May 27, 2012

Pentecost and the Holy Spirit - May 27, 2012

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Today is Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is all about the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit does.


In baseball there's sometimes two umpires on duty. One behind the plate to call balls and strikes and one out in the field to call runners out or safe on the bases.

Recently I got a chance to be a field umpire for a Little League game. Now, I've been playing baseball since I was little kid. But I had no idea where I was suppose to stand as a field umpire. I didn't know which calls I was supposed to make and which ones the head umpire behind the plate was supposed to make.

You see, when you play or watch baseball, you don't really pay attention to where the umpires are unless they get in the way. Your focus just isn't on the umps, even though they're important to the game.

Most umpires are more than okay with not being the focus of attention. They're happy to just float along in the background making sure the game runs smoothly. That's their job, and they like it.

The Holy Spirit is like a field umpire. He doesn't need to have the spotlight. He's glad to float along in the background bringing sinful people to faith and forgiveness through the message of Christ's death and resurrection. He's more than happy to quietly educate strong and weak Christians alike using the Bible.

This is what the Holy Spirit does. He teaches. He communicates. Through the Bible He communicates both God's unbending law and His all-forgiving grace.

Today we're going to talk about who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. We're also going to remember what the Holy Spirit did on the first Pentecost. Lastly, we'll talk about what we can expect from the Holy Spirit today.

But first, let's pray.

Holy Spirit, we know that you are here among us. We are gathered to praise and worship you beside the Father and the Son. Please strengthen our faith through your word. Help us form a correct picture of who you are in our minds. Erase misconceptions we might have about you and give us boldness to be your tools in this world. Speak through our actions, Holy Spirit, and more importantly - speak through your Word on our lips. Amen.

So, what exactly do we know about the Holy Spirit? Well, the Bible says God is ONE God, but THREE persons. The Holy Spirit is one of these three persons. Jesus told His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

If we turn back to the second verse of the Bible, found in Genesis, it tells us that the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning, hovering over the yet-to-be-ordered waters of creation. If we skip forward to the book of Luke, we find out that the Holy Spirit hovered over the virgin Mary also, "overshadowing" her when Jesus was miraculously conceived in her womb. Finally, the book of Acts tells us that the Holy Spirit was "poured out" on early Christians on the day of Pentecost. He caused miracles to be seen and enabled the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned.

Now, I said earlier that the Holy Spirit is content to work behind the scenes. But in one sense the Holy Spirit is prominent everywhere God is at work. He's in charge of heaven's public relations. He was in charge of getting God's word into print, and He's in also in charge of bringing people to faith through that word.

In Second Peter it says...
" prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21 ESV).
In First Corinthians it says...
"13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:13 NKJV).
In First Corinthians it also says...
" one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV).
So, the Bible teaches us that Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible. And not only that, the Holy Spirit is the only teacher who can explain the Bible's meaning correctly and the Holy Spirit is the only person who brings people to trust in the Savior revealed in the Bible.

Essentially, the job of the Holy Spirit is COMMUNICATION. By communicating the message of man's sin and God's grace, the Holy Spirit does two things. He saves people, and then He changes people - in that order.

First, the Holy Spirit convinces us that we HAVE sinned against God and deserve the punishment of eternal hell because of our sins. But then the Holy Spirit pours God's GRACE onto us. He reveals that God's Son suffered and died in our place, for our sins. Through Jesus our sins now stand forgiven.

Once the Holy Spirit convinces a person that the Good News is true, that person is safe from hell. Then the Holy Spirit moves on to change that person inwardly. The change that the Holy Spirit brings about is not instantaneous. It comes about day by day through the Word of God being impressed on our hearts. The Holy Spirit cleans out our old bad habits and flawed ways of thinking, and replaces them with God's good habits and pure ways of thinking.

It's important to remember that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to make this change happen in people. He doesn't just recreate our hearts and minds like a mechanic replacing an engine. There's a lot of spiritualism floating around in religious circles today. Spiritualism that likes the idea of God working inside a person. But this modern spiritualism forgets that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to change people.

Even when the Holy Spirit has worked in outward and miraculous ways, His point is always to enhance the communication of the Good News of forgiveness through Christ.

