Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Social Network Christmas

In our Christmas Eve service, we are going to show Igniter Media's new video "A Social Network Christmas." It appears that this video has gone viral. (Conan O'Brien may have mentioned it in one of his recent shows.) Hopefully most people attending our service will see it for the first time on Christmas Eve.

A Social Network Christmas from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Exaltation of Jesus

Part 4 of Born to Die

AMAZING LOVE

The suffering of the Servant proves that God loves us. How? First, the cross was planned by the Father. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (v. 10a). If you are a parent, imagine sacrificing your child for the benefit of others. Could you do it? Honestly, I don't know how I could do it.

Immediately after the sin of Adam and Eve, God began to reveal His plan of salvation. He said to Satan (after He had tempted Eve to sin), "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). This prophecy is sometimes called the protoevangelium, which means "first gospel." Many Christians believe the reference to "her Seed" looks beyond Adam and Eve to Mary and Jesus. The seed of the woman (Jesus) would crush the head of Satan. It's as if God was saying to Satan, "You’ll do something bad to Him, but He’ll do something worse to you!" Satan, through the wicked actions of man, would bruise the Savior's heel, but through the cross, Satan's head would be crushed (his doom would be sealed).

After His resurrection, Jesus said to two of His followers, "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). Peter spoke of the necessity of the suffering of Christ when he declared 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).

Second, the cross brought satisfaction to Christ. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied (v. 11a). The sacrifice of Christ was for God’s glory and our good. This is the reason for Jesus' satisfaction.

In verses 10-12, we find six reasons why Jesus died for us. (1) He died to act as our substitute. He bore the sin of many (v. 12). (2) He died to act as our mediator. [He] makes intercession for the transgressors (v. 12). (3) He died to make us innocent before God. By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous (v. 11). (4) He died to make us children of God. He shall see his offspring (v. 10). (5) He died to conquer death for us. He shall prolong his days (v. 10). The apostle Paul may have been thinking of Isaiah 53 when he wrote, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). (6) He died to share His victory with us. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong (v. 12). The imagery is that of a conqueror sharing his victory with his allies. "Therefore" reminds us of the "therefore" in Philippians 2:9: "Therefore God has highly exalted him." In Isaiah 53, Jesus is "a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (v. 7). But in the book of Revelation, He is the Lamb on the throne of heaven (5:6).

Jesus’ enemies accused Him of being a "friend of sinners" (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). But if He wasn’t a friend of sinners, there would be no hope for us. Jesus was identified with sinners ("numbered with the transgressors"), died for sinners ("bore the sin of many"), and intercedes for sinners ("makes intercession for the transgressors"). From the cross, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

To the people of His day, Jesus was was seen as a failure. His life ended in crucifixion. They assumed that He had lived a futile life. But in reality, His life was the most fruitful life ever lived. Verse 10 says He will have many descendants ("he shall see his offspring"); He will live a long life ("he shall prolong his days"); and He will accomplish God’s plan for His life ("the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand").

THE PERFECT GIFT

Christmas gifts usually only provide temporary joy. A few years ago, my wife and I bought a digital camera for around $300. A couple of days later, it was dropped and broken.

No Christmas gift can compare to the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. What should we do with this perfect gift? (1) Accept it. (2) Share it. (3) Cherish it. Be devoted to Giver of salvation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Humiliation of Jesus




















Part 3 of Born to Die


MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (v. 7).

How was Jesus like a lamb? First, a lamb is an animal of submission. A lamb is quietly "led to the slaughter" because it doesn't know what is going to happen. Jesus, on the other hand, was not an unwilling victim. Luke 9:51 says, "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). Jesus knew that He would be crucified in Jerusalem, but He went there anyway.

When Jesus stood before the high priest, Pilate, and Herod, He did not try to defend Himself. "And the high priest stood up and said, 'Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent'"” (Matthew 26:62-63a). "And Pilate again asked him, 'Have you an answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.' But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed" (Mark 15:4-5). "When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer" (Luke 23:8-9).

Second, a lamb was an animal of sacrifice. The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

In Genesis 22, God told Abraham, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering" (v. 2). As Abraham and his son Isaac were traveling, Isaac asked, "Where is the lamb?" (Genesis 22:7). He was unaware that God had told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Once they arrived at the place for the offering, Abraham revealed to Isaac the sad news. Isaac was placed on the altar, but just as Abraham was about to kill his son, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (v. 12). Then "Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son" (v. 13).

