Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't Be a Miserable Comforter

Part 3 of Why?

Text: Job 2:11-4:8

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7).

What Should We Do or Say? 

In this world, there is lots of suffering. Every second, one person dies in this world. Job is a book about suffering. When people suffer, they ask two questions: (1) Why has this happened to me?; (2) How do I get through this? If one of your friends was going through a time of suffering, and he or she asked you these two questions, how would you answer?

When our friends suffer, we want to bring them comfort. This is what Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—wanted to do. They “made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him” (2:11). But Job’s friends didn’t comfort Job. He eventually said to them, “Miserable comforters are you all” (6:2). We don’t want to be miserable comforters like Job’s friends. What should we say or do to bring comfort to suffering people?

Job's Miserable Comforters

Job’s suffering was so great that he wished he had never been born: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (3:3). Job needed comfort. At first, Job’s friends didn’t say anything: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him” (2:13). But when they finally did speak, what they said didn’t bring comfort to Job.

Eliphaz was the first to counsel Job. He said, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (4:8). Eliphaz believed that Job was reaping what he had sowed. But Eliphaz was wrong. [1] The book of Job begins by telling us that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). What Eliphaz said is what you hear in a lot of churches: “If you just have enough faith, you’ll prosper!”

Tears and Truth

When Elijah the prophet was depressed, he said to God, “Take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4). How did God respond? Before God spoke to the prophet, he sent the angel of the LORD to cook a meal for Elijah (vv. 5-8). People usually need more than just words. What should we say or do to bring comfort to suffering people? 

To bring comfort, we must provide a mixture of tears and truth. [2]

When Lazarus died, his sisters Mary and Martha needed comfort. Jesus gave them truth: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He also gave them tears: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). [3]

Who That Was Innocent Ever Perished? 

Eliphaz said to Job, “Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (4:7). Has an innocent person ever perished? Yes, Jesus. “For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, Jesus proved Eliphaz wrong!

When people go through a time of suffering, they need to know that they are loved. The cross proves to us that God loves us.

Show Them You Love Them

But people who suffer also need to know that their friends love them. Usually, when disaster strikes, what the person needs is not a lecture or pat answers. They need a mixture of tears and truth.

Joseph Bayly was a Christian writer who had three children who died at early ages. In his book The View from a Hearse, Bayly wrote this:
I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealing, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go way. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go. [4]

[1] Jesus corrected his disciples when they asked about a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3).
[2] This thought (and a few others in this sermon) was borrowed from Tim Keller’s sermon “Miserable Comforters.”
[3] By “tears” I don’t mean that we must always literally cry, but we must show genuine concern for those who are suffering. “Weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
[4] Joseph Bayly, The View from a Hearse, 40-41.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Curse God or Trust God?

Part 2 of Why?

Text: Job 2:1-10

You can listen to this sermon here.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (vv. 9-10a). 

Curse God? 

When a Christian suffers, s/he asks, “God, why did you allow this to happen?” The suffering Christian can go from asking that question in faith to asking it in anger.

When suffering comes, there’s the temptation to curse God. That’s what Satan wanted Job to do. That’s what Job’s wife said he should do.

  • “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:11). 
  • “Stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (2:4). 
  • “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (2:9). 
 Job said to his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [i.e., disaster]?” (2:10). But most people would say, “No, Job, you’re the foolish one.”

What a Loving and Sovereign God Can Do

Job’s suffering was great: “Oh that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea” (6:2-3). To curse God would have been the normal response for Job, but it would have been a foolish (i.e., short-sighted) response.

God is able to take something very bad and use it to do something very good. 

God did this with the cross. Peter said to the people of Jerusalem: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). The cross was something very bad, but he used it to do something very good: save us. The crucifixion of Jesus was the worst thing that ever happened, but it was also the best thing that ever happened.

Something Good?

How can something good come out of our suffering? Did something good come out of Job’s suffering? James writes, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job” (James 5:11). If Job hadn’t suffered, he wouldn’t have been remembered. (Just the other day a TV hockey announcer describe a player as having “the patience of Job.”) Job’s faithfulness to God in the midst of suffering has inspired countless people through the centuries.

When we suffer, we have the opportunity to show people that the gospel really does change lives.

