May 29, 2011

We are His Witnesses - May 29, 2011

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One of the most powerful proofs that Jesus really did rise from the dead is also the simplest: Witnesses. Writing to the Christians gathering in Corinth, the apostle Paul lists some of the people that actually saw the resurrected Christ. Paul writes…
“3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8 NIV).
There were so many eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that if you had lived back then you could have interviewed one witness a day for more than a year. There were more eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection than we can legally fit into the downstairs, main floor and balcony of this church building.

He is risen. Our sins stand forgiven. Hallelujah.


Our readings today have a strong central theme: witnessing. Simply put, witnessing is telling others about what God has done.

Three of our four readings also mention the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is immensely significant to us Christians because it means Jesus TRULY is the Savior sent from God. God would not have raised Him from the dead if he was a liar or an imposter.

Keep these two things in mind as we read and talk about the Scriptures today: 1) Witnessing is simply telling others what God has done. And 2) the resurrection of Jesus is a beacon of power that we must tap into when we witness.

SERMON BITE #1 - "The Spirit of Truth Lives in Us"

Our first reading comes from John 14. Jesus said these words to His disciples during the Last Supper. This was on the day before He was crucified, and three days before He was raised from the dead.

John 14:15-21 (ESV)

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Jesus says that He is going to ask the Father to send the “Spirit of Truth” to His followers. Now, we know that the Holy Spirit was already with the disciples because they believed in Jesus, and the Bible says that nobody can believe unless the Holy Spirit brings them to faith. Also, we know the Holy Spirit was already with them because Jesus says, “he dwells with you” referring to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus wanted to reassure them that the Holy Spirit was going to stay with them when Jesus took his visible presence from them.

The Holy Spirit lives in us too. Paul wrote…
“…no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV).
To a young pastor Paul wrote…
“Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:14 NIV).
To the congregation of believers in Corinth Paul said…
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 NKJV).
If we trust that Jesus is our Savior from sin, that means the Holy Spirit has already touched us. And He will remain with us to preserve and build up our faith in Jesus.

Followers of Christ, did you hear that? The eternal and all-powerful God lives within you. God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in YOU.

A long time ago, God told Moses to go to Egypt and lead the people of Israel up out of slavery. When Moses hesitated, God told him, “I’ll go with you”. When we hesitate to speak up about our God, remember – the Spirit of Truth lives in us. He will go with us and speak through us.

SERMON BITE #2 - "Witnessing is Praise that Someone Else Get's to Hear"

Our Psalm of the day defines praise. Praising God is simply telling God why He’s so awesome. In a sense, witnessing is just praising God that someone else gets to hear.

Psalm 66 (NIV)

For the director of music. A song. A psalm.

1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing the praises of your name.”

5 Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for mankind!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

8 Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

In this Psalm, the whole world is encouraged to praise God. It says “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!”.

Why is God to be praised? Because He has created everything. Because He has done miracles for His people. Because He rules all the nations and makes sure that justice is done to the wicked.

But I’d like to direct your attention toward the end of the Psalm. Toward the end it says, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”

This is praising God: telling others what He has done for you as an individual. The praise that the Psalm writer encourages here is praise expressed between believers. Praise shared within a congregation!

If witnessing is to be second nature for us, maybe we should start by being more open with each other about what God has done for us. Let’s not feel like we have to hold back, or say things in a certain way, or hide our darker sins. If our heavenly Father has moved our hearts to abandon these sins, and Jesus has taken them away by His cross – that’s something someone else may need to hear.

Let’s put the masks down. We’re not perfect Christians. We never were. Let’s praise our Savior God. Let’s say to each other, “Let me tell you what he has done for me.”

If we can be open with our family in Christ, maybe God can teach us to be open with the world. And maybe that will lead us to grab hold of more opportunities that we have to speak out about what God has done for the whole world through Christ Jesus our Savior.

SERMON BITE #3 - "Our Hope is Christ"

We read from the apostle Peter’s first letter.

1 Peter 3:15-22 (NKJV)

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

In this section Christians are told to be prepared to defend the hope we have. What is our hope? Jesus – that through HIS sacrifice OUR sins stand forgiven and heaven is our home.

This takes the weight off our shoulders in connection with witnessing. When we tell others about Jesus, we are not earning our forgiveness. In fact, the very message that we seek to share with others is that we can’t do anything to earn God’s forgiveness. The forgiveness of sins is a gift that was purchased by Christ when He died in our place on the cross. The forgiveness of sins is a gift that was given to you and me when the Holy Spirit convinced us that Christ is true.

But let’s be ready to tell others WHY Christ is our hope. Each one of us will say it a little differently, but if we’re speaking from the foundation of the Bible, we’re all going to be saying something like this: Jesus is my hope because He says something unlike any other religion. He doesn’t say I’ve got to fix myself. He says I’m broken. He says I’m sinful. He says I was headed to hell – but He caught me. He says that He died for my sins and for the sins of all people so that we are forgiven. Jesus reunites us with the Holy God.

Different Christians will share the Gospel differently, but the reason for our hope stays the same. Our hope is in Christ. He paid it all. He made us His own through Baptism. He is our hope.

When we talk to other people about religion, or any of the political or social topics that non-Christians like to bring up to their “Jesus” friends – lets get Christ into that conversation. After all, Christ is our hope, and His Gospel is the power to change hearts. Paul writes…
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16 NKJV).
SERMON BITE #4 - "The Gift of Forgiveness, and a Real Relationship"

Last Sunday we talked about being “mission minded”. And from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we took a few tips on how to be mission minded. The first step is to go where you have an open door. The second step is to take the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus, through that open door. The third step is to watch out for two things: opposition, and success.