Abraham's son was spared, but God's Son was not. "For God so loved, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Jesus is the provided lamb who took our place on the cross. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he declared, "Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

THE DEATH OF THE SUFFERING SERVANT

Verses 7-9 foretell the unjust suffering of the Servant:
  • His trial. By oppression and judgment he was taken away (v. 8a; also v. 7).
  • His execution. And as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (v. 8b). "And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his life" (Mark 15:27).
  • His burial. And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death (v. 9a). "When it was the evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away" (Matthew 27:57-60).
  • His innocence. Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit found in his mouth (v. 9b). He was innocent both in deed and in word. "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:22-23).

THE TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

What is the true spirit of Christmas? The word "spirit" can mean "a special attitude or frame of mind." The apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5 NIV). What is the "attitude" of Christ 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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (vv. 6-8). Jesus allowed Himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter so that He could die for our sins.

At the core of sinfulness is self-centeredness. We want to be praised and pleased. But Jesus was humiliated and crucified...willingly.

The true spirit of Christmas is humble self-sacrifice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Substitution of Jesus

Part 2 of Born to Die




















THE SERVANT: ISRAEL OR JESUS?


Christians and Jews disagree on the identity of the Servant in Isaiah 53. Christians believe that the Servant is Jesus. Jews believe that the Servant is Israel. Here are three of their arguments against Jesus being the Servant: (1) The Servant is "despised and rejected" (v. 3), but Jesus was popular. Jesus was popular with the common people but never with the Jewish authorities. Eventually, His popularity faded and the people of Jerusalem cried, "Crucify him!" (2) The Servant "shall see his offspring" (v. 10), but Jesus died childless. Of course, Jesus didn't have any physical children, but through faith in Him we become the spiritual children of God. "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12). (3) The Servant "shall prolong his days" (v. 10), but Jesus died young. Christians see the prolonging of the Servant's days as a hint of the resurrection.

THE MISUNDERSTOOD SERVANT

The Servant was misunderstood in two ways. First, His identity was misunderstood. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (v. 3). The Jews were expecting someone like David. David was "handsome" (1 Samuel 16:12). He was famous for killing Goliath. Jesus did not meet their expectations for the Messiah. Second, His suffering was misunderstood. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (v. 4). (Note the repetition of "sorrows," "griefs," and "esteemed" in verses 3 and 4.) To the Jews, Jesus' death on the cross was clear-cut proof that He was not the Messiah. How could God allow His chosen one to die in this way? Paul wrote,
"Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). While Jesus hung on the cross, His enemies mocked Him, saying, "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe" (Mark 15:32). Was Jesus punished by God (see v. 10a)? Yes, but not for His sin—Jesus was sinless (see v. 9b). He was punished for our sin.

OUR SIN, OUR SUBSTITUTE

Isaiah 53 is often called the "gospel in the Old Testament." Verses 4-6 give us the two core truths of the gospel (the bad news and the good news). First, every single one of us is a sinner. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way (v. 6a). It's often said, "People are basically good." But God says we are all sinners. Second, Christ died in our place. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4a). But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (v. 5). And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (v. 6b). Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; cf. Matthew 20:28). In the original Greek, the word "for" (anti) means "instead of" or "in place of." Jesus is the "good shepherd" who "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). He is the shepherd who searches for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). "When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Our sin was "laid on him," like the sin of Israel was laid on the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:20-22).

Paul might have been thinking of this passage in Isaiah 53 when he wrote, "For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter wrote, "He himself bore our ins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:24-25).

How should we respond to the substitutionary death of Jesus? "Die to sin and live to righteousness."