Look back at our Gospel History reading for today: John 14, verse 25. There Jesus told His disciples...
"25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:25-27 NKJV).
If you read through all the post-resurrection words of Jesus you'll find He's always emphasizing that His disciples are going to be witnesses to the world of His death and resurrection. That's the emphasis. Jesus doesn't hardly even mention the miracles they'll be doing because the miracles aren't the main point. The important thing was communicating the soul saving message of forgiveness through Christ's cross. If the people didn't believe it, they wouldn't get the benefits of it.

Now, the first really big growth spurt in Christian church happened on Pentecost. It happened because the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to communicate the Gospel to crowds of people. Our sermon reading for today tells us the story.

It's a big reading, so we'll need to work to stay focused. Watch closely in your mind's eye. There are miracles, but the miracles serve to frame the real power at work - the Holy Spirit communicating the Gospel to sinners.

Acts 2:1-39 (ESV)

2 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Think about the miracles that happened on Pentecost. There was the sound of wind with no wind. There were flames of fire on the disciples that didn't burn them. They were enabled to speak the Good News in languages that they had never learned.

From the response of the crowds, apparently the only miracle that the public saw was the miraculous speaking of foreign languages. This miracle wasn't done just for the sake of doing a miracle. The Holy Spirit made this miracle happen in order to open up a door so that the disciples could COMMUNICATE THE GOSPEL to lots of people on that day!

And it worked. Three-thousand people came to faith on that day and were baptized.

Of course we understand why so many were converted on that day. These weren't Godless heathen people. These were converts to Judaism who had come to Jerusalem from across the world to worship at the temple of Jehovah. They knew the Old Testament and it's prophesies of a Savior. This tree was ripe for the picking! Just add Gospel and BAM! There was now a mega-church in Jerusalem.

But let's not forget that it was the Holy Spirit who did it. He had prepared these visitors through the Old Testament. He had taught the eleven disciples through Jesus' ministry. He, the Holy Spirit, had given them the miraculous gift to speak in unstudied foreign languages.

Just as the Holy Spirit had overshadowed Mary and caused Jesus to be conceived and born into the world, on Pentecost the Holy Spirit overshadowed the people of Jerusalem and caused the Christian church to be born - through the Word of God proclaimed clearly.

So, this brings us to our last question. What can we expect from the Holy Spirit today?

Well, we can expect the Holy Spirit to continue creating faith and strengthening Christians through the Bible. Especially through the message about Christ's death and glorious resurrection.

We can expect the Holy Spirit to be at work among us when we gather to worship the Triune God.

We can expect the Holy Spirit to open doors for us to share the Gospel with others.

But here's the thing, we need to remain in contact with the Word if we're going to be in contact with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn't usually text, or Facebook or speak audibly from the sky. The Holy Spirit usually speaks through the Word of God.

So, if we want the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, we need to be in the Word of God as a habit. Like breathing or sleeping. We need to be in contact with the Word through which the Holy Spirit works.

We need to gather together with our fellow Christians to worship. To confess our sins. To receive the comfort of the Gospel. To study the Bible.

We need to look for the doors the Holy Spirit wants us to step through in service to Christ and the Gospel. And when we find those doors we need to step through them confidently, knowing that the SAME Spirit who empowered the early Christians to gather in that huge Pentecost harvest of rescued souls, is the same Spirit who powers our ministry today.

This past week I read through the first five chapters of the book of Acts. One thing that is really noticeable is how the apostles keep coming back to the Gospel message.

There's a little sermon in Acts chapter 2, 3, 4, and 5. in each of these little sermons the apostle brings his message back to the simple fact that Jesus died and rose from the dead and through repentance and faith in Him the sinner has forgiveness. Go ahead and read those first five chapters. You'll see that the focus in on the Gospel message. (See Acts 2:22-24, 3:13-15, 4:7-12, 5:29-32)

Acts 5, verse 47 summarizes the ministry of the apostles in this way...

" 2 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus" (Acts 5:47 ESV)

May the Holy Spirit move among us here at Redemption Church also, so that we may like these early Christians. Full of the Holy Spirit. Knowledgeable and continually learning from His Word. And always coming back to the simple message that the Savior is Jesus in our worship, and in our conversations with our neighbors. To the glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


May 20, 2012

Ascension Certainty - May 20, 2012

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Babies often get upset when mom or dad puts them in the crib for the night. Small children often have a hard time when their parents drop them off at daycare. They call this, separation anxiety.

