Don’s Sermons

Sermon for Sunday July 5, 2020

An Easy Burden

Matthew 11:25-30

You may have heard the statement that becomes the acronym TANSTAAFL: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.”

It might also be said that there ain’t no such thing as a burden free existence, either. We may talk about the Christian faith being burden free — songs like “Burdens are lifted at Calvary” or “Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away, every burden of my heart rolled away.” But these songs and choruses refer to the burden of sin being removed at our salvation. Jesus never promised his followers that they’d have no burdens. (In fact, to the contrary: he urged us to “take up [our] cross.”) The Christian life is not burden-free; there are burdens for the Christian to bear, as there are for all humans.

But here’s the difference: Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easyand my burden is light.”  It is an easy burden to bear.

The keys to coping with life under Jesus’ yoke are found in the three imperatives of His statement.

First, he says:

I. COME – “Come unto me!” Christ becomes our rest!

A.  The search for God finds its object in Jesus.

  1. “Jesus spoke to men who were desperately trying to find God, and who were desperately trying to be good, and who were finding the tasks impossible, and who were driven to weariness and to despair. He says, ‘Come unto me all you who are exhausted.’ His invitation to men is to those who are exhausted with the search for the truth. The Greeks had said, ‘It is very difficult to find God, and, when you have found Him, it is impossible to tell anyone else about Him.’ Zophar demanded of Job:  ‘Canst thou by searching find out God?’ (Job 11:7)  It is Jesus’ claim that the weary search for God ends in Himself. W.B. Yeats, the great Irish poet and mystic, wrote: ‘Can one reach God by toil?  He gives Himself to the pure in heart.  He asks nothing but our attention.’ The way to know God is not by mental search, but by giving attention to Jesus Christ.  The search for God can end in the contemplation of Jesus Christ, for in Him we see what God is like.”  [Wm. Barclay]
  2. There is a sign at Star Lake Musicamp that made a lasting impression upon me: “I come here to find myself.  It is so easy to get lost in the world.”
  3. Jesus says, “Come.”  “By giving attention to Jesus Christ, we see what God is like.”  And we find our rest in Him.

B.  Marvin Vincent says that “the rest of Christ is two-fold — given and found.  It is given in pardon and reconciliation. It is found under the yoke and the burden; in the development of Christian experience…”

C.  It begins in the releasing of our sins, and it issues in a religion of freedom. It is a disciplined freedom that is ours because we follow Jesus’ second imperative:

II. TAKE – “Take my yoke upon you!” Christ becomes our authority!

A. It is only when Christ rules that we can truly rest.  Jesus’ yoke is 

  1. Well-fitted – it is individually made for the wearer;
  2. Smooth – it does not chafe the wearer; it is comfortable;
  3. Light – “Christ’s yoke is like feathers to a bird; not loads, but helps to motion.” [Jeremy Taylor]  Matthew Henry says, “Christ’s yoke is lined with love.”  The word ‘easy’ means ‘gentle.’

B.  It is an easy burden because it does not chafe — and because Christ bears it with us. ILLUS – Oxen work side by side, sharing the burden of the yoke.  Jesus is yoked with us and helps us bear the burden.

The way He does that is implicit in the third imperative:

III.  LEARN – “Learn of me.”  Christ becomes our teacher!

A.  We are to learn — beneath His yoke — Christlike attitudes of gentleness and humility.

B.  We are to learn — beneath His yoke — Christlike servitude: submissive to another’s will, we become workmen together with Christ.

The burden Christ offers is an easy burden.  “The appeal is to those who are conscious of their sin and want to be relieved of its burden, both the guilt and the power of it.” [Matthew Henry] “The rest He promises is a release from the drudgery of sin, not from the service of God.” [William Godbey]

            “So you see here plainly that our Savior invites the same people who have come to Him and been relieved of their burden of guilt, to come again and find soul-rest; i.e., the sweet repose of the soul itself in Jesus. He has taken your burden, and now it is of the greatest importance that you get Him to take you. This world is not our Paradise; it is full of foes and perils. We find our heaven here in Jesus, when we lie down in His arms, like a tired child, and sink away into perfect rest. Entire consecration puts us in the position of learners in the school of Christ. He is our Infallible Exemplar. When we learn to be meek and lowly like Him, then we find this wonderful soul-rest for which the weary pilgrim sighs. Here He assures us that His yoke is easy and His burden light. How blessed it is to take the yoke, because He is omnipotent! And when you put your neck under one end of the yoke, Jesus has His under the other. What is the result?  He carries all the load, the yoke and you too, and you go shouting on your way, enjoying perfect soul-rest, and flying up to heaven.” [William Godbey]

The choice is not whether you will shoulder life’s burdens.  The choice is whether you will do so under the weight and oppression of sin…or under the easy yoke of Jesus’ lordship.

Sermon for Sunday June 28, 2020

Wanted:  Dead and Alive

Romans 6:1-11

Some people are still alive and old enough to remember TV westerns in black-and-white featuring characters such as Paladdin (“Have Gun, Will Travel”), the Rifleman and the Bounty Hunter. (Others may have found them on one of the many cable TV channels that show old programs.) A recurring theme of shows such as these was a wanted criminal who had his face emblazoned on posters in sheriff’s offices and post offices beneath the words in big, bold, black type: “WANTED: Dead or Alive!” For criminals of this type, the bounty hunter collected as much for a dead carcass as for the live captive. He’ll bring ‘em in however he can — dead or alive!

Today’s text defines holiness — sanctification — as being simultaneously dead and alive.  Sound confusing?  It really isn’t — “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (verse 11)

Sanctification is a matter of putting sin — that inbred principle that is our sinful nature — putting it to death in order that we might live with Christ as our center. When this happens in the experience of sanctification, we are changed people.

We are changed, first of all, by virtue of a

I.  New identity  (vv. 4 & 8)

A. The old man was full of evil desires; the new man has the mind of Christ. The old man was a sinner; the new a saint. The old man was worldly; the new, righteous.  “The old self is just as dead in [the baptism of the Holy Spirit] as Jesus was on the Cross, just as buried [in the experience of sanctification] as Jesus was in the tomb, and just as much living a new life as Jesus was raised from the dead.” [Reginald Fuller]

B. The one who is dead to sin does not identify with sinful things.

ILLUS – As the song from Take-over Bid says,  “Since I’ve got the love o’ the Lord inside o’ me, I’ve been a different man!”

ILLUS – “Godet gives an anecdote related by a missionary who was questioning a converted Bechuana. The convert said:  “Soon I shall be dead, and they will bury me in my field. My flocks will come to pasture above me. But I shall no longer hear them, and I shall not come forth from my tomb to take them and carry them with me to the sepulcher.  They will be strange to me, as I to them.  Such is the image of my life in the midst of the world since I believed in Christ.”  (Marvin Vincent)

C. And those who are alive to Christ are identified by others as Christ’s own.  Those who are sanctified should be “alive to Christ” and leave no doubt as to whose they are.

Secondly, we are changed in sanctification by virtue of a

II.  New ethical center  (vv. 2-3, 7)

A. Paul is writing to counteract the teaching of those who preached that grace gives license to act in sinful fashion and presume upon God’s willingness to forgive.  But, he says, there is no reason to live in sin — so don’t!! Don’t walk in sin — walk in newness of life. Don’t look for license to sin — look for liberty from sin!!!