What Did Jesus Say About Himself?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Jesus, but what did Jesus say about Himself? Here are a few claims Jesus made about Himself.
  1. Jesus said He is eternal. Jesus once said to His enemies, "Before Abraham was, I am!" Their reaction? "At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds" (John 8:58-59). By calling Himself "I am," Jesus was claiming to be the same God who revealed Himself by the name "I am" some fourteen hundred years earlier when He spoke to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).
  2. Jesus said He is sinless. The old saying goes, "Nobody is perfect." But Jesus claimed to be perfect. He once asked, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8:46a). "In him is no sin" (1 John 3:5).
  3. Jesus said He can forgive sin. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.' Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" (Mark 2:5-7).
  4. Jesus said He has power over death. "Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple [body], and I will raise it again in three days'" (John 2:19, cf. vv. 21-22).
  5. Jesus said He is the Son of Man. In the Gospels, Jesus refers to Himself as "the Son of Man" over eighty times. This title was taken from the book of Daniel. "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14). "The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.' 'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say unto you. In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'He has spoken blasphemy!'" (Matthew 26:63b-65a).
  6. Jesus said He is equal with God the Father. "'I and the Father are one.' Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?' 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God'" (John 10:30-33). So why did Jesus say, "The Father is greater than I" (John 14:28)? He is equal to the Father, but when He came to earth, He came as a servant to do the Father’s will (Philippians 2:6-7).
  7. Jesus said He is the only way to heaven. Jesus declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

God with Us

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:22-23; cf. Isaiah 7:14).

The Bible presents Jesus as being fully God and fully man in one person. Theologians call this doctrine the hypostatic union. Two complete natures are united in one person.
  • Jesus is God the Son.
  • Jesus was always God.
  • Jesus became human.
In the opening chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus is called "the Word." In verses 1 and 14, John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

When John wrote his first epistle (probably between A.D. 85 and 95), a false teaching was circulating in the church, which claimed that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body. This heresy became known as docetism. (The word "docetism" comes from the Greek word dokeo, shich means "to seem" or "to appear to be.") This false teaching about Jesus was what led John to write, "Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist" (1 John 4:2-3; cf. 2 John 7). John understood that to deny that Jesus had come in the flesh was to deny something at the very heart of Christianity (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 540).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Quiz

Here's a little quiz to see how well you know the biblical account of Jesus' birth.

QUESTIONS

  1. On what kind of animal did Mary ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem?
  2. What did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph?
  3. How long was Mary in Bethlehem before she gave birth?
  4. Where in Bethlehem was Jesus born?
  5. How much did baby Jesus cry?
  6. How many angels were present at Jesus' birth?
  7. How many kings came to pay tribute to baby Jesus?
  8. What time was it when the wise men showed up on the night of Jesus' birth?
ANSWERS
  1. A donkey? The Bible doesn't say. Luke 2:4 simply says they "went" from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
  2. Luke 2:7 says, "There was no room for them in the inn," but no innkeeper is mentioned. Actually, the Greek word for "inn" can be translated "guest room" (Luke 22:11). So the "inn" was probably very different from our present day motels.
  3. People usually assume that Jesus was born on the first night Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem. But Luke 2:6 states, "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born." We are not told how long they had been there.
  4. Most people think Jesus was born in a stable. However, there is no mention of a stable. We do read that Jesus was "placed in a manger" (Luke 2:7). A manger was a feeding trough for animals, so wherever Jesus was born, animals were present.
  5. The song "Away in a Manger" says, "The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes." But if Jesus cried as an adult (John 11:35), surely He cried as a baby.
  6. Angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, but we don't read that any angels were visible at the place of Jesus' birth.
  7. First, they were not "kings"; they were "magi" or "wise men." Second, though tradition says that there were three wise men, the Bible doesn't give us a number. We only know that they gave Jesus three gifts.
  8. Most nativity scenes have the wise men present on the night of Jesus' birth. Actually, they probably arrived in Bethlehem some time later. Matthew 2:11 says they found the "child" (not baby) Jesus in a "house" (not outside).

Retooning the Nativity from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Movies

OK, two of my favorites might not be actual "movies," but I didn't want to call this post "My Favorite Christmas Movies/TV Specials."
  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
  2. It's a Wonderful Life
  3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
  4. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  5. Home Alone
Check out a couple of memorable moments below.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Virgin Birth

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town of Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”


“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”


The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”


“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her
(Luke 1:26-38).

