Sunday October 25th
1 John 1-2
Now that we have finished our study of John’s gospel, we’re going to take a look at John’s letters. And that made me think of the phrase “A Dear John Letter”. Do you know the kind of letter I’m talking about? He is one example:
I have been unable to sleep since I broke off our engagement. Won't you forgive and forget? Your absence is breaking my heart. I was a fool, nobody can take your place.
All my love,
P.S. Congratulations on winning last week's Powerball lottery.
So let’s start off our study of the real “Dear John” letters. The apostle John starts off his first letter by talking about what was happening “from the beginning”.
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that John starts off talking about the beginning, because his Gospel started off with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
The truth is that God had a plan in place from the very beginning of time, and that plan included sending Jesus to save the world, and that plan included saving YOU!
Look at what Ephesians 1:4 tells us:
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
When did God choose you? The day that you got saved? No, He chose you in the beginning, even before He laid the foundation for the world!
I think that makes you pretty special!
In verse 1 of this letter, John refers to Jesus as the “Word of Life”, just like he did in his Gospel when he said this in John 1:14
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
How can we be sure of that? Because John says “we have heard (Him), we have seen (Him) with our (own) eyes, we have looked at (Him) and touched (Him) with our (own) hands.”
Peter uses the same argument to make this same point in 2nd Peter 1:16
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
In verse 3 John says that there is another important reason why he is writing this letter:
“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
So fellowship with God, with Jesus, and with each other is an important goal for John in writing this letter and that shouldn’t surprise us, because it was also important to Jesus. Remember how Jesus prayed to His Father concerning us in John 17:21?
“That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
So John’s goal for believers is the same as Jesus’ goal, fellowship and unity.
Then in verse 4 John adds another goal:
4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
Once again, this isn’t just John’s goal for us, it’s also Jesus’ goal. Look at John 15:11
“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
How are these goals connected? Because true fellowship with God and with each other should be a tremendous source of joy in each of our lives!
Do you see how many of the same themes in John’s letter are also found in his gospel? And this pattern continues in verses 5-7
5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Where have we seen this before? Look at John 1:9, which describes Jesus this way:
“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
So just like John’s Gospel, this letter emphasizes the contrast between light and darkness. Jesus is the light that came to shine in the darkness of a world that has rejected God.
John is reminding us that all of us as believers are faced with a choice: either “walk in the light,” by coming to Him and opening their hearts to Him, or “walk in darkness”. And walking in darkness, according to John, isn’t just committing sin, it’s also denying that we sin. Look at verses 8-10:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
So the conflict between light and darkness is linked to a conflict between those who “practice the truth” and agree with God that they need salvation, and those who say they don’t need salvation, thereby essentially calling God “a liar.”
The reality is that even believers sometimes still sin. But the good news is that the cure for sin—which is confessing our sins, and being cleansed by the blood of Jesus—is God’s continually available, irrevocable gift to us.
There’s only one simple step that we need to take when we’ve stumbled in our journey along the way. “If we confess our sins.” That’s it. No penance. No retribution.
Think about how wonderful that is! God’s forgiveness is given to us as soon as we admit our need for it, instantly!
It’s not based on anything we have done to earn forgiveness. It’s only because of His grace. And this free gift of forgiveness carries with it a total purification from our unrighteousness. Once we have confessed what we have done wrong, God accepts us and sees as righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. That is, the very righteousness of Christ is reckoned to our account.
Because Jesus is righteous, and we are covered by His blood – WE are now righteous!
In chapter 2, John is going to continue emphasizing the role that we as believers are supposed to play by being “in the light”!
He starts out by saying this in verses 1 and 2:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
John wants us to know that the only possible proper response to God’s mercy on us is to live a life of holiness and obedience, not one of sin.
But he also knows that no one is perfect, so he reassures us that when we do occasionally sin, we have an advocate on our side. So what’s an advocate do?
The Greek word for advocate basically means a “helper,” and one form of help would be like an attorney to represent us with a legal matter.
Jesus is our advocate, our lawyer, to plead our case when we mess things up.
John also calls Jesus something else, our “propitiation”. What’s that mean? A propitiation was a sacrifice that was meant to take away the separation brought by sin between God and man. Jesus is our propitiation. His blood has erased the sin that separated us from God.
So how do I know that my sins have been covered by Jesus’ sacrifice? John explains that next:
3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
John says that true followers of Jesus will “walk in the same way in which Jesus walked”, so if we call ourselves His followers, then we should be keeping Jesus’ commandments. If we aren’t keeping His commandments, then calling ourselves His followers is a lie.
And what are Jesus’ commandments?
Well, let’s start with this one from John 13:34
I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another.
That’s crucial for us to understand. Jesus told His followers to love each other. If we aren’t loving each other, then we’re not His followers!
In the next two sections, John is going to emphasize this commandment, saying that it is both old and new:
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Listen to this commentary:
The commandment of Christ is both “old” and “new.” It is old, because believers had this command “from the beginning,” when Jesus began to teach. It is new because it is continually being reapplied in new acts of love, with their source in Him.
John has talked about old and new, light and darkness. Now he uses another contrast, fathers and children:
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The “fathers” and “children” that John is speaking to in these verses are actually the same people. On the one hand they are called “children” because they have been made part of the family of God. But they are also called “fathers” because their relationship with Jesus qualifies them to pass this knowledge down to future generations.
John says twice in verses 13 and 14 “you have overcome the evil one”. This is a major theme of this letter that will be picked up again in Chapter 5. The overcoming victory John describes is resisting temptation and keeping faithful to God’s word.
The thing is that, even though the victory has been won, we still have to fight this ongoing battle against the things of the world. So John reminds us in verses 15-17:
15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
What John is referring to as the “world” is the spirit of rebellion that rejects God and His rule over our lives.
Those who love this world are self-centered, prideful, and short-sighted. They want their lusts to be satisfied and their pride to be honored now.
And speaking of the world’s system, we now hear mention of the ultimate description of the world’s system – the AntiChrist!
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
You might have heard various theories about who the antichrist will be or where he will come from. But don’t strain your eyes too hard looking for the antichrist to arrive, because John wrote almost 2000 years ago that many antichrists had already appeared during his lifetime!
And in verse 19 John seems to indicate that these antichrists were actually part of the church at one point:
19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
Do you see that? “They went out from us”! These people left the church, which proved that they weren’t true followers of Jesus, or they would’ve stayed in unity.
But does John want his readers to be all worried about these antichrists? No, he goes on to assure us that we are fully capable of discerning the antichrist spirit:
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
The Christians who lived back in John’s day faced opposition from antichrists who denied that Jesus was God’s Son, the Messiah. And so do we still today.
But John’s words should bring us comfort, as he reminds who we are as he closes this chapter:
24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.
John is reminding us that as believers we have access to direct revelation from God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the Word for us and the truth of the gospel.
Can you trust God when He tells you that about yourself – that you can hear His voice through the anointing of the Holy Spirit?
In these two chapters John has given us several powerful keys to what it means to “walk in the Light”
Sunday August 2nd
I don’t want to spoil the ending for you guys, but the final verse of the Gospel of John, Chapter 21, verse 25 says,“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”So there are a lot of things that Jesus did that aren’t recorded in the Bible, but if you do your research you can find some of them. For instance, I don’t know if you’re aware of the story about that time when Jesus and Lazarus were playing poker. Lazarus placed a bet and Jesus said...I'll see you and I'll raise you.
