Posts Tagged With: sermon

What is a Sermon? I’m Glad You Asked…

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“You’re Right—the Church is Full of Hypocrites”

James Spiegel shares an incident that happened to him as a teenager. He was one who would go and mow neighbors lawns to get extra cash. So he went to inquire about some business, the man said that he would be gone over the weekend, but if they mowed his grass, he would pay them $25 on Monday.

The lawn was rather large, and they could not finish it on Saturday, so they had to take time on Sunday to finish up. On Monday when the man returned, they informed him that it took them two days to finish his large lawn. “Two days?” he inquired. “You mean you mowed on Sunday?” They nodded in the affirmative. “Well boys, I don’t allow work to be done at my house on Sundays. I can’t pay you.” They watched him dig out about $2 in change from his pocket. When he handed it to them, he said, “I’m doing this out of the kindness of my heart.”

When he and his friend went home, the friend told Spiegel’s father (rather irately), “Hypocrites . . . Lousy hypocrites! They smile so sweetly and look so righteous at church, but in the real world they’re nothing but swindlers and cheats!”[1]

One of the questions the culture often lobs at the church is this in its various forms: “Why are Christians such hypocrites?” One book I read in dealing with the subject of the questions the culture asks the church is put even more starkly: “Why are Christians such jerks?”

Immediately someone who is a consistent Christian sees a story like this, the immediate reaction is to grow defensive: “Why do they lump us all into the same batch of dough?” Then we risk dismissing them out of hand. We must however dig deeper out of love for Christ and love for those whom He made and dig into what fuels these questions to begin with.

It must be said that Jesus was never a big fan of hypocrisy, either. This we see abundantly in John 7:53-8:11. Those who have the majority of versions will have this section bracketed with a small note that says, “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11.” This is true, and has caused some concern. But do not let it. This account was preserved by the Holy Spirit who sought to include this—and it does nothing to contradict any other teachings or doctrines found in Scripture. Let’s read this now, as we stand:

They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Hypocrisy was nothing new—and Jesus hated it. But God reveals these hypocrisies in others and ourselves to eventually lead us to holiness.

A little background to this story. Jesus is in the Temple teaching, when the scribes and Pharisees in a rather sanctimonious and animated fashion. Why all the fuss? Verses 4-5 bring this to light: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” The motive is clear “This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him” (8:6).

As we step back, we notice a number of things that tip off their hypocrisy. The first and most obvious is that they were not interested in justice—they were interested in Jesus being trapped! And they simply used this woman as leverage!

Secondly, notice that they caught her “in the act of adultery.” How did they happen upon that?

Thirdly, if they caught her in the act of adultery, then where was the man? Did he get away? Did they let him get away? Was he an unnecessary part to their plot? Was he a member of the scribes and the Pharisees and they wished to protect him?

Nathaniel Hawthorne once noted,

“No man can for any considerable time wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” Jesus would leave them even more bewildered.

This leads us to the first way we must answer the question of “Why are there so many religious hypocrites?” by answering it this way: “You are right—and so is everyone else!” If you answer in this way, please make sure you say this in the correct tone! Don’t answer with that defensive tone with finger pointed, saying, “Well, maybe I am, but so are you.” No, no, no!

Acknowledge that there are hypocrites in the church. Acknowledge that you are a hypocrite as well. Why is this important? Because:

(1) it demonstrates a humility rather than a moral superiority over someone else.

(2) You acknowledge what is obvious to everyone—even churches are filled with hypocrites.

(3) You make people take stock that they do not always follow through on even their own self-imposed standards.

The world is watching. They hear on the news of a cop who misbehaves and deep down they recognize that this is not how it should be. They hear, as we heard, of a group of teachers who changed the grades of the tests their students took, deleting their bad grades.[2] The world watches us as well—and the world knows what we stand for to some degree or another knows some of what we believe. The world also notices when we mess up. And we must acknowledge that we mess up as well. If we don’t, then we are just as blind as those who don’t see their own hypocrisy. Churches are littered with hypocrites, from the infighting and party spirit to moral failures by leaders. Tim Keller brings out another point: “At the same time there are many formally irreligious people who live morally exemplary lives. If Christianity is all it claims to be, shouldn’t Christians on the whole be much better people than everyone else?”[3]

Yet, as we will see more at the end, we are not saved by our morality—we are not saved by what we did or didn’t do, or what sins we’ve committed intentionally or otherwise. We are saved by God’s grace in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Recognizing the deception of our hypocrisy is actually an amazing part of God’s grace toward us.


[1]James S. Spiegel, Hypocrisy: Moral Fraud and Other Vices (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 25. Quoted in Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2004), 192.

[2]http://www.newschannel5.com/story/21129693/email-directs-teachers-to-delete-bad-grades

[3]Timothy S. Keller, The Reason for God p. 53.

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Why Must You Be Born Again?

Last week, we saw from John 2:23-25 that “when he was at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

In the next few chapter, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the well, a Gentile official, and a man needing healing at a pool at Bethsaida, and others. He would come across a number of individuals from a wide array of backgrounds and occupations. In John 3, he would come across a man whom the culture deemed a religious and intellectual elite—“a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”

Jesus, as the Scripture recently said, “knew all people … for he himself knew what was in man.” No matter our situation, no matter our background, no matter our family, no matter our jobs, no matter our wealth or fame—He knows what is in us. He knows what fuels us, what motivates us. After all, Scripture tells us that “everything was made by him and for him” (Colossians 1:17).

He knows our situation and condition—and he knows what must happen. “You must be born again.” Whatever label you have, ‘born again’ is the most important. Granted, some have taken this label and put it as more of a political label of sorts. Politicians leverage it, pollsters dilute it of its effect, others use it as a way to distinguish regular Christians from true Christians. One Scotish pastor remembers a time when someone asked him if he was a Christian! He said, “Yes, I am.” The reply? “Yes, but are you a born-again Christian.”