Here is what the Bible tell us about the virgin birth of Jesus:
  • Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother Mary. Mary contributed to Jesus exactly what any human mother contributes to her child. He was “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb” (Luke 1:42 ESV). David Mathis writes, “Some theologians have stressed that the main significance is virginity in conception, not birth, and so offer the more precise term virgin conception. This may be helpful in capturing the key emphasis, but we likely are in no need of a new term because Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph ‘had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son.’ Mary was a virgin at Jesus’ conception, and she was still a virgin at his birth.” (For more on the virgin birth, read Mathis's blog post “The Virgin Birth”.).
  • Jesus was conceived by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s humanness was not created ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), but ex Maria (“out of Mary”). As Adam was made from “the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7), Jesus was made from the substance of Mary. Jesus is called the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). His humanity was a new creation in the womb of Mary.
  • Jesus was conceived without a human father. Luke writes, “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). Galatians 4:4 states, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” After Adam and Eve's sin, God said to Satan, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). This prophecy is sometimes called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.” Many Christians believe the reference to “her Seed” looks beyond Adam and Eve to Mary and Jesus. The seed of the woman (Jesus) would crush the head of Satan.
Donald MacLeod writes, “The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the New Testament, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further” (The Person of Christ, p. 37)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What About Mary?

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:34-35a).

What is the truth about Mary, the mother of Jesus?
  • Mary did not have sexual relations with God. Mormons believe that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary, but the Bible never says this.
  • Mary had a normal delivery. Though Jesus was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit, He was born the same way all human babies are born.
  • Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Matthew 1:25 says, “[Joseph] had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son.” The words “until she gave birth” imply that Joseph did have sexual relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Also, in Luke 2:7, Jesus is described as Mary’s “firstborn” child, which suggests that she had additional children. The New Testament repeatedly makes this claim (Matthew 12:46-50; 13:55-57; Mark 3:31-35; 6:3-4; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19). Jesus conception was unique; the conception of His brothers and sisters was ordinary. Finally, God designed marriage to include physical union (Genesis 3:24). Paul writes that not fulfilling one’s “marital duty” (under normal circumstances) is wrong (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
  • Mary was not sinless. Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the idea that she was born without any stain of original sin. However, Mary herself declared, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). A sinless person does not need a Savior.
  • Mary deserves our gratitude, not our adoration.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Rejection of Jesus



Part 1 of a Born to Die




















THE IDENTITY OF THE SUFFERING SERVANT


This week I caught a few minutes of Oprah’s Favorite Things episode. You have probably seen one of these episodes. Oprah reveals all of her favorite things and gives them for free to ecstatic audience members. This year’s list of Favorite Things included a 7-day cruise, a 52-inch 3D television, and a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. Obviously, these are very nice things and it’s always nice to get free stuff, but isn’t it true that these things can only bring temporary joy? As I watched the excitement of the studio audience, I thought of the indifference many people show toward the message of Jesus Christ. If we get excited about anything, we should get excited that Jesus came to earth to give us lasting joy. He was born to die for our salvation.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the fourth and final Servant Song in the book of Isaiah. Who is the suffering servant in this passage? (Judaism believes that Israel is the servant.)

The suffering servant is Jesus Christ.

  • “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  • “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what was written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37). The book of Isaiah was written about 700 years before the birth of Jesus.
  • “Now the passage of the Scripture that [the Ethiopian eunuch] was reading was this: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth?’ And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:32-35).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
  • “Isaiah said these things because he saw [Jesus'] glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41; see also vv. 36b-40). Isaiah 53:1 is quoted in verse 38.

A SHOCKING SAVIOR


The suffering servant is shocking in two ways:
  • His exaltation is shocking. Behold, my servant shall act wisely [prosper]; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted (52:13). In three other verses in Isaiah, God is described as being “high and lifted up”: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (6:1). “‘Now I will arise,’ says the Lord, ‘now I will lift myself up’” (33:10). “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (57:15). Conclusion: the suffering servant (Jesus) is God (“high and lifted up”) who became a man (John 1:1, 14).
  • His disfigurement is shocking. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle [startle] many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand (52:14-15). Philippians 2:5-11 declares that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a servant and was willing to die for us on a cross. But after His humiliation, He was exalted, and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