When Paul came to a new city, he usually shared the Good News of Jesus at the local synagogue (a kind of Jewish Bible Class). Typically, that was his open door. But not always. In the city of Athens, Paul saw another open door.

There were lots of thinkers and talkers in Athens. They philosophy and debating the newest ideas out there. Well, Paul took full advantage of this and got himself invited to speak at the Areopagus on Mars Hill in Athens. Lets hear how Paul took advantage of this opportunity.

Acts 17:22-34 (NIV)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Did you notice how Paul didn’t apologize at all for what he presents? He didn’t say, “Now, I know you don’t believe this, but I’ll tell you what I believe”. He just lays out the truth for them to either accept or reject. But he does that with thoughtfully, and with tact.

With the Jews he would have started with the prophecies of the Old Testament, and progressed to Jesus who had fulfilled these prophecies. But with the heathen thinkers of Athens Paul starts with the fact that God is our Creator. He moves on to the fact that God is our sustainer. That God not only puts us in the places where we live, but that God does all this because He wants us to reach out for Him. The Creator wants to have a real relationship with us!

But even though Paul is thoughtful in where he begins, he also doesn’t shy away from bringing up some confrontational things. He does it gently, but he basically tells them that they’ve got lots of gods to worship, but they don’t have the right one. He also tells them that it’s ignorance to worship idols. He tells them that a great day of judgment is coming and that all people will stand before one judge appointed by God.

Did you notice that Paul presents Jesus as the one who will judge the world on the Last Day, but he doesn’t one mention anything about grace? Doesn’t mention the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for all sinners? I think this was because this way of thinking would have been foreign to the Athenian philosophers. Paul just wanted to peak their interest. You know, further get his foot in the door.

And it worked. While some rejected his message as soon as he mentioned someone actually coming back from the dead, others said that they would like to hear more.

Sometimes that’s what we need to do as witnesses of Christ. Gently prick someone’s conscience and see where it leads, instead of just dropping the who Law and Gospel bomb on them and walking away like our work is done.

If God is seeking to give the gift of forgiveness and to begin a real relationship with people, maybe that’s where we should start our witnessing Christ to others – with the gift of forgiveness and a real relationship.

May 22, 2011

Being Mission Minded - May 22, 2011

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The apostle Paul, was once a promising young Pharisee named Saul. He had been educated by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. He was in good standing with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. He was well on his way to becoming a rich and powerful member of the religious elite.

And then he threw it all away.

During his life, he was flogged at least three times. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was Stoned and presumed dead. Three times he was shipwrecked. Once he even spent a night and day in the open sea. On his travels he was constantly in danger from bandits, Jews, Gentiles, in danger in the city, in the country, on the sea. In danger from false believers. He knew what it was like to go without sleep, without food and without water. He knew what it was like to be cold and naked (see 2 Corinthinans 11:2-3-28). In the end, Paul was executed in Rome, without a penny to his name.

WHY did the Saul the Pharisee become Paul the Christian?

Well, it wasn’t for the EARTHLY paycheck. In fact, Paul refused to be paid by the churches he served.

Paul’s life changed so dramatically for one reason - the RESURRECTED JESUS appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.

Without Paul, Christianity doesn’t spread throughout the Roman world. Without the resurrected Jesus, Paul doesn’t get converted.



Before he became the apostle Paul, Saul was an anti-Christian murderer. Saul first appears in the Bible in Acts, chapter 7. This is where Stephen is stoned to death. Stephen was the first Christian martyr.

Jesus had ascended back into heaven by this time and little seedling that was the Christian church was growing in Jerusalem. There the disciples of Jesus prayed together, went to the Temple together. There they were using the Old Testament Bible to show the people of Jerusalem that Jesus really was the Messiah who had been promised.

It was working. There were literally thousands of people converting to Christianity. They were accepting Jesus as the Savior foretold. They were trusting in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.

And then that time of peace came to an end.

Stephen, a deacon of the congregation there in Jerusalem, upset the religious Jews by his preaching. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Saul was there. While men were hurling rocks at Stephen, Saul stood guard over their pile of cast off coats. And just so we understand fully, Acts 8, verse 1, says…
“And Saul approved of their killing him” (Acts 8:1 NIV).
Saul was a Pharisee. Part of the religious elite, and he thought it was a good thing for Stephen to die. In Saul’s estimation, Stephen was a heretic who deserved to die.

Saul hated Christians. At one point he even got permission to go to other cities and hunt them down, taking them into custody in order to bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.

As you know, it was on one of these excursions, on the way up to Damascus, that Saul met the resurrected Jesus. And that meeting changed his life forever.

Saul went from being a persecutor of Christians and the ridiculous message they were preaching, to being the man who would go from synagogue to synagogue explaining what the Old Testament said about the Messiah. How it said that he must suffer and rise from the dead. And then Saul would point out that this was EXACTLY what had happened to Jesus. And then Paul would say, Jesus IS the Messiah.

The resurrected Jesus sent Saul to be a missionary. The events of our reading take place on Paul’s second missionary journey.

Acts 17:1-12 (NIV)

1When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Paul’s example shows us how to be effective missionaries for Christ. How to be mission minded.