Of course John chapter 11 is where we find the story of the raising of Lazarus, and also the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection power. The story begins with Jesus getting the news from Martha and Mary that their brother was sick, with an obvious expectation that Jesus would immediately come to heal him.
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
When Jesus finds out about Lazarus’ illness, He immediately proclaims that this story will not end with death. But notice how Jesus doesn’t say that Lazarus wouldn’t die, only that this would not “end with death”.
That’s important, because at this point Jesus is aware of three things:
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.
Think about the seeming contradiction in that verse:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
There are going to be times in our lives when God is doing things that make no sense to us. If fact, what God is doing might seem to be the opposite of what we think He should be doing. But God knows what He is doing!
And the disciples can’t figure out what Jesus is doing either:
7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”
13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”
What a bunch of knuckleheads!
They don’t want to go into Judea because they know that there are people in Judea who want to kill Jesus. They say “Let Lazarus sleep if he’s feeling sick.” Then when Jesus makes it clear that He’s talking about death, not sleep, Thomas throws up his hands and says, “Okay, fine. Let’s all go die together in Judea!”
So they all head out towards Bethany, where Jesus runs into Martha on the way. She is distraught with grief:
17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
I tend to think that Martha spoke those words with a bit of an accusation in her voice. After all, “what took so long?”
But in the midst of her confusion and questions, she still has hope. She says this to Jesus:
22 “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Martha believes in the eventual resurrection of believers on Judgment Day, but she doesn’t have a full understanding of who Jesus really is, and the power that He holds over life and death. She is about to find out.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
Verse 25 is the core truth of our Christian faith. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. This parallels the words that Jesus will speak in John 14:6
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Martha says that she does believe what Jesus is saying.
Then she backs that up by acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the only one who can raise the dead.
Then Martha runs to share this hope with her sister Mary:
28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.
30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Notice how Mary’s level of misunderstanding reflects where Martha’s was. “I know that you COULD’VE done something to prevent this IF ONLY you had come in time.”
Mary is crying, the others are crying, and soon Jesus is crying too:
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,
34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”
John 11:35 happens to be the shortest verse in the Bible.
But it is also a very significant verse in light of how it reflects Jesus’ true humanity. He wept. He cried. Like we do when we lose someone we love.
Hebrews 4:15 says:
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
In other words, Jesus has experienced every aspect of what it means to be human except for one thing, and that’s sin. Because of that, He can fully understand and sympathize with whatever we’re going through.
Some people have wondered, “if Jesus knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, then why was He crying about the situation?” But we see in Romans 12:15 that we are called to:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
So Jesus was simply sharing in the very sorrow that He was about to erase.
The people in the crowd had their own opinions as well, similar to what Martha and Mary had expressed:
37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”
Could Jesus have kept Lazarus from dying? Absolutely! But there is a bigger plan at work here.
38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
I think that’s really ironic, and kind of typical of how we sometimes relate to God. We tell God what we need. He starts to address the need in a way that only He can. And we tell Him why that won’t work!
I mean seriously, don’t you think that a God who can raise a dead man to life can also make the smell of death disappear?
So when we’re going to trust God for our answers, let’s be willing to believe He can work out every detail!
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.
42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
I heard a cute story about a children's Sunday school class that was presenting their end of the year program for the congregation. The children were telling stories about the life of Jesus.
When it came to the part about Jesus' miracles, one little boy said, "Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead!" The teacher urged him to tell the audience more.
He said, "Well, Jesus told them to open the tomb, and then He said, 'Lazarus, come out!' And it's a good thing he didn't just say 'Come out!' because there would have been a stampede of dead guys."
Do you know what’s great about that? At the resurrection there’s going to be a whole stampede of dead guys and ladies coming out of tombs, and we might be part of that stampede!
Now you might think that this powerful miracle would change the minds of everyone in Israel. Not exactly.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.
Many of the people who witnessed this miracle became followers of Jesus, but the hard-hearted Pharisees still won’t believe. In fact, they are even more determined to kill Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit speaks through Caiaphas, who is NOT a believer, and prophesies that Jesus would be the “one man” who would die for the “whole nation”, in fact, for the whole world. And they will be a part of that.
So the final verses of this chapter are sort of a lull, a waiting period before the plot to crucify Jesus starts to unfold:
54 Therefore Jesus no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews, but went away from there to the country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there He stayed with the disciples.
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 So they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him.
I know it seems incredible that these leaders would want to kill a man who has just raised the dead. But in John chapter 16 Jesus tells the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. By the way this isn’t the same Lazarus!19 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
How true of a statement was that? The Pharisees had Moses and the Prophets to point out that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They wouldn’t believe them.
AND they had a man, Lazarus, raised from the dead, and they STILL wouldn’t believe! In fact, we’ll see in chapter 12 that they wanted to KILL Lazarus too!
What are we to make of this?
Well, for one, we shouldn’t be surprised that people reject the truth no matter how clear it is.
We saw back in John 7:7 where Jesus said that:
“The world… hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.”
And in John 3:19
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
So don’t get discouraged when people don’t seem receptive to the gospel. Just keeping sharing it with your words, your lifestyle, and your love. Because those are the things that God uses to break through hardened hearts!
Sunday November 10th
1 Corinthians 5
I’ve heard it said that “singing in the shower is all fun and games until you end up getting some shampoo in your mouth – then it turns into a soap opera!”
There are some people here who know a little secret about me – I watch General Hospital. It’s only on Wednesdays when I stop by to visit my parents before returning to church for the Wednesday night service, but I’m able to keep up on the story for two reasons:
Now I know that soap operas can sometimes have pretty steamy story lines, but those are nothing compared to what Paul had to address in 1st Corinthians 5 verse 1:
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.”
How’s that for an exciting plot? So what was really going on here? There are several possibilities according to Bible commentators:
One possibility is that this man’s father may have died, and then the son married the woman who would have been his stepmother. The other possibility is that the father is still alive and the son is having an affair with his stepmother behind his father’s back, or even openly. In any case, this type of inter-family relationship is explicitly condemned in Leviticus 18:8. And although the culture of that day tolerated a wide range of immoral activities, Paul points out that even the pagan gentiles were embarrassed by this kind of behavior.
Paul also isn’t very happy about how the Corinthian church had been dealing with their soap opera:
2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
This verse is the key to Paul’s real concern. The fundamental problem here wasn’t just the sexual sin of one messed-up individual, it was the failure of the Corinthian church to deal with the sin—in fact, Paul was disturbed because they had a sense of pride about how they were accepting and tolerating it.
That’s a big issue in our culture today, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be very tolerant and accepting of whatever anyone else chooses to do. If you express an opinion about someone else’s behavior possibly being sinful or ungodly, you are immediately labeled as “intolerant”.
But Paul is clearly NOT going to tolerate this behavior in this church that he established, even though he’s now far away from Corinth on his missionary journey. He says:
3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul is physically absent from the Corinthian community, but he tells them that he was there with them in the Spirit during their service, and that he actually passed a prophetic judgment in their midst. His judgment is that the church should forbid this offender from attending their fellowship. Just kick him out! In fact Paul goes so far as to say that he is willing to “deliver this man to Satan”!