A DISAPPOINTING SAVIOR


Isaiah 52:10 declares, “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The “arm of the LORD” is God’s power in action (50:2; 51:5, 9). Israel failed to recognize the “arm of the LORD” when it was revealed to them. They didn’t believe that salvation could be accomplished by the suffering servant.
  • He was unexpected. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (53:1). Israel was expecting a glorious king or a mighty warrior, not a suffering servant. This is probably why the people of Bethlehem were amazed at the shepherd's news of the Messiah's humble birth. They were expecting something more. “And all who heard [the shepherd’s news] wondered [were amazed, astonished] at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:19).
  • He was unimpressive. For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him (53:2). Jesus was an ordinary looking man. The people of his hometown thought it was crazy when He claimed to have been sent to them from heaven. “[The people of Nazareth] said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’”
  • He was unwanted. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. And as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (53:3). Jesus was dismissed as nothing special.
There are two great contrasts in this passage: (1) the contrast between the Servant’s suffering and His exaltation and (2) the contrast between people’s perception of the Servant and His true identity.

THE SEASON OF GIVING

In this first part of this Servant Song, we are shocked at the depths to which the Savior falls. But in the end, we will be overcome with gratitude that His sufferings were for us (vv. 4-6).

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Think about what Jesus gave up when He came to earth. What are you willing to give up for God and others?

Leaving Home for Christmas

People like to go home for Christmas. (We're planning on going home to New Brunswick the day after Christmas.) Many of the favorite Christmas songs talk about going home for Christmas.

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree


Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays

'Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways

For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home!


But Christmas is really about leaving home. That's what Jesus did. Christ traded His throne in heaven for a manger in Bethlehem. He exchanged the praise of angels for the mocking of His enemies. He gave up the glory of heaven for the agony and humiliation of the cross.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich [spiritually]" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The McLeods' Countdown to Christmas

Starting December 1st, I am going to attempt to add a new post to this blog each day as I count down the days until Christmas. Right now, I thought I would share a few things our family is doing this year to celebrate Christmas.

A couple of years ago my wife Marsha made an Advent calendar (see picture). There are 25 little pockets on the calendar, and in each of these pockets we put candy. Every morning from December 1st to Christmas Day, our two boys, Connor and Cohen, will enjoy the candy for that day. (Our daughter Sophie, who is six months old, will have to wait until next year to participate.)

This year I decided to add a new tradition to our Advent calender. Not only will there be candy each day, but also a Christmas Bible verse. I was pleased that my boys thought this was a good idea. It's a simple way to remind our children of the real meaning of Christmas. (If you are interested, I could email you a document containing these verses.)

We also bought a Lego Advent Calendar. (Just what we need...more Lego!) When we finally decided we wanted to get one, I thought they might have been completely sold out. But I was happy to find at a local Zellers store what might have been the last available Lego Advent Calendar (at least in the city of Halifax).

Right now we are in the process of making a Silent Night Nativity display. Marsha ordered the pattern online and traced it on a piece of plywood. Last Saturday I cut it out, and Marsha just started painting it a minute ago. Hopefully, we'll have it out on our front yard sometime this week.

Next year, I think I might expand the display (possibly adding some shepherds). Plus, I might build a sign to display a Bible verse (maybe Luke 2:11). Then I thought of a really ambitious idea. During the new year I might make a website that will explain the truth about who Jesus is and why He came to earth. Then on my Bible verse sign I will include the address to this site. This would be an attempt to share the message of Christ with my neighbors.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do You Have Room for Jesus?

When Jesus came to earth, there was no room for Him in most people's lives:
  • The people of Bethlehem: 2:7) "And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).
  • Herod: "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed" (Matthew 2:3). "Herod is going to search for the child to kill him" (v. 13).
  • The religious leaders: "When [Herod] had called all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they replied" (Matthew 2:4-5). Bethlehem was only a short distance from Jerusalem. Why didn't they go?
  • The people of Nazareth: "They said, 'Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I came down from heaven"?'" (John 6:42).
  • The people of Jerusalem: "'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' asked the governor. 'Barabbas,' they answered. 'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' 'Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'" (Matthew 27:21-23).
Why do people today not have any room in their lives for Jesus? Some people (like Herod) are actively opposed to Jesus. Some people (like the people of Nazareth) don’t really understand who Jesus is. Some people (like the people of Bethlehem) are preoccupied with other things they think are more important.

If it is true, as the Bible says, that salvation is found only through faith in Jesus, then we must make room for Him in our lives.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jesus: A Good Man or the God-Man?