There are three things Paul points out here about being an effective missionary. First, go where you have an opening. Second, use the Bible. Third, expect opposition, and success.

I’d like to share a personal thought about being mission minded. I think right away we need to put away the guilt. Not many good things get accomplished powered by guilt. We’re sinners. We don’t deserve the love that God has given us, but he has given us complete and full forgiveness. Guilt should no longer ride upon our backs like monkeys.

When it comes to being mission minded, don’t be thinking, “Oh, I’ve just done a terrible job in the past, I’ve got to do a better job in the future.” Don’t let that be like your power source. Don’t try to make guilt your motivation. That’s not good motivation.

When Jesus suffered and died, He suffered and died for all of our sins, including our sins having to do with mission work. Including sins of not speaking when we should have said something, or saying the wrong thing, or not being prepared to tell people why we follow Jesus.

Jesus died for those sins too. So, if you’re still sipping on that guilt cocktail, pour it out. The SON OF GOD died in your place. His blood is bigger than all our sins put together. That’s the point. That’s the Gospel.

Our mission work doesn’t earn us heaven. Jesus earned us heaven. So let’s go back to Christ for our mission motivation. Let’s think about the amazing hugeness of the gift we’ve been given.

The Bible says that through faith in Jesus we are children of God. Heirs of heaven. It says we can call God our Father. I don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve it. But we’ve been given the gift of absolutely free and complete forgiveness. That is amazing.

Let’s let THAT be our motivation. Put the guilt away.

So, what does Paul teach us about mission work here in Acts 17? First, go where you have an opening.

Verse 1
“1When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1-2 NIV).
This is Paul’s thing – he went where there was an open door. He went to people that he had a connection with. He didn’t just randomly knock on doors or shout in the city streets.

He went to his fellow Jews, who were meeting in a Bible class, studying the Old Testament. He went there because he could use that Old Testament Bible and say, “Here, let me show you what it says here. There’s something we’ve been overlooking here. The Messiah, we know He’s going to be all about glory someday, but look at these passages – he’s ALSO going to suffer and die and more than that, he’s going to RISE FROM THE DEAD. This is what it says right in the Old Testament. See for yourself. Somehow we’ve not been paying attention these passages – by that’s what it says!

And then Paul would say, “I know who this Messiah is. It’s Jesus of Nazareth. His life matches everything that the OT says – He IS the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for.”

Did you notice that Paul skipped over two cities before reaching Thessalonica? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that Amphipolis and Apollonia didn’t have a Jewish synagogue, and nothing else that Paul saw as an open door for his work. So they moved on until there was one.

So, here’s what I think that we should take away from this – where are the open doors in my life right now? Where is there opportunity for me to speak the story of Christ to someone in my life?

You’ll have to answer that question for yourself. I can only answer that for myself. Finding those doors and deliberately walking through them with the message of Jesus is what’s going to extend God’s kingdom and grow our church. YOU – finding the doors and speaking the message of Jesus.

Now, don’t get intimidated by this. It’s not about confrontation and winning an argument. Look at verse 2 of our text again. It says…
“…he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3 NIV).
If you go back to the Greek word here for “explaining” it literally means “opening”. He “opened’ for them the Scriptures. So Paul said, “Here, here’s a passage that’s clearly about the Messiah and it says that He had to suffer, hmmmm, that’s what happened to Jesus.” Paul was opening up the scriptures so that they would understand.

It says Paul was “explaining and proving”. The Greek word for “proving”, literally means setting something in front of someone. Like laying the evidence out on the courtroom table, or serving a meal for someone to eat.

Paul simply opened the Bible to show them the Messiah had to suffer and rise. And then he put Jesus’ life in front of them.

The Holy Spirit converts people through the word of God when we bring it to people. We have to use the Bible to prove the message.

Now, this might seem intimidating because the Bible’s a big book, but you don’t need to know all of it. With a very simple selection of passages you can show what the Bible clearly teaches about sin and grace.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

“for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV)
Do I recommend you just recite these passages whenever you think you have a witnessing opportunity? No. The point it, it’s not that hard. You don’t have to memorize the whole Bible.

Go to the open door. Use the word of God.

Acts 17 shows us what to expect when we share the message of Jesus - opposition.

Verse 5
“5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go” (Acts 17:5-9 NIV).
When the opposition couldn’t find Paul, the they took his host instead. They lied in an attempt to get them in trouble with the local government. In the end Jason had to pay some kind of bail in order to get released.

This is what happens where the message of Jesus is preached effectively. You want to know why? Jesus came to unravel the power of the Devil over us. And the Devil doesn’t want that to happen. If the Devil can keep people trusting in themselves for salvation instead of relying on Christ alone, than he wins. But where the Gospel speaks the truth, that’s where sinners become immune to Satan’s accusations.

Expect opposition if we become a mission minded church that rattles Satan’s cage and speaks the message of Christ to the world with a trumpet.

Now, there’s something else to expect when we share the message of Jesus - success.

In Thessalonica, verse 4
“4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4 NIV).
In Berea, verse 11
“11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (Acts 17:11-12).
So, what happened when Paul spoke the Good News of Jesus? A large number of people came to trust in the forgiveness of Jesus.

I don’t have much more to say. Find the open doors in your life. Use the word of God to bring Jesus’s message of sin and grace to those people. Expect opposition, and expect success.

Our church council recently started look at a manual that suggests ways of getting our church’s name out, and ways of simply sharing the Good News of Jesus.