B. Those who are dead to sin do not live on the edge of ethical questions. It is not a matter of ‘how close can I come without actually sinning?’ but rather ‘how far can I flee from sin in order to be close to God?’  

ILLUS – the Pharisees erected a “buffer zone” around the law.  They turned 10 commandments into 623 laws that were intended as a hedge to make sure they did not disobey God’s law.  Such respect for God’s moral law is good – in this respect, we should imitate Pharisees.  (Not to establish an external standard applied to others, but an internal standard to keep us holy.)

The one who is dead to sin flees from the shadows of ethical dilemmas to “walk in the light.”

C. The one who is alive to Christ, says Matthew Henry, “walks by new rules. Makes a new choice of the way. Chooses a new path to walk in, new leaders to walk after, new companions to walk with.”

Then, thirdly, we are changed by virtue of a

III. New spiritual nature  (vv. 5 & 6, 9-11) 

A. You are joined to Christ —united with Him, grafted onto the branch that is Christ. You are of a different nature when you are wholly sanctified – sanctified holy.

B. Those who are dead to sin are spiritually alive. Here is the paradox: sin is death; when we put sin to death, we make death itself dead. That is, we are alive forever —spiritually vital. There is life now, where before there was death. Dead people who live!

C. And our lives are lived unto God, through Christ.

ILLUS – Samuel Logan Brengle said that a spark of the fire is like the fire, a drop of the ocean is like the ocean, not in its fullness, but in its essence.  We are partakers of the Divine nature!

Matthew Henry has said, “Though there are none who live without sin, there are those that do not live in sin.” And those are the ones who have gone beyond their salvation to claim the experience of sanctification —a new identity, a new ethical center, a new spiritual reality. Dead to sin and alive to Christ. Dead AND alive!

Sermon for Sunday June 21, 2020

The Promise and the Threat

Matthew 10:26-33

Our Scripture this week is lifted from the middle of the tenth chapter of Matthew. Whenever we do that, it is important for us to get a feel for the context of what’s going on … in this instance, to know who Jesus is talking to and what the circumstances are.

A quick survey shows us that verses 1-5 tell of the ‘commissioning’ of the twelve apostles (notice that here in v. 2 they are called ‘apostles’ – “those sent out” – rather than ‘disciples’ – “those who follow and learn.”); then, in verses 5-15, Jesus gives them their instructions as they head out.  And in verses 16-23 they are warned about the persecution that they will be facing; verses 24-25 explain what discipleship is; and verses 26-33 – our text – are words of reassurance.

Now, having said that, we must point out that these are words of reassurance that we don’t hear easily. When things are going rough, we don’t want to hear “it’s all going to be okay … someday.”  But Jesus is telling his disciples that regardless of the worst kind of persecution they may face, they have his promise that “it will eventually (in eternity) work out alright.”

His first promise is that of 

I. Divine Revelation (verse 26)

A. Anyone, any disciple, any follower of Jesus Christ who earnestly desires to keep Jesus’ command to be a witness, must do so as one who has received God’s revelation. And every witness must listen to God’s voice:  “What I tell you,” Jesus says, “is what you are to say aloud …” (v. 27a)

  1. The witness must speak God’s message as it has been revealed to him (v. 27b):  “What is whispered in your ear, that you are to preach …”
  2. And he must speak the message confidently:  “…in the light … on the housetops.”
  • Confident in the knowledge that his persecutors will be revealed (see v. 26). “The Christian witness is the man who knows no fear because he knows that the judgments of eternity will correct the judgments of time.” [Barclay]
  • And confident in the knowledge that his work for the Lord will be revealed (v. 26 again).
    • ILLUS – When Albert Orsborn was a Divisional Commander in South London, his division was cut in half by territorial administration.  Still feeling the sting of what he called his “Valley of Humiliation,” he was confined by illness to the Officers’ Nursing Home. Overhearing a conversation in an adjacent room about him and his reaction to his ‘humiliation,’ he was moved to write what is now Song #672 – All My Work is for the Master.”

And so it must be, 

B. For Jesus utters a threat as well as a promise (v. 28). “What Jesus is saying is that no punishment that men can ever lay upon a man can compare with the ultimate fate of a man who has been guilty of infidelity and disobedience to God.”  [Wm. Barclay]

But there is yet another promise.  It is the promise of…

II. Divine Care (verses 29-31)

A. Jesus’ disciples are of supreme value to him. If God cares for the sparrows, surely he will care for you.  The children’s chorus says: “He knoweth; He careth; Each burden He beareth. For if the Father’s eye is on the sparrow, then surely he will care for you.”

      William Barclay says, “God’s love for men is seen not only in the omnipotence of creation and the great event of history; it is also seen in the day to day nourishment of the bodies of men.”

      He’s concerned about our work … our worries … our worth.  He cares.

B. But here again, Jesus issues a threat. Reginald Fuller points out that “…protection of the witnesses is contingent upon their faithful testimony. ‘You are of more value’ is not a general statement about the value of human personality, it is an assurance for the messenger.” That is, these words were spoken to those who were about to enter an alien environment as an assurance that their faithful testimony is valuable to God – far more so than is a sparrow – and he will care for them. Divine Care is offered to those who place themselves beneath his protective wing by their faithfulness to their calling.

Then, finally, Jesus promises …

III. Divine Reward (verses 32-33)

A. The promise to those who are loyal to Christ is Christ’s loyalty to them. And we’ll talk about the promise a bit more in just a minute.

B. But look at the threat in verse 33:  those who deny Jesus will be ‘rewarded’ with his denial of them. Do we deny Jesus?

  1. We deny him with our words. ILLUS – an Irishman named J.P. Mahaffey was asked if he was a Christian. He replied, “Yes, but offensively so.”  Words calculated to avoid the claims of Christ are a denial of him.
  2. We deny him with our silence. ILLUS – a lumberjack was converted one Sunday when he had reluctantly gone to church with his family. He returned to the lumber camp the next day to face the hostile environs of the camp with the prayers of his family and the church. They asked him for a report on how things had gone when he returned the following Sunday. “Great!” he said.  “I spent all week in the woods with those vile people and they never found out I was a Christian.” William Barclay says, “It is very probably true that far more people deny Jesus Christ by their cowardly silence than by their deliberate words.”
  3. We deny him with our actions. Do actions speak louder than words? It’s possible that our un-Christlike actions speak so loudly that people cannot hear our verbal witness.

C. Yet, despite the threats Jesus poses, we are told not to fear – three times!! It is this promise that gladdens us, even if the threats frighten us.

  1. For if we acknowledge him before men, the witness that is of final and ultimate importance to us will be his:  He will acknowledge us!
  2. This promise can be guaranteed by our faithful witness. “Your reward will be a grand one, in the sweet sweet bye-and-bye.” Our faithful witness will merit the Lord’s “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

There should be no ‘secret’ disciples; no ‘closet Christians.’ The threat to the one who denies his Lord is eternal punishment. But the promise to the faithful witness is divine revelation, divine care, and a divine reward in eternity beyond imagination.            

“O, that he may count me faithful in the day that tries by fire” should be our earnest prayer as we seek to be witnesses to the grace of God that we have experienced.

Sermon for Sunday June 14, 2020

Practice what you preach

Matthew 7:21-29

Today’s Gospel reading from the lectionary is the conclusion of Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount. After giving a sublime treatise on the ethics of the Kingdom of God, he concludes with a practical parable that challenges His hearers to put into practice that which they have just heard. What if we followers of Jesus would make a renewed attempt to “practice what we preach”?

