January 30, 2011

Jesus Came for the Doubters - Jan 30, 2011

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For the past three Sundays, we’ve been examining Jesus’ ministry in the book of Luke. We’ve seen how Jesus was all about God’s Word, quoting it often. We’ve seen how Jesus was a worker of miracles, but was primarily concerned that the people know the message of sins forgiven in accord with God’s promised Messiah. We’ve also seen that Jesus was unafraid to go toe-to-toe with the false teaching religious elite. He had the correct understanding of the Bible, and He let the people know what that was no matter who was standing in the crowd sneering.

Today, we turn to Luke chapter 7, and learn something about faith and doubt.


A couple of Sundays ago we read a story about Jesus teaching on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was morning. The fishermen were cleaning up their nets after a long and fruitless night of work. A crowd of people had gathered to listen to Jesus teach.

Jesus got into a boat and asked Simon Peter to push out a little from shore so everyone could hear. Simon said that would be fine.

When Jesus finished his teaching for the morning, he told Simon Peter to row out a little further and let down the nets, one more time. to catch some fish. Peter did so, not because he thought they were going to actually catch anything, but simply because Jesus asked him to.

When Peter’s team began to pull up the nets, they were surprised to find that the nets, which had failed to catch anything during the night, were now so full of fish that they were beginning to break.

Peter was astounded. There in the boat he fell to his knees before Jesus and said,
“…Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIV).
Peter recognized a miracle when he saw one. And he knew that he was not worthy to even be near this man named Jesus. His heart was a sinner’s heart. Surely Jesus had made some mistake. Surely Jesus would ask him to row back to shore so He could leave this sinner for good.

But Jesus just look at Peter and said,
“…Don’t be afraid; from now you will catch men” (Luke 5:10 NIV).
Jesus didn’t want to leave Peter. He wanted Peter to be part of his group of followers. One of his preachers even.

Jesus had come for the doubters. For the mistake makers. For the grudge keepers. For the castaways. Jesus came for the sinful, to make them His own people by washing their sins away by His self-sacrifice. And the best kind of person to bring the message of sins forgiven to sinners, is a sinner who has been forgiven, just like Peter.

Our sermon reading for today is about doubt. The devil wants our doubts to shake our faith. He tells us, “Look! You doubt God every time you sin, and that makes you unacceptable to God!” But the reality is, our sin and doubt merely prove that we are sinful humans. Going to Jesus with our sin and doubt proves that we are His people. We are sinners made saints through our faith in God’s Savior.

Before we read our sermon text we need to lay out the background for this reading.

John the Baptist began his ministry in the countryside by the Jordan River. John’s message was simple, but bold. He told the people to get ready, because the Savior was about to appear. He told them to turn away from their sins and trust in God’s promised Savior who as about to arrive.

When Jesus appeared, John baptized Him. Not because Jesus had any sins to wash away, but simply because baptism was the mark of God’s people, and Jesus would have Himself grouped with God’s people, not with the Pharisees and others who rejected John’s baptism and God’s message.

After Jesus’ baptism, John continued his ministry, but added this: He pointed everyone to Jesus as THE ONE God had sent. The Christ. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Now, at some point John got himself in trouble with king Herod. He pointed out that it was not right for Herod to take his brother’s wife as his own. And for this, Herod had John thrown in prison.

Now, John was no wimp. He had grown up in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey. Part of his mark as God’s prophet was that he didn’t ever take a drink of wine or beer. Even his clothes were rough. The Bible describes him as wearing clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt. His ministry was mostly one of rebuke and correction, and there were plenty of times when he clashed with the self-righteous religious elite of his time. John was no stranger to adversity.

But now, in the dark prison of Herod, something seemed out of place. Something seemed wrong. Things weren’t panning out the way that John thought they would.

And so, when some of John’s disciples visited him and gave him an update on all that Jesus was saying and doing, John sent them back to Jesus with a question. We read…

Luke 7:18-23 (NIV)

18John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
20When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

It seems unbelievable that John could doubt that Jesus was the Christ. God Himself had told John that the man whom he saw the Holy Spirit descend on in the form of a dove would be the Christ. John had seen that sign when Jesus was baptized.

When John’s disciples were later concerned that everyone was flocking to Jesus now instead of to John, John himself told them…
“28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:28-30 NIV).

But John had also told the people that the Christ would not only gather up the wheat, he would also burn the chaff with an unquenchable fire. In other words, the Christ would come to gather, but also to judge.

But when the disciples of John told him about all that Jesus had been doing since he had been thrown in prison, there wasn’t any burning of the chaff going on. Jesus was healing. Jesus was preaching. But the evil “powers that be” were still safe and sound. John himself was wasting away in the prison of one such wicked man.

Perhaps John was looking for a little more fire and brimstone in the Messiah’s ministry.

And that would be part of Jesus’ overall ministry. When He returns on Judgment Day with all the angels of heaven in tow, Jesus will indeed separate the sheep from the goats, the followers of God from those who want to no part in a life with God. But that was not now. In John’s time Jesus came to SAVE the world, not to judge it.