Sometimes parents try to avoid upsetting their children by sneaking away. But this only makes things worse. Child psychologists say that when parents sneak away, it teaches kids that their parents could disappear at anytime. That's a pretty scary idea for a little one to learn.

Thankfully, parenting books say there is a better approach. Just say "goodbye" openly. There may be a few tears, but the mystery is gone. Mom is going to work. She'll be back later. Let's wave to her at the window. "Goodbye mommy! See you when you get back!"

With an open "goodbye" a child's anxiety melts away into confidence. He can see mommy going away. He knows where she is going. He knows she will come back.

After Jesus died for our sins, He victoriously rose from the dead. Then He spent forty days meeting with His believers. He taught them about the forgiveness of sins that He had earned for them by the cross. He taught them that this forgiveness is God's free gift. He taught them that sinners receive this gift through faith in Jesus.

At the end of those forty days, Jesus said goodbye. Rising up into the sky in full view of His disciples, He took His visible presence away from them.

You might think this would be devastating to Jesus' followers. But the effect was exactly the opposite. They had no separation anxiety. Jesus' miraculous ascension gave His followers certainty. They were certain that all He had claimed in the past, was true. They were certain that His presence and power would remain with them as they began their ministries. And they were certain that Jesus would return one day, and they would ascend into the sky to meet Him.

We read Luke's account of Jesus' ascension in...

Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The ascension of Jesus Christ gave confidence to His believers. Jesus had performed many miracles throughout His ministry. He had cast out demons, healed the sick, walked on water, fed thousands with a little boy's lunch - He had even raised people from the dead. More recently, He Himself had stepped out of a tomb after being stone dead for three days. Each of these miracles was a sign. An arrow that pointed to Jesus and said, "This guy is from God. Listen to what He says".

While Christ's resurrection from the dead was the GREATEST miracle which proved He was the Savior, the ascension of Christ was the FINAL miracle which shouted this same message.

I have two study Bible's that I use. Both of them have charts which list Jesus' miracles. Oddly enough, they both leave Jesus' ascension off the list! Water to wine, oh yes that's a miracle. But being lifted up from the ground and into the sky until you disappear - that somehow doesn't make the list.

Why do we forget about the ascension? Instead we aught to hold this miraculous sign in our minds. It's unique in the list of miracles, and it's significant. Not only was Jesus showing one last miraculous sign, validating His identity as the Savior, He was also impressing the disciple's assignment on their hearts.

We all know the great commission. At some point after His resurrection Jesus told His disciples...
"...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
With Jesus disappearing up into the sky, that assignment really came home to His disciples. Dad can teach you how to throw the ball, but when coach sends you to the mound in the final inning - well, YOU'VE got to throw the pitches.

Jesus would remain with His disciples spiritually, speaking through His them and to them by the Gospel. But all the same, the disciples would now take on the responsibility of going and doing the Master's gracious will like they had never done before. Their task was to bring peace to those weighed down by guilt. Their task was to bring forgiveness to sinners who were lost and hopeless in sin - by sharing the Gospel message.

By making His exit in such a public and visible way, Jesus also left His disciples with no doubt as to where He had gone. When the angels who announced Jesus' birth were done telling the shepherds where they'd find Him, the angels went back into heaven. Jesus had now done the same. He had left the earth, passed through the sky, and had disappeared into the presence of the Eternal Father. Our sermon text in Acts doesn't explain the complete significance of this action, but the rest of the New Testament does.

In Ephesians Paul wrote...
" [God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Ephesians 1:20-23 NIV).
When Paul writes that Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, he doesn't want us to think of a place. He wants us to think of the power now restored to Christ.

During His ministry Jesus did not exercise full use of His powers as God the Son. Now, He does. As the supreme ruler of all things, Jesus now uses His power to further the Gospel message. He builds the faith of His followers through the Bible, and He builds up His Church by adding new believers to the kingdom of grace.

