure that had only one entrance. After the sheep were all gathered in the enclosure the shepherd would take his place at the entrance and sleep there through the night. The sheep could not get past him to escape and nothing could get past him to enter the pen to do harm. Nothing could get in or out except through the shepherd. In John 1:12 we read, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In John 14:6 Jesus said, “…I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Years ago I read the book, The Keys to the Kingdom. I don’t remember much about the story. But I remember there was an old priest who was friends with an atheist. When his atheist friend died the preacher assured everyone he was in heaven. One of the nuns questioned him about that and the priest insisted that because his friend was sincere, even though he didn’t believe in God, he would be in heaven because of that sincerity. And then he said, “After all, there are many roads that lead to the Kingdom.” I am here to tell you that the priest in that story was absolutely wrong. The only way to heaven and eternal life is through Jesus. There may be multiple roads, but each road must intersect with Jesus, because it is only through Him that we come to the Father!
He is the Doorway, the Gateway to the Sheep pen. If we are to be one of his Sheep, we must come through Him!
b. As we continue on into 2020, don’t think you can find another sheep pen that will guarantee your eternity. Make sure you choose the correct doorway. Make sure you choose Jesus!
III. JESUS IS THE GIVER OF LIFE!
a. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
b. Notice how Jesus presents himself in contrast to the thief. We know that the thief is the one who wants to steal us away from God. And Jesus tells us that the thief’s goal is to destroy us. He wants to rob us of our eternal life, destroy our reputation, and sent us to the second death—the Lake of Fire that John writes about in the Book of Revelation. In contrast, Jesus wants to bless us, enrich our lives, and give us eternal life.
c. Have you ever tried to determine the meaning of the phrase, “Life…to the fullest”? What does living life to the fullest, or having life more abundantly mean?
i. It means knowing you are a member of God’s family. In Hebrews 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. “ And then in verse 17, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. “ Just think about it: a Child of God, Co-heirs with Jesus! We are family!
ii. “Living Life to the fullest” means we enjoy the graces that God has bestowed on us. These include the “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory” that Peter wrote about in his letter to those who were experiencing extreme persecution. In 1 Peter 1: 7-9 he wrote, “7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Jesus also blesses us with Peace. Paul wrote in Philippians 4: 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus explained to his disciples about that peace in John 14:27, “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
So, “Life to the Fullest” is to know that our names are recorded in God’s Book of Life and that we are safely living as members of His family—He is our God and we are the Sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 95:7). And we are experiencing a joy and a peace that is not of ourselves and is not of this world, but is a gift from God Himself bestowed on us because we have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord—Our Good Shepherd. And we have His Spirit, the Holy Spirit who not only is with us but Who abides within us, guiding us, teaching us, empowering us so that we can fulfill our purpose in life of glorifying God!
So, let us face 2020 and beyond, knowing that we are in His care. Technology may be constantly changing. Politics may continue to be frustrating. Economics may be unstable. Health issues may threaten us. But nothing can separate us from the Love of God so long as we continue to allow Jesus to be our Good Shepherd.
Are you ready to march ahead? Or do you need to find the Door to the Sheepfold. Let Jesus be your Good Shepherd and then MARCH ON! LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST!
James 5: 13-20
Several years ago we had a weekend revival with a Rev. Fred Winger, a Chaplain who at that time was living in Parsons, KS. I had gotten acquainted with him on various district gatherings and had grown to appreciate his spirit and his work. The thing I remember most about that weekend was Fred’s challenge to us. He asked, “If you believe that God would answer anything you ask for in prayer, for what would you pray?” Then He challenged us to pray that prayer for the weekend.
It certainly caused us to do some serious soul searching as we considered the magnitude and power of such a request.
Fred’s challenged was based on the scripture in John 14: 13 & 14 where Jesus says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
It was a great weekend. I don’t really remember the specific prayers that were prayed, but we were all moved to be more serious in our prayer lives.
This passage from James is usually read just before we have a time of anointing and praying over those with medical needs. But the message James was delivering in this passage goes way beyond just asking for healing.
In our meeting last Sunday evening to share dreams and goals and to gather insights about the future of our church there were several ideas shared.