What does the name "Jesus Christ" mean? “Jesus” (Greek) is equivalent to “Joshua” (Hebrew) and means “the LORD saves.” The angel instructed Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “Christ” (Greek) is equivalent to “Messiah” (Hebrew) and means “the anointed one” or "the chosen one." He was the one chosen to be the world's Savior.

It seems everyone has an opinion about Jesus:
  • John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock and roll or Christianity.”
  • Mikhail Gorbachev: “Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.”
  • Oprah Winfrey: “Jesus cannot be the only way to God.”
  • Liberal Christianity: Jesus was a good man, but not the God-man.
  • Islam: Jesus was merely a man and a prophet and was inferior to Muhammad.
  • Judaism: Jesus was a false messiah.
  • Mormonism: Jesus was only a man who became one of many gods.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: Before Jesus lived on earth, he was Michael the archangel.
  • The Da Vinci Code: The deity of Jesus is an idea the church created later.
  • Jesus’ enemies: “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).
  • John, the apostle: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).
  • Paul, the apostle: “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!” (Romans 9:5).
  • Thomas, the apostle: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
  • C. S. Lewis: “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him, ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the sort of thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

--Philippians 2:5-11

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Jesus Is Better Than Santa Claus

Depending on one’s beliefs, either Jesus or Santa Claus is the main character of Christmas. Here are ten reasons why Jesus is better than Santa:
  1. Santa lives at the North Pole. Jesus is everywhere.
  2. Santa rides in a sleigh. Jesus walks on water.
  3. Santa comes but once a year. Jesus is an ever present help.
  4. You have to stand in line to see Santa. Jesus is as close as the mention of His name.
  5. Santa’s little helpers make toys. Jesus makes new life, mends wounded hearts, and builds mansions in heaven.
  6. Santa fills your stocking with goodies. Jesus satisfies your deepest needs.
  7. Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly. Jesus has a heart full of love.
  8. Santa says, “You better not cry.”Jesus says, “Cast all your cares on me for I care for you.”
  9. Santa comes down your chimney uninvited. Jesus stands at your heart’s door and knocks.
  10. Santa puts gifts under your tree. Jesus became our gift and died on a tree.

Jesus and Santa from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Everything Matters



Part 16 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 12:9-14


GOD’S WISDOM

The Preacher’s first and last words in Ecclesiastes are “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2; 12:8). This is his evaluation of “life under the sun.” If all you have is this life, in the end, you have nothing.

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care (v. 9).

Though the wisdom of Ecclesiastes was taught by the Preacher, it originated from God, the “one Shepherd” (v. 11).
  • God’s wisdom contains both pleasing and painful words. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth (v. 10). The Preacher was concerned with not only what he said, but also how he said it. His words were pleasing (artistic): “For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven” (3:1). “Two are better than one” (4:9). “A dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words” (5:3). “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (9:11). His words were also painful: “All is vanity and a striving after wind” (1:14). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (7:20). “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (12:7).
  • God’s wisdom provides correction and stability. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd (v. 11). "Goads" were sharp sticks used to move (not injure) stubborn or wayward cattle. The wisdom of the Bible often corrects us like a goad. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Saul of Tarsus was corrected by the ascended Christ on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14)."Nails" may refer to stakes that secured a shepherd's tent. If we follow the wisdom found in God's Word, our lives will gain stability.
  • God’s wisdom is often incompatible with man’s wisdom. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh (v. 12). There are thousands and thousands of books written and published every year. Many of these books are good. Many of them contradict the truth of Scripture. We don't have the time to read every book out there. We must give priority to the book that God has given us.

THE FINAL WORD

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments (v. 13a).

The book of Ecclesiastes concludes with two commands:
  1. Fear God. Fearing God is a recurring topic in Ecclesiastes (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13).
  2. Keep God's commandments. There is a link between fearing God and keeping His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:1-2; 8:6; 10:12-13; 13:4; 31:12). The attitude of fearing God should result in the action of keeping His commandments.
Why should we fear God and keep His commandments? Two reasons: (1) This is our purpose. For this is the whole duty of man (v. 13b). “For this is man’s all” (NKJV). (2) We will face judgment. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (v. 14). When motivating children to obey, you can use one of two strategies: the threat of punishment or the promise of rewards. (Recently, I motivated my two boys to read by telling them I would give them a penny for every page they read. I called it "pennies for pages.") For the unbeliever, God’s judgment will determine the degree of punishment; for the believer, God’s judgment will determine the amount of rewards.