Of course that all sounds very harsh, but we have to understand that Paul’s stated purpose in his judgment is the man’s salvation. He believes that the man’s restoration can only be achieved if he is made to repent and his sinful tendencies are overcome. Paul refers to that process as “the destruction of the flesh”.
Then he returns to his concerns about these church members boasting about how “tolerant” they are:
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?
Paul compares the Corinthian’s tolerance of sin to leaven, or yeast. Leaven was often used in the Bible as a metaphor for a spreading sinful and corrupting influence.
That’s why, during the annual Feast of Passover the Israelites had to remove all leaven from their houses.
We see this in Exodus 12:15 for example:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
Do you see that idea of being “cut off” from fellowship?
Paul seems to be making a direct reference to that practice when he says this to the Corinthians:
7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
If the cleansing out of leaven was important in the Old Testament, Paul says it’s even more important with Jesus as our Passover lamb. Because He was sinless, we should strive to walk in holiness as well, in order to honor Him.
The next part of Paul’s explanation regarding the issue of dealing with sin might actually surprise you:
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
The first thing that I want you to notice here is that Paul makes reference in verse 11 to the fact that “actually, I wrote to you” about this already.
This means that, prior to writing the letter which we call 1st Corinthians, Paul had already sent another letter instructing these same Corinthians about this same issue!
In other words, he had previously told them to separate themselves from believers who practiced immorality.
And that’s a key distinction that Paul is emphasizing here. He’s saying that he never meant for them to stay away from “the immoral people of this world”.
Otherwise, how would they be able to evangelize?
Paul certainly understood that there was no real value in staying away from unbelievers who sin, because ALL unbelievers sin!
The issue that Paul is dealing with here is staying away from BELIEVERS who sin, so that by draw a line of dis-fellowship it will cause them to get their lives back on the right track.
Paul actually seems a bit frustrated that these Corinthian believers didn’t get the point of his original teaching. At least that’s what it would seem like from how they were treating the sin situation right under their noses!
Possibly the Corinthians had misunderstood Paul, and thought that he was commanding them to maintain separation from the sinners in the world. So he explains again that what he had in mind was separating from anyone who claimed to be a Christian but whose life and actions clearly contradicted the teachings of the faith.
Now, my bible commentary says that this injunction to expel or shun offending church members (going so far as to say “not even to eat with such a one”) is primarily referring to life within the church and probably does not mean that all personal contact of any kind was to be avoided.
(In others words you didn’t have to avoid them at the supermarket)
That view especially makes sense when we compare this situation to what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Do you see the balance there? Don’t associate with disobedient brothers and sisters, but remember that they ARE still your brothers and sisters!
In verse 13 of today’s chapter Paul quotes the command found in Deuteronomy 17:7 which says to purge or expel the wicked from Israel. “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”
In doing that, Paul is drawing an important parallel between the Old Testament Jewish community and the New Testament Christian church. This is something that he will emphasize again when we get to chapter 10.
The bottom line is that these verses tell us that the church has the authority to exercise discipline within its own fellowship, but it does not have the authority to regulate the behavior of non-Christians. Sinners gonna sin! But believers gonna stop sinning!
So how did this apply to them back then, and how does it apply to us now?
Well, for starters, we can confidently conclude from 2 Corinthians 2:3–11, that the Corinthian church finally did obey Paul’s instruction, and that this man did repent of his outrageous sin.
Let’s look at that account:
3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
Paul is making reference here to the fact that he knew that his rebuke would make them sorrowful, but that their sorrow wasn’t his ultimate goal. His true goal was to show love to them by bringing correction to a situation that clearly needed to be addressed. And what was the response to that loving rebuke? Look at verse 5-8:
5 But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. 6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority,7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
Paul says that true source of everyone’s sorrow wasn’t him, it was the man who was sinning. That man’s sin caused pain to the entire church community. Paul then refers to the “punishment which was inflicted by the majority.”
This means that the majority of people in the church had obeyed Paul’s instructions and cut this brother off from fellowship. Paul also says that this “punishment” was “sufficient”, meaning that it accomplished its purpose by causing the man to repent.
Now that the man has repented, Paul says, forgive him, comfort him, and reaffirm your love for him, because we don’t want “excessive sorrow” to overwhelm him.
Sometimes it’s important to know when enough is enough.
Once a person has repented, they are clean in God’s eyes, and we need to see then as cleansed and renewed also, rather than continuing to remind them of their sin.
And Paul adds a few more verses to explain why this is so important:
9 For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
In verse 9, Paul tells the Corinthians that his original instructions – to cut the man off from fellowship – were sort of a “test” to see how obedient they would be. Since they were obedient, and now that the goal of the man’s restoration has been accomplished, Paul says that he has no reason to harbor any un-forgiveness towards this person.
And the most important point that Paul is making, for the Corinthians and for us, is that holding on to un-forgiveness plays right into the hands of the enemy.
Paul says, “We are not ignorant of his schemes”.
We know how Satan works. We know that he is the accuser of the brethren. So why should we allow him to use us as his co-accusers?
I think that’s the most crucial lesson that we have to learn today about this “issue”.
As Pastor Josh pointed out last week, we aren’t supposed to be in the business of running around judging each other, and yet there are clearly going to be times when we need to hold each other accountable. That’s what families do for each other.
There are times when we need to say, “Hey brother, I’m concerned about some of the choices that I see you making.”
“Your behavior doesn’t match up with the standards of a Christ-follower.”
There may even be times when we have to say, “I’m not sure that I can hang out with you if you’re going to keep choosing that ungodly lifestyle.”
But that’s never the ultimate goal. It’s simply a step towards the goal.
Because the ultimate goal is always to see that brother or sister restored to a proper relationship with God, both in their heart and in their behavior. And once they have started to turn their heart back towards God, we should be running out to meet them like the Prodigal Son’s father!
The only one who wants to keep reminding them of their sin, and putting them through guilt and shame, is Satan.
And we certainly don’t need to be helping him to carry out his schemes of condemnation.
The devil is always working to keep people separated from God and from each other. God is always working towards reconciliation.
Look at these verse from 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Let’s choose to make that our heart today towards any brother or sister that is struggling in their walk. If we need to bring correction, let’s do it gently, in a spirit of humility, knowing that we’ve all stumbled and fallen short at times.
Remember Jesus’ instruction that we should begin by removing any log from our own eye before we start pointing out specks in other people’s eyes.
And consider Paul’s wise words from Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Always keep in mind that the ministry that we’ve been given is one of reconciliation – helping people to get back to a right relationship with God and with the family of God. The Corinthians did it, and so can we.
Sunday October 27th
1 Corinthians 3
I wanted to share with you this morning my 3 favorite quotes about immaturity:
If I had a dollar for every time someone called me immature…I’d buy so many hot-wheels!
My wife told me I was immature and needed to grow up. Guess who's not allowed in my tree house anymore.
My girlfriend left me because she thinks I'm immature. Now it’s Christmas day and I’m crying my eyes out. Because I just found out that Santa isn’t real.
God’s plan for His children is that we would grow up, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually as well!
Here in chapter three, Paul addresses a problem plaguing the young Corinthian church—spiritual immaturity.