But the one overpowering message I heard was that we need to be people of prayer. We need to seek God’s Will, discover His vision for our church, and solicited His Anointing Power that enables us to accomplish the purposes He has for us!
Based on this passage from James, let’s consider these essentials found in prayer.
I. PRAYER IS RECOGNITION OF GOD’S EXISTENCE.
a. James 5:15 refers to“prayer offered in faith…” What does that mean?
b. Certainly it means we have belief that God exists. Otherwise prayer would be just talking to ourselves or taking to the walls or to the wind! It would be delusional thinking! But it is not self deception or delusional thinking. It is recognition that there is an entity outside ourselves, a higher power, that hears us when we talk to Him. The AA recovery program counsels those in their recovery program about trusting your “higher power.” I am here to tell you that our God is the highest. And He isn’t just an energy force for us to tap—He is a personal God who spoke the world into existence, who is actively sustaining the universe, who has all power, all knowledge and all wisdom, and who cares for each one of us personally. He is the God we read about who did marvelous things in the Old Testament and who revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. He doesn’t just contain a love for us, He is Love personified. He has said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” He has pledged Himself to all who seek Him that not only will He be found, but that He will bless, protect, guide, sustain, and save. In Hebrews 11:6, the Faith Chapter, we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
c. So, Prayer is effective only when it is based on the belief there is a God who exists and who hears and answers.
II. PRAYER IS AN ADMISSION OF OUR DEPENDENCE.
a. Verse 13 says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.” But it does not stop there: “…Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the church to pray over them…”
b. We all have our troubles from time to time. Troubles come in many forms—medical issues, financial issues, relationship issues, hard decisions that have to be made. We know when we have reached the end of our abilities and resources that in desperation, we have to pray. How many of you remember the immediate reaction of our nation following the 9-11 attack in 2001. Newsmen, politicians, television comedians and everyone else suddenly became very religious! I was amazed and thrilled to see the sudden interest in praying for God’s mercy and protection. But when the high level of threat subsided within just a week or so, suddenly it was business as usual and prayer was very seldom mentioned. Yes, if there is trouble we should pray. And in our desperation we do so. But James goes on and talks about singing praises to God when we are happy and asking God for healing when we are hurting. In good times, in troubled times, and in perilous times—basically in all times, we are instructed to call upon God! That is because, without God we can never make it! We live in a natural world that is caught up in a supernatural power struggle. Ephesians 6 warns us that our struggles are not against human forces, but are against supernatural forces, demonic forces--forces that are far more powerful that we are in our natural state. Our only hope is to enlist the supernatural power of the God of unlimited power. Clothed in Him, wearing the full armor of God—we are victorious!
c. In America we have the myth of the self-make man—the one who raised himself up by his bootstraps. But reality is, unless God helps us, we have no chance. God is the one who gives us strength, who endows us with certain talents and abilities, who gives us health, and who guides our decisions. Many a person who thought they did it on their own has been brought down by sudden changes. Pride does go before the fall. But the one who realizes his dependence upon God and gives Him the glory—that is the person who is truly blessed. His prayers are prayed from a position of humility.
III. PRAYER IS EFFECTIVE WHEN IT IS PRAYED BY A RIGHTEOUS PERSON.
a. In James 5: 16 we are told, “…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
b. I’ve been asked, “If Jesus said I could ask for anything in His Name and it would be given to me, why do I not win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes that I prayed about?” And the answer is that Jesus’ statement was a conditional statement. Just before he said we could ask anything in His Name, it says in John 14:12, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” The Promise to answer prayer is conditioned to the person praying believing in Jesus and who is attempting to do the works that Jesus is doing. When a person is fully surrendered to and committed to Jesus, he doesn’t pray selfish prayers. He doesn’t try to tell God what He has to do. He is not a manipulator of God. No, the person who is fully committed to God is the one who seeks to know and do the things God desires to do.