In Romans Paul wrote...
"Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" (Romans 8:34-35 ESV).
The God-Man now hears our prayers as they float up to the Father's side. He hears them, and intercedes on our behalf. He continues to declare sinners like us right with God because of His sacrifice in our place.

While on this earth, Jesus also told His disciples that He was going to depart and prepare a place for them. In the book of John Jesus said...
" 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1-3 ESV).

Everything about Jesus' ascension gave confidence to His followers. Sure, they had work to do, but Jesus was still with them through the Gospel. His Gospel would bring souls to believe and be saved. Their failures or successes in service to Jesus would not effect their eternal destination. Their salvation was secure in Christ. He had opened the way to heaven through His suffering and death on the cross, and now He was preparing their eternal place in Heaven.

Stop for a just a moment and imagine the scene on that first ascension day. Jesus has said His final words of blessing to His believers. He has risen up above their heads into the blue sky above. Higher and higher He rises. Down below, the crowd of followers who had encircled Him stand motionless, heads raised, all eyes on Jesus. Soon, the clouds will envelope Him and they will see Him no longer, but for now, all eyes are on Him.

This is one thing the ascension does, it focuses our attention on Christ, and on Christ alone. As our one Savior. As our great teacher. As the miracle worker. As God's own Son coming home.

But the greatest significance of the ascension is not that our eyes are on Him, it is that HIS eyes are on us. He now watches over us from the Father's side. From the place of power and authority second to none. We weren't there when He ascended, but that doesn't make a difference. We have His promises still.

Matthew 18, verse 20 says...
"... where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20 NKJV).
Mark 16, verse 20 tells us...
"...they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them" (Mark 16:20).
In Romans the apostle Paul, who also didn't witness the ascension wrote...
" ...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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17 NKJV).
Jesus' miraculous ascension still gives us confidence today. It assures us that Jesus is the Savior promised. It makes us certain that our sins have forgiven through Christ. It reminds us that He is the power source in the Christian's life and ministry. And as a final blessing, Christ's ascension serves as a preview of things to come.

In First Thessalonians Paul described what the final resurrection from the dead on Judgment Day would be like to His fellow believers. He wrote...
" ...the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NKJV).
On this ascension day, be filled with joy, for you are forgiven of all your sins through Christ. Be filled with the certainty of the ascension and all that it implies. And glow with anticipation of your own ascension to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

May 13, 2012

Joy Fully Realized - Apr 13, 2012

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When I was a kid, I used to day dream in church. Perhaps it was because I had heard my father's voice from the pulpit so much. Perhaps I just thought I knew it all and didn't need to listen. Whatever it was, I often found my thoughts wandering during the sermon.

Don't mistake my meaning, I wasn't daydreaming about important spiritual things. My daydreaming usually didn't have anything to do with the scripture readings or the sermon theme.

One of my reoccurring daydreams was a what-if scenario. What if (Twilight Zone) all the sudden everyone on the planet disappeared, and mysteriously only I was left to wander the earth. Where would I go? What would I do?

Usually, my planning for this contingency involved visiting all the coolest sporting goods stores for neat gear. And picking out the awesomest vehicle to travel the country in. I'd live off of abandoned supermarkets and convenience store food. Since no one else was around, everything would be mine, right? All those things I could never afford, or wasn't allowed to have - would be mine.

Now, I imagine that if this happened, a kid could be happy for a while. But eventually the novelty of this brand of freedom would wear off. Who would be impressed by all my cool stuff? There would be no one to share in my adventures. No one to talk to. No one to care about. No one to care about me.

Especially in consumer driven America we're led to believe that happiness comes from things we own. Or from experiences we can have, like fun vacation tours or a delicious gourmet meal. But the happiness that comes from these things is temporary. It fades with time. For happiness with a strongrt backbone, we have to look beyond things and experiences. We have to look outside ourselves.

The Bible teaches that fully realized joy comes from reciprocal love. Love that is shared between beings.

Think back to the very beginning. After God had created the universe, in all its natural beauty and sinless perfection, then God created Man. Just one man to begin with. Adam. The world really was his oyster. It was all his to enjoy. God even put Adam into a special garden paradise and told him that he could eat from endless groves of delicious fruit. It was all his for the taking.