When Jesus spoke these words it would have been around 30 AD and Jesus may well have intended it to speak to the Jews’ expectation of a crisis event that would usher in God’s new age. Jesus was a man of His own age — He knew His people, He had been nurtured on their teachings and understandings.

After more than 1,000 years of broken dreams and lost fortunes, the Jews had despaired and grown pessimistic about any worldly hopes. They began to dream of a new age in which God would defeat the forces of evil, establish His kingdom and begin the new age in which all evil would be swept away and His will would be done. A glorious new era would burst in on all creation. Many prophets give us visions of that new day. Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 11:6-9 are a well-known example.

That new day would be ushered in by a time of crisis and testing. The forces of evil would put up a terrible fight. Isaiah describes the day when all that is contrary to God’s will shall be swept away in Isaiah 2:12-19.

Is it too much to suggest that Christians in the USA are facing a time of crisis and testing? There are spiritual forces at work that are challenging the witness of followers of Jesus. With that in mind, hear Jesus’ words afresh. [READ Matthew 7:21-29]

A generation or two after Jesus first spoke these words, Matthew included them in his gospel as he writes to a church that is beginning to become established and is growing quickly. They needed a coherent gospel, one that could be told and re-told on Divine authority. They needed order and discipline in this emerging Church. Perhaps today’s Church needs to reassert what the message of the gospel says to the world today. Matthew wrote his gospel to address the needs in the Church. We cannot overlook Matthew’s purpose and audience when we read this parable — nor can we overlook its place at the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

“The Sermon begins with a description of the kind of person the Christian is called to be. These are not qualities we are born with or come by naturally. They are things we are called to be and to do. What we find in this collection is a summary that embraces all of life,” Ross Marrs says.

He continues: “Listen. We are to be humble in spirit; properly concerned about others and their plight in life; possessed of a balanced view of ourselves; desiring always to seek to do God’s will; showing mercy to others as God shows His mercy to us, acting from unselfish and unmixed motives; seeking loving and peaceful relationships wherever we are; willing to suffer rejection for what we stand for; called to add zest and permanence to the good things in life; challenged to be witnesses by what we say and do; living right lives as forgiven people, not because we have to but in joyful response to grace; loving even those we do not like just as God does, trusting not in our religious habits and activities but in true faithfulness and real righteousness; refusing to place our confidence in things that will not last; investing life in what is clearly eternal; not being haughty or proud, looking down on the weaknesses of others; not stupid or foolish so that we let others make light of our faith and life; trusting God with all our life and our eternal destiny; treating others as we want to be treated; pursuing God’s call to holiness with all our might; investing our very lives in the work of his kingdom and then letting God have all the glory.”

The world needs to see the gospel lived before them. We need to practice what we preach. 

I. Don’t just TALK about Christian virtues – LIVE them!  (v. 21)

There is a big difference between a profession of faith and faith at work. The Old Testament prophets are full of accusations against people whose religious life did not make the life they were living any more virtuous. And sometimes the harshest criticism was directed at the most religious – the priests – who failed in justice and mercy.

So Jesus underlines the call of the prophets to be obedient to the Word — “If you believe, do as I say!”

II. Don’t WAIT for the coming crisis, PREPARE for it!  (verses 24-27)

Jesus was speaking early in his ministry before the Church had formed. Matthew was writing as the Church was in its infancy. They were both warning of a crisis time to come. Two millennia later, we may have become complacent.

Have we lost a sense of urgency about the Gospel message? In every moment of life, we are called to do God’s will and become what He would have us become. It may well be that this is a kairos moment for the Church. The time is now, not ‘some day.’ Obedience now in life is as much an issue for us as it was for Matthew’s first readers — perhaps more so, since Jesus’ return is twenty centuries closer.

Have the rains begun? We need to make certain that our lives are built on the solid Rock of Christ.

III. Don’t just HEAR Christ’s warning, RESPOND to it!  (verse 26) 

Jesus’ call for a response is an ongoing, persistent one. It comes to us in every moment of temptation to compromise Jesus’ standards of holy behavior, it comes to us in every moment of ethical decision-making, it comes to us in every moment of testing for our integrity and honesty. And it comes to us every time we put a post onto social media! “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who…” If we have heard His words, we cannot escape the persistence of His call. 

It is far too easy to sing the simple Sunday School chorus about the wise man and the foolish man without letting the meaning of Jesus’ parable sink in. It is a hard word of Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” There are those in the pews each Sunday who profess a faith that is not practiced the remainder of the week. The one who Jesus commends is the one who “does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” the one who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice.

It is basically a very simple principle: Practice what HE preaches!

Sermon for Sunday June 7, 2020

Examine Yourselves

II Corinthians 13:5-14

The school year has come to an end for most college students and is coming to an end for primary and secondary school youngsters.  For all those parents who have become home-schoolers during the pandemic, this reality is likely a welcome relief. 

During high school and college, a fixture of the academic calendar for most courses has been a final exam. Imagine the following scene:  students come into the room and the teacher says, “I do not have a list of questions for your exam today.  Rather, I would like for you to examine yourselves.  Think back to the beginning of the term and write down what you know now about the subject that you did not know before…and then when you have finished, give yourself a grade for the course based upon how much you have learned.”  What at first seems an opportunity for doing a ‘con job’ soon becomes a serious responsibility — I have to give myself an exam andgive myself a grade!

In the same manner, Paul’s instruction to the unpredictable Corinthians seems at first to be oddly open-ended until the load of personal responsibility comes to full realization: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”

The first thing to notice in this imperative is that it is ongoing:

I.  Keep testing

A. The instruction is in the present tense signifying continuous action.  Both examine and test in the NIV in verse 5 are in the present tense:  “Keep examining yourselves…keep testing yourselves.”  Or, as Barclay translates it, “Keep testing yourselves… keep proving yourselves.”

B. We never arrive at a point of attainment in our Christian walk that frees us from the responsibility of self-examination.  One writer suggests three areas that need our examination:  conduct, opinion, and emotions.

1.  Conduct includes life-style, relationships with others, the proper use of our talents and abilities, stewardship of our time and means, and the meeting of our responsibilities as Christians in community.  We are to keep testing ourselves as to conduct.

2.  On the matter of ‘opinion‘, Paul requires a testing of opinion so that a man may know whether he is “holding fast the profession of his faith without wavering” and “holding fast the form of sound words.”  Our views, our opinions must be formed from a sound theology – a proper faith. We are to keep testing ourselves as to our opinion.

3.  Feelings are a tricky matter.  To some extent this relates to the motive of our conduct; i.e., we can by self-examination discern the spiritual pride that may lie behind our good works.  Or discover a false satisfaction with ‘right’ feelings or needless distress in ‘bad’ feelings.  John tells us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (I John 4:1)  We are to keep testing ourselves as to our emotions.

C. Remember, such examination is continuous:  keepexamining yourselves – keeptesting yourselves.

The second thing to notice in this imperative is its emphasis:

II.  Examine yourselves

A.  In the Greek, it is ‘yourselves’ that is emphasized.

1. Throughout this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul was answering false charges brought against him.  He felt his critics had put him to the test – perhaps even unfairly so. But now at the end of this letter, he says to the Corinthians who had called him to account for his integrity, ‘examine yourselves.’

2.  (see verse 3) Paul’s critics demanded proof of the message of Christ.  But he says, “Instead of putting Christ to the test, test yourselves.