Jesus’ response to John inquiry is simple. Verse 21 says…
“21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (John 7:21-23 NIV).
The things that Jesus was doing matched what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah had said the Christ would do. Miracles of healing and a message of forgiveness for sinners. It wasn’t just the fact that Jesus was doing miracles that proved He was the Christ, it was the fact that He was doing the miracles that God’s prophets had foretold He would do. And the core of His ministry on earth was the offering of forgiveness, not judgment.

Essentially, Jesus tells John to be patient and strong. Jesus is the Savior foretold. And the plan of salvation and final judgment would unfold on God’s time table, not John’s.

Now, you and I might look around today and think the same thing John did. Jesus, why aren’t you doing something about all the wicked? Why are they flourishing? Why are your people poor and picked on? Should we expect someone else to come and set things right?

When faced with doubts of any kind, Jesus would direct us, like he directed John, back to the word of God. In 2 Peter 3 it says…
“8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV).
Painful and confusing times remind us that we live in a broken world. This is not our final home.

Inner doubts remind us that we are sinners at heart, who need the patient compassion of God of forgiveness.

When doubts rise in our minds, let’s be like John. Let’s take those doubts to Jesus.

You know, some scholars have looked at this story about John sending questioners to Jesus and said, “John must have sent these men to teach THEM a lesson, not because HE had any uncertainties.” I think they interpret this way because John’s whole life is a model of strength and courage to this point. And they think that a story of real doubt would be inconsistent with such a strong prophet of God.

But how many great men of God have had their own doubts? How about Moses and all his excuses – send someone else God, I really can’t do it. How about king David, called a man after God’s own heart – who stumbled into adultery and murder and covered it all up? How about Elijah, bold prophet of God who retired to hide a cave in the wilderness of Mt. Horeb where he told God that he was certainly the last of God’s followers? How about John’s own father Zechariah, who stood before the angel Gabriel in the Temple itself and said, “How can I be sure that I’ll have a son like you say I will?

Doubt is part of the human condition. Our doubts remind us we are sinful. It is when we take our doubts to Jesus in prayer, that He reminds us we are saints. His people, cleansed by His blood and made whole.

That’s what John did. Sure, this story shows John’s doubt, but more than that, it shows his faith because he brought his doubts to JESUS.

You see, Jesus had come for the doubters. For the mistake makers. For the grudge keepers. For the castaways. Jesus came for the sinful, to make them His own people by washing their sins away by His own self-sacrifice.

Prayer: Father in heaven, we believe, help our unbelief. When Satan tries to rattle us with sin and doubt, let His needling only drive us back to you. Back to your Son’s cross. Back to the land of peace and forgiveness. No matter what crosses we might have to bear in this life, remind us that the cross of our Sin was taken by your Son. Shelter us in the shadow of that cross. And give us patience and strength to wait on your promised and final deliverance. Amen.

January 23, 2011

Adventures in Missing the Point - Jan 23, 2011

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A couple summers ago we did a sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That sermon is found in chapters 5-7 of Matthew. “Sermon on the Mount” is a pretty lame title. A better title for this sermon would be “Adventures in Missing the Point” or “What Following God Really Means”.

With His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus plowed into the false teachings of the Pharisees and started to dismantle those teachings in view of the people. Some people don’t like teachers who point out how others are wrong. But, that’s exactly what Jesus did, and with good reason.

Most of the religious teachers of Jesus’ day didn’t get it. When they looked at God’s Word, they mostly saw rules to be kept. And it’s not hard to see why they saw this. Huge sections of the Old Testament Bible are just that, rules from God.

But the thing about rules is, they’re made to serve a purpose. Behind every rule is something that we want to happen or not happen. When we start to enforcing a rule without remembering WHY that rule exists, then we walk dangerous ground. Then we’ve probably already missed the point.

Today we’re going to focus our thoughts on Luke, chapter 6. In this chapter, Luke records parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But at the beginning Luke adds two stories illustrating how the Pharisees had missed the point of God’s Word.


1One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
3Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 5Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
6On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
9Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
10He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Sermon Bite: Wrapped Up in Rule-Keeping

These two events are also recorded in Matthew and Mark. In the parallel accounts we find a couple verses that help us zero in on the points Jesus was making about the Sabbath. In Mark 2, verse 27 Jesus says…
““The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NIV).
The Pharisees missed the whole point of the Sabbath. God had established this day as a day of rest. The Jewish people were forbidden to work on this day. That’s the rule they thought the disciples were breaking. They considered rolling grain in your hands to be the work of “threshing grain”.

But the whole point of the Sabbath was to reserve a place for God in the weekly routine of the people. You didn’t work on the Sabbath Day so that you could go to church and honor God in worship. You didn’t work on the Sabbath so that you could come back to God’s Word and have your faith re-centered and strengthened.

The Sabbath also served as a preview of the complete rest that would come to God’s people in Heaven.

The Pharisees were so focused on rule-keeping that they missed the point. To them the Sabbath had become a day to count your every step and watch your every move to make sure that you weren’t working. It had become a day of keeping rules for the sake of rules.