If there is no God, there is no Judge. If there is no Judge, there is no final judgment. If there is not final judgment, there is no ultimate meaning to life. If there is not ultimate meaning to life, nothing matters. But there is a God. There is a Judge. There is a final judgment. There is ultimate meaning to live. So everything matters!

Two attitudes toward keeping God’s commandments: (1) “I have to obey God” or “I want to obey God.” For example, people often ask, "Is tithing mandated for today, or is it just an Old Testament command?" Others, who believe in tithing, ask, "Do I have to give a tenth of my gross income or my net income?" As Christians, instead of asking "What do I have to give?" we should ask, "How much can I give?" Remember, God didn’t give us 10%. He gave us Jesus.

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

Are you demonstrating your fear of God and love for God by keeping His commandments?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Series: Born to Die

As we near the Christmas season, I am planning a new four-part Christmas sermon series called Born to Die. In this series, I will be preaching on Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the fourth and final Servant Song in the book of Isaiah. Of course, Christians believe that the Suffering Servant in this passage is Jesus Christ, who "bore the sin of many" (v. 12). Jesus once declared, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). As we celebrate Christmas once again, we need to remember why Jesus was born. He was born to die.
  1. The Rejection of Jesus (52:13-53:3)
  2. The Substitution of Jesus (53:4-6)
  3. The Humiliation of Jesus (53:7-9)
  4. The Exaltation of Jesus (53:10-12)
Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,

and shall be exalted.

As many were astonished at you—

his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,

and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—

so shall he sprinkle many nations;

kings shall shut their mouths because of him;

for that which has not been told them they see,

and that which they have not heard they understand.


Who has believed what he has heard from us?

and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.


Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—everyone—to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.


He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is lead to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit found in his mouth.


Yet is was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

The will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Remember Your Creator



A series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 11:7-12:8


SMILE?

This week I watched an old Charlie Chaplin film called Modern Times. In the film, Chaplin’s character struggles to find success and happiness in the modern, industrialized world. Chaplin composed the film’s musical score. The romance theme was later given lyrics (based on the movie’s story) and became the popular song “Smile.” (You may remember it being sung at Michael Jackson’s memorial service by his older brother Jermaine.)
Smile, though your heart is aching;
Smile, even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near,
That’s the time you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you’ll just smile.
To me, “Smile” is a sad song. It tells us to smile, but it doesn’t give us a reason to smile.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher repeatedly tells us that life under the sun is “vanity.” It is frustrating, fleeting, and fragile. Is there a reason to smile?

In today’s passage, God is presented as our Creator. He made us, but we fell into sin. Sin brought death and condemnation. But God wants to re-make us. He provided a way of salvation. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for our sins. Through faith in Him there is eternal life. There is hope. There is a reason to smile.


REJOICE

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity (11:8).

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment (11:9).

“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
  • Rejoice in your years, but remember that death is coming.
  • Rejoice in your youth, but remember that judgment is coming.
“Love God and do as you please.”—Augustine

Young Christians are faced with many important decisions, such as where to go to university, what profession to pursue, and whom to marry. They often worry that their decisions might not be in accordance with God’s will. They wish that there was a Bible verse that would show them exactly what to do. But there isn’t a verse that says, “The girl you should marry is Jennifer.”

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When you delight yourself in the Lord, His desires become your desires. So this means that we can do as Augustine said: “Love God and do as your please.”


REMEMBER

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them” (12:1).

What does it mean to “remember” your Creator. Obviously it means more than to simply think about Him. I believe the Preacher is telling us to live a God-centered life—a life that gives priority to eternal values, not passing pleasures.

1. You can never remember your Creator too soon.

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”—William Shakespeare, Richard II

Some people say, “Age is nothing but a number.” But if you live long enough, eventually you will feel the effects of old age. In verses 3-6, the Preacher lists several of these effects. It is best to remember God at an early age and give our most productive days to Him—before “the days of trouble” (NIV) come and we can’t do what we used to do.