The truth is, neither pollsters nor politicians came up with this phrase. Jesus did! What does it mean? And why do we need to be born again? Because Jesus knows all men and what makes them tick—and the only antidote to the cancer of our sinful, fallen nature is that we must be born again, born from above, born of the Spirit.

1. You cannot see nor enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-3).

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus comes to Christ by night. Some speculate that this not only refers to the time of day, but to the moral and spiritual condition of Nicodemus—an interesting insight, considering he was a ruler among the religious leaders. Pharisees knew the Old Testament—had to have it all memorized—and sought originally to preserve the purity and authority of the Scriptures centuries prior. But soon, their interpretations of Scripture (originally intended to rightly divide the Word) because just as if not more authoritative than the Word itself. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, the elite of the elite who knew the Word of the Lord—but by the way he approached Jesus, he did not know the Lord of the Word.

But he recognized something powerful in Jesus—even attributing this power to the presence of God in him. He wasn’t the only one. Rabbi, we… He, like so many who “believed” in him did so because of the signs—even those who were from the Pharisees.

Jesus comes along and says, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” How rich is this phrase! He’s answering a question Nicodemus didn’t directly ask, but again remember, he knew what was in people. He knew exactly what Nicodemus needed to hear.

He’s talking to us personally. He tells Nicodemus, and by virtue tells you, you must be born again—otherwise, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. Christ deals with us individually—how is He dealing with you?

He’s talking to was spiritually. You cannot be born again. Another way to put this, you must be born from above. We will see from Nicodemus that he did not look at things from a spiritual standpoint. Nicodemus even asked, “Do I need to return to my mother’s womb and start that process again?” He didn’t get it.

He’s talking to us eternally. “you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” You cannot truly see and understand his rule.

With this, we understand that when Christ calls us to talk to someone, He knows exactly what they need to hear. And when we are born from above, we will see soon that we are also (synonymously) born of the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, and indwelt by the Spirit, and bear fruit of the Spirit. Nicodemus couldn’t understand spiritual things because he had not been born of the Spirit. Only the Spirit can help us understand spiritual things. And only by the Spirit of Christ will we ever know our situation before God, or how to speak to someone else’s situation.

Jesus whetted the appetite of Nicodemus. He threw that out there. Has this whet our appetite?

2. Being born of the flesh is not enough, you must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[a] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[b] must be born again.’ 8 The wind[c] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus begins to unpack. Unless you are born of ‘water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ One elderly member of a former church put it to me this way, and maybe you have heard this: “If you’re born once, you will die twice; but if you’re born twice, you will die only once.”

What does he mean? “Water and the Spirit” have taken on a number of interpretations. Some have said this means that baptism is a part of salvation. But this is not so, because baptism is that in the NT which is the first step of obedience rather than the last part of salvation. But in reality, we should recognize the person that Jesus is talking to—a Jewish ruler who understood, in some aspect, the intricacies of certain OT symbols.

Water is used in the OT to refer to cleansing and purity. In Ezekiel 36:25-27 puts this in all perspective:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This priestly cleansing of taking the water and sprinkling it on the sacrifice and made them clean. But here is a cleansing of our hearts, of our spirits, from the idols that have made their home in our hearts. He does not merely improve our hearts, he gives us a new one. If you were to take a stone and grasp it, pinch it, throw it and hit it against a wall—it will not feel any pain, it will not feel anything.

Each of are born with hearts of stone. Yes, we do have feelings about the things around us, but all of the feelings we have come from our own standards, our own way of thinking and living. But we have a heart that is hardened to the things of God. While, even with this, we can still do good things, this gives testimony to how God has made us in His image—but when it comes to eternal, spiritual things, we have no feeling. We have hearts of stone.

But God comes and changes all that! He gives a heart of flesh. Christians become sensitive to the Spirit’s work. We become convicted when we sin, we become joyful and free when we confess our sins, knowing He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!

Then he puts his Spirit within us! The Spirit causes us to obey. Our will is freed from the shackles of the slavery of sin, and now set free to obey the Lord by the help of the Spirit!

But Jesus goes on, bringing in the issue of the wind. Have any of you here ever had pneumonia? If you have, then you know that it is a breathing (respiratory) condition in which there is an infection of the lung. In the Greek, the root word of pneumonia is pneuma. In the Scriptures, this word is translated word, breath, or spirit.

In verse 8, the word ‘wind’ and the word ‘Spirit’ is the same word, so Jesus is using the wind to explain something significant about the spiritual realm. The wind blows where it wishes. You do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

It is here we all must take heed of knowing the work of God through the Spirit, and seeing the work of man. Evangelists and preachers have held long to bringing about revivals through man-made means: heart-rending stories, illustrations, scare tactics, and other forms of manipulation to bring people to some sort of decision where they respond to the tactics more than Christ.

When I was a youth pastor, I took my youth to hear a man who used to be with a pretty good Christian music group to talk to our youth in the area. He would do his concert, preach, then we would come together for pizza afterwards. It started at 7:30 and went for three hours. He sang eight songs, spoke quite a bit in-between each songs using various methods. He had it in his mind that 25 people would come forward. When 22 came forward, he kept on and on. Finally, three more came forward. Why? I could overhear them saying, “We’ll never get out of here until we come up.”

We do not know how the Spirit will move! We cannot control the Spirit’s movement any more than we can see or control the wind! Revival does not and cannot come in our timing, but in God’s timing! But I love what G. Campbell Morgan once said, “We cannot know when revival will come, but we can set our sails so when the wind of the Spirit blows, we will sail in His direction and not ours.” We do not know when God will change a heart. We can help people to understand and maybe even convince them it is true (chair #1 and chair #2)—but only by the Spirit can he change our hearts to bring us to Chair #3.

J. Gresham Machen says, “To say that we are justified by faith is just another way of saying that we are justified not in the slightest measure by ourselves, but simply and solely by the One in whom faith is reposed.”