They needed to revisit the REASON God established the Sabbath if they were going to have any chance at properly observing it.

In Matthew 12, verses 11-12 Jesus told the Pharisees…
“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12 NIV).
The Pharisees had gotten SO wrapped up in rule-keeping that when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, it made them angry instead of glad. Their reaction shows that they were far more concerned with worshipping their own rules, than worshipping God.

Now, we can look down on the Pharisees, or we can learn from their foolishness. As a fellowship dedicated to following Jesus, we must take care not to make rules that go beyond the Word of God. We must make sure we know WHY God tells us, “Do this” or “Don’t do this”. That way we can make sure we are followers of God, and not just slaves to man-made rules.


12One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
17He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, 18who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, 19and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
20Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
24“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Sermon Bite: The True Mark of God’s Blessing – Faith.

The Pharisees connected earthly blessings with pleasing God. They taught that those who made God happy would receive wealth and good times on this earth.

Jesus openly refutes this idea in the first words of the Sermon on the Mount. Lots of money in the bank doesn’t mean you’re God’s favorite. On the other hand, having few earthly possessions doesn’t mean God hates you.

In verse 20, Jesus says…
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20 NIV).
What He was saying is this: If you belong to the kingdom of God because you TRUST in God, than you are BLESSED even if you have nothing else. If you’re hungry, weeping, hated and excluded by people BECAUSE OF YOUR FAITH in God’s Son – then you are blessed by God, and your future is brighter than you can possibly imagine.

The apostle Paul said it like this…
“We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV).
Christ followers don’t need wealth and popularity to prove that God loves them. They know that God loves them because He says it in His Word. Above all we know that God loves us because He sent His own Son to suffer and die in our place so that all our sins stand forgiven through His sacrifice.

It is FAITH in God’s promises that identify God’s followers, not outward circumstances like wealth or popularity.


27“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Sermon Bite: Love is a Function of Experiencing Forgiveness

The Pharisee’s teachings were marked by harsh judgment. Christ’s teachings are marked by incredible generosity and mercy.

The God of the Bible is a giving God, a God of generosity and mercy. Some consider generosity and mercy to be signs of weakness, but in fact they are signs of strength. And in the Christ follower, they are the marks of faith.

When Christ followers are generous and merciful to others, we show that we have experienced God’s generosity and mercy regarding our sins against Him. He has forgiven us through Christ’s sacrifice, so we are then moved to forgive those who sin against us.

A Christian follower’s love is a function of experiencing God’s forgiveness. As we begin to comprehend just how deeply God loves us, our love for others is enabled to grow and express itself more fully.

In the next chapter of Luke, we hear about a woman who came to Jesus when He was having supper at a Pharisee’s house. The woman came with a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet to honor Him.

The Pharisee looked at this woman and saw a sinner. Jesus looked at her and saw what her action meant. She had understood His message. She got the point. Because she trusted in Jesus for forgiveness, she came to express her love to Him.

Jesus knew that the Pharisee didn’t understand. So He told him…
“…I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47 NIV).
This is why our church focuses so much on the message of sins forgiven through our Lord. Free forgiveness through Christ gives rest to the sinner who knows he has much to be forgiven. The greatness of this forgiveness empowers the Christ follower to love through generosity and mercy.


37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
39He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
41“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Sermon Bite: Experience Grace, Teach Grace

The Pharisees were judgmental and unforgiving. As a result, their followers would be the same. They were like the blind leading the blind. Because they didn’t know God’s forgiveness, their disciples could never learn of forgiveness from them. Each Pharisee was like a man with a board stuck in his eye going around offering to help other sinners get the specks out of theirs.

To teach God’s grace, we must first know it ourselves – by heart. This means seeing our own sins and our own huge need of salvation and then trusting in God’s way of providing salvation – Christ Jesus. Only those who have experienced God’s grace can teach it to others.

Jesus was forgiving and giving. As a result, His followers would be the same.

On the shores of the sea of Galilee, Jesus once met a man that was possessed by many demons. Jesus freed this man by casting out the demons who possessed him. When Jesus was about to leave the area in a boat, the man came and asked to go with Jesus. Jesus said no. He told the man…
“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19 NIV).
This man was more qualified to teach the Word of God than any Pharisee, because He had experienced God’s mercy. Through Jesus’ message, we too have experienced God’s mercy. He tell us that our sins stand forgiven through cross. We are now qualified to teach that same grace to others.


46“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Sermon Bite: Build on the Foundation

The religious teachers of Jesus’ day thought that because there were so many rules in the Bible, heaven must be reached by rule-keeping. They missed the true point. There plethora of commands in God’s Word exist to show us that we are sinners who have no hope of earning God’s love.

The Good News of sins forgiven through God’s Son shows us how heaven is earned. By Jesus, who then give it freely, as a gift, to sinners like us.

Instead of building on this message, the Pharisees insisted on building their lives on the unstable ground of rule-keeping.