c. Years ago when I was pastoring in Warsaw, Missouri, I was privileged to have Rev. C. E. Hacker in my congregation. Rev. Hacker had been a home mission pastor and was instrumental in starting 8 different churches on our district. In fact, he was pastor of the Branson Church for a short time until he suffered a major heart attack that forced him to retire. Rev. Hacker was known for praying for the sick, and many people were miraculously healed under his ministry. I was just a young pastor and I wanted to learn as much as I could from this veteran man of God. So I asked him about those prayers for healing. He told me that when someone asks for a prayer for healing, the first thing we must do is to seek the will of God to determine what it is that God wants to do. Then we direct our prayers according to what God reveals to us. You see, it could be that God is allowing a person to go through a time of testing so that they will be strengthened in their faith. It could be God wants them to go through a particular experience so they can know how to minister to someone else going through a similar experience. It could be that God is allowing a particular trial in order to bring a person to a place of repentance. Or it could be that God wants to do a miraculous work in order to persuade others of His Presences and Power. So, “to ask what we will,” must be connected to His will. We always want His will to be done!
d. And a person who is fully committed to God—the Righteous Person to which James was referring—is so in tune with God that God is able to channel His grace through such a person.
e. R.A. Torrey in one of his books on prayer list 7 reasons a person’s prayer may go unanswered. And the essence of all those reasons is that the person is not aligning his will with the Will of God.
f. But a person who is totally committed to God who prays, will see God’s power being displayed time and time again.
In his book Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee describes a preaching mission to an island off the South China coast. There were seven in the ministering group, including a sixteen-year-old new convert whom he calls Brother Wu. The island was fairly large, containing about 6,000 homes. Nee had a contact there, an old schoolmate of his who was headmaster of the village school, but he refused to house the group when he discovered they had come to preach the Gospel. Finally, they found lodging with a Chinese herbalist, who became their first convert. Preaching seemed quite fruitless on the island, and Nee discovered it was because of the dedication of the people there to an idol they called Ta-Wang. They were convinced of his power because on the day of his festival and parade each year the weather was always near perfect.
"When is the procession this year?" young Wu asked a group that had gathered to hear them preach.
"It is fixed for January 11th at 8 in the morning," was the reply.
"Then," said the new convert, "I promise you that it will certainly rain on the 11th."
At that there was an outburst of cries from the crowd: "That is enough! We don't want to hear any more preaching. If there is rain on the 11th, then your God is God!"
Watchman Nee had been elsewhere in the village when this confrontation had taken place. Upon being informed about it, he saw that the situation was serious and called the group to prayer. On the morning of the 11th, there was not a cloud in the sky, but during grace for breakfast, sprinkles began to fall and these were followed by heavy rain. Worshipers of the idol Ta-Wang were so upset that they placed it in a sedan chair and carried it outdoors, hoping this would stop the rain. Then the rain increased. After only a short distance, the carriers of the idol stumbled and fell, dropping the idol and fracturing its jaw and left arm.
A number of young people turned to Christ as a result of the rain coming in answer to prayer, but the elders of the village made divination and said that the wrong day had been chosen. The proper day of the procession, they said, should have been the 14th. When Nee and his friends heard this, they again went to prayer, asking for rain on the 14th and for clear days for preaching until then. That afternoon the sky cleared and on the good days that followed there were thirty converts. Of the crucial test day, Nee says: The 14th broke, another perfect day, and we had good meetings. As the evening approached we met again at the appointed hour. We quietly brought the matter to the Lord's remembrance. Not a minute late, His answer came with torrential rain and floods as before.
The power of the idol over the islanders was broken; the enemy was defeated. Believing prayer had brought a great victory. Conversions followed. And the impact upon the servants of God who had witnessed His power would continue to enrich their Christian service from that time on.
Roger F. Campbell, You Can Win!, 1985, SP Publications, pp. 35-36.
This morning, I challenge you to seek to be that fully committed to Christ Righteous Person whose prayers are powerful and effective. I read on Face book this week: “When Prayer becomes your habit, miracles become your lifestyle. Never give up on Prayer, no matter what comes your way.”
Let’s be people of prayer!
January 5th 2020
Matthew 2: 1-12
>January 6th on the Christian Calendar is Epiphany—a celebration of the Wise Men who followed the Star to Jesus...
I. THE WISE MEN WERE D___________ IN LOOKING FOR THE STAR.
II. THE WISE MEN F_________ THE STAR.
III. THE WISE MEN P__________ IN THEIR SEARCH FOR THE REASON FOR THE STAR.
Have you found your Star?
Are you following it faithfully?