3. Because Jesus knows what He is talking about (John 3:9-13)

Look with me at John 3:9-13:

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[a] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[b]

Poor Nicodemus! How frustrated he must have been? But dear friends, this is the best thing that could have happened to him. He needed to be broken! Jesus asks him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” He needed to become desperate. He needed to come to the end of himself.

On Wednesday night, we began our study through the book of Galatians. We kiddingly called it a manual for recovering Pharisees. Phil Ryken put it this way:

Galatians is a letter for recovering Pharisees. The Pharisees who lived during and after the time of Christ were very religious. They were regular in their worship, orthodox in their theology, and moral in their conduct. Yet something was missing. Although God was in their minds and actions, he was not in their hearts. Therefore, their religion was little more than hypocrisy.

Nicodemus’ heart had not changed. His actions were impeccable. His theology surpassed everyone’s. He received every attendance pen and award one could receive for coming to his religious observances. Where did that get him with Jesus?

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount unloads a devastating truth on his listeners:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews—that did not help his standing before God. I’m a pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Denver—that will not help me one whit. Deacons, you being a deacon will not help you one iota. We can have church attendance—nope! Teach Sunday School—uh-uh! We are ‘workers of lawlessness,’ because the Spirit of God has not changed our hearts through the atoning work of Christ. We have trusted in the works of Christ, but not in Christ! The Spirit has not written his law on our hearts.

Remember when Samuel was looking for the to-be king of Israel after King Saul lost the mantle. God reminded Samuel that man looks to the outward appearance, but God looks to the heart.

Friends, Jesus knows what He is talking about. He descended from heaven and is a witness to His Father’s teachings. He “bears witness to what we have seen.” Not only this, but even more, he describes himself as the Son of Man. What does this mean?

In Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel had a vision:

I saw in the night visions,

And behold with the clods of heaven, there came one like a son of man,

And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away

And his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Nicodemus understood exactly what Jesus was saying when he invoked the Son of Man. This was a lot to take in.

The question you may be asking yourself is, “Did Nicodemus ever believe?” Look with me at John 19:38-40

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus[a] by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds[b] in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

Nicodemus came by night at first, but now was out in broad daylight now. To the rest of the Pharisees, Jesus was a criminal who needed to be silenced. Nicodemus treated him with honor, respect, reverence—and even worship!

Conclusion

So enough about Nicodemus! The Spirit included Nicodemus as a mirror to our hearts.

What about you?

Do you understand why you must be born again?

_________________________________________

Preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colorado on Sunday, July 15, 2012.  To listen to the audio sermon, go to http://www.arbc.net/sermons.htm

Categories: sermons | Tags: , , ,

Jesus Is: The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World (John 1:19-34)

(This sermon was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colorado on Sunday, April 29, 2012.  Go to our ARBC sermons page – http://www.arbc.net/sermons.htm – to listen.  If it hasn’t uploaded, check back soon.  Oftentimes, the manuscript and the actual delivery of the sermon are not the same.  It’s amazing how God works in that way.)

We have a standard pulpit in our auditorium/sanctuary at our church. There is an unspoken understanding that when I speak, I speak from behind the pulpit. That is where I belong. That’s my place.

If I began preaching, say, in the organ pit or from the last row in the choir, it may get people’s attention—and the reason is that I’m not where I should be. In a sense, everything is right when we are where God wants us. Only here is true peace and contentment.

God has bestowed a calling on every single Christian in this room. When men and women come to Christ, he bestows them with what are called spiritual gifts, differing gifts given by God for each person to exercise and execute. He also sends them out as ones who will make a visible difference for His Kingdom in the world.

We have two examples here: one of John the Baptist, and the other of Jesus. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In other words, Jesus came for the express purpose of being offered as a sacrifice for the sins of those who would believe. To put it more starkly, Jesus was born in order to die. Most other leaders of movements don’t begin with the express intention of dying, but if they are martyred for the cause, then so be it. Jesus knew he would die—God ordained His death in order that those who would believe would be rescued from that. He knew His place!

Christ knew His place! The apostle John as we will see knew his place. One of the secondary questions we must ask if, “Do we know our place?” But of primary importance is this: do we see the richness of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?

The apostle John leaves the introduction of this book to introduce to us … John the Baptist. But we will see that the Baptizer gives us an example in that, regardless of how influential our lives are, they must be influential in the sense that they point to Christ. No matter how much they wanted to attribute to John, he would have none of it. His life pointed to Christ. The Baptizer knew his role, he knew his calling, and was more than content to remain in that calling. Because the One to whom he pointed had a calling—to take away the sins of the world!

1. Trust the testimony of godly men who prepare the way for Christ (John 1:19-28).

In John 1:19-23, we see how the apostle John gives us a brief description of a rather eccentric prophet that turned up along the Jordan River by the name of John the Baptist—or John the Baptizer. But this is not all we see about this man! By the apostle bringing him up at this juncture shows that he is a significant figure that means a great deal to all of us.

The Baptizer first arrived on the scene in Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel arrived to bring the good news that Zechariah and Elizabeth were to have a child. Whereas this would be wonderful news for any couple, it was miraculous news for this couple. Zechariah, who served as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, and Elizabeth were old—beyond natural childbearing years. Plus, Elizabeth was “barren”—she had not been able to have children!

Gabriel shows us and tells them something about this child:

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Luke 1:13-17).

We know that an angel came to announce the birth of Christ—but we must also recognize that an angel came to announce the birth of one who would come before him—John the Baptist.

· Took a Nazirite vow like Samson (see Numbers 6), vowing to take no food nor dirnk, but would only be filled with the Holy Spirit, set apart even in his mother’s womb like Jeremiah.

· He will be like Elijah, as prophecied in Malachi 4:5-6, who would come before the awesome day of the Lord. Little did they realize that this awesome day of the Lord would be Christ coming as a baby to Bethlehem.