We’re looking at these different ideas as a church body. Be part of that. Make suggestions to our council. Talk to Roger, or Joel or Eric. Tell them, or me that you want to be part of this.

Support our VBS team this year. Talk to Lauren Ewing, Sarah Gamble, Christina Gibbs and Gail Richardson. Ask them how you can support this outreach effort.

We need to be mission minded. Not because of guilt, but because we have the gold right here. We have forgiveness, life and salvation. We have restoration with the true God.

The apostle Paul once wrote…
“7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7–9 NIV)
The apostle Paul had a promising life. But he threw it away to give others a promising eternity. May God move us to do the same. Amen.

May 15, 2011

Jehovah/Jesus is My Shepherd - May 15, 2011

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from Jesus Christ, who died so our sins are forgiven, and who lives to give us eternal life. Amen.

In his youth, David learned how to tend sheep. He learned how to lead them to pasture and water. He learned how to protect them from formidable predators like lions and bears.

As a young man, David showed that he could also protect the borders of Israel. Armed mostly with a strong faith in God, David once killed a huge Philistine warrior named Goliath. You probably remember the story.

From that point on, David’s life was filled with conflict. First David had to run away from King Saul, who was trying to hunt him down out of jealousy. Later David had to endure his own sons trying to wrench the throne away from him. In one way or another, David was constantly running from conflict, or running into it.

This isn’t to say that David was a needlessly violent man. He wasn’t. He ruled justly in Jerusalem, and to this day He is considered the model king of the Israelite people.

First and foremost David was a man of faith. When he wasn’t in battle, or functioning as king, David wrote songs expressing his faith in Jehovah, the God of the Bible. Nearly 80 of David’s songs have been preserved for us in the book of Psalms.

In his songs, David’s expresses everything from praise, to heartfelt pleas for God’s help, to deepest regret and repentance over his own sins. He also express a confident hope in the Savior that God had promised to send.

Today we focus our sermon meditation on David’s most famous Psalm, Psalm 23.

King David wrote Psalm 23 roughly 3,000 years ago. It was written in a land thousands of miles from here, in a culture totally foreign to ours, and in a language that reads from right to left and has no vowels. And yet, this Psalm is just as meaningful for the modern Christian, as it was for the man who wrote it.

Psalm 23 (NKJV)

A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

David says the “LORD” is his shepherd. You’ll notice that “LORD” is in all capital letters. In this translation, L-O-R-D in all caps indicates that the Hebrew word “Jehovah” is found at this point. “Jehovah” (sometimes pronounced “Yah-weh”), is kinda like God’s proper name.

This isn’t a generic term for the supreme deity like “God”, or “Higher Power”. “Jehovah” is a name only used of the God of the Bible, never of any other.

The Hebrew name “Jehovah” means “I AM”. It’s kinda like those Native American names that tell you something about the person. One of Jehovah’s defining characteristics is that He is eternal. He Always has been, is now, and always will be. HE SIMPLY IS.

David claims that the eternal God watches over him like a Shepherd guards his sheep.

Now, lets make a connection here. Turn to John 10, verse 11. There Jesus, a carpenter by trade, describes Himself in a very intriguing way. He says…
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NKJV).
When Jesus says this, He’s not talking about His earthly occupation, He’s talking about His heavenly identity. He is Jehovah God.

The God of the Bible reveals Himself as ONE God, who has three PERSONS: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son.

If you read to the end of John 10, you’ll find a conversation between Jesus and some Jews in the Temple. Jesus ends one of His comments by saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 NIV). When the Jews start picking up stones to stone Him, Jesus asks them why. They respond…
“…for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33 NIV).

If you turn back a couple chapters to John 8, verse 56, you’ll find another instance of Jesus claiming to be Jehovah. (Remember that the Hebrew Word “Jehovah” means “I AM”, and at the time of Jesus, Abraham had been dead for over 2,000 years) In the middle of an argument with the Jews Jesus said…
“56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:56-59 NKJV).
The Jews understood the claim Jesus was making.

Okay, we have to make one more connection before we examine the rest of Psalm 23. The Psalm before this one begins with the words…
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1 NIV).
Jesus cried out these same words from the cross. These words, and the rest of the details revealed in Psalm 22 tell us WHY the Holy God can be the gentle shepherd of sinful human beings. He can be the Shepherd of sinners because when He died on the cross, He took the punishment for our sins on Himself. He was punished, so we stand forgiven.

Some people like to picture the God of the Bible like some white haired grandfather who just forgives sins because he’s a good natured. But this isn’t what the Bible says. God HAS to punish sin because He is a JUST God. Someone has to take the hit for sin.

But who? God didn’t want sinners to suffer an eternity of hell apart from Him. So He had to punish someone else. But He couldn’t punish any of the holy angels for the sins of man. That wouldn’t be just. In the end, God chose to take the hit Himself.

The eternal Son of God become human. Lived a sinless life. Suffered hell on the cross. Drained away OUR punishment so we never have to feel it. HE was crushed so that WE are forgiven.

Like it says in Isaiah 53:6
“6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV).
Psalm 22 is called the “Suffering Servant Psalm”. It’s fitting that it comes before Psalm 23. Without God’s Suffering Servant, we’d could have no tender Shepherd.

Back to Psalm 23. First of all, David describes his Shepherd as a leader who leads the way to peace.

Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

We are part of Jesus’ flock because He died for us, paying the price to make us His own. Today He leads us to experience the peace we have through His sacrifice.