When Life Falls Apart  

When life falls apart, why shouldn’t we curse God? First, we shouldn’t curse God because we have proof that he loves us (i.e., the cross). Second, we shouldn’t curse God because God is able to take something very bad and use it to do something very good (e.g., the cross).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I'm Reading - Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition

Miller, Calvin. Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006.

As the title suggests, Miller's book emphasizes the importance of storytelling in preaching. Below are some of my favourite quotes from the book.
...nobody knows better than those who preach that preaching is an art in which a studied, professional sinner tells the less studied sinners how they ought to believe, behave, and serve. Fortunately the office of “preacher” carries with it a common understanding that as long as the preacher speaks for God, he should be heard even if he is a sinner (p. 9). 
To get the job done preaching must be committed to two goals: first it should be passionate and second, fascinating (p. 12). 
Passion can never be genuine unless the preacher owns a burning need for a God-relationship. Zeal must own the herald before the herald can preach it into others (p. 16). 
Great expositors succeed precisely because they refuse to trade honest exposition for congregational popularity. They have never been intrigued by the wonder of becoming mega influences by preaching minisermons (p. 27). 
It is easy to catch the tone of two ideas here. First the word pastor is the most appropriate name for the preacher. Shepherding takes into account a whole range of compassionate skills that belong to the pastor. Shepherds guard, heal, tend, and maybe even shear, when the care of the sheep require it. But of all these activities nothing is more critical than feeding them homiletically.
A second idea inherent in the word pastor is the act of “knowing” them. Jesus makes so much of this idea in John 10. He said that his sheep knew him and he knew them. Who knows all the applications that might be made of this idea, but one thing must be said: we can only preach to them— really preach to them— if we know who they are, the burdens they carry, where they work, and the heaviness of life that has gathered about them (pp. 37-38).  
The difference between a dull lecturer and a glorious preacher is all in the application (p. 50). 
To analyze the central focus of the sermon is to ask ourselves three questions. If any of these three issues go unanswered, some vital function of preaching will not be present. These are not questions that relate properly to sermon preparation. But they are equally important issues if the sermon is to be both biblical and relevant. The questions are these:
Is the sermon about Christ?
Is the sermon about the Bible?
Is the sermon about them (the listeners) and the present moment?
The sermon must arrive at the listener’s hearing through a channel of intensity and interest. The first two of these questions will give the sermon intensity or passion. Without passion, the first two questions will arrive at the listener’s ears as a drone of no importance. The final question is the issue of relevance. Until this last question is answered, sermons inevitably degenerate to boredom because to the hearers such sermons seem to contain no information they need, nor can they apply what the preacher is saying to the “right-now” predicament of their lives (p. 62). 
Spiritual formation is not a destination to which we arrive but a hunger of heart we long to satisfy. I believe preachers have lost a great deal of credibility in the ministry because they project that they are living in a spiritually satisfied state rather than living in a wilderness of hunger for closer intimacy with Christ (p. 75). 
Without application there is no sermon. Application is what gets the Sermon off the Mount, and down in the valley where the toilers live out their days. Once people know what the Bible says, their next questions are: So what? How to? Where do I start? Sermons must take the information they dispense and tell the church what to do with it (p. 79). 
Sample Thesis Statement from Numbers 22: 21– 34
The sermon’s thesis: God expects obedience in every aspect of what he asks of us. How does the thesis relate to the text: The text is an example of how we can stray from honoring God’s commands and therefore dishonor God’s expectations. What is the sermon’s task (its application): This sermon exists to call people from a lackadaisical or disobedient lifestyle back to a walk of faith.
The theme may be contemporized in this way: In the current secularized culture, how does the believer practice godly obedience in the marketplace, classroom, or the arts? (pp. 105-106). 
The thesis tells what the sermon is about and what it set out to do. But the motif is a kind of rhetorical call that keeps the sermon on track. Motifs are best when they are simple, short, and somewhat dramatic (p. 108). 
Propositions give you the information you need to build a life on, and stories motivate you to want to build such a life (p. 134). 
So sermons are remembered only if they contain enough pictures to be stored (p. 145). 
Storytelling is a great teacher for two reasons. First, it keeps the audience listening so they can learn. Second, it is easier to remember once the sermon is over (pp. 147-148). 
Sermons should say one thing (p. 179). 
I'd gives this book a 3.5 out of 5. I thought the part about including a sermon motif --which is repeated throughout the sermon--was helpful.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What I'm Reading - Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Keller, Timothy. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Viking, 2015.