· But this last portion is significant: “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

This ministry that John the Baptist had was a confusing ministry to many. In Matthew 3:4, it says that “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

So they began to ask him, “Who are you?” Are you the Christ? No! Are you Elijah? While Luke tells us he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, many thought that Elijah would come in spirit and indwell John. But no, John was not Elijah nor vice versa. Are you the prophet? In Deuteronomy 18:15-18, we see that God gave Moses himself a promise of a great prophet to come:

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).

Why bring this up? There is something to be said for anticipation and expectation! When children are in school, they can endure knowing the weekend is coming or, on a grander scale, when summer or Christmas break is coming! When those who are in the armed forces are serving, they endure because they know what they are doing matters, and that they can expect a respite in the form of a three-day pass or a furlough.

The people of Israel were tired of Roman rule in the Holy Land. They were ready for the promises of a coming King to come to pass. This anticipation was reaching a fever pitch. So the questions feed this: are you the Rescuer who was to come? No? How about Elijah? Moses? Who!?!?

John speaks this: “I am the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” So John wasn’t just some preacher going out on his own to preach. He was “the Voice.” Isaiah prophecied about this 700 years prior. The lesson? God had not forgotten about His plan nor His people. When God makes a promise, he doesn’t go back on it.

So now that John described this, they now ask him, “Why are you baptizing?” In other words, by what authority are you baptizing, since you aren’t on our list!? John was performing a cleansing rite—something that greatly offended the Israelite leaders who felt they were cleansed enough. Why did it offend them? Because this type of baptism was usually made to those who were Gentiles converting to Judaism. But John was calling the Jews. He was basically telling them that the Messiah was coming—and you need to be cleansed!

But he made it clear—I’m only baptizing with water. It’s merely an outward cleansing, but one coming after him will surpass him in worthiness and power.

But look at how he describes his rank in relation to Jesus: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do no know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). It was commonplace for rabbis to have disciples who not only sat at the feet of their teacher, but also in a sense because their servant. We see this with interns working for their boss at a company: they fetch their lunch, pick up their drycleaning, and do all sorts of menial tasks as part of their training.

But the difference between a disciple and a slave is this: a disciple never came near the sandals or shoes of the teachers. This was beneath them. But a slave’s job was this very thing. What was John saying? I’m not worthy to even be a common slave! So, in the process of us getting to know John, we get to know Christ! John the Baptist was great, but he was lower than a slave compared to Christ.

2. Turn to the One who takes away sin (John 1:29-34).

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.

Behold! That is a word that we do not use much in our day! But it’s a word intending to get our attention!

The Lamb of God. Those of you who listen to Christian music on the radio may remember a song that starts out very simply.

Alleluia, alleluia, for the Lord God Almighty reigns.

Alleluia, alleluia, for the Lord God Almighty reigns.

Holy, holy, are you Lord God Almighty?

Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb. Holy!

This was written by Michael W. Smith, but he titled it from an ancient Latin phrase that says, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi.” Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world. Christ is only called the Lamb of God twice in Scripture—here, and in Revelation 5:6: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”

But this was no new term. In Genesis 22, Abraham had finally received the promise of a son, Isaac. Abraham was 99 when Isaac was born, and as a son of his old age, this young man was beloved! God then approaches Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2). And the Word says, “So Abraham rose early….” He wasted no time in obedience to God. He takes Isaac, lays him on the altar, ties him down, takes fire in one hand, the knife in the other and was ready to drive that knife through! God stops him, and over in the thickets, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham said on the way up the mountain that God would provide a Lamb—and he did as a substitute for Isaac.

This Lamb would come and die—this Lamb of God who is Jesus Christ—would come and die as a substitute. But for whom? It goes on, “… Who takes away the sins of the world.” This does not mean that everyone will be saved with or without faith. This is called universalism. And we do know that from other portions in Scripture that not everyone goes to heaven. We saw two Wednesdays ago from Psalm 1 that there is a righteous way and a wicked way. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says there is a wide way that many go into to their destruction, and a narrow way that few go into that lead to life.

Here, it says that he died for the whole world—meaning, he death wasn’t only brought to one group of people (the Jews), but for every group of people. Again, in Revelation 5, they sing that the Lamb rescued a people “from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” Again, see the context. The Pharisees sent people to John asking John, “Why are you baptizing Jews? We are children of Abraham. We are clean!” John basically says, “Not only are you unclean, the Lamb of God has come to call a people to Himself not simply of the Jews—but of every nations under heaven!” Remember, we are children of God, “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

No one is born a Christian! No one is born righteous! No one is born exempt from the atoning work of Christ!

John even mentions that this one coming, the Christ, ranks before me “because he was before me.” Wait a minute! Didn’t Luke 1 say that John was born six months before Jesus came into the world? Yes, that is correct! But Christ was before Him “in the beginning.” This drove the spiritual leaders of Israel crazy. When Jesus told them later that “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), when Abraham lived 2100 years before him, and Jesus was only in his mid 30’s, it’s because Christ was not merely human and did not begin when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem! He is eternal God and entered into the world as a human (Philippians 2:5-6).

John also said that he would see the Spirit resting on him and would baptize us with the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? This means that as soon as we receive Christ, he would baptize, submerge, and cleanse us with the Holy Spirit. This is a benefit that Christians receive. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). But we also see that the Holy Spirit comes along as our teacher, counselor, and comforter. This is what Ezekiel prophecied:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

What is a heart of stone? A stone doesn’t feel anything. It is insensitive to any feeling. When we say that someone is hardhearted, what do we mean but that they have no feeling. There is a callousness and an insensitivity.

But flesh is different. My kiddos and I have enjoyed of late throwing some baseball around the yard. Daniel is especially fond of throwing baseball. Everytime we have some time, he begs us to go outside, he grabs his glove and my glove and a ball and tells me, “Dad, are you ready?” And we throw for a long time!