David pictures a shepherd guiding his flock into a lush green valley. It’s full of good things for the sheep to eat. This is a place of rest and peace.

This is what God’s forgiveness feels like. Peace. Peace with God.

The shepherd leads them to a place where the waters are not rushing and raging, but where they have pooled up quietly and are easy to drink from.

This reminds me of Revelation 22, verse 17
“‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17b NIV).
Forgiveness doesn’t come with a bill. It is a gift from God. Every time we come back to Jesus’ message of free forgiveness, we are drinking from the waters of life. Every time we bring a child to the faith creating waters of Baptism, we are approaching the waters of life. Every time we approach the Lord’s Supper to receive our Savior’s body and blood, we drink from the waters of life.

In the Psalm, David says that his Shepherd restores his soul, and then leads him in paths of righteousness. Restoration comes FIRST, training comes SECOND.

Forgiveness comes FIRST, learning to live the Christian life comes SECOND.

In verse 4, David describes how our Savior makes us feel: confident and secure at His side.

Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Here David says, Okay I’ve described my Shepherd. Now let me tell you just how good He really is. He’s this good… even in the darkest of valleys, if HE is beside me, I’m not afraid.”

Sounds poetic. And maybe we’ve heard it so many times that it’s just a pretty piece of poetry to us. But this poetry arises from reality.

When young David stood before the nine-foot-plus Philistine giant named Goliath, he wasn’t afraid. In First Samuel records what little David said to the smirking hulk. He said…
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:43–47 NIV).
That doesn’t sound like a frightened little boy to me. With Jehovah at His side, David was more than confident. He was fearless.

Remember, the same Good Shepherd that protected David on that battlefield, is the Good Shepherd that protected us from hell by dying on the cross. He is the same Good Shepherd that is with us today as we worship Him, and He is the same Good Shepherd who will go home with us when we leave this building.

Dear Christians, live wisely, but live like David, without fear. Our Good Shepherd travels with us wherever we go.

In the last verses of Psalm 23, David departs from the sheep imagery that he’s been using. Instead he describes his God as a Host who has invited him for dinner, and who waits on him hand and foot.

Psalm 23:5-6 (NKJV)

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

It’s like David is saying, “You want to know how STRONG my God is? He sets up supper for me right in front of my enemies. They can’t do a thing.

The anointing of the head with oil was apparently a common way of honoring a guest that you had over for a special supper. (See Luke 7:46 and context)

The overflowing cup, well that’s obvious. David is given more than can even fit in his mug!

Instead of being dogged by enemies all his life, David says that “goodness” and “mercy” shall follow him throughout his earthly life. And at the end, David is confident that he will leave this life to enter the house of Jehovah God for eternity.

The images that David uses in these last two verses have one thing in common - David isn’t serving the LORD, the LORD is serving HIM!

You know, much of the church community across the globe thinks being a Christian is mostly about what WE do for God. How WE serve Him. David knows that it really begins with what HE has done for us.

Remember how Jesus got down on His hands and knees and washed His disciples feet at the Last Supper? Peter didn’t like that at all. He figured that was below the Master to serve them in such a way. But Jesus said, if you don’t let me serve you, you can have no part with me. (John 13:8)

HE serves us.

Jesus served the sick during His ministry.
He served the disciples at the Last Supper.
He served all of us sinners when He died on the cross.
He still serves us in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of communion and in the spoken message of the Gospel of forgiveness.

Not long ago, a pastor told me, “The reason we call it a worship ‘service’ is because in it, God serves US a generous helping of forgiveness.”

Maybe you’re not familiar with Redemption Church. Well, this is the message we preach each Sunday. Jesus is the Savior. Through Him our sins have been forgiven. By faith we receive the blessings of this forgiveness. This is the core message of the Bible. Point # 1.

David knew it 3,000 years ago. We know it today.

Jesus is our Shepherd. With Him at our side we have peace with God. Complete security in life. He served us on the cross, and because He did, we too will dwell in the house of the “I AM”, forever.


May 8, 2011

The Risen Jesus Revealed - May 8, 2011

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Who was Jesus, and what was He really about? That’s a question that many people over the centuries have tried to answer.

In the Koran, Mohamed described Jesus as a very important prophet of God. He also described Jesus as just a man, not the Son of God. As for the crucifixion, the Koran says that Jesus didn’t really die, the Jews only thought they killed Him.

Modern Jewish rabbis have a different view. They describe Jesus as a rogue teacher. A rabbi who was just one of many who claimed to be the promised Messiah, but ended up getting Himself killed. Again, just a mere man.

Modern “Christ” teachers, present Jesus as an example of how God wants people to be. Kind and compassionate. Self-sacrificing. Love incarnate. They describe Jesus is a social reformer, more concerned with making earth a good place to live than a prophet, concerned with things like heaven and hell.

Jesus’ first century followers had still a different perception of Him. In a moment we’re going to read from Luke 24, and there we’ll see that the first followers of Jesus THOUGHT He was going to redeem Israel. But what that meant to them, well, that’s a bit of a mystery.

So, who IS Jesus? And what WAS He really about? We don’t have to wonder. Nor do we have to sift through the countless portraits painted by religious teachers throughout the centuries. In the New Testament of the Bible we have a description of Jesus from His own mouth. In our reading for today, Jesus Himself answers these questions.