There’s an old saying that goes: "You are only young once, but you can be immature forever." Sadly, the Christians in Corinth had a lot of growing up to do.
Paul opens the third chapter in this letter with these words:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.”
The reality is—physically or spiritually, we all start off as babies. Growth takes time. When Paul first planted this church in Corinth, it was only natural that these brand new believers would be spiritually immature. They were babies in Christ. They needed to learn the foundations of the faith.
But as we mature in our faith, we ought to grow up little by little. We ought to develop a more Christ-like spirit and attitude. We ought to understand more and more of the Bible. Paul puts it this way in chapter 13 in this letter: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”
It had been a few years since Paul first started this church in Corinth, and they were still struggling with immaturity.
Paul then talks about one of the things that is keeping them from growing in maturity:
3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul had started this church in Corinth during one of his missionary journeys (we read about it in Acts chapter 18).
But shortly after Paul left to visit other cities, another traveling preacher arrived in Corinth—a man named Apollos. Apollos had a natural gift for teaching and he made an immediate impact in Corinth. He spoke boldly, interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures effectively. He debated against the opponents of Christianity forcefully and convincingly. Apollos basically continued the work that Paul had started.
Of course, Paul is quick to point out that it was God—not him and not Apollos—that brought about the growth of the church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, God harvested!
Paul also talks about growing in terms of serving. He writes,
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul is comparing the church to a building that is still under construction. The foundation of the church—for all believers—is Jesus Christ. Nothing and no one else will do. A building is only as solid as its foundation and anyone that doesn’t make faith in Christ the bedrock of their beliefs and ministry is doomed to collapse.
But even if we have that right foundation, that doesn’t ensure a lasting structure. Paul compares our works—our ministry and our serving—to construction materials. We can either build with weaker materials like wood, hay and straw or with precious stones, gold and silver.
Jesus laid the foundation of our lives with his ministry of preaching, teaching, and serving. When we carry on that kind of ministry, we build upon his foundation. But Jesus cautioned his disciples, saying, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
As one commentary put it, the Corinthian Christians were more interested in “serve us” then service. Immature Christians say, “I’m looking for a church that meets my needs and blesses me,” not, “I’m looking for a place where I can serve and be a blessing.” As we mature in Christ, the focus of our lives should increasingly shift towards living a life of service to others. A mature follower of Jesus stops asking, “Who’s going to meet my needs?” and starts asking, “Whose needs can I meet?”
As he calls the church in Corinth to a higher level of maturity, Paul closes out this chapter with a warning:
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” 21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
Do you think that warning has any application to our lives today?
Let’s start by looking at this warning from 2 Timothy 3:1
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.
Are there difficult times in our world today? I would certainly say so. And the times may be getting even more difficult!
I think that we as a church are going to have to face a difficult challenge. This will be a challenge that will test our maturity as followers of Jesus Christ. It is an area where I hope we can show more maturity and grace than the Corinthian church did.
But before I address the specifics of the issue, I want to add this additional scripture from Ephesians 4:1-6
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Paul uses the word “implore” when he asks the Ephesians to work towards unity and peace. He is essentially begging them to be patient, humble, gentle, tolerant and loving towards one another. He says that we all have the same Lord, the same Father in heaven, the same Holy Spirit and the same hope. We’ve all been baptized in the name of the same savior.
Can I “implore” you this morning in that same manner?
What are you talking about, Pastor Steve? We don’t have issues with Apollos and Paul. There is no “jealousy and strife” among us. We are not “fleshly”. We are not “walking like mere men”.
I’m not saying that we are. But I need to warn you that there are “difficult times” ahead, particularly as we enter into this next election cycle.
I think most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
I think it’s fair to say that if dwelling in unity is good and pleasant, then dwelling in disunity is bad and unpleasant!
But we don’t have to allow disunity to enter into our church.
Let me use this example to shed some light on the situation that we’re facing.
Let’s say that Paul and Apollos are candidates who are running for office.
Why would people want to vote for Paul?
He was a strong voice for the gospel. He was bold. He wrote powerful letters. He planted churches. He was willing to risk his life and suffer hardship in order to reach the world for Jesus.
Why would people NOT want to vote for Paul?
He had participated in the murder of Stephen. He had persecuted and arrested many believers. He had gotten into a very public argument with Barnabas over whether or not to take John Mark along on their next missionary journey.
What about Apollos? Why would people want to vote for him?
He was well-learned, a good public speaker, and he could argue convincingly against unbelievers.
So why wouldn’t someone want to vote for Apollos?
Well, he didn’t even know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so Priscilla and Aquila had to pull him aside and correct him. And then Paul had to fix the misunderstanding about baptism caused by Apollos’ lack of knowledge.
And while we’re at it, let’s throw in a third candidate, Cephas (or Peter). Paul mentioned in Chapter one that some of the Corinthians considered themselves to be followers of Cephas.
So why would anyone want to vote for him?
He was bold. He was the first person to recognize that Jesus was the Son of God. He wrote two books of the New Testament. He fought to defend Jesus by cutting off the High Priest’s servant’s ear.
Wow! Then why wouldn’t anyone want to vote for Peter?
Hmmm. There was this little thing about denying three times that he actually KNEW Jesus. And he had a little impulsivity problem. And even though he was married, we never hear about his wife! That’s a bit of a concern.
My point is simply this – none of these three men would’ve been a perfect candidate, because in reality there ARE no perfect candidates. As Paul put it, they are “mere men”.
And we are also “mere men and women” who have to try our best to decide which candidates for public office are most deserving of our support, despite their flaws.
Some believers choose to cast their vote for candidates who take strong positions against abortion and for traditional family values. Those are certainly good issues for Christian voters to consider.
Other believers place a higher priority on candidates whose focus is on caring for the poor and defending civil rights. And those are clearly some important biblical values as well.
Some of this comes down to different viewpoints based upon our individual backgrounds and culture.
Let me share with you something that a friend shared with me about cultural issues:
Cultural sensitivity allows us to respect and value other cultures with no hidden agendas. It is acknowledging that differences exist between us, but not assigning values to those differences by saying that one is better than the other, or one is inherently right and the other is wrong.
It is building an environment that encourages discussion and strengthens teamwork through education and acceptance of other viewpoints.
I think those are wonderfully encouraging words.
In the end, there is a way for us to handle these challenges, and it is shown to us in Romans Chapter 14.
Here Paul is discussing the differences of opinions that were occurring regarding what kinds of foods to eat and what holidays to celebrate. And in verses 12 and 13 Paul puts it this way:
“So the each one of us shall give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore.”
Doesn’t that seem like a good plan for how to handle our differences of opinion?
You are going to have to give an account to God for who you decided to vote for and why. And so will I.
You don’t have to answer to me and I don’t have to answer to you. We both have to answer to God.
So let’s not allow fleshly strife and contention disrupt our unity as a church family.
We’re allowed to disagree. We just need to do so respectfully and in love.
One thing that I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me regarding the upcoming election is this reminder:
Whether we end up with the same president or a new president for the next four years, we will still have the same king – Jesus Christ!
In Romans 14:13 Paul advises us, “not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
So just remember that wearing a t-shirt, a hat, or a campaign button to church that supports your favorite candidate might accidentally create a stumbling block for a brother or sister who sees things differently than you do.