If we learn anything from Luke chapter 6, let it be this – the Pharisees had it wrong. Our foundation is not rule-keeping. It is Christ. It is all that the Son of God has done for us, and said to us. On this foundation we stand secure. On the foundation of Christ we see our sin and our Savior. Here we live our lives according to Jesus’ teachings. And each time we fail, and find we have sinned again, we look down on the firm foundation of Christ’s forgiveness and know all is right between us and God. On the foundation of Christ, we stand forgiven.

Prayer: Father in Heaven, help us always to view our day of Worship as a day of peace and rest in your house, not as a day of rule-keeping for salvation. Give us wisdom through your Holy Spirit so that we don’t miss the point of your Word. Help us to see our sins, and to see our Savior in the pages of the Bible. In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, lead our hearts to rejoice because our names are written in Heaven, inscribed by the very hands that took our nails. Through your love, expressed in Jesus’ life and sacrifice, lead us to love others, especially our enemies. Give us forgiving and giving hearts so that we become more like You. Fill our hearts so full of the joy of forgiveness that our mouths have to open to share with others all that you have done for us. Amen.

January 16, 2011

Jesus Comforts a Paralyzed Man - Jan 16, 2011

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Last Sunday, we began the season of Epiphany by examining Luke chapter 4. For the next few weeks we’ll continue through Luke, picking up a chapter each Sunday.

Our purpose is to see how Jesus’s ministry revealed Him to be the Son of God. This year, instead of focusing on Jesus’ miracles, we’re trying to zero in on Jesus’ words.

So, today as we camp out in Luke chapter 5, try to focus your mind specifically on the words that Jesus speaks.


Luke 5:17-26 (NIV)

17One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

This is a classic Sunday School story, isn’t it? Maybe it’s because it’s got Jesus healing a man, but also telling him that his sins are forgiven. Last Sunday’s chapter ended with Jesus telling the people of Capernaum that He couldn’t stay there with them, healing and preaching, because He had to tell other villages about the Good News too.

Here, Jesus does the same thing. He puts the message of sins forgiven first. Maybe that’s why this story is such a perfect Sunday School story. Jesus gets right to the point.

Me, I’m not going to get right to the point. I’m going to step away from Jesus and the paralyzed man laying on the mat for a second. There are some other characters in this room that Luke hasn’t talked about yet that bear looking at.

Let’s look at the Pharisees for a second. In verse 17 Luke mentions the Pharisees for the first time in his Gospel. They’ve come from all over the place to see the new teacher, Jesus.

There were a lot of Pharisees. One source says that at the time of Jesus there were around 6,000 Pharisees living throughout Palestine. They were religious teachers, priests, and generally religious snobs. That’s what they were. They were the leaders of religion in Jewish lands, and they were better than you.

One of the things that Pharisees excelled at was judging other people unfairly. And because they were the main teachers of the people, the people absorbed their unfair judgments and their false ideas. Turn to John 9 verse 1.
“1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:1-3 NIV).
The disciples thought that this man MUST have sinned in some especially bad way in order to be born blind. Or, perhaps, his parents had sinned in some especially bad. They probably got this idea from the Pharisees. Jesus disagreed, but we’ll let that be for now.

Let’s go back to Jesus teaching in the house. Imagine what the Pharisees were thinking as they sat there listening to Jesus. All the sudden there was a commotion over head, and sunlight broke through from outside. Before long a pallet was being lowered with a man on it. Shocking. And then they saw what was wrong with this man – he was paralyzed. He couldn’t walk.

What did the Pharisees think when they saw him? Were they already rifling through the sin rankings inside their heads, “Hmmmm, what kind of sin would correspond to this type of disability? Theft? Fornication? Blasphemy? Hmmmm.”

Now think about what going on in the mind of the paralyzed man’s head. We assume that he had grown up in the same culture as the disciples. He too heard this idea that bad health is a divine judgment from God over a specific sin in a person’s life. And what kind of turmoil had that stirred up in this man’s mind?

The events of the story show us clearly that he had faith. He trusted that Jesus could and would heal him. His friends did too. They proved it when they cut a hole in someone’s roof so that they could lower their PARALYZED friend down some ten feet or so, on a mat.

Imagine that moment. The one right before they began lowering.

Friends: Okay, you sure?

Paralyzed man: Yes.

Friends: You trust us?

Paralyzed man: Nope. But I trust that guy down there. Go ahead. Lower me down.

But this man had been taught that his condition was his own fault. It had happened because he had committed some sin for which God was still punishing him. You think there might have been some nagging worry in the man’s mind? Something like: “What if I get to Jesus, and He says, ‘I can’t heal you. God wants you to suffer some more for your sin before He forgives you’”.

But when the paralyzed man looked up at Jesus from the floor of that house, he didn’t see a stern face. He saw wide eyes and a look that said, I’ve got a secret you need to know. And then Jesus spoke…
“…Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20 NIV).

The text says that Jesus SAW their faith. The friends above, standing with ropes still in hand. The paralyzed man lying below. They trusted in Jesus. And Jesus knew it. And Jesus knew what the paralyzed man needed most of all.

He had come for physical healing, but Jesus knew his heart needed to know that God wasn’t angry with him. Jesus knew he needed to know that his sins were forgiven.