ILLUS – “Try God” pins were popular a few years back.  I didn’t like them.  Who am I to ‘evaluate’ God?!  The Psalmist said, “search me, O God, and know my heart.  Try me and know my thoughts.”  God tries— tests — examines us, we don’t test, try, or evaluate God.

Instead of putting Christ to the test, test yourselves.  The RSV uses “try” for “examine” in verse 5. “Examination … may be merely from curiosity, whereas trial implies a definite intent to ascertain their spiritual condition.” [Vincent]

The second instruction – “Prove” yourselves – is then the result of “trying” or “testing” yourselves.

B. It must be noted that most of us are more fond of testing others than ourselves.  “To ascertain the shortcomings of others is more pleasant, but not so profitable, as to ascertain our own.  The matter of first importance to us is, not whether our neighbor’s scales are true, but whether ours are.” [Barclay]

Yet the emphasis remains “examine yourselves.”

C. Any test we apply to others we should be able to stand ourselves.  A blind man is a poor judge of colors.  The beam must be taken out of our own eye before we can see clearly.  An unclean man denouncing uncleanness is no edifying spectacle.

It is not Paul, not Christ, not others that we are to test — test yourselves.  But notice that this is a plural pronoun.  Paul did not say, “Each of you is to examine himself.”  He said, “Examine yourselves.”  Plural.  In community. Many of us rebel against the intimacy of this community setting; we don’t like being ‘on display’ with regard to how we dress, what we say, what we eat, etc.  In the final analysis, my self-examination can be faulty and self-deceptive if I am unwilling to submit to fellow believers in the Body of Christ.

James tells us that we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another “that you may be healed.”  The testing has a curative result – healing!

The final thing to notice in the imperative is the testing instrument. Examine yourselves:

III. In the faith

A.  This examination tool asks questions like Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”  Questions like the angels asked at the tomb:  “Why do you look for Jesus here?”  And because it asks familiar questions we are tempted to give thoughtless, trite responses.  But consider these questions:

1.  Do we truly repent of sin?  Do we even acknowledge as sin that which keeps us “short of the glory of God”?  Do we grieve over evil as that which has been done against God?  Do we hate it, loathe it, desire to be freed from it?

2.  Do we have a livingfaith in our Lord Jesus Christ?  Do we gratefully enjoy fellowship with Him as our Redeemer, and believe that His blood cleanses from all sin and that the Holy Spirit dwells within us?  Do we abide in Him as our living vine?  

3.  Is the vitality of our faith demonstrated by the fruit of holy living?  Are the fruit of the Spirit evident in us?  Are we exercising the gifts of the Spirit for the building up of Christ’s Body, the Church? If we are “in the faith,” we shall be striving daily to do His will, living and laboring to please Him and to bring glory to Him.

B. An examination has a grading key — a means by which the answers to the questions are marked as “right” or “wrong.” I have given you a few of the questions. In this case, the grading key for our self-examination is the following:

1.  Prayer — we need Divine help in knowing ourselves.  Paul warns in his first letter to the Corinthians against comparing ourselves TO ourselves.  Prayer allows us to test ourselves against the standard of a holy God.

2.  The Word — there is where we find what those “in the faith” believe, feel, say, and do. The Word is the record of the faith by which we are to test ourselves.

3.  The presence of Christ — we must press home the question “Is Christ in me?”  “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”  We are one in the faith if the Lord of the faith is in us.

4.  The community of faith – the Spirit’s work within this community of faith is an important key to testing ourselves “in the faith.”  Paul tells us in this text to “live in agreement with each other.”

C. Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith.

And, “finally,” says Paul, “aim for perfection.  Accept my pastoral exhortation (“listen to my appeal” NIV). Live in agreement with each other (“be of one mind” NIV).  And be at peace (“live in peace” NIV).” (v. 11) Each of these imperatives can stand as a measure of a passing grade in our collective self-examination:

1. Self-examination should bring us a step closer to Christian perfection.  Aim for Christian perfection – maturity – wholeness – holiness.

2. Self-examination renders us open for pastoral instruction.  Accept the pastoral exhortation, the pastoral instruction, of those who are charged with your spiritual care.

3. Self-examination — in light of universal, absolute truth — should bring us closer into harmony with one another within the Christian fellowship.  We are under obligation to be “of one mind,” to live in agreement with one another.

4. Self-examination — with repentance and restoration — allows us to be at peace with God, with others and with ourselves. Live in peace.

Paul closes with what is undoubtedly his most repeated benediction: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  In doing so he leaves to the Corinthians – and to us – the task of self-examination.  

Our response to the Word of God should always be to do as it instructs and to do it with integrity and with humility.  So hear the Word of the Lord one last time:  “Keep testing yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; keep proving yourselves.”  This is one examination all of us can pass by virtue of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  So let’s have at it and examine ourselves, not just in these moments here, but tomorrow … and next week … and next month … and in all the days to come.

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020

Three Responses to Pentecost

Acts 2:1-18

            There is great drama in the New Testament and in the book of Acts in particular. You may have heard the expression “a dramatic entrance”… It speaks of a character’s entrance onto the stage in a way that is unmistakable – the character doesn’t melt in with the crowd on stage waiting his time to speak a line. He enters dramaticallywith both sight and sound being used to turn heads and catch the attention of the audience.

            Can you think of a more dramatic entrance onto the stage of human history than that made by the Holy Spirit?

            Jesus had been among his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. But for over a week they remained puzzled by Jesus’ words at his ascension: “Wait in Jerusalem and the Holy Ghost shall come upon you.” They did what Jesus said, but even as this sad and sorrowing lot of hapless followers waited in that upper room, the city of Jerusalem was thronged with multitudes of pilgrims who had come to celebrate Pentecost – the Feast of Weeks, the end of Passover and the festival of early harvest.

            The stage is thus set – mournful disciples in the foreground against a background of jubilant celebration and the Holy Spirit makes his dramatic entrance. The sight of cloven tongues of fire and the sound of the rushing mighty wind got the audience’s attention. In fact, even those out on the street knew something was happening because the place shookwhere the disciples were.

            So dramatic was the Spirit’s entrance that he could not remain confined to that room. The disciples poured out into the streets and started doing something they had never done before – they preached! And not only did they preach, they preached in languages they didn’t know. The power of the Holy Spirit had taken a ragtag bunch of ignorant Galileans and turned them into articulately powerful proclaimers of the Gospel.

            Having made his dramatic entrance, the Holy Spirit did not leave the stage of human history but rather has remained and remains to this day as active a participant as on that day of Pentecost. But the critical question for us as individual believers today is how we respond to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power.

            The scriptural account tells of three responses to the Spirit’s dramatic entrance:

I. The Response of Bewilderment (verse 12)

A. “What on earth can this mean?” 

  • Now, it was a bewildering scene. Open-air meetings were breaking out spontaneously all over the place. (Peter alone had an audience of at least 3000.). The Greek word for speaking in tongues – glossolalia– gives you an idea what it sounded like: at least six languages being spoken and understood.
  • And the question asked was, “What in the world does this mean?”

B. For many today, the Response to the evidence of the Holy Spirit is bewilderment.  And this response comes from Christians as well as those outside the Church.

ILLUS – If you have not been to a Youth Councils recently, you should know that what happens on Sunday morning is unlike anything the young people (sometimes even Officers and Local Officers) have ever seen at their Corps on a Sunday. High emotional pitch is used by the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual victory. But there are always those who are bewildered by it all and ask “what is this all about?”