The theme of our mediation is “The Risen Jesus Revealed”. By Jesus’ own words and actions we’ll see that He is a gentle teacher, a Bible based teacher and the Savior which was foretold. We pray…

Holy Spirit, open our minds to Your Word. Lord Jesus, show us Your face. Amen.

The events of our reading take place late in the day on the first Easter Sunday. Jesus had been arrested, tried, condemned, crucified and laid dead in a tomb three days earlier.

The disciples who deserted Him on the night He was arrested are mostly still in Jerusalem. However, two former followers of Jesus are just now leaving the holy city.

Luke 24:13-35 (NIV)

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus was a gentle teacher. He said as much in passages like Matthew 11, verse 28...
“28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV).
Not only did Jesus SAY He was a gentle teacher, He proved it through the way treated people during His ministry.

When He miraculously healed a leper, He did it with a touch – teaching the man that He was not afraid of this disease. The Holy Son of God had come to cleanse the human race of their sins, and He could easily cleanse this man of His leprosy.

The Pharisees once brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. They wanted Him to begin the stoning that would end her life. But Jesus artfully turned them away with the suggestion that the one who had no sin among them ought to be the one to throw the first stone. In their shame they all left. And Jesus, seeing the woman’s remorse 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” (John 8:10-11 ESV).
Once a young rich man came to Jesus and asked what He should do to get into heaven. Somehow this young rich man thought that he had never broken any of God’s commands. Jesus told him…
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NIV).
The man went away sad, for he had great wealth. In this way Jesus gently revealed to this man that he was not sinless at all. He had broken the very first commandment – he loved his wealth more than God.

In our reading from Luke, we find the resurrected Jesus to be the same gentle teacher that He was in life. He masks His identity when He joins those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and slips in among them.

They are talking about all the horrible things that have just happened to Jesus. The arrest, the beatings, condemnation by the Roman governor, crucifixion with robbers, death.

Jesus gently inserts Himself into the conversation with a question, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17).

And when they are surprised that He doesn’t know what things have just happened in Jerusalem, Jesus adds another leading question, “What things?” (Luke 24:19).

Just like a teacher in a classroom, Jesus asks questions that He knows the answers to. He asks these questions so that He can teach. So that He can open up the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection to their hearts. So that He can pound all their question marks into exclamation points.

Just as He was a gentle teacher back then, Jesus is a gentle teacher today. He is ever patient with sinners like you and me. Daily He forgives our sins because He suffered for them on the cross. Daily He guides the lives of His followers so that we may grow in our knowledge of Him, and may depend on Him more fully.

Jesus isn’t always a soft-spoken teacher, though. To those people He met who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus spoke harshly. He called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs”, pointing out that they had great reputations on the outside, but on the inside they were dead in sinful un-repentance.

When Peter told Jesus that He certainly was NOT going to be crucified, Jesus replied,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 6:23 ESV).
And really that was the problem with the Emmaus disciples also. Their understanding of the Messiah was all tied up with earthly things. They figured that He was there to establish a golden age for the Nation of Israel. An earthly Jewish Empire. Their minds were on the things of man.

Jesus rebuked the Emmaus disciples rather sharply there on the road. Verse 25…
“25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27 NIV).
Jesus was a Bible based teacher. He would not have them continue in their man-based interpretations of the Messiah’s kingdom.

He takes them back into “Moses” (the Jews called the first five books of the Bible “Moses” because he was the writer God used to record them). He takes them back to “the Prophets” (shorthand for most of the rest of the Old Testament Bible). And He shows them how God said long ago that the Messiah would have to suffer first before He entered into glory.

So many people today view the Bible as “man’s word about God”. But Jesus’ taught the opposite. The prophets were able to predict the future sufferings of the Messiah because GOD was revealing these things to them. They weren’t coming up with this stuff on their own! This is God’s Word, not man’s.

I’ve heard a number of people say that you can make the Bible say anything you want to. That it’s like play-doh that can be molded to support whatever you believe. This is like saying “Huckleberry Fin” can be used as a text-book for quantum physics.

The Bible specifically described what the Messiah would be like before He was born. It specifically detailed what He would endure to take away the sins of the world. To those two disciples on the road Jesus effectively says, The Bible said this had to happen to the Christ, so if you believed Jesus was the Christ, you should have expected this!

Verse 27 says…
“…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NIV).
Throughout the centuries Christians have wanted to know, which passages did Jesus lead these men to?

I don’t know. Nobody does for sure. But, let me just point out a few that may have been mentioned on the road to Emmaus.

Genesis 3:15 – God told the Satan possessed serpent in the garden that a descendant from the woman would one day destroy Him, but this descendant would also be wounded in the battle. Jesus destroyed Satan’s power over us by suffering the punishment we earned on the cross.

Genesis 12:3 – God promised Abraham that EVERYONE in the whole world will be blessed through Abraham. Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, suffered and died for all sinners who ever lived.

2 Samuel 7:12-16 – God promised King David that one of his descendants will rule over an eternal kingdom and it was this One who would establish a house of worship for Jehovah God. Jesus’ kingdom is one of faith in Him for forgiveness. Those who follow Jesus are part of this house of worship.

Isaiah 53 – Described the suffering and death of an innocent individual. He is described as punished by God for others. He dies having never had children, but it is said that He will see His descendants anyway. Though innocent, Jesus was crucified. But three days later He was raised from the dead. Those who trust in Him are His children.