Preaching is not a book that gives detailed steps on how to construct a good sermon (though it does include an appendix on "Writing an Expository Message"). What the book does do is tell us what a good preaching should include (e.g., preaching Christ from all of Scripture).
Sound preaching arises out of two loves--love of the Word of God and love of people--and from them both a desire to show people God's glorious grace (p. 14).
To show how a text fits into its whole canonical context, then, is to show how it points to Christ and gospel salvation, the big idea of the whole Bible (p. 48).
It is crucial in our preaching that we do not simply tell people all the ways they must be moral and good without relating such exhortation to the gospel. Nor should we simply tell them over and over that they can be saved only be free grace without showing how salvation changes our lives (p. 51).
[Contextualization] means to resonate with yet defy the culture around you (p. 99).
Let's lay out six sound practices for preaching to and reaching a culture.
Use accessible or well-explained vocabulary.
Employ respected authorities to strengthen your theses.
Demonstrate an understanding of doubts and objections.
Affirm in order to challenge baseline cultural narratives.
Make gospel offers that push on the culture's pressure points.
Call for gospel motivation (p. 103).
Unless the truth is not only clear but also real to listeners, then people will still fail to obey it. Preaching cannot simply be accurate and sound. It must capture the listeners' interest and imaginations; it must be compelling and penetrate to their hearts (p. 157).
If you want to preach to the heart, you need to preach from the heart (p. 166).
From the appendix on how to write an expository message:
1. Discern the goal of the text by itemizing all the things that it says and looking for the main idea that all the other ideas support.
2.Choose a main theme for the sermon that presents the central idea of the text and ministers to your specific listeners.
3. Develop an outline around the sermon theme that fits the passage, with each point raising insights from the text itself, and has movement toward a climax.
4. Flesh out each point with arguments, illustrations, examples, images, other supportive Bible texts, and, most important, practical application (p. 214).
I'd give this book a 4.5 of of 5. I usually enjoy Keller's writing, and I think in this book would benefit any preacher.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What I'm Reading - Expositional Preaching

Helm, David. Expositional Preaching. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

Expositional Preaching is a small book (only 128 pages) but contains a generous portion of pratical advice for preachers. Below are a few of my favourite quotes from the book.
...contextualization in preaching is communicating the gospel message in ways that are understandable or appropriate to the listener's cultural context. In other words, contextualization is concerned with us and now. it is committed to relevance and application for today... (p. 16).
...the preacher is bound to miss the mark of biblical exposition when he allows the context he is trying to win for Christ control the Word he speaks of Christ (p. 17).
Exegesis is not enough. Done in isolation, exegesis alone can lead to preaching that is either overly intellectual or merely imperatival (p. 57).
While a healthy gospel ministry is always textually drive, it must be contextually informed (v. 87).
...the people are the point! (p. 89).
...those whom Jesus sets apart to proclaim the gospel are those who demonstrate their love for him by loving his church! (p. 90).
Preachers cannot be too simple. We need clarity (p. 98).
Two practical steps can help us with clarity:
State the Text's Theme
Articulate the Author's Aim (p. 99).
When it comes to application, the first thing to be said is that biblical expositors aim for a change of heart. We are not merely looking to apply God's truths to the minds of our listeners, as important as that work is (p. 102).
I'd give this book a 3 out of 5. It's not a top 10 book on preaching, in my opinion, but it's contains some helpful nuggets...and it's a quick read.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Life Falls Apart

Part 1 of Why?

Text: Job 1:1-22

You can listen to this sermon here.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? … But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11). 


Life can go from good to bad in an instant. A phone call, a knock on the door, or a visit to the doctor can change everything. When life falls apart, we ask, “Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why?”

Job was a man whose life fell apart. He lost everything: his wealth, his family, and his health. And most of the book of Job is about Job and his friends asking, “Why?”

Loving God for Just the Benefits?