But then, God surveyed the whole panorama of creation and came to this conclusion...
"It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18 ESV).
And so God made a companion that Adam could share the world with. His wife, Eve. Fully realized joy comes from reciprocal love. Love that is shared between beings. Now, Man could experience fully realized joy. Man and woman would live in friendship with the Divine Creator, and in with each other.

Of course, we know what happened. The Bible tells us that Mankind severed itself from God by sinning. Man pushed God's love away by sinful disobedience. And from that time on, fully realized joy has been hard to come by, and hard to stay in.

Our sins drive a wedge between us and God, and between us and other people. Like a wet blanket thrown on a fire, our sins dampen and snuff out lasting joy.

And that's where God's Son comes in. God the Son became human in order to remove the wedge of sin, and to introduce us to true joy once again.

Jesus Christ took the sins of Mankind on Himself. He suffered the punishment of our rightly deserved hell on the cross. Jesus now offers free forgiveness to all through His sacrifice.

This is the joy that we find in God's only Son. We are forgiven sinners through Him. Restored once again to a relationship of reciprocal love with our Creator.

In our reading for today, Jesus tells His followers how to remain in this joyful condition. How to keep on experiencing this joy in increasing measure throughout this life, and into eternity.

The key to remaining in Christ, and experiencing lasting joy, is love. Love between Jesus and His follower, and love among Jesus' followers.

John 15:9-17 (ESV)

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Obedience to Jesus is not the way to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a free gift from Jesus. It cannot be purchased by our words and actions. Like it says in John 3...
" God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17 ESV).
Jesus does NOT say whoever believes AND OBEYS GOD PERFECTLY shall not perish. He just says whoever believes in Christ, whoever trusts in Him for forgiveness is safe.

But after saving faith is kindled in the heart of the sinner, dedication to following Christ's commands certainly plays a role in keeping us in faith. Jesus tells His followers to abide in His love. To remain in His love by following the teaching He has taught them.

You could call this the "attitude of faith". Since we have come to believe that Jesus truly cancelled out our every sin, we now seek to live according to His direction, not according to our old ways of sinful living. The world around us teaches that abandoning sinful ways of living leads to boredom. But Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full". That's not boring.

Jesus had the joy of being the Father's perfect Son. No sin separated Him from the Father. The loving relationship between God the Father and God the Son was one of perfect, reciprocal love. Jesus loved to do his Father's will, and the Father loved to praise His Son for His faithfulness.

Jesus wants us to experience this joy also, and fully. First by knowing that all our sins are washed away, and we stand in a perfect relationship with the Father. Then, Jesus wants us to begin to experience on-going joy through doing the Father's will, just like He did. This on-going backbone of joy becomes ours as we learn to our lives in God's way.

There is a learning curve. That's for sure. As we try to live according to Jesus' every command, we fail at every turn. But at every failure, Jesus is there to pick us up, dust us off, and remind us that, yes, that sin was paid for also. The forgiving love of Christ, expressed on and given through the cross, then moves us to love Him in return. In real, tangible ways.

Christ's love doesn't just move us to love HIM, it also moves us to love EACH OTHER. Let me read again what Jesus told His followers. Verse 12...
"12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another" (John 15:12-17 ESV).

Fully realized joy comes from reciprocal love. But not only between Jesus and His follower. Fully realized joy also comes from reciprocal love AMONG Jesus' followers.

The love shared between the followers of Christ builds up the body of Christ, the church.

Faith is simply trust, wrapped up with love. You can see as much in the words of the thief on the cross. You remember his story right? When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified beside Him. One of these men came to trust in Jesus as His Savior and said,

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42 ESV).

Now, this man didn't say, "Jesus, I love you, remember me when you come into your kingdom", but we can read between the lines there and see that love for Jesus was all wrapped up in this man's faith. Faith is trust, wrapped up with love.

As we Christians continue to trust and love Jesus because of all that He endured in our place, we can then begin to trust each other, and love each other. We are friends of the King! And our King tells us to love each other to the same degree that HE loved US!

As we cultivate trust and love in our fellowship, that relationship can grow out and invite more sinners into Christ's family. Jesus told His followers,
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide..." (John 15:16 ESV).