There’s so must to take away from this interchange between Jesus and the paralyzed man. First of all: the Pharisees were wrong about disease being God’s retribution for specific sins. While that may be the case in certain situations, without divine communication that’s an a very slippery judgment to make.

Isaiah 53:4-5 proves this point dramatically.
“ 4Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV).
This section is talking about Jesus’ crucifixion. When Jesus was hung on the cross, the people thought He was being judged by God because of sins He committed. Again, they probably got this idea from the Pharisees. The passage says, “we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for OUR transgressions.”

The second thing to take away from the story of the paralyzed man is a the good example. These men broke a building IN ORDER TO GET TO JESUS. Man, how many times don’t I fail in this department. Any number of stupid and worthless distractions keep me from getting in touch with Jesus. I need to get fired up to approach the Son of God in prayer and meditation.

There are a million reasons to come to Jesus in prayer, and when we leave we usually go with more than we expected. The paralyzed man did. He went to walk. He left reassured that he could stand before God, a forgiven sinner, a child of God’s grace.

A third thing to take away from this story is the simple connection between faith and forgiveness. Verse 20 says that Jesus saw the man’s faith, and pronounced that He was forgiven. In fact, the way Jesus says it in the Greek is like this, “Man, the sins of you, they stand forgiven already” (Greek Perfect Tense: completed action with abiding results).

Do you believe that you are a sinner? Yes. Do you believe that Jesus suffered and died for your sins? Yes. Than people - the sins of you, they stand forgiven already.

If some horrible health problem comes to you, don’t let the devil use that as a faith shaker. Trust Jesus. Salvation won by Jesus, comes to us through faith in Jesus. Whatever crosses we have to bear this side of heaven aren’t designed to hurt us because of our sins, they’re designed to show our faith, grow our faith, or something else that God has in mind. The punishment for sin is not ours to bear, Jesus already did that when He suffered Hell on the cross.

Okay, before we close our meditation today we need to take one more look at the Pharisees. They made a habit of judging people unfairly. They judged the paralyzed man, and they also judged Jesus. Look again at verse 21.
“21The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God” (Luke 5:21-25 NIV).
The Pharisees think, “Hey, only God can forgive sins”, Jesus’ response is surprise. He’s like,

“Haven’t you been paying attention at all! Where do you think this power to heal diseases and cast out demons is coming from?

You think this man is under God’s punishment for some un-forgiven sin? That’s why he’s paralyzed? Okay, watch this. No longer paralyzed. Soooo, that means what I said about his sins being forgiven must be true right? Can’t you see that God is at work here.”

Jesus didn’t openly say, “God is at work here”. But, He communicated that specific fact by what He did, and by what He said. Look again at what Jesus says in verse 24, “…that you may know that the SON OF MAN has authority to forgiven sins” and then He heals the man.

I said earlier that this was the first time Luke mentions the Pharisees. It’s also the first time Jesus calls Himself the “Son of Man”.

You might remember that Jesus didn’t let the demons of chapter 4 tell the people that He was the Christ. They shouted it out, but Jesus shut them up pretty quick. That was because the false teaching of the Pharisees had again been messing things up. They had the people convinced that the Christ would be all about kicking Rome out of Palestine and establishing a golden era for the Jews. For this reason, Jesus didn’t want to openly use the title “Christ” until the people knew what the real Christ was really about!

Instead Jesus dropped this little gem on the Pharisees. He called Himself the “Son of Man”. This was a sneaky way of saying, “I’m the Christ, I’m God and Man, I’m the promised King and Savior”. Let me explain.

Turn to Daniel 7, verse 13. In most of the Old Testament the term “Son of Man” just means “human being”. It’s used to emphasize the weakness and mortality of man. But in one place in Daniel it’s used to describe a very special individual. Daniel 7, verse 13
“13“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14 NIV).
By calling Himself the Son of Man, Jesus invited the religious snobs to pick up their Bibles and discover who He really was. The promised and eternal King who is to be worshipped. The God-Man. The Christ.

There’s a big take away here. Don’t accept the world’s version of Jesus. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Go to the Word. Study, stare at and memorize the image of Jesus you find there.

The Jesus of the Bible sees repentance and faith and immediately proclaims sin forgiven. The Jesus of the Bible seeks out sinners to turn them around. He’s not immoral like people who dismiss sin as no big deal. He’s not falsely judgmental like the Pharisees. He’s simply Jesus. Our holy, compassionate, loving Savior.

Know Him by His words. He’s the one that takes sin serious, so serious in fact, that He died to save us from it.


January 9, 2011

All About the Word - Jan 9, 2011

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Today is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is the season that falls between the birth of our Savior (Christmas) and the events that led to His crucifixion and resurrection (Lent).

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “striking appearance”. Jesus lived a quiet life for thirty years. Then, He was baptized by John and began teaching and healing throughout the countryside. All the sudden, this young man from Galilee was revealed as God’s messenger – and more.