Psalm 22 – Describes the suffering of God’s servant. How He was encircled by evil men. How they cast lots for His clothing. How they pierced Him and mocked Him. But how this would ultimately lead to God being praised. The witnesses of Jesus crucifixion saw these things, and later understood they had been foretold long ago.

Daniel 2:44-45 – Identifies WHEN the eternal kingdom would be established – during the reign of Rome. Jesus was born, lived died and was raised from the dead – during the reign of Rome.

Isaiah 9:6 – Speaks of a Child to be born that would be called Mighty God. God the Son had existed for eternity before He was born into the human race as a little baby named Jesus.

Micah 5:2 –Speaks of a ruler that would be born in Bethlehem whose had existed long before His birth. Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Now, the disciples understood the Messiah would rule over an eternal kingdom. The part they had trouble understanding was that first He would have to suffer a horrific death, be buried and then raised from the dead. So, when Jesus taught the Emmaus disciples, He surely focused on those prophecies which spoke of the suffering of the Messiah.

But how many other prophecies did Jesus point out and show them? The whole Old Testament looked forward to the Messiah’s birth and His work of salvation.

Jesus once told the unbelieving Pharisees…
“39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40 NIV).
The thing is, if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, there’s a question that you have to answer. Who are all these prophesies about? Who fits the bill? It can’t be anyone born recently, or yet to be born because Rome’s Empire is long gone, and the Messiah was predicted to be born during the Empire of Rome.

Who fits all these prophecies – if not Jesus?

The Savior foretold in the Bible is Jesus.

The Old Testament predicted His life in detail. The disciples saw Him live, die and rise again. The Two heard Him explain everything the Scriptures had foretold on the road to Emmaus.

Who was Jesus, and what was He really about? That’s a question that many people over the centuries have tried to answer. But really, only Jesus has the authority to answer that question. And He has answered that question – with His life and with His words.

John 5, verse 24…
“24 Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
The risen Jesus is the promised Savior. Through Him sinners are forgiven, and heaven is the final destination of all who trust in His promise. Amen.

May 1, 2011

Our Past is Ashes, Our Future Open - May 1, 2011

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Some believe the resurrection of Jesus was a lie made up by His disciples to get something for themselves. But the ministry of the apostles shows this to be nonsense. Did they gain riches and popularity from the world because of the message of Christ? Not at all. They were ostracized by their own countrymen, chased from city to city, and eventually all of the apostles but one were tortured and executed because of their faith. One does not willingly suffer and die for a lie. The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection of our Savior. They knew that resurrection guaranteed that their sins were forgiven before God. They were willing to face anything to share that freedom, and the sure hope of heaven with others. They were His witnesses. He IS risen.


If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know what a phoenix is. Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, I bet you’re familiar with this mythological creature. The phoenix is a bird reported to live anywhere from 500 to 1000 years. The end of its life is the interesting part. The phoenix makes a nest out of twigs, nestles down in that nest and then – bursts into flame. Both the nest and the bird burn fiercely until there’s nothing left but a heap of ashes. But then, from out of the ashes a baby phoenix arises.

Our meditation today is about rebirth. And the Phoenix paints a perfect picture of what rebirth means: the past is ashes, the future is open.

We read from the apostle Peter’s first letter…

1 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV)

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

You know, all you have to do is look in the daily newspaper to discover the fate of every human being. I’m not talking about the horoscope section. I’m talking about the obituaries. Each one of us is going to die, some of us sooner than others.

As students of the Bible we know why. God didn’t create us to die. But when Adam and Eve sinned against God, evil and death flooded into our world. Ever since that day, every child born has been a clock ticking down, and only God knows how much time is left.

Some people believe that this world is just a staging area. A place where we experience things and learn about ourselves before we move on to the next place. They imagine that death eventually brings us all to the same clearing at the end of the path, to the same country across the sea. In other words, they imagine that we’ll all end up in heaven eventually.

A nice thought, but it’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says sinners cannot exist in the presence of the Holy God.

Since we’re all born sinful, we’re all in the same boat. Destined to live a life that ends in death, followed by an eternity of hell, apart from God. Not a bright future, but that’s the family that we were born into, the family of death.

Now, you might think, I’m being a bit melodramatic. But go ahead, pick up the newspaper and scan through the obituaries. Or take a walk through the cemetery nearest to your home. See all those names that used to be people, and tell me that we aren’t born into a family of death.

Or visit a place where people are dying of starvation, poverty, cancer or war, and tell me that this is the way God intended His world to be.

When we read the first part of Peter’s letter a moment ago, we didn’t hear even a hint of defeat or despair or desperation. Peter says Praise God! Because God the Father has given us new birth through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

We were born into this world destined to die, but through Jesus we are reborn, destined to live forever.

Don’t get lost in the metaphor, being reborn doesn’t mean you have to go through a special ceremony or take a class. It doesn’t mean rays of light are going to shoot out of your fingers or that you’ll all the sudden forget who you are.

When we became convinced that Jesus IS the Son of God, and that He really DID die so that our sins are forgiven, we were reborn. Those who trust in Jesus for salvation HAVE BEEN born again. As 2 Corinthians 5, verse 17 says…
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).

Peter says we’re reborn into a “living hope” because: Jesus is alive. He was crucified for our sins, died and was buried. But after three days, He rose from the dead. I love how Luke says it in Acts 2:24
“…it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24 NIV).
And for those who are joined to Jesus through faith, death’s power over US has also come to an end. Our sins are forgiven because Jesus suffered the punishment for them. Satan cannot accuse those in Christ, and death cannot claim them for hell.