But we have some bushes in our hard that line up against the fence. To get out of the sun, Daniel stands and catches a ball by one set of bushes, and I stand across the yard by the other. Every so often, a ball gets away and rolls under those bushes. No matter how careful we are in retrieving that ball, one of us comes out of those bushes with some scratches. Our response to the scratching of our flesh is, “Ouch!” It hurts! That’s the sensitivity of our flesh.

But we are sensitive with a heart of flesh to the Spirit. In other words, when we receive Christ, there is a change of the highest order. We no longer are insensitive to the things of God, but now we are ultra-sensitive. Every so often, we come across someone who says they are a Christian, but they are still insensitive to sin and, thus, insensitive to Christ. Even though Paul says in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness.

When we come to Christ, there is a change. We go from living for self to living for Christ.

Conclusion

At the beginning of the year on Wednesday nights, we journeyed through Don Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose our Spiritual Health (NavPress, 2001).  These questions are probing because these questions wonderfully help us not only identify what Christianity looks like, but help us to diagnose where we are in our walk with Christ.  The questions are as follows:

  • Do you yearn to be with Jesus?
  • Do you thirst after God?
  • Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  • Are you more loving?
  • Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  • Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and physical needs of others?
  • Do you delight in His church?
  • Are the spiritual disciplines more important to you?
  • Do you grieve over sin?
  • Are you a quick forgiver?
  • Do you yearn for heaven?
    Do these questions shed light on our spiritual walk?  Is there one?  Has the Lamb of God taken away our sin and cleansed us and baptized us by His Spirit?  If not, as Christ draws you, I pray He would give you the strength to respond.  Come to Christ! 
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Little is Much When God Is In It (Much is Little When God Isn’t)

(Feel free to listen to this sermon, preaching Sunday, March 13, 2011 during our morning service at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.)

Whenever I stand up here to preach, my aim is to preach the Word of God so that His Word would be sent forth and applied by His Spirit. Whenever God’s Word is preached, we have confidence in knowing that it will go forth and accomplish all that He desires and will never return empty (Isaiah 55:11-12).

This morning, the majority of my aim of this sermon is to speak to our family here at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church. By this, I mean those who have surrendered to Jesus Christ as their Master and Savior, and have made a covenant with Boone’s Creek to join them in membership—seeking to make a visible difference and influence in this world for the cause of Jesus Christ through Boone’s Creek.

On the second Sunday of each month, we have a business meeting. Those sound like fun, don’t they? I attended a church one time when they were called “Family Conferences.” I like that better. We think as members that we don’t have a part in the business of God’s work, but as family members we do. He has bestowed a marvelous privilege on us. And if we miss out on this privilege, we miss out on being a part of something much bigger than ourselves!

Each business meeting, we discuss our financial position. While we are a spiritual body, we do live in the physical world. This is why Jesus discussed the issue of money so much, and why the book of Acts and Paul’s letters mention how thankful they were for God providing, and using the church to do so! Look at 2 Corinthians 8:1-5:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5, ESV).

Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived, had physical needs to meet in order to facilitate meeting the spiritual task God had given him into the world.

Our aim here at Boone’s Creek is to spread the glory of God from our neighbors to the nations. We are not here solely to meet and hear nice songs and listen to a nice sermon so we can go out and be nice people. We enter to worship, and exit into our mission field as missionaries of Jesus Christ.

While God has always provided for our needs, He has also provided His Word for us to obey. We have had opportunities open up to us with Trinidad, with Hazard, and now a ground swell is arising in our church to reach our neighbors for Jesus through our Easter Egg Hunt on the 23rd of April, backyard Bible schools along with Vacation Bible School. Our youth are focusing on service. Our adults have their eyes open to the concerns around them. If God can show His glory by feeding 20,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, he can use a church that’s struggling financially.

In this passage of Scripture from Luke 20:45-21:4, we have before us two groups. One is represented by the “scribes,” the other is represented by a “poor widow” (Luke 21:3). One had money and influence and power, the other was in poverty, ignored, and powerless to her plight – to the point that the scribes were ones who “devour widows’ houses” (20:47a). As far as Jesus was concerned, one received condemnation, the other received commendation.

I think of a song written decades ago with the chorus:

Little is much when God is in it;
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown and you can win it
If you go in Jesus’ name.

Thus, the title of this sermon: Little is much when God is in it; but much is little when God is not in it.

1. Much is little when God is not in it.

Look with me again at Luke 20:45-47:

And in the hearing of all the people Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Luke 20:45-47).

Luke begins in 20:45 by saying that Jesus spoke to his disciples in “the hearing of all the people.” In a sense that is what I am doing this morning: speaking to the believers here at Boone’s Creek in the hearing of everyone else who is not a follower of Jesus. And in a sense, that’s what happens every Sunday morning when I preach from the Word. We are in a worship service—and that worship is directed to our Lord Jesus Christ. By virtue of that definition, these services are not primarily for those who are unbelievers. They cannot worship that which is not their Lord. But we are indeed glad that you who have not yet surrendered to Christ are here so that the Word may be planted by the Spirit in your hearts and you would surrender to Jesus Christ, forsaking all to follow Him.

The Scribes were personally comfortable in their religious position. Jesus brings out that they “walk around in long robes.” They wanted everyone to know who they were! They wanted everyone to know who they were by their outward appearance. Leon Morris noted that their long robbers “were a sign of distinction and marked the wearers as gentlemen leisure.”[1] By their appearance, they wanted to show how God favored them through their success. These scribes have their descendants nowadays in TV and prosperity preachers who wear the fanciest clothes and drive the finest automobiles and million-dollar luxury places to show that God has blessed them and wishes to bless all who hold to their teaching. In Matthew 23, Jesus brought out other types of clothing and religious wear:

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others (Matthew 23:5-6).