On the Christian Calendar January 6th is called Epiphany or Three Kings Day. It is the day set aside to celebrate the story of the Magi and their journey of following a Star that led them to the Baby Jesus. A quick Google search gave me this information:
Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It was celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established. It is commonly known as Twelfth Night, Twelfth Day, or the Feast of Epiphany. It means “manifestation” or “showing forth”. It is also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians. Epiphany also refers to the church season that follows the day.
It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.
While our denomination to my knowledge has never emphasized this event, it is interesting to learn about some of the interesting customs surrounding Epiphany. Again the Internet search revealed these:
People from the US Virgin Islands celebrate Three Kings’ Day to emphasize and maintain their heritage and culture, especially on the island of St. Croix where the day features parades, bands, food, music, and other types of entertainment. Although it is not a public holiday in other parts of the United States, many Christians take part in Epiphany activities such as:
§ Star processionals on the Sunday closest to January 6 for church services
§ Parties or get-together s to clean up homes after the festive season and put away Christmas decorations.
§ Treasure hunts to find a figure of the Christ child.
§ Epiphany luncheons, parties and celebrations among churchgoers.
§ And Sunday school activities for children that focus on Epiphany, such as creating the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem.
Epiphany marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season in Louisiana. It is customary to bake king cakes during this time of the year. These cakes may include a small trinket (such as a baby doll) inside. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket receives various privileges or obligations. For example, they may be requested to provide the next king cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as “king cake season”.
The story of the Wise Men has become an integral part of the Christmas story. Normally our Nativity scenes include the 3 Kings and their camels and gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. But the Matthew’s Gospel suggests that the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) could very well have been as much as two years after the birth of Jesus. That is based on the fact that Herod had all the male children 2 years and younger put to death in Bethlehem.
These Wise Men are often called Kings, though there is no scriptural evidence that they were. We do know from historical research that the so-called Magi of the ancient world were often advisers to Kings. They were educated men who were the scientists or astronomers of their day. The ancient astronomers also believed the stars and planets affected lives and events—we would call that astrology. But the men would have been treated with great respect. We see that in the fact that King Herod granted them audience when they came to Jerusalem.
There is much debate as to what the heavenly event was that captured the Wise Men’s attention. Was it an alignment of the planets? Or was it possibly a comet? I personally have come to the conclusion that it was something different. All of the astronomical possibilities fail to explain how the star came to rest over Bethlehem so precisely. I am convinced the star was in fact an Angel sent to guide these men to Christ. There are other places in the Old Testament where the Angels in heaven are called Stars.
As we enter a new year, I would like for us to think symbolically of the Wise Men following the Star to Jesus. We too should be “Chasing Stars!”
I. THE WISE MEN WERE DISCIPLINED IN LOOKING FOR THE STAR.
a. We are told these Magi were men who studied the skies, determining the movement of the various heavenly bodies. They would have had charts and data collected over a long period of time. Otherwise, they would never have noticed the unusual sight that launched them on their journey.
b. If we are going to find God’s Plan and Purpose for our lives—Our “Star”—we must commit ourselves to the discipline of searching and studying for the Will of God. That means, being faithful and diligent in our search of the scriptures, prayerful in our consideration of the events in our lives. And we must have a discerning spirit.
c. In College we heard of the young farm boy –Possibly from Iowa—who enrolled in the religion classes because he felt he had a call to preach. But the young man just did not seem to have the gifts and graces one would expect of a future minister. Finally, one of the Professors questioned him about why he felt he had a call. He told how he was looking at the sky one day and saw the letters “GPC,” and he immediately interpreted that to mean “GO PREACH CHRIST!” The Professor thought for a moment and then said, “Do you think GPC might have meant, “GO PLOW CORN!”
d. When we are searching for our “Star,” we must be careful not to misinterpret what we see. The Bible tells is in 1 John 4:1 to “Try the spirits to see if they are of God…”
e. Four questions to consider when trying to determine the Will of God: (1) Is it scriptural; (2) Is it supported by the counsel of Godly advisers? (3) Is it Reasonable? (4) Do you have the Witness of the Spirit of God?
f. The Wise Men discovered the star because they were searching the skies. They had a knowledge of history—including Jewish History. They didn’t just out of the blue one day say “Look there’s a Star.”They paid the price of discipline that made them ready to discover the star.
g. And God has a purpose for each one of us. We will discover it if we pay the price to search for it. But if we just go our merry way without taking time to seek God’s Will in our lives, we will be like the rest of the world who missed out on seeing the Baby Jesus.