God said to Satan [1], “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (1:8). Satan wasn’t impressed. He replied, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (1:9). Satan believed that Job loved God because God had blessed him. So he said to God, “[Take away] all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:11). When life falls apart, how is it possible to love God?

Even when life falls apart, we can love God because we have proof that he loves us. 

An Innocent Sufferer

For Job, life was good. He was “the greatest of all the people of the east” (1:3). But there came a day when everything changed. On that awful day, Job was given one piece of devastating news after another: the Sabeans stole his oxen and donkeys (vv. 14-15); fire from heaven killed his sheep (v. 16); the Chaldeans stole his camels (v. 17); and, worst of all, a storm killed his children (vv. 18-19).

Job didn’t understand why his life had fallen apart. He wasn’t reaping what he had sowed. He was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). He was an innocent sufferer.

Why Is There Innocent Suffering?

Job believed that God is sovereign and could have prevented his suffering. In his grief, he declared, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21). If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why did Job suffer? The book of Job doesn’t give us the answer to this question. How can God expect us to love him if he doesn't give us the answer?

The Ultimate Innocent Sufferer

Years later, there lived another blameless and upright man. But his obedience to God didn’t bring him prosperity. Instead, he was betrayed, beaten, and executed. He was once described as “a man of sorrows.” [2] As he was dying, he cried out to God, “Why?” [3]

Who was this man? It was Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate Job. He is the ultimate innocent sufferer.

When our “Why?” questions go unanswered, we should remember what God said to us through the cross.

Through the cross, God says, "I love you." Let’s not forget who Jesus is. Jesus is God in human flesh. (God is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) God “knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.” [4] God chose to become an innocent sufferer. And why did he choose to suffer? He chose to suffer so that one day our suffering would come to an end.

Do You Really Love God? 

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God, his strategy was to get them to doubt God’s love for them: “God doesn’t really love you?” Satan tried the same strategy on God: “Does Job really love you?” God, without wavering, answered, “Yes, he does.” What an honour it would be for God to say the same thing about us!

The cross should convince us that God loves us. If we’re not convinced that God loves us, we’ll probably turn from him when suffering comes into our lives.

[1] There’s lots of speculation about why and how this conversation between God and Satan took place, but this sermon will focus on the conversation itself.
[2] “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).
[3] “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
[4] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 159.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

God Came to Save

Part 3 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: Matthew 1:21

You can listen to this sermon here.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). 

Baby Names

Naming a baby is a big deal! It’s interesting to look back and see and what the most popular baby names were the year before. In Canada, the top names for baby girls in 2014 were (1) Olivia, (2) Maya/Mia/Mya, (3) Sophia/ Sofia, (4) Emma, and (5) Charlotte. The most popular names for baby boys were (1) Liam, (2) William, (3) Jacob, (4) Lucas/Lukas, and (5) Noah. Every year there are unique baby names. Last year in Alberta, babies were named Bandit, Huckleberry, and Thunderboy. 

It’s probably a good thing that the responsibility of naming the baby wasn’t given to Joseph and Mary. Imagine trying to pick a name for a baby conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20)!

The Name "Jesus"

Joseph was told by the angel to “call [the baby’s] name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21). “Jesus” was a common name in those days. Jesus was often called “Jesus of Nazareth” because there were many other men named Jesus. Why the name Jesus? The angel said, “For he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

“Jesus” was a fitting name for someone born to be a Saviour. 

We could replace the word “for” with “because”: “You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (i.e., the LORD) saves.”

God to the Rescue

Psalm 130 promises that God would bring salvation to Israel: “And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (v. 8). How would Jesus “save his people from their sins”? During the Last Supper, Jesus took a cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Jesus would save people through his death on a cross. The New Covenant is a promise that all who trust in his atoning death will be saved (i.e., forgiven of their sins).

Good News of Great Joy!

When something good happens in our lives, we want to share the news with others.

The story of Jesus being born to be our Saviour is news worth sharing! 

The angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). What was the “good news of great joy”? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Why do we often fail to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with others? Do we really consider what Jesus has done for us “good news of great joy”? Or has the story become old to us?



[3] The symbolic use of names is common in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 41:51-52).