Therefore we might want to choose to lay down our liberty in that regard for the sake of one another.
I think we’re mature enough to do that, don’t you?
Sunday July 14th - Acts 26
I heard a story about two brothers who walked into a Walgreen’s. One of the boys was 7, the other was 5.
They walked around the pharmacy for about twenty minutes, going up and down every aisle very carefully, looking for one specific item. Eventually the boys found what they were looking for and headed for the counter.
The cashier was a bit surprised to see that the boys were buying a box of feminine hygiene products.
"Are you getting those for your mother?" he asked.
"No, they are for my little brother, he's only 5." the 7 year old answered.
"Why would you buy those for your little brother?" the cashier asked.
"Well, we saw a commercial on T.V. yesterday, and it said you could ride a bike or swim if you were wearing these, and my little brother can't do either right now."
I want to tell the story of Acts chapter 26 today by placing it between the stories of two famous brothers. These two stories will be book-ends for the significant truth that we’ll see in chapter 26.
The first story is told by the former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He said this:
“We missed him. Our chance to change things came and passed and we did not know it was there.
A dark-skinned little boy sat through Sunday school classes for three years at our Church, but somehow we missed him. His name was Sirhan Sirhan.”
In case you don’t recognize that name, at age 24 Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy.
That’s a really sad story isn’t it? To know that a Baptist church had the opportunity to reach that infamous assassin with the love of Jesus while he was still a little boy, but somehow he slipped through the cracks. Would Sirhan’s Sunday School teachers have tried harder to reach him if they knew where his future was headed? Would it have changed anything? Why is it that some people hear the Gospel and receive it while others hear it and ignore it?
We’re going to see those same questions facing the Apostle Paul as he tries to make the most of his chance to reach Governor Festus and King Agrippa with the message of salvation through faith in Jesus (verse 1):
Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
2"In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today;
3especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
5since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
6And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;
7the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.
8Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
Paul opens up his presentation with a little flattery toward the king, acknowledging that Agrippa was considered an expert in Jewish laws and customs. Then Paul points out that he too was considered an expert in all things pertaining to the Jewish faith, having been one of the strictest of Pharisees in his younger years. In verses 6-8 he points out to Agrippa that the thing that the Jews keep accusing him of doesn’t really make any sense, because the belief in the resurrection is a central part of the Jewish religion. In the next few verses Paul shows Agrippa how he himself was once confused about this issue, even to the point of hostility toward those who claimed that Jesus had been resurrected:
9"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.
11And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
12While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,
13at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.
14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
15And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;
17rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
19"So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
21For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
22So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place;
23that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
So Paul repeats his testimony again, having spoken it already to Felix and then to Festus, and probably to many others. He points out one crucial truth; that the only thing that changed his mind about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was having a direct encounter with the risen Lord! Apparently this is too much for Festus to comprehend:
24While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad."
Festus sums up his viewpoint very simply, “Paul…you’re nuts!” Isn’t that the way that some people react to our faith?
One commentary puts it this way: “You know, the world can put up with many church members with no problem at all. If you don’t make waves with your faith the world will tolerate you. You can go to church once in a while. That doesn’t bother anybody. And you can be nice to other people and that doesn’t bother anybody, either. But if you get serious about Christianity - If you start coming to church even on rainy days or Sunday evenings - if you read your Bible and pray regularly - if you begin to change the way you think and speak and live - if you start tithing - if you do a few fanatical things like that, the world really has trouble understanding what that’s all about. They start to say things like, "You’re insane. You’ve let this Christianity thing go too far. All of your Bible learning is driving you mad."
Paul realizes that Festus isn’t listening to the truth, so he turns his attention to Agrippa.
25But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.
26For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
27"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do."
28Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
29And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
30The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them,
31and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment."
32And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."
Paul is sure that Agrippa has already heard of Jesus of Nazareth, heard about his miracles, heard about his crucifixion, AND heard that his tomb was found empty! Then he presses Agrippa even harder with the reality that is right in front of him. He asks, "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets?" Why does he ask that?
Because anyone who is familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament would know that more than 300 prophecies in the OT that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Agrippa would know that hundreds of years before Jesus was born prophets said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin and that He would be crucified on a cross (and this was before the world had ever heard about crucifixion) - that His side would be pierced - that He would be buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day be raised from the dead.
So how does Agrippa react when presented with such overwhelming evidence? He says, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
Agrippa seems to be both drawn to the truth that he’s hearing and resisting it at the same time. He doesn’t say, “Paul, you’re nuts!” because he realizes that what Paul is saying does line up with the facts, and with the scriptures. Agrippa is saying something more like, “Slow down, Paul! I’m not ready to make that kind of decision!”
Festus and Agrippa represent two types of people that you might encounter when you try to explain the gospel to someone. Some will say, “You’re Nuts!” and some will say, “I’m not ready yet”, but we can’t let either of those responses discourage us, because the cost of someone NOT hearing the gospel is an eternal cost.
I told you at the beginning of this message that I was placing this chapter between the bookends of two famous brothers. Since the first brother was Robert Kennedy, I suppose you can guess who the second brother is.
In his autobiography, “Just as I Am”, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election as president of the United States. He says, “On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. ‘Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?’ he asked. ‘I most certainly do.’ Graham replied. ‘Well, does my church believe it?’ (John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic) ‘They have it in their creeds.’ was Billy Graham’s answer. ‘They don’t preach it,’ Kennedy said. ‘They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.’ Then Billy Graham says, “I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. ‘Only then,’ I said, ‘are we going to have permanent world peace.’ ‘Very interesting,’ Kennedy said, looking away. ‘We’ll have to talk more about that someday.’ And he drove on. Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast. “I had the flu,” Graham remembers. “After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me. ‘Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I’d like to see you for a minute.’ ‘Mr. President, I’ve got a fever,’ I protested. ‘Not only am I weak, but I don’t want to give you this thing. Couldn’t we wait and talk some other time?’ Graham said, “It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat”. ‘Of course,’ John Kennedy said graciously.” But the two would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was shot dead. Graham comments, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”
What does it take to bring someone to Christ? How many chances do we get before it’s too late? What will we do when people reject our message?
When King Agrippa told the Apostle Paul that he wasn’t ready to become a Christian in such a short time, Paul replied, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am…”
Whether it takes a short time or a long time, our hearts should wish for that same thing - that everyone who hears us, everyone who knows us, might come to know the same saving grace and endless love that we have found through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I think the pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio Texas wishes that he had a longer time to reach young Sirhan Sirhan. And it sounded like Billy Graham wished that he had been able to spend a little more time sharing the Gospel with President John F Kennedy.
Let’s make good use of the time that we have. You never know when someone’s time is going to run out.
Sunday January 27
The Real versus the Fake - Acts 5
There was a story that I heard about several men who were standing around in the locker room of a local gym. A cell phone that was laying on one of the benches started ringing. A man picked it up and since the phone was on speaker mode, the rest of the men could hear the entire conversation, which sounded like this: "Hello?
"Honey, It's me. I stopped by the real estate agent this morning and asked about that house we had looked at last year. Remember? The one with beachfront property?"
“Uh-huh.” “Remember, it was the one with the Jacuzzi and the really nice deck?”