II. THE WISE MEN FOLLOWED THE STAR.
a. There were probably others who saw the star but did nothing about it. “Isn’t that a pretty sight?” they said. And then they thought no more about it.
b. But not the Wise Men: After discovering the star, I believe they searched their libraries for possible explanations and conferred with other scholars to get their opinions. And God led them to the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah causing them to want to know more. And so, with the knowledge they had gleaned and a Star that went before them, they left their prestigious surroundings and set out to find the one about which the Star had witnessed to them.
c. Friends, it is not enough to know the will of God. We are to do the will of God. Once God reveals to us His plans and purposes, we have the responsibility to do our part.
d. Remember the Temple vision that Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 6? After seeing God exalted and the angels giving Praise, he realized that even though he was already a priest of God, he was not worthy to even be in God’s Presence. After acknowledging his unworthiness, One of the Seraphim took a live coal off the altar and placed it on his lips and said, “Your iniquity is purged.” Then Isaiah heard the voice of God asking, “Who will go for me?” And Isaiah’s answer was, “Here am I—send me!”
e. What is it that God wants you to do this year? What is it that He is impressing on your heart and mind? What need do you see that is apparent and that someone needs to address? Once you have discovered your “Star”—God’s Message – Then you need to respond by obeying God’s message and mission for you.
III. THE WISE MEN PERSEVERED IN THEIR SEARCH FOR THE REASON FOR THE STAR.
a. We really don’t know for certain which country was their home base. The Scripture just says that they came from the East. One of the commentaries said that if Luke had recorded this he would have given us more detail—after all, he was a doctor and he was careful to pay attention to detail. But Matthew didn’t bother so much with the details—as least in this account. He just said they were from the east. Scholars identify several possibilities. They may have come from as far away as Baghdad in Iran. Or maybe it was from Iraq or Saudi Arabia. One commentary said there are at least 11 different countries that may have been where those Wise Men originated. And while we assume they came on Camels, I have read that camels back then were often beasts for carrying burdens. And if they came from Arabia it was more than likely that they rode on Arabian horses. All that really messes up our Nativity scenes!
b. But the fact is, they had a long journey of several hundred miles over terrain that was often rough—mountains and deserts that were very treacherous. By the time they reached Jerusalem they had to ask for guidance. But they didn’t give up. Whether their journey took weeks or months, it was difficult. But they were determined. They kept on in spite of the obstacles. Their one goal was to see this child who was born “King of the Jews.”
c. I can tell you that when you discover what it is God wants you to do, it may not be a piece of cake! It may cost you in time, in resources, in confrontations, in misunderstandings. But the star doesn’t fade. It is there so long as you keep seeking and following it.
d. The Apostle Paul met Jesus on the Damascus Road. It was a life changing, life defining moment. As he approached the end of his life after enduring all kinds of obstacles—beatings, ship wrecks, stoning, imprisonments and long journeys of thousands of miles only to be held prisoner again, he testified to King Agrippa In Acts 26: 19, “”So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”
e. The Wise Men in Matthew’s account persevered until they saw Jesus and worshiped Him. Paul’s Star meant he was to be an “Apostle to the Gentiles.” He followed that star the rest of His life.
f. What Star are you following? Are you still chasing that Star?
And so we begin a New Year.
When I was working towards ordination one of the questions I was asked from the Ministerial Boards that interviewed me was about my call. How did I know that God was calling me to be a minister of the Gospel? The reason that question was so important was because they knew if I had any doubts about my call I would never survive in the ministry. When the demands of ministry became overwhelming—and they do at times—If there was any doubt about my call, I would drop out. And statistically it happens to too many. At one time the average survival rate was 7 years before a minister would drop out of the ministry. But when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called me, then I can keep on in spite of the demands.
As we face 2020 and the years beyond, I challenge you to be sure you have found your Star—your message from God. And when you have, follow that Star, be true to that Star—that Heavenly vision.
And never give up until you see Jesus!