You see, the phylacteries and fringes were biblically ordained priestly wear, but they overdid it. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, this passage known as the Shema was given as part of the greatest commandment. In elaborating on the importance of love Yahweh and him alone, He told Moses, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (6:8).

They made the tassels longer than necessary so everyone could see who they were and remark on how smart and powerful they were. He also mentioned in the Luke passage that they “for a pretense make long prayers” by “heap[ing] up empty words” (20:47; cf. Matthew 6:5-6). The place of honor at feasts and best seats in synagogue and greetings and even being called rabbi weren’t sinful in and of themselves. It was their ‘love’ and ‘pretense’ of these privileges. Their motive was wrong, their focus was self.

Yet, Jesus comes and levels the playing field.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12).

These scribes were also ones who gave an offering! Matthew 23:23 said that they tithed mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weighter matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” We can be externally obedient to the things of Scripture, and yet do them only for our own recognition. We can be absent in the silence of giving, but we love it when people brag about our new car or iPhone.

We joke in that in Trinidad one sees folks living in broken down houses, but they have cell phones and the latest American fashions. My Eastern Kentucky friends note that houses are broken down and children do without clothes and such, but most every house has a satellite dish. The truth is, we spend our money on that which is our priority. And if our hearts are not surrendered to Christ, they are enslaved to self and our money will show that.

Jesus said we should offer our offerings to the Lord as well as live a life of sacrifice in justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We do not give just to uplift our name. This is why here at Boone’s Creek nowadays, we shy away from putting up the name of who gave. When we were taking donations for the windows, we made a conscious decision not to put the name of the one who paid for each one because we did not want to give an opportunity for the flesh to gain a victory in the battle. More money may have come in and the windows may have been paid off more quickly. But what’s the issue? The issue is obedience. We don’t give to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. Nor do we simply give when there’s a need. Each of us are to give because we love the Lord who gave everything to us! Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about their generous giving out of their extreme poverty: “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” When our hearts belong fully to the Lord, so will our wallets!

Little Is Much When God is In It

Now we come to the widow.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).

Widows fell on hard times in biblical times. By virtue of being a widow, we see that they had lost their husbands who were the providers of the family. Even the religious leaders were condemned for being ones who “devour women’s houses.” Jesus brings out this truth frequently: you can tell what type of Christianity one has in how they deal with the poor. Whatever the outward apparel, their outward treatment of the most unfortunate and poor in that society (the widow) spoke volumes about their inward heart.

Scripture does not go into detail as to how they devoured them. The reason may be that in that time, no explanation was needed. Some possibilities came up. Maybe they were helping the widows manage their money, but taking a helper’s fee off the top. Maybe they were telling them to give more money so God would be pleased with their giving and help them more. Either way, they were taking advantage of the helpless rather than helping the disadvantaged.

The scene here is showing how the rich were putting gifts into one of 13 offering boxes called ‘trumpets,’ when the small end sticking up and the larger end resting on the ground to catch the money, one would put their offering into this and be on their way. Mark’s account says that “Many rich people put in large sums” (Mark 12:41-44).

So Jesus here is saying there are many ways to give. You can give the right amount with the wrong motive. You can give a relatively large amount with the wrong motive. Or, you can be like the Macedonians and the widow and give a relatively generous amount proportionally (based on what you have) with the right motive. It wasn’t the issue of giving in comparison to each other, but in proportion to what one had. Which is best?

Truth be told, this can be an upsetting passage to those who are rich, but consider: this culture and the American society is the richest to every walk the planet. Over 40% of the world’s population lives on less than $1 per day.

Motive over amount wins everytime. What’s the motive? The motive is the affect that the gospel grips our hearts. From our passage that I read to you at the very beginning of this service, take a look at what role the gospel plays in the heart, and thus making it overflow in this generosity:

[10 ] He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. [11 ] You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. [12 ] For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. [13 ] By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, [14 ] while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. [15 ] Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:10-15 ESV)

First, you are to give confidently. The widow did not show confidence in her appearance. She did not rely on the latest fashions or place confidence in living in the nicest home. She did not rely on being popular. Her confidence was in the Lord. So she gave Him all she had.

Second, you are to give sacrificially. Are we more willing to sacrifice for things that won’t last?  These scribes would not sacrifice their reputation.  This widow would not sacrifice her convictions and her faith.

Fourthly, you are to give seriously. Giving is an act of worship.  It is an act of trust.  It’s an act of obedience.  It’s not a casual matter in listening and obeying the Lord in this manner—it is of ultimate seriousness.  You are saying, “Lord, you are worth me giving back to you that which you entrusted to me.” 

Lastly, you are to give lovinglyWhen you give, you are not simply doing this for yourself.  What you give has a ripple effect in helping others in the Gospel work. 


[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 294. Quoted in Philip G. Ryken, Luke: Volume II: Chapters 13-24 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 399.

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Worship on Earth As It Is in Heaven (Revelation 4-5)

(This is a portion of a sermon I preached on Sunday, August 8 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church.  Feel free to listen to the entire mp3.  It’s not verbatim to what’s below, which are just notes I had in preparation for the sermon.)

This morning, we begin a five-part series that I am convinced will be of great benefit to you as followers of Jesus Christ. August has served as our month to emphasize stewardship—how we use our time, talents, money, and spiritual gifts for the King and the Kingdom. Peter wrote to his audience to “be good stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And by God’s grace, He has equipped Christians with all they need to accomplish all He asks of them.

The first ship of stewardship we will see is that of worship. As we have heard over the last number of weeks, how we use what God has given to us reflect who we worship! Where is your time, talents, money, and gifts going?

Some of you watch football. I confess, I enjoy watching football immensely. I heard that my grandfather observed that football just looked like a pile moving up and down the field, and he couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. Yet, when you go to their training camps and practices and see how they break down film and design plays, you see that what looks like chaos is in reality a plan being worked out.