During Epiphany, our Bible readings often focus on the miracles that Jesus did. The Bible calls these “Miraculous signs”. They were done to help people: the blind, the sick, the demon possessed. But these miracles were also done to point to the fact that Jesus was from God, and His message was trustworthy.

This Epiphany, I’d like to focus on what Jesus SAID, more than on what He DID. I’d like to focus on the Words and teachings of Jesus. His teaching was really the FIRST thing that grabbed the people’s attention.

Sure, Jesus did miracles, but first and foremost He was ALL ABOUT GOD’S WORD.


1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’”
5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

I wonder if Jesus had been studying through Deuteronomy right before He was led into the desert for His first big showdown with the Devil. Each time the Devil tempts Jesus here, Jesus takes His reply right out of the Word of God, specifically from the book of Deuteronomy. Verses 4, 8 and 12 are quotations of Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16).

Jesus didn’t have to go looking for ammunition, He had God’s Word tucked away in His mind already. The Devil never had a chance.

This is why you and I need to have a constant flow of the Bible in our lives. The Devil never stops trying to bring God’s people down.

Jesus’ first quotation sums it up – “Man does not live on bread alone” (Luke 4:4 NIV). Food and drink keeps our bodies ticking, but the Word of God keeps our faith alive, nourishing and preparing us for the Devil’s next attack.

Fellow Christians, be all about God’s Word.


14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Again, we find Jesus is all about the Word. When the Sabbath rolls around, He’s in church with others gathering around the Bible.

Jesus is there to teach. But the message on this day was particularly exciting because it was being fulfilled. Jesus read from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).

Isaiah had spoken of freedom, recovery and release. Jesus would bring these things. But not just through healing the blind, the sick and the demon possessed. Jesus was there to free people from their burden of sins. That’s where the biggest freedom was to be given.

If we are in debt, but have forgiveness from God, we are rich. If we are in jail, but have forgiveness from God, we are free. If we can’t see with our eyes anymore, but know that Jesus died for us, we have seen the only light that matters.

Eternal life with God is gained when Christ is trusted. And Christ is found in the Word of God.

Fellow Christians, be all about God’s Word.


22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus had grown up in Nazareth. But when Jesus preached there, the people were not satisfied with His words. They wanted more miracles.

Jesus’ response to their discontent drips with Bible references. He reminds them of the widow that Elijah helped in First Kings, and Naaman who was healed in Second Kings. These people were foreigners, not hometown favorites.

The people of Nazareth expected special treatment because of their superficial connection to Jesus. Jesus says, “Nope”. In fact, even Jesus’ own family didn’t receive special treatment.

Listen to Matthew 12:46-50
“46While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
48He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50 NIV).
Jesus’ family is defined by inner faith and following, not by genetics or superficial connection.

Fellow Christians, be all about God’s Word.


31Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. 32They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.
33In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34“Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
35“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
36All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” 37And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.
38Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother–in–law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
40When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
42At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.


We’ve already seen how Jesus was all about the Word of God. Here we see how Jesus refused to let the PEOPLE be distracted from the Word of God when He was teaching.

No longer in His “hometown” of Nazareth, Jesus has moved down to Capernaum, which would be the “home base” of his ministry. There, as usual, we find Him teaching the people on the day of worship.

But there in the congregation lurks a distraction. A man who is possessed by a demon moves among them. Having been silent for a time, the demon suddenly bursts out and yells at Jesus. Verse 4
“Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34 NIV).
The first thing we notice is that the demon actually speaks the truth! Jesus really is the Holy One of God. But the demon’s motives were clearly not good. I don’t know exactly why the demon chose this time and place to rant at Jesus, but I know this: he was a distraction from Jesus’ message.

Jesus doesn’t put up with this for a second. With a stern word Jesus shuts the demon up and casts him out of the man.

The people were already listening intently to Jesus because His message was unlike the teaching of others. His message was authoritative. It sprung from the very Scriptures of God, and opened those Scriptures up to be understood, absorbed and believed.

What the demon meant to distract actually serves to draw the people’s attention back to Jesus’ message. They could see that Jesus had an intellectual and spiritual command of the Bible. Now they found out that He also had command over demons! Once again, Jesus’ miracle served as a sign that said, “I’m from God. Listen to what I’m telling you.”

Now, we might not have demons screaming during our times of meditation on God’s Word, but we’ve sure got distractions. Jesus teaches us here not to tolerate those distractions. When we hear the Word of God, God is trying to communicate to our hearts and minds. Nothing must be allowed to crowd that message out, or distract us from hearing it. Nothing.

What distracts you from hearing and inwardly absorbing God’s voice? What keeps you from gathering on the day of worship? What distracts you from listening to the Word for yourself when you’re here? Do something about it. Make a choice and a change. Be all about God’s Word.

What distracts you from ongoing devotion time at home? Is it finding a time when you’re not busy with other things? Is it your awkward translation of the Bible? Is it a lack of knowledge about the times and places in which the events of the Bible take place? Do something about it. Shift your way of life. Think about it. Pray about it. Make a choice and a change. Be all about God’s Word.