C. At least the right question is being asked!  What does this mean?

  • It means that God the Holy Spirit has the power to change people from sinners to saints.
  • It means that the Holy Spirit has the power to change Christians from witless followers to witnessing leaders.
  • It means that the Holy Spirit has the power to make timid Christians into powerful proclaimers.
  • It means that the Spirit can purge the carnal nature of the believer and sanctify him wholly.

      When bewilderment asks the right question and gets the right answer, it can turn to faith. Or instead, bewilderment can lead to…

II. The Response of Disparagement (verse 13)

A. Often what people don’t understand, they ridicule (like The Army and its work, e.g.).  There is hostility to the work of the Spirit (and, yes, this too exists within the church, as well as without); there is the need to disparage anything that bears the mark of God’s Holy Spirit.

  • Spiritual revival is demeaned as having no lasting results; as being mass delusion or group hypnosis.
  • Conversion to Christ is disparaged as being a form of mental weakness or tendency toward being emotionally impressionable.
  • Holiness of life is criticized as being hypocritical, judgmental or religious arrogance.

B. The response of disparagement seeks to discredit the work of the Holy Spirit by any means available. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were labeled as drunk, even though it was clearly untrue.

  • We should be careful not to label the work of the Spirit in other Christian groups with disparaging tags: extremist, eccentric, misguided, etc.
  • While at the same time we must plead for the renewing of Pentecost in our midst in the knowledge that we may be automatically submitting to the disparagements of others by giving the Spirit free reign in our lives.

ILLUS – We had a coffee house ministry to teens in our first appointment.  The work of the Spirit was being done.  We tried to avoid the tendency to label, even though some of our faithful few were very suspicious. Curiously, though, it was the coffee house leaders who disparaged US. For several months, there was a vibrant ministry … until the young people discovered the previously hidden sinful lifestyle of the leaders. The youth were disillusioned and we were able to counsel some not to reject the message because of the flawed messengers. But we were not able to bring any of them into our Corps fellowship because of the disparagement of their leaders.

      Response of disparagement is the devil’s trap. It destroys one’s own ability to make the best response. The best response is…

III. The Response of Discernment (verse 16)

A. Peter may have been bewildered and puzzled, but he had the discernment to know that – while there may have been much he did not understand – this was the Holy Spirit that the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself had promised would come. 

B. And 3000 of those who heard Peter’s sermon (what language? – Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Spirit-language?) had the discernment not to judge the message, accept the Spirit’s inspiration, and decide for themselves to follow Jesus.

C. The response of discernment goes beyond the initial decision to follow Jesus, though. It includes a continuing commitment to Christ and the power of the Spirit as evidenced by four key components of participation in “Spirit life” –

  • Teaching– the apostles were fulfilling their Great Commission from Jesus to “teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  And the believers hungered for that teaching. It is still our commission as apostles to teach… and a proper response to Pentecost will result in a hunger for good teaching. A truly Pentecostal congregation (in Bible terms, not contemporary church terms) will have crowded Sunday school classes and Bible studies, and will find willing teachers abounding. The lack of that in any congregation suggests a need for a renewed response to the Pentecostal fire of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
  • Fellowship– is another key component of participation in Spirit life. The Greek word iskoinonia, signifying a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other.
  • The breaking of bread– is a third evidence of Pentecost. The sharing of a common meal – such as we often do in the Army – is a sacramental act. In fact, the sharing of a common meal in a Christian family’s home is alsoa sacramental act, when it properly reminds us of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus for our salvation.  The saying of ‘grace’ (Greek wordcharis) is to be an act of giving thanks (Greek word eucharis) – the Eucharist is the thanks we give at meal times when we break bread together.
  • Prayer– D.S.D. Gordon said, “the great people of the earth today are the people who take time to pray. They do not have time. It must be taken from something else. That something may be very important and pressing, but still less important and pressing than prayer.  There are people who put prayer first and group the other items in life’s schedule around and after prayer. These are the people who are doing the most for God in winning souls, in solving problems, in awakening churches, in keeping the old earth sweet a little longer.”  John R. Rice puts it this way, “Prayer is not a lovely sedan for a sightseeing trip around the city. Prayer is a truck that goes straight to the warehouse, backs up, loads, and comes home with the goods.” The surest way to guarantee low attendance at a meeting is to call it a prayer meeting. Why? Why do we not gladly gather for prayer with Pentecostal enthusiasm?  The believers who were touched by the Holy Spirit “continued steadfastly,” they “devoted themselves” to participation in Spirit life.

      What is our response – not as a group, now, but as individuals – to the sanctifying fire of the Holy Spirit? Is it bewilderment that remains unresolved?  Is it disparagement of those who have found what I have not?  Or is it a response of discernment as evidenced by continued participation in the “Spirit life” of the Christian community – teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer?

      “The mark of the true church is always the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.” (Shoemaker)

He came sweet influence to impart,
A gracious, willing Guest,
While He can find one humble heart
Wherein to rest.

And every virtue we possess,
And every conquest won,
And every thought of holiness,
Are His alone.

Spirit of purity and grace,
Our weakness, pitying, see:
O make our hearts Thy dwelling place,
And worthier Thee!
                  -- Harriet Auber

Sermon for Memorial Sunday – May 24, 2020

Raising Ebenezer

I Samuel 7:1-12

“Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I remember as a child being puzzled by that line in verse 4 of song #856:

I’m a wonder unto many,
God alone the change has wrought;
Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by His help I’m brought.

The only Ebenezer I knew was Scrooge from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” I knew we weren’t singing about him.

I didn’t know that the translation of “Ebenezer” was in the next line of that song – “hither by His help I’m brought.” Actually, the literal meaning of the word is “stone of help.” This was what Samuel was doing when he “raised his Ebenezer” – he was erecting a memorial to God’s leading in his life.

The Old Testament is full of “Ebenezers,” even though the word is used only three times, all in the book of I Samuel. An Ebenezer is a place of remembrance, of many happy returns – Bethel, for example, or Mizpah.

Samuel erected a stone at his Ebenezer as a memorial. We, too, are fond of memorials. Washington D.C. is full of memorials to presidents and other heroes from our nation’s history. Almost every community has a memorial monument to honor those who have served. We will celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow; it is a time of remembrance of those who gave their lives in service to our country.

Samuel’s Ebenezer was a monument of a different sort, though. It was a symbol of a living God whose impact on Israel’s history had been felt and whose impact was expected to continue.

I wonder whether, as Christians, we have raised any Ebenezers lately. We hear testimonies that tell of historic experiences, events in the past. But how much more vital are those testimonies that say, “hitherto hath the Lord helped me” — hither to: to where I am now. It wasn’t just one time in the distant past, but there have been many happy returns to celebrating God’s grace… with confident affirmation that His help will lead further on.

Raising our Ebenezer should remind us:

I.  That where we are today we owe to God’s providence

A.  The victory of Samuel and the nation of Israel over the Philistines we read about in I Samuel 7 was clearly God’s doing, not Israel’s.

B.  Many times God’s providence is just as clear, but we fail to give Him the credit.

1. It is more than simply saying, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” It is recognizing that we had no power to save ourselves at all — in any way, shape, sense or form. It is HIS work of grace in our lives that has saved us.

2. It is a matter of humbly realizing that God has done the good work IN me, that nothing I have done or can do for myself — other than relying fully on Him — has any merit.