“Yeah” “Well I know you said it was out of our price range, but they just dropped the price and now they’re only asking $950,000. I was going to give them a check for $10,000 as a down payment"
“Okay." "Really? Thanks so much Honey! I'll see you later! I love you!!!" "OK Bye." The man hangs up, holds the phone up in the air and asks: "DOES ANYONE KNOW WHO THIS PHONE BELONGS TO?"
Speaking of real estate transactions:
At the end of Acts chapter 4, in verses 36 and 37 we saw this:
And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Why did I want to go back and remind you of that? Because it’s only when we remember the context of those verses that we can make sense of what happens next, as chapter 5 begins:
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
MAN, that sounds HARSH, doesn’t it?
But from the standpoint of Peter and the other Apostles, this fraud that Ananias and Sapphira just tried to commit was a serious offense!
And it wasn’t just the church leadership who had a problem with the deceitfulness of this couple, the Holy Spirit was clearly grieved about it too! Peter would have never even known what Ananias and Sapphira had done unless the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him.
So what’s the big problem here? I would like to point out to you that the difference between what Barnabas did at the end of chapter 4 and what this couple was attempting to do here at the start of chapter 5 is that one was showing real commitment and the other was showing fake commitment.
Barnabas said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of my land.”
Ananias and Sapphira said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of our land.”
It was the same statement, but in one case it was true, and in the other case it was false.
Consider this: God was moving powerfully in the early church, and one sure way to slow down a move of God is to start passing off fake commitment as real commitment.
And the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to allow that.
Notice that there was an even GREATER release of the Spirit’s power that fell upon the church as a result of witnessing God’s judgment;
11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
Signs and wonders, people getting healed by Peter’s shadow, healing and deliverance - As a result of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, a holy fear of the Lord was released among the believers, a renewed reverence and a passion to walk in true holiness and true commitment. Ain’t nobody got time for that fake stuff!
The renewed commitment of these believers was causing an increase in the outpouring of God’s power! People were traveling from near and far to Jerusalem just to see what was going on!
You see, real commitment makes a real difference.
Great moves of God are found only when people are truly committed to the work of God.
Is there a cost of Commitment? Yes there definitely is.
In fact, the price of commitment is often very high – that’s why so few people are willing to pay it. And that’s why so few reap the benefits of commitment.
But look at what happens next when the apostles are asked to pay a high price for their commitment:
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Just like many of our fellow believers in persecuted countries today, the apostles were arrested for the simple act of preaching the gospel. But once again, their commitment is a trigger for a mighty move of the Holy Spirit to set them free miraculously. And so they go right back to preaching. And this really freaks the temple leaders out!
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
Isn’t that just fantastic! “Guards, bring those men here from the jail that we arrested for preaching in the temple.” “They’re not in their jail cells!” “Where are they?” “They’re back in the temple, preaching!”
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
When you are moving in true commitment to the cause of Christ, you don’t have to be afraid of anyone!
Let’s summarize several of Peter’s answers this way:
“We ordered you not to preach!” “I take my orders from someone higher than you.”
“You’re blaming us for Jesus’ death!” “That’s because you killed him.”
Of course these answers don’t go over real well with the leaders, until one reasonable old man speaks up:
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
What powerful wisdom! If these guys are fake, then they will fizzle out on their own. We’ve seen other fakes come and go. But if this is a real move of God, you’d better not stand in its way!
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Look at the price that the apostles had to pay for preaching the Gospel in those last few verses. They were flogged. They were whipped. They were beaten. They were told to keep their mouths shut.
But what was their reaction?
They not only kept preaching, they actually REJOICED over the fact that their true commitment made them WORTHY to suffer for the name of Jesus! There’s nothing fake about that.
The bottom line in this entire chapter is this:
We all face the same choice as to how far we are willing to go to commit to the work that God is doing. I really can’t tell you how committed you should be, that’s between you and God.
But I can tell you this - the real problem that Ananias and Sapphira ran into was that they weren’t willing to commit to the work of God 100%, but they wanted to pretend that they were giving their all.
Let’s not pretend. Let’s decide in our hearts how far we are willing to go to see the Kingdom of God fulfilled in our lives, in our marriages, in our families, in our church, and in our community. Those aren’t necessarily easy decisions. There is a cost involved. But whatever you decide to do, commit to it! Don’t give half-measures to the work of the Lord. Don’t fake it. Give God what He deserves. And remember this important reality - our commitment to God is the key to the release of His power in our lives!
Sunday January 13th
“Silver and Gold”
Acts Chapter 3
A lot of people don’t know this, but Beethoven was buried in a church graveyard. A couple days after he was buried, a man was walking through that cemetery when he heard some strange noises coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. The terrified man ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent down close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. The priest ran and got the choir director.
When the choir director arrived, he bent his ear down close to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, "Ah, yes, that's Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but it’s being played backwards."
He listened a while longer, and said, "yes, there's the Eighth Symphony, and it's playing backwards, too. Most puzzling." He kept listening; "There's the Seventh... the Sixth... the Fifth...all in reverse!"
Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the man; he stood up and announced, "There's nothing to worry about. It's just Beethoven decomposing."
Speaking of graves…
In Moscow, Vladimir Lenin’s body is kept in a crystal casket. The inscription on the casket reads: “He was the greatest leader of all peoples, of all countries, of all times.
He was the lord of the new humanity.
He was the savior of the world.”
There are two things we can be sure of regarding this inscription. One is that Lenin wasn’t the lord of humanity or the savior of the world, because he’s dead, and his body is still in its tomb.
The other thing we can be sure of is that Jesus Christ is the true lord and savior of the world, who defeated death for us all, which is why His tomb is empty!
And as we read through Acts chapter 3 this morning, we will see the power of the true risen savior being poured out through His earthly representatives, the church that He established.
In verses 1 through 10 we read about a visit of Peter and John to the temple, where the power of the risen Lord heals a man who had been lame from birth.
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every
day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Peter’s words must have sounded disappointing to the beggar when he said “Silver and gold I do not have”
Perhaps the beggar wondered, “Well then, what good are you if you don’t have any money to give me?”
But then Peter continued, “What I have I give you”!
And what he had was worth a lot more than money! He took the man by the hand, lifted him up, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, he healed him.
There is a great lesson in this story.
As Christians, we are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment”
Let me repeat that: We are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment” and not wait for a greater opportunity or for a better time when we might have more abilities or resources.
Because money isn’t everything! Too often people think that that giving money is the only way to help a person in need. But here we see a story that clearly demonstrates that money was not the most important thing Peter had to offer.
Peter said, “Silver and Gold I do not have” and then proceeded to be used by God to work a miracle.
Whether we talk in terms of money, talents, abilities or gifts, we must all answer the same question, “What do I have to offer right now?” And another question quickly follows: “Am I willing to give myself – including my finances, my talents, abilities and gifts – to be used any way that God sees fit?”
How else will the world know that Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives?
When we read about this particular encounter we must realize that we are also faced with cripples every day – an entire crippled society – and they need the power of Jesus to set them free just as much as this lame man did.
Our Society has crippled morals, crippled marriages and crippled relationships.
Our world is crippled by perversion and pornography.
Lives are crippled by alcohol and drug abuse.
People are crippled with negative attitudes, anger, hate, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Only Jesus Christ can bring the healing they need.
The truth is that all of us, prior to knowing Christ, were crippled and in need of healing.