In our readings from Luke today, we’ve seen that Jesus is all about the Word of God. At the end of this reading, Jesus more specifically defines the purpose of His ministry by saying…

“I must preach the good new of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43 NIV).

This “good news” was that the kingdom of God was open to sinners. Jesus Himself would pay the price to make forgiveness ours. He did that on the cross when He suffered for each and every individual. He felt God’s anger over OUR sins fall on HIS soul. Through Jesus, we are made free from our own sin’s heavy guilt and eternal punishment.

Turn to Ephesians 2, verse 4. There Paul writes…
“4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9 NIV).
This was Jesus’ message. God’s promise of release from sin’s guilt and punishment is trustworthy. To illustrate this free grace, Jesus releases untold numbers of people from the physical effects of sin on this world.

When Adam and Even first sinned, death entered the world. And with death came disease and sickness. But at the word of Jesus, fevers left. Diseases dissipated. Demons fled. All of these physical blessings were a foreshadowing of the complete Eden that will come to Christ’s followers in heaven.

That’s why Jesus couldn’t stay in Capernaum. They wanted this Great Physician to stay with them. It’s natural that they would! Uncle Josiah could see again! Little Timothy could walk for the first time! Capernaum was alive with health and celebration because of this Jesus of Nazareth.

But Jesus had to leave. Capernaum couldn’t monopolize the Healer, because the Healer was first and foremost a preacher. And the good news of God’s promise kept and sins forgiven forever MUST be carried to other places.

And that’s why WE must be all about the Word of God. We know forgiveness. We know peace with God and the tearful lightness of heart and joy that it brings when we really remember it inside.

But the message of the kingdom of God can’t remain inside us only. It has to be given to other suffering sinners also. To those dragged down by their sin. To those who don’t recognize how serious their sins are.

The Bible says that Christ is the head of the Church, and we are the body. We must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the others also, because that is why we are sent.

As someone once said, “We are saved, to serve”.

Dear followers of Christ, be all about the Word. It is your salvation, and the salvation of those around you.


January 2, 2011

The Call of the Magi - Jan 2, 2011

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Our events of our sermon reading take place sometime in the first 24 months after Jesus was born. For reasons unknown to us, Mary and Joseph have remained in Bethlehem. Joseph has moved his small family out of the stable, and into a house.

Things have settled down from all the excitement of that first Christmas night. There haven’t been any visits from angels lately. No shepherds knocking on doors in the wee hours of the morning. Joseph works. Mary cares for baby Jesus. Life as usual has set in.

But then, an unexpected group of travelers arrives on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The theme of our message today is “The Call of the Magi”. This isn’t just another nice Christmas story. It’s not just a historical event. The Spirit of God caused Matthew to write these words down so that the Magi could speak to us even today. These mysterious worshippers have a message for us. But first we need to ask a few questions.

WHO are these guys? WHY did they travel all the way to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem? WHAT were these gifts all about?

In drawings and paintings the Magi appear as three kings. But the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were, just that there were THREE GIFTS. The Bible also doesn’t tell us that they were kings, just that they were Magi.

Okay, what does that mean? Well, if you add a “c” to the end of the word “Magi” you get “Magic”. And that’s what many of the ancient Magi were all about. Tapping into mystical magic powers. Being a Magi implied that you knew things that most mortal men know nothing about. Supernatural things.

Apparently, the Magi in our story were astrologers who studied the movements of stars and planets. They weren’t just astronomers studying the night sky for the sake of science and learning. They attached earthly significance to what they saw in the heavens above. When unique things happened in the sky, they believed something significant was happening down on earth.

But these men were also followers of Jehovah God. They knew about the great King that had been promised to David and the Jewish people. And they believed the prophecy. They believed it enough to make a long journey west in search of this King.

The Magi probably came into contact with the Old Testament of the Bible through the deported Jews. When the Israelite nation was defeated by the Babylonian empire in 586 BC, most of them were deported. They remained in exile for 70 years. When the Jews were finally allowed to return to their homeland, many chose to stay in the lands they had been deported to.

Some of these Jews were still waiting for the promised Messiah. Perhaps they shared their hope with the Magi. Perhaps they pointed them to the Bible, and to prophecies like the one found in 2 Samuel 7, verse 12. Here God is speaking to king David. God tells David…
“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son...”(2 Samuel 7:12-14 NKJV).
Somehow, when a bright, new star appeared in the sky, the Magi knew that the promised King had been born. So, they packed up and went. They had to see this thing that the Lord was doing.

And here’s where the first call of the Magi hits us. Their journey calls us to re-center Christ as our own life’s core.

I think we’ve all come across interesting places and things we’d like to see before we die. Maybe in a magazine, or on Television. I’d like to camping in Hawaii. I’d like to go rock climbing in Oregon. I’d like to see the Redwoods. But I can’t just up and go to these places. It’s not so much the money or responsibility that keeps me from just going to see these places. What it really comes down to is these are just desires. Whims. Things that I’d LIKE to do, but they’re not what my life is all about.