There are a lot of ways to show love to our neighbors, but the way that LASTS is to introduce them to our Savior, and theirs. That is fruit that doesn't fade away. That is fruit that lasts to eternity.

Now, loving Jesus by keeping His commands and loving others with the same dedication that He had to us is a tall order. But Jesus tells us that every time we fail, we have forgiveness to catch us.

In one of his letters, the apostle John told his fellow Christians,
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2 NIV).
And not only that, Jesus assured His followers that God the Father would supply whatever they needed as they moved forward in their faith lives, trying to share the Gospel message with the world. Jesus said, "...I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you..." (John 15:16 ESV).

That's the promise of a dedicated Father. Whatever you need, I'll provide it. I've chosen you for salvation, and I've chosen you for this ministry of grace. I WILL support your work in my Kingdom.

Now, I'd like to share a little story with you. I heard a preacher use this story as a sermon illustration, and it's a good one. This preacher had a member in his congregation who did some work with Habitat for Humanity. Now, Habitat for Humanity builds houses for people who don't have them.

Now this member was a pretty important contributor to Habitat for Humanity, and so he was invited to an important fund raiser. At this fund raiser, he was seated next to Brad Pitt. Apparently Brad Pitt does work with Habitat for Humanity also. And it's not just a photo op for Pitt. He actually swings a hammer and helps to build houses.

So, this member was led to his seat, and the guy said, "Here, you'll be sitting next to Brad Pitt" and then he went away. So the member sits down next to Pitt and says, "So, you're an actor?".

Pitt replies, "Yep, I'm an actor"

"On broadway?"

"No, I make movies. Ask one of your grandchildren if they've seen a movie with Brad Pitt, they probably have".

This member had his own business to run, and didn't really pay much attention to movies and magazinea, so, he actually didn't know who Brad Pitt was.

Now, imagine if you went to work for Habitat for Humanity, and Brad Pitt was sent to work with YOU building a house. And Brad Pitt says, "Shoot, I don't have a hammer." What would you do?

Now, if you're fan of Brad Pitt, you'd get him a hammer. You might even give him yours! If he needed lunch, you'd go and get it for him - HE'S BRAD PITT!

The point of the illustration was this: Our service to someone is a function of our admiration of them. In other words, the more you admire someone, the more you are willing to do for them. Our service to someone is a function of our admiration of them.

When it comes to our service to Jesus, we might not feel like we're doing a very good job. After all, we fail to follow Jesus' commands every day. When it comes to service to our fellow Christians, we might not feel like we're doing a good job either. How many times haven't we snapped at our brothers and sisters in Christ? How many times have we assumed the worst instead of putting the best construction on something they've said or done.

When we feel that our service to Christ and Christ's people is pathetic at best, that's when we need to go back to the foot of the cross. Our service to Christ is a function of our admiration for Him. We need to constantly go back to the foot of the cross to grow in our admiration for the Savior who gave everything He had to save us from hell. There at the cross we see just how He loved us first. There at the cross we see how free from sin we are because of Jesus. We are completely free. Forgiven once and forever. In the light of His love, ours will grow. And as it does, the cup of our joy will fill.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us first. Before we ever loved you, you loved us. Thank you. Help us to truly walk in your ways, and to experience true joy in this life, as we walk toward the eternal life in heaven that you have promised is ours by faith in You. Through your Gospel message, increase our admiration for you, and so increase the quality of our service to you, and to our fellow Christians. And help the reciprocal love between you and us, and between us and our fellow Christians to yield a joy which is full. Amen.

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

May 6, 2012

No Surprises in God's Vineyard - Apr 6, 2012

To DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.

This Sermon was written by Pastor Paul Naumann who serves our sister congregation in Tacoma, WA. It was used as a devotion this past week at Pacific Coast Pastoral Conference in Clarkston, WA.