Some of you enjoy traveling and spend a good deal of time in airports. As you look around in the airport and see all the planes leaving and entering, from our vantage point it looks as if it’s mass confusion. But once you travel to the control tower, you begin to see the schedules, the flight patterns and you notice that from that vantage point, everything is moving ahead with a controlled plan.

As we approach these two chapters in the book of Revelation, we must remember that the Apostle John was living in a very different time. From John’s vantage point, it seemed like chaos! The persecution of the church was rampant and normal for that time. John himself was on the isle of Patmost—a rock out in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea! He was in exile for his faith in Jesus and preaching about Jesus. He had seen all the other disciples be killed for the same reason. Yet, here he was—90+ years old—in exile, alone, and wondering where it would all go and how it would all end.

While he and other followers of Jesus were well aware of their circumstances, he needed to see what was behind the curtain, if you will. And this is what ‘Revelation’ is. In the Greek, it’s the word apokalyptis, which means an unveiling. But unlike what we saw in the Wizard of Oz, the one ‘behind the curtain’ will not be a disappointment nor will he be someone like we are. John needed to see the glory of the One whom He worship and the One whom He trusted.

God pulls back the curtain. Understand, there is no way we can get a glimpse of anything Godly or supernatural unless God pulls back that curtain. Even the beloved and revered Apostle John could not go into heaven unless He was told to—and even then, He could not do this on his own, but the Spirit carried him into the portals of heaven.

And the first item John sees is the throne! Not just any throne—not even the throne owned by the Emperor of Rome! This was the throne of the Most High God! This is the central item in all of the book of Revelation! In these two chapters, the word ‘throne’ is mentioned 19 times!

You see, when we worship, we are confronted with the splendor of the King upon His throne. He had the “appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” Twenty four elders were seated around the throne, complete with white garments and crowns on their head. Flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, and the torches of fire which are the seven spirits of God were all eminating from the throne!

Notice what this picture shows us:

First, this is not a God who is like us. In the Wizard of Oz, the four come to the inner sanctum of the Emerald City to see “the great and powerful Wizard.” At first, they were terrified at the sight of the one they thought was the wizard—until Toto found the man behind the curtain who was manufacturing all the effects.

Yet this is no manufactured effect! There is a magisterial splendor and a magnificent terror when it comes to seeing the living God! Notice, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings (can also be translated voices/sounds) and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:4-5)

In chapter 5, we see another episode in the grand order of worship in heaven. It’s a dilemma. In the right hand of the one on the throne was a scroll, written on the front and back. In biblical times, scrolls were sealed with wax, impressed with the author’s insignia as evidence of being authentic, as well as for security and privacy. In order for the scroll to be read, the seals had to be broken, and in order for the seals to be broken, it could not be done without the authorization of the owner.

Of all the creatures in heaven and earth, no one was found with the authority or the elevated status to look on the contents of this scroll! What was in this scroll? John began to despair, but One could open its seals. Ezekiel’s scroll was about the promises and the consequences and judgments that would come to those who ignored or disregarded the promises of God!

Here John is comforted by the fact that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Yet, in the next verse, this one in the midst of the 24 elders is described as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6). So this Lion of Judah, the one prophesied to Judah himself in Genesis 49:10:

[10] The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

(Genesis 49:10 ESV)

The Root of David, who was King of Israel and through whose line the true King of kings, Jesus Christ would come through. Many hiccups and interruptions made the people of Israel wonder if David’s line hadn’t been interrupted. But no—the root is still there. And He has conquered. He is worthy to unleash the seven seals.

But how did He conquer? The Lion of Judah conquered by being a slain Lamb! The seven horns represent strength, and the seven eyes (like the seven lampstands) represent the eyes of the Lord that move to and fro on the earth. And this one like a slain Lamb is standing! Seven horns, representing complete strength! Seven eyes, representing complete vision and omniscience, showing that He knows everything that is happening to His people and that He is with them in triumph!

He not only sees and reigns in power, but He hears to the prayers of the saints. In the next chapter, in Revelation 6:9-11, the martyrs are crying out for justice. And the seals show that God keeps his promises, will take vengeance on those who have assailed and assaulted His people, and unleash judgment on the world as this old earth ends and the new heavens and new earth begin!

How do we respond to such a God? It begins with recognizing that the only way we can approach God is by His grace! Notice that the only way that John could see any of this was because God opened the door, God who told him to come up, and God’s Spirit who brought him up. Do we not see how wonderful God is that, in spite of our sinfulness and rebellion against him, he makes open a way to commune with Him?

We see that entering into God’s presence should not be taken lightly. It is no small thing to come into the presence of the living God. He is full of majesty, splendor, glory, and even terror! But He is worthy of honor and power because he made possible for sin-wracked people to be able to come into His presence—something that even stunned the angels in heaven (1 Peter 1:10-12).

We also see that worship is all about God, not about us! When we entered into the portals of heaven (even as we are here on earth), we see that whatever earthly treasures we may have are nothing compared to the treasure of the thrice holy eternal God! The twenty-four elders threw their crowns at his feet. What does this mean? Dennis E. Johnson notes that this is “acknowledging that all authority derives from him, belongs to him, and returns to him.”[1]

The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. ‘When they knew God,’wrote Paul, ‘they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’

Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.[2]

Is our worship on earth as it is in heaven? Look at these five praises (doxologies) found in these two chapters. One thing you will notice is that not once do you see the word “I” used! You see, God is the subject. They exalt His holiness, His eternality, His glory, His honor, His power, the fact that He created all things by His sheer will, that He sent His Son to conquer by His blood a people from every tribe, language, people and nation! He has made them kingdom citizens and priests who through prayer are able to enter into the inner sanctum of heaven, approaching the throne of grace with great confidence.


[1]Dennis E. Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 103.

[2]A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.

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Links to Help Your Grip (12.7.09)

My sermon (“Exchanging the Robes of Glory for the Robes of Flesh: Having the Mind of Christ This Christmas” from Philippians 2:5-11) is up (audio / text).