[4] In Greek, the name is Iesous, translated “Joshua” in the Old Testament and “Jesus” in the New.

[5] In Luke 1, Zechariah, knowing that the Messiah was soon to be born, exclaimed, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (v. 68).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

God Came to Serve

Part 2 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: Philippians 2:3-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7). 

A Christmas Surprise 

Christmas is a great time for surprises. In the Gospel of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, there are two surprising details. First, Mary “laid [Jesus] in a manger” (Luke 2:7). A manger is a feeding trough. Second, there was “no place for [Joseph, Mary, and Jesus] in the inn [1]” (Luke 2:7).

It’s interesting that both Luke and Matthew mention a king in their accounts of the birth of Jesus (King Herod, Matt. 2:1; Caesar Augustus, Luke 2:1). Herod and Caesar Augustus were nothing compared to Jesus, the King of kings, but Jesus wasn’t welcomed into the world as we would expect him to be.

The apostle Paul tells us something even more surprising about the birth of Jesus: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7).

When God came to earth, he came to serve. 

Nobody expected this! Jesus himself declared that he “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Equal with God

Paul writes that Jesus was fully God and fully man. He “was in the form of God” (v. 6). The Greek word that has been translated “form” is morphe, which refers to “the inner nature or substance of something, not its external or outward shape.” [2] This is why the New International Version reads, “being in very nature God.” Paul also states that Jesus possessed “equality with God” (v. 6). “God” refers to God the Father. If Jesus is equal to God, he must be God. God says, “I am God, and there is none like me” (Isa. 46:9). God is exclusively God.

Paul writes that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). This doesn’t mean that Jesus ceased to be God when he became a man. God can’t cease to be God. “Surely what Paul means is this: Christ being fully God, possessing the very nature of God and being fully equal to God in every respect, did not thereby insist on holding onto all the privileges and benefits of his position of equality with God (the Father) and thereby refuse to accept coming as a man.” [3]

An Act of Unmatched Love and Humility

Then Paul says that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (v. 7). How did he serve us? Paul writes, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8).

The greatest act of service was the death of Jesus on the cross.

Think about the word “even”: “even death on a cross.” Not only was Jesus willing to die for us, but he was also willing to die by crucifixion. The love and humility of Jesus is indescribable. C. S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Two Responses

What should our response be to what Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-8?

1. Our hearts must be moved by the love and humility of Jesus. 

2. We must answer the call to serve. 

Paul urges the Philippians to have the “mind” (i.e., attitude) of Jesus (v. 5). He writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 3-4). Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). What can you do this December to give of yourself to others?

[1] The “inn” could refer to “an ancient inn that would have consisted of a large room in which everyone found a place to lie down wherever they could or to the guest room in a private residence (possibly that of relatives). Either way, there was no room for a birth in the normal place where Joseph and Mary would have expected to find lodging” (Andreas J. Kostenberger, Alexander Stewart, The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation, Kindle locations 2574-2576).
[2] Bruce A. Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, Kindle locations 184-185.
[3] Ibid., Kindle locations 212-214.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Really God

Part 1 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: John 1:1-18

You can listen to this sermon here.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.... No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:1, 14, 18). 

A Surprising Gift 

Did you ever receive a surprising Christmas gift?

People are often surprised when they learn what the Gospels really say about Jesus. In John 1:1-18, John calls Jesus the “Word,” and he makes three surprising statements about the Word: (1) “the Word was God” (v. 1); (2) “the Word became flesh” (v. 14); (3) “[the Word] has made [God] known” (v. 18). “The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man.” [1] The theological term for the birth of Jesus is the “incarnation”—God became incarnate (i.e., embodied in human flesh).

The baby lying in a manger was God in human flesh. 

On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angel said to the shepherds, “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, NASB). Jesus was born for us. It could be said that his birth was the first Christmas gift—God giving himself to us. Now that’s a surprising gift!

Who Is Jesus? 

There is no more important question than the question “Who is Jesus?” If we answer that question incorrectly, we will end up with something less that true Christianity. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (v. 1). How could Jesus both be God and be with God?