C.  Where would you be — where would I be — without God’s providence?

1. For some, that’s a hard question to answer. For many of us, the Lord’s activity in our lives is something we take for granted. We cannot possibly imagine where we would be without the providence of God.

2. But for others, the answer is obvious. We know where we would be and what we would be doing.  For some, it’s “the gutter;” for others, “the slammer.” But there is no question about the dramatic difference that God has made in our lives. Rather like the blind man who couldn’t answer the Pharisees theological questions. He said, “I only know this one thing: once I was blind — now I see.”

Where we are today we owe to God’s providence. And raising our Ebenezer also reminds us

II.  That God continues to watch over His own

A.  Samuel raised his Ebenezer (stone of help) near Mizpah (watchtower) where Laban had left his daughters in Jacob’s care, knowing that God would watch over them while they were out of each other’s sight.

B.  Christ has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Yet how many of us speak of our spiritual experience as if our conversion were at the end of our journey, rather than at the beginning. Our being born again, our salvation, our meeting with Jesus is sometimes talked about in nostalgic terms as if it were the final meeting between two friends, rather than the beginning of an exciting walk of faith.

1. Let me ask a rather blunt question. Do you have an up-to-date experience with Jesus? Is your walk with Him one that’s real, and vital and continuing? Is your faith a living, active faith in Christ? Or have you erected a memorial to an experience in the past that has no application to your daily life?

2. Raising an Ebenezer is to be a reminder of God’s past activity for the purpose ofkeeping ourselves in tune with His present activity. Every time we meet for worship, it is another opportunity to celebrate God’s continuing watchfulness over us, His children.

C.  But it is also a time for new starts and fresh beginnings. 

1. There may be some who remember a time when God was active in their lives. But that is a time in the past — a cold, hard memory. Just a concrete monument in the past. But it should point to God’s faithfulness and remind us of His watchfulness and bring us to make a fresh start.

2. There may be some who have been walking faithfully with the Lord, and need to take a moment to raise an Ebenezer in their hearts of thanks for God’s providence in the past, and His watchfulness in the present.

3.  But ALL of us need to rely upon God’s grace to live as He wants us to live day by day.

Consider how far God has brought you by His help. And then rejoice that, no matter how far He has brought you, there’s further to go. Like Paul said, “It is not as though I had already attained — I press on.”

Every one of us has a series of Ebenezers, milestones along the pilgrimage of faith where God evidences Himself in special ways. Occasions where spiritual truth made impact; conversion; a sobriety anniversary; joining the church; marriage; restoration; recommitment; dedication; etc. All of these are occasions where we raise a stone of help and to which we return for inspiration, occasions of which we say as we remember, “By God’s grace I’ve come this far, and by His grace I’ll continue on.”

Today is an opportunity for you to raise an Ebenezer. To mark this spot, this day, this place in your life to honor God and pledge yourself to Him. Will you do that?

Sermon for Sunday, May 17, 2020

Living in Harmony

I Peter 3:8-18

Ahmaud Arbery is a young African-American in Georgia who was killed in an incident that has captured the attention of the news media and social media. It is eerily reminiscent of an incident nearly 30 years ago that similarly captured the nation’s attention when Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles policemen, prompting riots throughout the area. It is hard to believe that we are still grappling with racial tensions in 2020.

One of the persistent images in my mind from 1992 is that, after the trial and the verdict, Rodney King famously asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”

That is an important question in our world today. We have tribal conflicts in Africa, conflict in the Middle East, uprisings in Iran and China, just to name a few.

As horrible as it is that conflict continues to roil society at large, it is sad to say that there is much too much conflict within the Christian church.

“Finally,” says Peter, “live in harmony with one another.” Living “in harmony” ought to be an unmistakable characteristic of the Church in general and every congregation in particular.  “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples,” said Jesus: “that you love one another.” How sad it is that the Church and her members are so often known for their squabbles, quarrels, arguments and disagreements. Churches have split apart simply because they are unable to “live in harmony.”

Peter is particularly anxious that this baby Church not give in to the natural tendency to attack one another when they are under persecution from the outside.

The people of God…living in harmony… Such a thing requires that each of us rise to the challenge Peter sets forth to:

I.  Be Good(verse 8)

A. Be sympathetic – in English, the word means “to feel with.”  “Sympathy depends on the willingness to forget self, to step outside self, and to identify oneself with the pains and sorrows of others.” [William Barclay] Remember that Peter is writing to a church under persecution, whose members are suffering. He admonishes them to “be sympathetic” to their fellow believers rather than to wallow in their own pain. Sadly, it is far too common that those among us who need their brothers and sisters to feel their pain sense only judgment.  And more sadly still, having received no sympathy they extend none. It is time we broke the cycle and began to feel one another’s pain rather than bemoaning our own.

B. Love with brotherly love – Jesus indicated that this was the defining characteristic of discipleship: if you love one another. Love, of course, is action not feeling.  Sympathy is the feeling.  Love is the response.

C. Be compassionate – there seems to be a pattern of increasing intensity building here.  From sympathy to brotherly love to compassion. The Greek word literally means “tender-hearted.”  It is possible to do the loving thing without being tender-hearted. But Peter admonishes us to feel with another, do for another, and do it with a tenderness that would please Christ.

D. Be humble – the King James Version uses ‘courteous’ as the meaning. The notion is that of being “humble-minded,” demonstrating an attitude of dependence upon God and deference toward others. The Church could do with a little more courtesy.  Paul gave one of the attributes of Christian love as “in honor, preferring one another.”  ‘You first.’ ‘No, you first.’ is but a small example of the grease that is applied to the wheels of human relationships when we are humble and courteous to one another.

Living in harmony begins with people who know what it is to begood, but also what it means to:

II.  Do good(verses 9-14)

A. Do not seek vengeance, but rather do good to others whether or not it is repaid (verse 9).  One of the sublime elements of the Christian ethic is the clear instruction to go the extra mile, to return kindness for vilification, to do good to those who do ill to us.  It is sublime in its standard, but it is difficult in the application. But when it is applied, harmony reigns. It is in precisely this kind of behavior that Christians should shout to the world, “We are different!” Yet how often do we find a principle of ‘just desserts’ operating within our congregations. If we got what WE deserved from God, we would all be on our way to hell. Why then do we insist on giving others ‘a taste of their own medicine’ in the face of all the New Testament teachings that forgiveness is the currency of the divine economy?

B. Turn from evil (verse 11).  The fallen human nature is drawn easily into temptation.  In order to do good, we must first turn from evil. Elsewhere Peter says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  If we play with fire, we will get burnt.  If we toy with the fires of hell, the same result will occur.  Flee from evil and the evil one will flee from you.

C. Seek peace and pursue it (verse 11).  Peace doesn’t happen naturally; it doesn’t happen easily.  “All that is necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”  Jesus included peacemakers among the blessed in His beatitudes.  Peter underlines the importance of this matter by adding the instruction to “pursue” it after saying “seek” it. Some people just seem to go looking for trouble. Maybe that is a part of our fallen nature that all of us need to grapple with. But the instruction is clear: don’t seek trouble, seek peace; don’t go looking for a fight, pursue harmony instead.