Trevin Wax puts together a neat article on 9 Examples of the Internet Changing Our World

Mark Driscoll asks R.C. Sproul what’s the biggest theological battle coming up (video). 

A few weeks ago, Chuck Lawless and Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary conducted some forums on the life and legacy of Lottie Moon.  They are well worth the listen. 

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has a tense exchange with April Ryan of American Urban Radio regarding a recent party crashing of a White House event.   Any thoughts on who you thought handled this wrong?  (Our house is divided on the matter.)

Peggy Noonan reflects on President Obama’s recent speech, saying that no matter who made that speech, “he’d be pounded.”  “It tells us something about the difficulty of the issue that no matter who decided what, he’d be derided.”  We must pray for our President—I do not envy anyone who holds his office.

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Providing Outline Inserts in Worship Bulletins

One of the passion I have for the church is a clear understanding of the Word of God.   As a result, I find myself wanting to employ whatever I can to facilitate this understanding: pew Bibles, projection screen, and even putting my outline (with blanks) as an insert in our bulletin.  This last one has particular issues that are helpful and, I believe, a bit harmful:

Pros

  1. Having the congregation refer to the outline and actively fill in the blanks keeps their attention and even curiosity up!
  2. They have this outline to refer to at a later date, or even to pass along to someone else for strengthen and comfort.
  3. It forces me (the preacher) to put the points “on the bottom shelf” so people can easily understand God’s truth.  Along with this, it forces me to remain decidedly applicational in my points, rather than merely informative.

Cons

  1. Like it or not, the majority fail to make use of these outlines, thus making me wonder if it’s a waste of paper.
  2. Once the last ‘blank’ if filled in, some risk tuning out because they are done with their respective blanks.
  3. This outline risks giving off the feeling of a classroom setting rather than an event in the preaching moment, thus actually serving to divert the attention of the listener to what they are writing rather than to listening.

What are some pros and cons to having sermon outlines as inserts in your worship bulletins?

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Another Case For Expositional Preaching

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching from Matthew 6:25-34 on the subject of anxiety.  I mentioned that faith cures anxiety, but anxiety kills faith.  This sermon landed on a Sunday when our church will have a Q&A time concerning the possibility of a new building.  As you can imagine, a lot of anxiety comes with that.  Do we have the money?  Is it really necessary?  With the economy the way it is, is it wise?  The questions and concerns can pile up.

This passage, though next in line in the series on the Sermon on the Mount, landed perfectly because of our God’s sovereign providence.  If we seek primarily the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then God will take care of the necessities of our life.

Last week, I preached on Matthew 6:19-24 on a sermon I titled “A Better Economic Plan.”  You see, all that week, we saw the Dow drop, and drop, and drop.  God tells us the futility of laying up our treasures on earth because we allow those treasures to govern who we are and what we do.  I did not change my sermon for the occasion–God knew from eternity that our people would need to hear that message that Christ preached on the Sermon on the Mount.

We may believe we know what our people need to hear, but don’t give up on expositional preaching through the text of Scripture.   The Holy Spirit laid out the Scriptures in a certain way for a certain reason, so it would behoove us as preachers to preach them from that inspired layout.

I hope to post more in the future (been a bit sparse over the last two months).  Thanks to those of you who have inquired about this.  It’s encouraging.

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Sermon Posted: "That's a 'When' When It Comes to Fasting" (Matthew 6:16-18)

I am thankful for the wonderful response to God’s Word, especially in regards to the issue of fasting.  This sermon was preached on Sunday, September 28, 2008 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.

Here’s an excerpt:

David Legge noted in a recent sermon that “Prayer is attaching yourself to God, but fasting is detaching yourself from the earth.” Whatever definition you want to put on fasting, few would equal that one. It is a renewed focus away from the things of earth It is a humbling of yourself before God, bringing your body into subjection through discipline.

These particular verses really turned the focus of what fasting was about in transitioning from the Old Testament to the New. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people celebrated various Holy Days. For instance, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) there would be a day of fasting and mourning over their own sins and the sins of a nation. The sacrifices offered that day were scene as ways that they may be reconciled to God for their sins. This served as the only time in the OT on which the people of Israel were commanded directly to fast.

Yet other fasts cropped up. We read about them in Joel when national disasters took place. Nineveh fasted after hearing the reluctant preaching of Jonah. Fasting even took place under Samuel as a part of national revival.

Yet for the most part, fasting prior to Jesus’ time was about repentance of sin that transformed the covenant child into selfless human being. Fasting would be undertaken in order to sacrifice for repentance of sin and looking outward for justice among the people. Look at this passage in Isaiah 58:1-7:

Does this mean Jesus did not care for food? Hardly! In fact, the biggest condemnation the Pharisees gave to Jesus was that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. His most amazing miracle to us is his feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). His focus was on his soul and mind being galvanized to the will of His Father, dependent on nothing in the meantime.

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet;

declare to my people their transgression,

to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet they seek me daily

and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that did righteousness

and did not forsake the judgment of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments;

they delight to draw near to God.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?

Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,

and oppress all your workers.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

and to hit with a wicked fist.

Fasting like yours this day

will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,

a day for a person to humble himself?

Is it to bow down his head like a reed,

and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Will you call this a fast,

and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Yet, with Jesus, the issue of fasting became very different. We see in Matthew 4 that Jesus went out and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Why? Was it for repentance of sin? We know from Scripture and from clear reason that Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:21). So what was he doing? One commentator put it so rightly, “He was gathering strength not by eating and resting but by fasting and praying.”

Yet did Jesus seem outwardly strengthened? No, not at all. In fact, Satan tempted him with food and fame and fortune—the very things that Jesus would have struggled with to get him out of his situation. But he said no. Clearly, through his responses to Satan, he found himself feasting on prayer and the Word.

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