To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen. The text that we will consider today comes from the Gospel of St. John, chapter fifteen, beginning with verse one, as follows:

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Thus far the holy Word.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Vine of our salvation and the source of every blessing, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

There is such a thing, of course, as a pleasant surprise. A surprise birthday party, a surprise phone call from a friend, or a surprise refund from the IRS. Many people like surprises in their lives and eagerly look forward to them. Pastors are different. Pastors, as a rule, don’t like surprises. Most of us would be happy if there were no surprises at all in our ministry. Because of course we’re all too familiar with the kind of surprises pastors usually get – the 3:00 a.m. phone call summoning us to the hospital. The whispered report about a member who has become involved in a sinful situation. A sudden and unexpected outpouring of criticism from a member whom you had no reason, previously, to think was unhappy. No. As far as most pastors are concerned, the fewer surprises the better.

If that’s the case, then there’s good news for you in our text for today. It’s a passage that describes the conditions in the vineyard of the Lord – the working environment of every believing Christian, and particularly every believing Christian pastor. You’ll be happy to learn that, when you go to work in the vineyard of the Lord, He tells you beforehand exactly what to expect. We are Easter Preachers, and for Easter preachers…


I. You can expect the pruning process.
II. You can expect no fruit without Christ.
III. You can expect much fruit with Christ.

At our Fall 2008 conference in Vernon BC, we visited the Mission Hills Winery in Kelowna. It was very interesting. What particularly fascinated me was how little has changed over the centuries in the cultivation of grapes. In modern terminology, a grape farmer – someone who takes care of a vineyard – is called a viticulturist. One of the chief jobs of a viticulturist is to prune the grapevine periodically. He does this for two reasons. Sometimes a branch isn’t bearing any fruit at all, in which case he severs it completely. Sometimes a branch is bearing fruit, but extraneous growth is robbing some of the nutrients, in which case he cleans it by removing the unhelpful growth. Vinedressers were doing it thousands of years ago, and they’re still doing it today. No surprises.

How reassuring to learn that THERE ARE NO SURPRISES IN GOD’S VINEYARD, either. Jesus makes clear, first of all, that you can expect the pruning process. That’s no surprise. He says, Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

There are two related words here, airo and kathairo, but they mean two totally different things. In English we might say it is the difference between “cut off” and “cut back”. Those branches that are completely unfruitful are the unbelievers, those who, though they may go by the name “Christian”, show by their lack of fruit that they have no connection at all to the Vine. These the vinedresser cuts off; they are destined for the oven. But what of those who are not nominal Christians, but real Christians? Those who are attached to Christ the Vine? These the vinedresser cuts back – He trims them and prunes them in order to make them more fruitful.

I was surprised one day when my wife asked for pruning shears for her birthday. That sounded like an underwhelming gift idea to me. I’d seen pruning shears hanging in the checkout line at Home Depot for a couple of bucks. But those weren’t the ones she wanted. They’re made in Taiwan. She wanted Felco pruning shears, which are made in Switzerland. Felco pruners, I quickly discovered, can cost up to $50 or more. Yet they’re very popular – why? For two reasons: they’re sharp, and they’re accurate. They make the cleanest possible cut in just the right place on a tree or a vine. That minimizes damage to the plant, lets it heal more quickly, and leads to greater fruit.

God in His love sometimes “cuts us back”. He prunes us, cleans away the extraneous material in our lives and trains us for our service to him. Sometimes this pruning and training is painful. But God knows what He’s doing. His pruning shears are sharp and very accurate. He makes the cleanest possible cut in just the right place to make you more fruitful in your life as a Christian, and your ministry as a Christian pastor. The writer to the Hebrews observes, Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. -- Hebrews 12:11.

Jesus has some wonderful words for His disciples in the middle of this message. Did you catch them, in verse three? You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. “You are already clean.” I mentioned yesterday that sheep can’t clean themselves. Well, neither can branches. They need the vinedresser. Jesus’ disciples had heard and believed the word of salvation spoken to them by their Master. Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. -- John 6:68.You too have received that saving, nutritious Gospel from Christ, your true Vine. And before you can apply that Gospel to the alarmed sinners in your parish, you should by all means appropriate its comforting message to yourself. Pastors have a lot to confess. So bring your sins and failures daily to your Lord Jesus. Confess them, forsake them, and seek your Savior’s forgiveness. Here too you will find no surprises. For as often as you ask, He will pardon. As often as you seek Him, he will bind up your hurts and pour balm into your wounds. The 103rd Psalm has perhaps the most beautiful description in the Bible of the infinite mercy of God toward sinners: He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. -- Psalm 103:10-13.