D. The people of God will live in harmony when the people of God are busy doing good.  Peter’s repetition is useful to note: 

verse 11 – he must…do good;

verse 13 – Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?;

verse 16 – your good behavior in Christ;

verse 17 – It is better…to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

And don’t forget to:

III.  Speak good(verse 15)

A. Verse 10 reminds us to “keep [our] tongue from evil and [our] lips from deceitful speech.”  So part of our task as Christians is to purge unwholesome speech.  James says that the tongue is the most difficult muscle in the body to control— and what damage is done when it is not controlled!

B. And verse 15 enjoins us to be prepared to speak the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to tell others about the hope that is within us.

1.  With reason – logos: a reasonable, intelligent, well-thought out statement of faith.

2.  With gentleness – (verse 16) More people are won to the Kingdom by gentleness than by forcefulness.

3.  With clear conscience – (verse 16) Speaking the good word will ring hollow unless it has been preceded with living the good life.  “A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.”

This is Peter’s prescription for the people of God to live in harmony: be good; do good; speak good.  It is simple; but it is not easy. Perhaps that is why he reminds us that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” Surely we can live in harmony with one another in light of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

Part of a parent’s job is to keep the household one where harmony reigns. Sometimes sibling rivalries, or lack of resources, or jealousies, or any number of things makes harmony elusive. But the good parent keeps the family together.Just so, the people of God ought to be living in harmony. And each of us should undertake to do our part to keep the family of God together.  In two weeks, we will celebrate Pentecost.  Acts 2:1 says that the disciples were gathered in one place of one accord; the Greek says they were “together together,” united as one, gathered and joined — it’s hard to translate.  But when they were united in one accord, the Holy Spirit came in a powerful way.  He will do it again, whenever the people of God determine that they will live together in harmony.

Sermon for Sunday, May 10, 2020

The People of God

Scripture: I Peter 2:4-10

Outcasts.  Gentile ‘dogs.’  Slaves. Nobodies.  Rejected by men.  The world’s doormats.  That was what the makeup of the Christian church to which Peter addresses his epistle looked like — to the world and to themselves.  (Truth be told, in many respects it is little different today; far too often, this is how our congregations are viewed by the world and how we see ourselves.)

But look Who is the foundation of this new faith, look Who is the “cornerstone” of the Church: the stone that men rejected. Do Isaiah’s words come to mind? “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”  It is the suffering Servant upon Whom our faith is based.

And as if identifying with Jesus weren’t enough encouragement, Peter tells his readers — and us — that we are not outcasts; we belong to God.  We are not doormats to be walked upon; we are living stones that make up the Temple of the living God.  We are not nobodies; we are precious.  We may be rejected by men, but we are chosen of God.  Gentile dogs are now a holy nation.  Slaves they may remain, but they are among the royal priesthood of the Kingdom of God.  What a powerful message to the Church, then and now.

The prophetic life of Hosea is brought to mind as verse 10 says “Once you were not a people [Lo-Ammi]…once you had not received mercy [Lo-Ruhamah].”  But NOW… But NOW… You are the people of God because you have received the mercy of Christ!  It is a glorious message, this Gospel we preach!

I.  Once you were…

A.         Stumbling in disobedience (verse 8).  Without knowing the One who is The Way, we are destined to stumble and fall.

B.        In darkness (verse 9).  The contrast between the old life of sin and the new life of grace is stark — from darkness to light, from death to life.

C.        Not a people.  (verse 10)  

1.  Sin is divisive.  It separates us from God and from one another.  There is no “family of unbelievers” like the Family of God. Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones is the image of arid separateness which characterizes those who are “not a people.”

2.  People who are trapped in sin are not ‘family’ in the way that the people of God are family.  When we were in sin, we were outcast and isolated from others — not just from those in the church.  We were NOT “a people.”

D.        Without mercy (verse 10).  The message of Hosea is that the mercy of God is always offered, but not always “received.”

Consider the picture.  The one who is outside of the family of God, who is wallowing in sin, who hasn’t accepted Christ’s offer of grace and forgiveness of sin, that person is alone, stumbling in darkness and disobedience, and living outside of the abundant mercy of God.  That is what we once were, before grace.

But now…

II.  Now you are…

A.     A chosen people, the people of God, a people belonging to God, chosen by God and precious to Him.  Notice the repetition — chosen…people.  Peter, the one God told not to call unclean what God calls clean, tells these Gentile believers (whom at one time he would not have associated with) that they are the new Israel: God’s chosen people.

ILLUS – the KJV uses the word “peculiar” — a ‘peculiar’ people. Specially set apart for the King.

B.     A holy priesthood (verse 4), a royal priesthood (verse 9).  Those who previously could not find the way are now leading others to The Way.

1.  We need to come to grips with the “special-ness” of being members of the priesthood of God.  In the Old Testament, only men of the tribe of Levi could be priests.  Only the specially chosen tribe of the specially chosen people could serve as priests in the Temple.

2.  But NOW [consider the importance of that word, too] we are part of the priesthood of all believers.  We do not need to come to God through the mediation of another, we come boldly before His throne of grace.  We do not need another to offer sacrifice on our behalf; Jesus Himself was the sacrifice, once for all — for all people and for all time and for all sins. Hallelujah!

C.     Living in the light (verse 9).  That reality carries with it certain responsibilities, such as letting your “light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Peter calls it ‘declaring His praises.’

D.     A forgiven people — you have received mercy (v. 10). 

III.  So…

A.        Be thankful for the grace of God and live a life of gratitude.

B.        Live like the person you are.  Chosen people, royal priests. God’s precious ones ought not act like spoiled brats, but like those who have been adopted into a privileged life; that is the reality, after all.

C.        And declare God’s praises.  By the life you live, the words you speak, the works you do, the places you go and the attitudes you show.

In the days when class distinctions were more readily apparent and more socially tolerated, there was an expectation laid upon the privileged classes called ‘noblesse oblige.’  The idea was that the elite were obligated to show compassion toward the less privileged and to conduct themselves with grace; their ‘nobility’ placed them under obligation.  We are the people of God!  A royal priesthood!  A holy nation!  A chosen people!  Let’s act like it. 

When the reality of the headaches, problems, worries, challenges, etc. of life set in, just remember who and Whose you are: God’s treasured possession set apart to live holy lives in obedience to Him.  That reality makes us very special indeed!

Sermon for Sunday, May 3, 2020

                                     Healed by His Wounds

I Peter 2:19-25

Being persecuted for their faith was an inescapable fact of life for those to whom Peter addresses his epistle. Yet strange and wonderful things were happening. Slaves were being converted AND slave owners.  They were fellow Christians. Much the same as we might find a corporate executive sitting next to his company’s janitor at a church meeting or Christian concert today, slave and owner could be found worshiping together in this baby church.

The New Testament, for many reasons, does not encourage abolition, but rather instructs slaves to remain obedient to their masters as a testimony to them and to the world of the transforming power of Christ. The Gospel message is itself revolutionary, the message that “every man is precious in the sight of God…God loves every man.” From I Peter and from Paul’s letter to Philemon, we hear a new and radical message — slave and master are brothers in Christ; both of them are bound by their new faith to follow the same life-style of righteousness.

But to the converted slave whose master is an unbeliever, Peter talks about receiving unfair treatment at the hands of the master. As to unjust suffering in general, we are unlikely to suffer because of our faith, unlike the Christians to whom Peter was writing. Yet, contrary to the “health and wealth gospel” heresy being preached in some quarters today, Christians DO endure suffering in spite of their faith. Suffering is “no respecter of persons”; it “falls on the just and the unjust” alike, just as rain and sunshine do. The question is not, “Do Christians suffer?” The question is, “What is the Christian’s response when suffering?” As Peter points out, there is virtue only when one suffers unjustly for one’s faith (verses 19-20).