Romans 3:23 says “All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
Isaiah 53:6 says “All are like sheep who have gone astray, we have turned, every one to their own way.”
We are dead spiritually and the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 13:3 state “Unless we repent we will perish”.
Like the lame man at the gate, we are helpless and powerless, spiritually crippled without Christ.
Salvation is our most basic need.
Verse 6 says that Peter healed the lame man,
“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:14 was “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.
The answer to our crippled generation is the name of Jesus Christ, not silver or gold or self-help books.
Jesus was given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18). He shared his power with the apostles, and according to Ephesians 1:18-19, all of us as believers share this power:
“18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
If we believe that then everything we do should be done in that spiritual authority.
We have the authority to lead people to salvation.
We have the authority to pray victoriously.
We have the authority to resist the devil and make him flee.
We have the authority to enforce Christ’s victory in our lives and homes and our church and our country.
Spiritual authority shouldn’t be taken lightly; it is intended to be exercised by believers who are filled with the spirit, living cleansed lives, and walking by faith.
Notice how Peter uses this healing to proclaim the power of the risen Christ in verses 11-26
“11While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade.
12When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17"Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.'
24"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.' 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
Peter explains that the miraculous healing of the crippled man was the work of the risen Christ.
And then he uses the attention that the healing has brought to bring conviction and preach salvation. He reminds them that all of us are responsible for Christ’s death because He died in our place. And he points out to them that without the resurrection there’s no hope, no salvation.
He tells them that there is no new life without repentance, but if they turn to God their sins will be blotted out – completely wiped away – and that times of restoration, of refreshment await those who come to God for forgiveness.
And he quotes from Deuteronomy 18 where Moses tells the people of Israel that when the Messiah comes, whoever rejects Him will have to face God’s judgment.
It is a simple message: hear it and be blessed or refuse to hear it and be destroyed!
Responding to Christ’s forgiveness brings untold joy; rejecting him brings spiritual ruin.
The final point that we need to take from this chapter is simply this: that true spiritual power comes through obedience. Without Peter’s obedience to God, the power of the Gospel would not have been shown, the man would still have been lame, and the truth would not have been shared.
In obedience, we allow God to provide opportunities.
Peter and John were walking in obedience - "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple..." What would have happened if they didn’t feel like going to church that day?
Because Peter and John were obedient and went to the temple as God had commanded, they were used by God to perform a miracle.
Peter knew that because he was walking in obedience, he had the power of the name of Jesus.
So he was able to make the bold proclamation,
“Rise up and walk!”
1 John 3:22 states, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight."
There are conditions through which we receive His power - "Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight!”
The key is obedience.
Are we living in the power of Christ because we’re walking in obedience to God’s Word, or are we lacking power because of disobedience?
We can’t expect to receive anything from God if we aren’t following Him and obeying His commandments.
Peter tells the people of Israel that “God desires not only to bless you, but to also make you a blessing to others.” The same is true for each of us.
We can expect the blessings of God to flow through our lives if we completely surrender our hearts to Jesus.
If you’ve never trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, today would be a perfect day to ask Him into your heart. He desires to fill you with His wonderful grace, power, and blessings.
If you are a child of God but have felt defeated because of your lack of obedience, make a new commitment to obey Him today.
Follow His path, be obedient in all things to His Word, and watch God transform your life.
The living savior means there is hope for our crippled world.
Ephesians 2:12 states that without Christ people have “no hope”.
They are spiritually lost, “condemned already” (John 3:18).
Not condemned tomorrow, or next year, not when they die, but now, already condemned, trapped in sin. Christ is their only hope!
But He’s all the hope they need!
Christianity has been described as “One beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
You might not feel like you have a lot to give, but if Jesus has impacted your life in a way that gives you hope, then you can share that hope with others.
Peter didn’t have silver or gold, but he had hope. Jesus had freed him from the crippling grip of shame, and he knew that he could call upon the power of Jesus to help another man out of his crippled state.
In 2 Corinthians 1:4 we are told that…
“He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.”
Whatever you’ve been through, and God has helped you to get through it, you can share that experience, strength, and hope with someone who is going through their own struggles right now.
It’s not silver or gold, but to a person who sees no hope, what you have to share with them is priceless!
Sunday December 30th
It’s been said that life is all about choices. That reminds me of the story of a Frenchman, an Englishman and an American who were exploring the jungle together when they were captured by a fierce tribe.
The tribe’s chief told them, "The bad news is that we're going to kill you, and then we are going to use your skins to build a canoe. The good news is that you each gets to choose how you will die."
The Frenchman said, "I vill take ze poison." The chief gave him some poison; the Frenchman said, "Vive la France!" and drank it.
The Englishman said, "A pistol for me, please." The chief gave him a pistol; the Englishman pointed it at his heart, said, "God save the Queen!" and pulled the trigger.
The American said, "Give me a fork." The chief was puzzled, but he just shrugged and gave him a fork. The American took the fork and started jabbing himself all over – in the stomach, the arms, the legs, the sides, the chest, everywhere. Blood was gushing from every hole.
Finally the chief screamed, "What are you doing?"
The American looked at the chief and said, "Good luck with your canoe, Chief!”
As the book of Joshua comes to a conclusion, there are some important choices that still need to be made.
Chapter 21 wraps up all of the distribution of land among the tribes of Israel, and it ends with these verses:
So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? God keeps all of His promises to the children of Israel. Of course He does! End of story, right? Well, not exactly!
We are going to take a look at chapters 22 and 23 in just a moment, but first I want to jump to the end of chapter 24, with is actually the end of the book of Joshua. Here are the final verses of the entire story:
29 It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.
32 Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
So Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar have all passed on now, and it’s up to a new generation of Israelites to decide whether they are going to continue to follow God.
Earlier in chapter 24 we can see Joshua stating his famous pledge and challenge in verse 15:
“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And then all of the people of Israel replied in verse 18:
“We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
Then Joshua makes this shocking statement in verse 19:
“You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.”
What a downer! Why would he say something like that? Because Joshua knows these people pretty well. He has led them for many years, first alongside Moses and then on his own. He knows how easily they could turn to disobedience and fall away from following God.
If we go back to Chapter 23 we see something that is called Joshua’s Farewell Address. It could also be called Joshua’s Farewell Warning. Verses 1-3 set the scene:
Now it came about after many days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, 2 that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, “I am old, advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you.
Then in verse 14-16 he gives them this solemn reminder:
“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. 15 It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you. 16 When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”
This is a pretty straightforward message for the people –
Because we have followed the Lord and obeyed His commands, we have been blessed by God and have received the fulfillment of all of His promises. But just remember that if you ever become disobedient to God, you will lose out on His blessings and instead you will have to experience His judgment and His wrath.
In Chapter 22 we find out why Joshua was so stern in his warning, and just how quickly and easily these Israelite tribes could move from peace towards chaos:
10 When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. 11 And the sons of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” 12 When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.
All of these tribes have labored together and fought together, side by side, to conquer and inherit the Promised Land. But now, as they are ready to start settling into their newly acquired lands, ten of the tribes get all fired up and ready to attack the tribes of Reuben and Gad. And over what? Because those tribes decided to build an altar on the side of the Jordan River that they didn’t own!