When the Magi packed up and left the East, they weren’t going on vacation. This was a major undertaking. There would be dangerous roads and unknown places that they would have to travel through. But they were wealthy, right? Their gifts show it. Well, that just made them more of a target on the roads.

This wasn’t a hobby for the Magi, it was their life. There was no division between their lives, and their religion. Their faith in the God of the Bible defined their life choices - at least in this one instance.

And their example calls us back. Calls us to rededicate ourselves to the same God. The God who first called the Magi to Christ through the Scriptures, and then called them to the Christ Child by a star.

The Magi also call us to experience great joy. The joy of approaching God to worship Him.

Verse 10 says,
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10 NIV).
“Overjoyed” is kinda a lame translation of what the Magi felt when they saw the star reappear over Bethlehem. The Greek says it more like this…
“And seeing the star they rejoiced a great joy greatly” (Matthew 2:10 personal translation).
The Greek kinda piles up words in order to emphasize how excited the Magi were. The star that started this journey had reappeared. And it had MOVED ahead of them to stand over Bethlehem. This meant they were going in the right direction. They were nearly there. They were approaching the palace of the TRUE King. The ETERNAL King.

Their rejoicing calls us to the same joy. When we come here to worship, or open our Bibles at home, we’re approaching the holy and divine. We’re approaching the God who has shown us our sinfulness and our desperate need for redemption. And we’re approaching the God who has shown us our Savior. The Child who grew into a Man and went to the cross to take our sins away and make us His forgiven children forever.

We don’t even have to make a long journey to find the Christ! God has plopped this message of sins forgiven down right into our laps. He’s given us numerous copies of His message, and He’s given us this place in which to study and share and celebrate it in.

Now, when the Magi finally reached the humble palace of the Christ Child, they came prepared. Verse 11 says…
“11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11 NIV).
Here the Magi call us one more time. They call us to express our faith outwardly. That’s what these gifts were all about.

The gold, the frankincense and the myrrh were expensive gifts. But, if you think about it, these men were approaching the Son of God through whom the whole universe had been created. All this was His anyway.

It’s a bit like really little kids giving gifts to their parents. I think all my children have gone through a phase were they wrap up normal items from around the house so they can give them as gives.

Maybe you’d get your car-keys one day and a pair of your own socks right from your drawer the next.

And what’s the value in those gifts? Obviously it isn’t the dollar sign value that makes those gifts precious, it’s what they express. The love of a child for a parent. The heart and mind of a child growing more mature. That’s what made the gifts of the Magi special. There at the foot of the baby Savior, they laid down expressions of their faith in Him.

A few days ago I talked with my kids about the Magi. And in our little devotion time we asked each other, “What would you have brought to the Christ Child?” Carmen (age 2) said she’d have brought Him a Care Bear toothbrush (she had just got one that morning as a Christmas gift). My wife said she would have brought a Moby wrap for Mary to carry Jesus around in.

How would you answer that question? What if we were going with the Magi, and each of us had one chance to give a gift to the Christ Child. One simple, little expression of our thanks and love and trust. What would YOU have brought your infant Savior?

At this time of year, it’s impossible not to look forward. Just yesterday we got a fresh year to work with. A fresh set of unmarked days, weeks and months. So, what are we going to bring our Savior this year? What expression of our trust in His forgiveness? What expression of our dependence on His grace? What expression of the joy He offers by His life lived and given in our place?

The start of the year is a great time to reset. To re-dedicate. To re-center our lives on Christ. And the place to start is where the Magi started – with the WORD of God.

Without the prophecy of the King, these men would never have made that famous journey. So that’s where we need to return. To a life of prayer appointments kept. To a life where the Word of God is touched in an ongoing, deliberate basis. To a life where we first fill up our hearts with the joy of salvation through Christ, and then we let the Holy Spirit lead us to thoughtful expression of that joy.

Here’s what I’d suggest. You might already have a whole bunch of New Year’s resolutions to keep, so we’ll keep this simple. Why not build ONE better habit that connects you to God this year?

Maybe it’ll be getting to church every Sunday you’re in town.

Maybe it’ll be starting to attend Bible Class when you haven’t for a long time.

Maybe it’ll be buying an audio Bible for your iPod so you can listen to the Bible on your way to work.

Maybe it’ll be settling back into a solid prayer habit. A time during your day when everything else can wait, because you’ve got a meeting with your Creator.

Why not build ONE better habit THIS WEEK. Just one habit that helps keep your heart centered in Christ.

Have you ever been to a meeting where you talked about things that got forgotten later? You know, you talked it all over, but when everyone left the room nothing actually got done? Don’t let that happen today. The Magi have met with us today. They’ve called out to us over millennia to build up our faith in the Savior King.

The final verse of our sermon text says…
“12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12 NIV).
It had been a wild ride for the Magi. But then they returned home. And life as usual set in once more. When all the holiday celebrations associated with this time of year have come to an end, we too will find life as usual settling in once more.

May God bless our lives this year so that “life as usual” for us, is a life that’s all about our Savior from sin. A life full of renewed joy as we continually approach God to worship. And may God help us along so that our faith in Christ grows, and overflows in MANY outward expressions.