In the final analysis, however, whatever we may be called to endure pales in comparison to the suffering Jesus endured on our behalf. And the injustice of the only perfect Man suffering the shame of the cross on behalf of sinful mankind should cause us to follow gladly in His steps out of gratitude for His selfless sacrifice.

It would do us well to come to an understanding of the efficacy of our ‘suffering’ in the light of Jesus’ peerless example.

I.  Our Suffering…

A. Is inevitable – pain is part of human experience. To one degree or another, all of us experience it.  We live in a fallen world. One result of Adam’s fall is that pain is a universal human experience. None of us are exempt from suffering pain, heartache, disappointment, discouragement.

B. But let’s look at reality. Some pain is deserved – (verse 20). Much of human pain is self-inflicted; we bring it upon ourselves. Part of the reason our society is facing the problems that we face today is that people are unwilling to accept the consequences of the choices that they make. We want to be inoculated against the results of the decisions we make.

1. We inoculate our children against disease like measles, mumps, chicken pox, polio, etc. By getting a shot or taking certain medicine, we can practically guarantee that we don’t contract certain diseases.

2. But that has led us to believe that we can shield our children–and ourselves–from anything undesirable or uncomfortable. We want to have sex outside of marriage, but we don’t want to face the consequences–practice “safe sex”; when that doesn’t work and you get pregnant, get an abortion; or if you get AIDS, demand that the government produce a cure. We see some evidence of this attitude in the way some have handled the precautions recommended to deal with COVID-19. We are unaccustomed to being exposed to this kind of risk.

3. We want to spend money without regard for proper stewardship like tithing or saving, but when we dig ourselves into a hole we want the lottery, or government, or Publishers’ Clearing House to save us.  And we even dare to pray for God’s help when we have dishonored Him by our failure to tithe.

4. We want the freedom to watch anything and everything on television, the movies, videos and Premium Channels. But when we discover that our values and morals have been formed by the Simpsons rather than the Sermon on the Mount, when we speak the language of violence and vulgarity more easily than we can voice a prayer aloud, and we find ourselves knowing the TV Guide better than the ten commandments, we have brought upon ourselves the pain that the world’s values always produce.

God’s word makes it plain that when we suffer for our own wrongdoing, it is commendable to “face the music” with a consciousness that God’s creation includes laws which we violate at our peril. God will not suspend the law of gravity to protect me if I choose foolishly to walk off a cliff. Neither will He suspend the moral laws of His creation to protect me from a willful violation of His commands. Rather, the painful consequences of our willful disobedience should bring us humbly and penitently back to God.

C. But some of the pain that we suffer is unjust – (verse 19).  

1.We may suffer because of the deeds of others; parents know well the heartache that our children can bring. There are times when the actions of bosses or co-workers go beyond inconveniencing us and cause us emotional distress. Many of the diseases we suffer are not self-inflicted–it is not punishment. The suffering is not “deserved.”

2. Or we may suffer because of our stand for righteousness. While we do not have to face the prospect of death or imprisonment because of our testimony, as Peter’s first readers did, there are situations where a stand for truth places us in the seat of ridicule. There are circumstances where we lose a promotion at work because we refuse to lie, or drink, or cover up the theft of a co-worker. And, sadly, there areplaces in the world today where Christians endure imprisonment and torture because of their faith.

3. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And Peter says, “It is commendable before God if you suffer for doing good.”

D. Since some pain and suffering comes our way simply because we are fallen creatures, and since we recognize that a courageous stand for Christian truth may add to that suffering, it is an encouragement to know that some goodmay come out of our suffering:

1. Personal growth and deepening of understanding; developing perseverance. Nobody chooses to suffer–at least nobody who is in their right mind. But I have been amazed at the quality of saintliness that I have encountered in those who have suffered much pain.  

– -Hazel in Findlay Ohio who was the sweetest saint I have met, in spite of a bitter invalid husband in physical pain and a mentally retarded adult son who required constant attention

–Jeanne in Old Orchard Beach Maine whose crippling arthritis caused her severe pain, but who faithfully witnessed to her fellow residents in the nursing home.

2. These saints, and others like them, give witness to others of the power and strength that is available in Christ. And they are ordinary saints like you and me. It is their pain that is extraordinary, not their faith and certainly not God’s power. We, too, can see the pain of life’s experiences as an opportunity to testify to those who do not know Jesus, to show how God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

3. The gospel may be advanced, as with Stephen’s martyrdom. When we endure suffering as true soldiers of Jesus Christ, others will notice and want to experience the same power that we experience to face and conquer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Yet, no matter how much benefit we can extract from our own circumstances of pain, the matchless work of grace accomplished by the suffering of Christ remains not only a wonder to consider, but a reminder to spur us on to endurance.

II.  Christ’s suffering…

A. …was endured without retaliation, without threats, without vengeance. (verse 23)

B. …was not for His own sin, but for ours. (verses 22, 24) His suffering was the ultimate injustice. He who knew no sin became sin for our sakes.

C. …was for the purpose of bringing us to righteousness. (verse 24b) He became sin so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.

D. …accomplishes our healing. (verse 24c) Notice that Peter uses the past tense: “have been healed.”  His atoning sacrifice was an act of healing; our healing has already been accomplished. All we need do is appropriate it.

Notice that the title of this message is “Healed by His Wounds.” Yet all this time I have been talking about suffering. Where does the ‘healing part’ come in? I have just now mentioned that Jesus’ suffering accomplishes our healing, but what does that mean?

III.  Our healing…  

A. Is too often viewed too narrowly. Jesus’ healing is not just physical healing. Nor ought we think only in terms of spiritual healing. Part of the holiness message is that we need to see ourselves more “wholistically.” When human beings suffer, it is often tragic. We wish that the suffering could be avoided, the tragedy averted. But healing often is a matter of seeing things from God’s perspective. If the cause of our suffering is not removed, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, then we need to “own it” and “use it” for the glory of God. And in doing so, healing occurs–whether or not the “thorn” remains!

B. One of the reasons we consider suffering tragic is that so little good comes of it. Even in stating above that “some good comes” from our own suffering, it is important that we search for “the good” amidst the pain to make the suffering seem worthwhile. And, truth be told, we would rather discover this good by means other than suffering. But healing comes when we discern what God wants us to understand about ourselves, about Him and about the suffering that we must endure.

Peter boldly asserts to his suffering readers that Jesus’ unjustsuffering was designed for a glorious outcome. Recalling the words of Isaiah, he says that Jesus’ wounds bring healing: death to our sins, birth to our righteousness, and a life of health and wholeness. We are healed by His wounds.

Turn to John 21 – verse 15. During Peter’s three-fold restoration by Jesus’ giving him three opportunities to affirm his love for Christ, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” Jesus is telling the fisherman to become a shepherd. And Peter took it seriously – he says in 1:25 “you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Peter had suffered the pain of Jesus’ accusing look in Pilate’s courtyard and the biting reminder of his three-fold denial on the sea-shore. But Peter knew the healing balm of the Shepherd who had lovingly restored him to the fold.

Let Jesus do that for you here today. Trapped in sin? Jesus is the cure! Tossed by doubt, struggles, temptations and the like? Return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. It is by Jesus’ wounds that you have already been healed–claim it as your own healing today!

Choruses:        Touch me again; He was wounded for our transgressions