Most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1, which says:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
Well, this situation points out how UN-pleasant it can be when brothers DON’T dwell together in unity!
So then 10 chiefs, one from each of the 10 ticked-off tribes, go to the leaders of Reuben and Gad and they confront them, starting in verse 16:
“Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?
Then in verses 17 through 20 they rant about all of the previous sins against God committed by other Israelites.
Their main point can be summarized by verse 18:
If you rebel against the Lord today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow.
They use Achan, the guy who hid some forbidden stuff in his tent, as an example of what might happen:
20” Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’”
Essentially what’s happening here is that these 10 chiefs are jumping to a MAJORLY wrong conclusion about this altar that their brothers have built. They think it’s a sinful act of rebellion against God, and that it’s going to bring God’s wrath down upon ALL of Israel.
However, that’s not at all what this altar is about. And now the tribes of Reuben and Gad get to explain the real reason why they built the altar, starting in verse 22:
“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the Lord do not save us this day! 23 If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the Lord Himself require it. 24 But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the Lord.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the Lord.’
This is a very interesting and sincere concern. Remember that these two tribes had preferred settling in the land on the East side of the Jordan. They made a deal with Moses, and then renewed the deal with Joshua, that they would help the other 10 tribes conquer the Promised Land, as long as they could return back to the Eastern land when the fighting was over.
So they did their job as promised and then while they were heading back to their lands, a thought hit them – “What if, later on, the descendants of those other 10 tribes look at our descendants over here on the other side of the Jordan river and decide that our tribes aren’t part of Israel anymore because we are separated by the river?”
Then they go on to explain how this altar was designed to prevent that very problem:
26 “Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27 rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.”
The reason that the sons of Reuben and Gad made this altar was NOT for sacrifices! It was a symbolic altar which was meant to remind their descendants, AND the descendants of the other 10 tribes, that they all worshipped the same God! Plain and simple.
Do you remember the old character named Emily Litella, played by Gilda Radner from the show Saturday Night Live? She was an older woman with a hearing problem who would go off on some completely looney rant based upon incorrect information. Like she would say, “What’s all this fuss about violins on television?”
Then, when she would be confronted with the correct information, (it’s violence, not violins) she would say “Oh, that’s very different.” “Never Mind!”
That’s kind of what the chiefs of the 10 tribes said after hearing the truth about the reason for the altar.
30 So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the Lord; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”
32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living. 34 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
Just as Joshua had predicted, the children of Israel almost blew the entire covenant of the Promised Land before they even had a chance to get settled in. And for what reason?
Jealousy, misunderstanding, jumping to conclusions, being too quick to pick a fight before the facts were fully known, assuming the worst about their brothers.
Are these issues still things that we can fall prey to today? Absolutely yes, because we are no less human than these people were.
Can we AVOID falling into these problems? Absolutely yes, because WE have the advantage of learning from THEIR mistakes!
Look at what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
And for emphasis, he adds this in verses 11-13:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
By studying the book of Joshua, we can learn from the example of the mistakes that they made, and we can guard ourselves from making those same mistakes.
Based on the example found in today’s verses, let’s enter 2019 with a renewed determination to avoid judging one another or assuming negative things about each other without finding out all of the facts first.
Do you want to make the coming year one of great blessings? Then listen to these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve…you only need a heart full of grace and a soul regenerated by love.”
Are you ready to have a great year in 2019? Let’s do this together, by loving and serving one another!
Sunday December 16th
I read a story about an investigative journalist who went to Afghanistan and was shocked to discover that the women in that country were made to walk ten paces behind the men. She asked her guide why that was, and he said, "Because they are considered of lesser status." She was really outraged by this but there was nothing she could do about it so she just finished her assignment and went back home.
Several years later she returned on a new assignment to that same region and was surprised to see that the women were now walking ten paces ahead of the men. She turned to her guide and asked, "What has changed since the last time I was here?" The guide answered, "Land mines."
In exploring the relationship between men and women in God’s Kingdom, we’re going to highlight several significant portions of chapters 15 and 17 of Joshua.
Most of chapters 15 through 19 have to do with dividing up the land among the tribes of Israel, and this includes lengthy descriptions of the borders of each tribe’s territory, which we don’t really need to go over word for word. (Unless you enjoy being completely bored)
What we do want to focus on are two specific passages, one from chapter 15 and one from chapter 17.
Laurie is going to take us through the first passage.
Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).
The Lord is a man of war;
The Lord is His name.
16 And Caleb said, “The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter as a wife.” 17 Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it; so he gave him Achsah his daughter as a wife.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.
2 Corinthians 11:2
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
18 It came about that when she came to him, she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. So she alighted from the donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 Then she said, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
One more interesting thing about that story is that the whole thing is repeated word for word in Judges Chapter 1 verses 12-15, which isn’t really a surprise because Othniel became one of the judges over Israel after Joshua died.
The next section, from chapter 17, that we want to look at goes from verse 3 through verse 6:
3 However, Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, only daughters; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. 4 They came near before Eleazar the priest and before Joshua the son of Nun and before the leaders, saying, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.” So according to the command of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers. 5 Thus there fell ten portions to Manasseh, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is beyond the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance among his sons. And the land of Gilead belonged to the rest of the sons of Manasseh.
The daughters of Zelophehad realized that if they didn’t speak up, the land that should have been their inheritance might get divided up among all of the other families. So just like Achsah in chapter 15, they let their voices be heard, and they claim what is rightfully theirs.
This episode is actually a fulfillment of a promise made by God through Moses in Numbers 27:6-7
6 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them.”
In fact, in verse 8 God added that this didn’t just apply to these daughters, it applied to ALL daughters:
8 Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.’
Now I took the time to count, and I found that the words “son” or “sons” occur 61 times throughout chapters 15-19!
So why are we focusing so much on these two little episodes that involve daughters?
I’ll tell you why. Because Galatians 3:28 reminds us that:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Think about this: Every woman who is a part of this church is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s mother, somebody’s wife, somebody’s niece, or somebody’s granddaughter. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
I want to share another quote with you as well. This is actually a quote from me!
It’s from an article in the Press of Atlantic City back on September 22nd, when they interviewed Pastor Josh and me for the 40th anniversary of the church.
The interviewer had asked me how the church had changed over the course of the 40 years. My answer was this:
“There is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that said 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. That is not true at Praise Tabernacle. I believe that’s a work of God, and that He is pleased by that.”
I want to tell you for certain here this morning that God loves all of His children equally.
It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Hispanic or Asian, rich or poor, male or female.
God loves His sons and He loves His daughters.
He has an inheritance to give to each one of us – an inheritance of blessings – an inheritance of gifts and talents – an inheritance of callings and ministries.
He wants to give us the upper springs and the lower springs. He wants to give us the fullness of what Jesus Christ purchased for us with His own blood.
Ladies, aren’t you glad today that God has such wonderful blessings to pour out upon the men of this church? Don’t you want to see them walking in the fullness of those blessings?
And men, aren’t you glad today that God has such wonderful blessings to pour out upon the women of this church? Don’t you want to see them walking in the fullness of those blessings?
You see, God has a wonderful plan for this church, and each one of us has a part in seeing that plan fulfilled.
Let’s rejoice today in the fact that God has called ALL of us to fulfill our part in His plan, and that we are called to do it together!