THERE ARE NO SURPRISES IN GOD’S VINEYARD. The second thing that shouldn’t surprise anybody is that you can expect no fruit without Christ.Jesus says, 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. …Without Me, you can do nothing.”

I said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can’t accomplish anything in the church without Christ. But it’s amazing how many church leaders how many church leaders keep losing sight of that fact. It’s amazing how many church leaders – even among confessional Lutherans – are drawn to social engineering and the methods of the so-called “Church Growth Movement.” They draw their inspiration not from the Word of God but from the fads of popular culture. They cater not to the real needs of souls lost in sin, but to the “felt needs” of people who don’t want to be confronted with their sin.

Jesus snaps us back to reality. Without Me, you can do nothing. “Ouden” means nothing at all – not the least little bit. That’s what you can accomplish without Christ. Without that life-giving connection to Christ the Vine, and to His efficacious Word, you can do absolutely nothing. Can a branch severed from the vine, lying dead and shriveled on the ground, bear a fine cluster of grapes? I doubt it. But it’s even less likely that you could ever accomplish anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God apart from your Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. Again, who are the Easter believers? Who are the true followers of the risen Christ? Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. -- John 8:31.

THERE ARE NO SURPRISES IN GOD’S VINEYARD. While it is undeniably true that you can expect no fruit without Christ,we can be truly joyful in the fact that the converse is also true: you can expect much fruit with Christ.I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit

Sometimes it is the old vines that are the most fruitful. In Hampton Court, near London, there is a grape vine that was planted in 1769, seven years before the Declaration of Independence. The Great Vine, as it is referred to , is now 12’ around at the base, and it’s longest branch is over 120’. As old as it is, it continues to bear abundant fruit, in one recent year yielding nearly half a ton of grapes. Asked the secret of its great fruitfulness, the head gardener at Hampton Court Palace attributed it to careful pruning over the years, as well as a healthy flow of nutrients from the the branches to the vine.

Precisely the same thing is true of Christians, of course, and that’s why Jesus used this crystal-clear metaphor. On our own we are nothing. If we should become detached from our True Vine, Jesus Christ, we cannot even live, much less flourish and bear fruit. But what happens when you maintain that attachment to Him, continually strengthening and cultivating your connection to Jesus Christ? What happens when you delve into God’s Word, read and study it daily and are constant in prayer for yourself and your members? What happens when you present this life-giving Word faithfully week by week from your pulpit? Then stand back, my brothers, and prepare for a bountiful harvest, for there will be abundant fruit! For the power to bear fruit comes not from you but from God. The Lord says, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. -- Isaiah 55:11

This is what we expect, for this is what God has promised. THERE ARE NO SURPRISES IN GOD’S VINEYARD. But what a joy for cracked clay pots such as ourselves to bear this precious treasure of the Gospel! What a privilege for us actually to be branches connected to the true vine of Christ! Yes, flawed and imperfect branches that we are, and in constant need of pruning and correction, yet we are connected to the True Vine, the Fount of eternal Life. What a blessed privilege! I had this driven home to me recently when the Lord very deliberately pruned away an extraneous secular job that I had held onto for many years. I was surprised by the joy and freedom I experienced when I could finally give myself wholly to the Lord's work. I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. What happens when you strengthen your connection to the vine? No surprise – you become more fruitful. It was many centuries ago that the Apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy,Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. -- 1 Timothy 4:15-16. Cultivate that all-important connection to the Vine, and you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Hudson Taylor once said, “The branch of the vine does not worry, and toil, and rush here to seek for sunshine, and there to find rain. No; it rests in union and communion with the vine; At just the right time, and in the right way, there is the right fruit found on it. Let us so abide in the Lord Jesus.” Yes, as Easter Preachers let us abide in our True Vine and take advantage of the life-giving nutrients He offers us daily, in His Word. Here in God’s vineyard THERE ARE NO SURPRISES. We expect the painful but necessary pruning process. We certainly expect no fruit apart from Christ. But with Christ, as branches attached to His life-giving Vine, we expect and receive much fruit! God grant it, both in our lives and our ministries, AMEN.

-Pastor Paul G. Naumann