John 1:1 is consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity (i.e., God’s three-in-oneness): there is only one God, but there are three persons who are God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). In John 10:30, Jesus declares, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus and the Father are distinct (“I and the Father”), but they are also “one.” His enemies understood what he was claiming (“you, being a man, make yourself God,” John 10:33). 

One of the heresies of ancient church history was Arianism—named after its originator Arius (c. A.D. 250-336). According to Arianism, Jesus did not always exist and was created by God the Father. But v. 3 clearly refutes Arianism: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” [2] There are no new heresies, just old heresies repackaged. We need to know what the Bible says about Jesus so that we might not be deceived by false teaching (e.g., the false teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses [3] and Mormons).

God Made Known

As we express ourselves through words, God expresses himself through the Word. The Word who “was God” (v. 1) “became flesh” (v. 14) and “has made [God] known” (v. 18). [4] Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus was born so that we might know God. 

To “know” God means more than knowing information about God; it also includes having a friendship with God. In his prayer to the Father, Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Two Responses

Baby Jesus was really God! We should have two responses to this amazing truth. First, we should accept the truth about Jesus, which leads to eternal life. He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Second, we should be filled with wonder, which leads to action. Perhaps you could read an Advent devotional this December. The more we are amazed by the story of the birth of Jesus, the more we will be filled with love for God. And love for God leads to obedience to God.

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 58.
[2] Jesus is called the Word partly because God created all things through the power of his word (“And God said,” Gen. 1:1).
[3] In the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation, John 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
[4] “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our father by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Are the Body of Christ

Part 4 of We Are the Church

Text: Romans 12:3-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

"For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Rom. 12:4-5). 

Church Is Not Optional

We’re sometimes guilty of downplaying our Christian duties. It’s sometimes said, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” It’s true that we aren’t saved by going to church, but there’s a clear statement in Scripture that says Christians must meet together: “not neglecting to meet together” (Heb. 10:25). So church isn’t optional.

Watching a church service on TV or the internet is not an acceptable substitute for being a part of a church. The Christian life is meant to be lived alongside other Christians.

Like Parts of a Body

The apostle Paul writes that the church is like a body, and the members of the church are like parts of a body. How are church members like parts of a body? 

1. As all the parts of a body are joined together to make one body, we all are joined together to make one church. 

Paul writes, “We, though many, are one body” (v. 5). We are joined together as one body because we are “in Christ” (v. 5). Faith in Christ unites us not only to Christ, but to one another. But when any group of people get together—even Christians—disagreements happen. We naturally have self-centered hearts. Paul writes, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (v. 3). It’s not all about “me.” The cure for self-centeredness is to remember the gospel—that God saves us by his grace through the death of Christ.

When Paul writes about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, he quotes Jesus saying, “This is my body” (1 Cor. 11:24). He then adds, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29). The “body” in v. 29 is often interpreted as the church (i.e., the body of Christ). When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are to remember Christ’s death for us and we are also to remember that we are to act like Christ within the church (something the Corinthians weren’t doing).

When you start to look down on others, remember the gospel. When you become consumed with your own needs and problems, remember the gospel. When the concerns of others don’t matter to you, remember the gospel. When you are struggling to forgive, remember the gospel. When you start complaining about other people, remember the gospel.

2. As all the parts of a body have different abilities, we all have different spiritual gifts. 

Paul writes that we have “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (v. 6). A spiritual gift is a God-given ability to be used to help others. The apostle Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10). We must have the heart of a servant, not the heart of a consumer. We shouldn’t really use the term “church shopping.” Don’t ask, “What can I get?” Ask, “What can I give?”

Paul adds, “Let us use [our gifts]” (v. 6). Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:14; cf. 2 Tim. 1:6). You might say, “But I don’t know what my gift is!” Just do something. Eventually you’ll discover your gift(s).

3. As a body has one head, we all have one head: Christ. 

Many times there are power struggles within churches. This kind of behaviour is totally opposed to how we are to behave as Christians. The one who is our leader is Christ: “he is the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18). The church is Christ’s church. He’s the one in charge. We follow him. And how does he want us to interact with one another? With humility and love.

We're Better Together

We might sometimes think that we’d be happier if we were on our own and not part of a church. But how could we use our gifts if we were on our own? And how could we benefit from others using their gifts?