Now, Peter also says that through Christ we receive a new inheritance. That’s because we’re reborn into a new family – God’s family. Our new inheritance is not some house, or property or pile of money and coins. Our new inheritance is indestructible because it’s waiting at God’s side. In fact, you could say, that God Himself is our inheritance. That’s what David wrote in Psalm 16, verse 5
“ 5 O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. 6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance” (Psalm 16:5-6 NKJV).
Because of Jesus, we’ll get to see the eternal and Holy God face to face. We’ll get to know Him more intimately than we ever have before. Just as hell is separation FROM God, heaven will be union WITH Him. That’s why God pictures the first day in heaven as a wedding feast! The gathering of all believers is His bride and they are together at last.

Now, Peter tells us that until we reach heaven, we are shielded by God’s power through our faith. This is another benefit of rebirth. The way Peter says this is important though. Peter specifically says that we are shielded BY God, THROUGH faith.

If we try to imagine God SHIELDING us, we probably gravitate toward the image of Him protecting us from cancer or a car accident or something like that. But that’s NOT the point here. Peter is talking about How God protects what really matters - our inner most self, our soul. Peter says that this shielding is provided by the faith that God gives us in the Savior. You remember this Bible passage right…
“16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 NIV).
Now, it’s true, God shields us in many ways. He does limit the physical damage Satan can inflict on us to a level which we can bear. If it gets to much, He provides a way of escape. 1 Corinthians 10, verse 13…
“ 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).
God also promises to bend and twist all of Satan’s hurtful plans to benefit God’s followers in the end. Romans 8, verse 28
“ 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV).
And Jesus reassures us…
“ 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30 NIV).
One day God will set His shields down. When His Son has gathered all His children in and the gates are shut. Then we will have no need of protection any longer, and the celebration will begin.

Let’s read the second part of our text…

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Now, in these end times, it’s not fashionable in some church circles to speak of hell as a real place. I’ve heard one professing Christian claim that Jesus isn’t all about heaven and hell, it’s about a relationship now. And that’s true to a certain extent. But look at this whole text, so much of it is looking to the future. And that last verse nails it right on the head – the end result of faith in JESUS is the salvation of our souls. Let’s be compassionate. Let’s be NOW Christians. But let’s also keep our eye on the prize, the salvation of our souls that will be fully realized when Jesus reappears to put in the final piece of our saving – when He takes us right into His arms.

Now, concerning the section of 1 Peter that we just read, I don’t have say much, do I? Peter says it so plainly. He’s writing to Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire. He knows that they have been experiencing hard times lately. He uses the phrase, “grief in all kinds of trials”. If you read through all of Peter’s first letter you’ll see this theme pop up over and over.

But this wasn’t because God was angry with them. Peter wants to be sure they understand this. It was a common thought then, and now, that when something bad happens it means that God is punishing you for some specific sin. Peter says, That’s not the case here. These hard times were going to show the world that the faith of these Christians was true. It was not merely words spoken on church day. 1 John 3, verse 18 says…
“18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18 NIV).
Would these Christians cling to Christ in hard times? Would they continue to assault the throne of God with their prayers? These tests would reveal the genuineness of their precious faith.

You and I have something in common with the people Peter wrote to. It’s shown in the last two verses of our reading. Peter says,
“8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV).
Just like us, these people had never sees Jesus. Peter had, but they hadn’t. They had never met Him, and Jesus didn’t appear to them in visions. But they believed in Him because they heard what He had done for them. And because the Spirit of God is alive and active in the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus, they had been reborn. Like it says in 1 Peter 1, verse 23
“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 NIV).
Their past sins were now ashes. Their future was now the open gates of heaven. They were reborn like the phoenix, but they never had to feel the fire – Jesus did that for them when He suffered Hell on the cross.

The other day I was in a local shop, when I overheard a snippet of conversation. Two guys in the back room were apparently having a discussion about Christianity. One of them was not impressed. He said, “I don’t need to have my own personal imaginary friend”.

That’s what he thought Jesus was for Christians. Someone we can have those inner conversations with. A friend when we don’t have any friends perhaps, but in the end, just an imaginary friend.

I can understand this kind of thinking. If you look back over our sermon reading, you’ll see that all this stuff about being born again – it’s invisible right now. The new birth, can’t see it like you can see a newborn baby. The living Jesus, can’t see Him. The inheritance in heaven, that’s out of sight (no pun intended). The shield of God that protects us, can’t see that either. But that’s the definition of faith, trusting in what you can’t see.

But don’t think for a minute that our faith is a blind faith. Our faith is not based on something never seen, like the mythological phoenix. Our faith is based on a resurrection that was very deliberately displayed to the world.

When Jesus rose on the third day, an angel descended and ripped open the tomb. The women who came to embalm his body found it missing and then they found Him alive. And to prove beyond a doubt that it was Him who had been dead, our Savior showed His followers the wounds in His hands and feet, and the gaping spear wound which miraculously remained in His side.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is not something that happened in secret. It was done in the open, and anyone at the time could play reporter and verify what had happened. Some have said that with all the witnesses and written testimony that we have, Christ’s resurrection is probably the most testified to even in the history of the world.

Dear Christian, our greatest Friend is not imaginary, He’s just isn’t visible right now. But make no mistake, He is alive. We serve a risen Savior, in whom we have been reborn to a living hope. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.