2. But you can remember your Creator too late.

After Adam and Eve committed the first sin, God said to them, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The Preacher urges us to remember our Creator before “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (v. 7).

The apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). As Christians, we can smile because there is hope through faith in Jesus Christ. Our bodies are aging, but our spirits can be renewed each day.

People can forget about their Creator for many different reasons. (1) There is the forgetfulness of ignorance. Some people don’t know about the God of the Bible. If you have young children or grandchildren, it is essential that they are taught about God. This teaching should start in the home. (2) There is the forgetfulness of rejection. Some people don’t want to follow God and choose to go their own way. (3) There is the forgetfulness of preoccupation. In our culture that are so many things that distract us from God. (4) There is the forgetfulness of lukewarmness. Many churchgoing people are “Sunday Christians.” They go to church on Sunday but forget about Him the rest of the week.

The traditional view is that Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes. Solomon remembered God in his youth, but as time passed he forgot about God. “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 11:4). I am sure he was filled with regret.

What is causing you to forget God?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained



Part 14 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 11:1-6


YOU WILL NEVER REAP IF YOU NEVER SOW

Several times in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher states that life is unpredictable. We never know when tragedy might strike. I was reminded of this fact last Sunday afternoon when my Dad phoned and told me that my Mom and sister had been in a car accident. Thankfully, they were not seriously hurt. But judging from the picture of my sister’s badly damaged car, the outcome could have very easily been much worse.

Life is too short to always “play it safe.” In this passage, we find three rules for risk-taking.

1. Take risks boldly but wisely.

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth (vv. 1-2).

When the Preacher says, “Cast your bread upon the waters,” he is probably talking about sea trade. (However, others say that it refers to giving to the poor.) There were risks involved in sea trade: shipwrecks (shipwrecks in Halifax Harbour), piracy, dishonesty, etc.

It’s said, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” So the wise farmer would not put all his grain on one ship. Instead, he would put his grain on seven or eight ships (v. 2). He would diversify.

When people assess risk, they consider the potential loss, the probability of loss, and the potential benefit.

This week we will observe Remembrance Day, a day for remembering men and women who sacrificed their lives serving their country in battle. They knew the potential loss (their lives), but they were willing to take the risk because they valued the potential benefit (freedom for their nation).

We could think also of the risk of Queen Esther: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:14), and the risks of Paul and Barnabas: “Men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). For Esther, Paul, and Barnabas, both the potential loss and the potential benefits were great. The potential loss was death. The potential benefit for Esther was the saving of her people. The potential benefit for Paul and Barnabas was the salvation of many people.

Risk-taking for Christ requires: (1) commitment ("Cast your bread upon the waters"), (2) faith ("for you will find it"), and (3) patience ("after many days").

Hudson Taylor once said, “Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”

What risk is God showing you that you should take? Be bold, but wise. Think of the potential benefits, not just the potential loss.

2. Take risks promptly.

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap (v. 4).

It’s often said that we are living in “uncertain times.” But aren’t we always living in uncertain times? Four times in six verses, the Preacher mentions uncertainty.

Uncertainty leads to inactivity (sins of omission). We are often like a farmer who never sows because he thinks it might be windy or never reaps because he thinks it might rain.

There will never be perfect conditions, but there will always be available excuses. Wayne Gretzky said, “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Fools excuse; wise people repent.

3. Take risks expectantly.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good (v. 6).

Those who don’t try, never succeed. So take a wise, bold risk for Christ. Maybe you’ve taken a risk in the past and failed, and now you’re reluctant to try again. It’s often said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Diversify. William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”


MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES

Again, life is short. We don’t know how long we have in this life. So if God is showing you a risk He wants you to take, don’t procrastinate. Consider the following verses. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17). “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

What can you invest?
  • Your time
  • Your talents
  • Your treasure
Accept the risks; reap the rewards.

We shouldn’t do good just to receive rewards, but God promises that He will reward our labor—some way, somehow.

Don’t hold back in fear; step out in faith.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Be a Fool!



Part 13 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 9:13-10:20


PURSUE WISDOM

Twice in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says that life is crooked (1:15; 7:13). And we need wisdom to navigate through the twists and turns of life. Where can we get this wisdom? From the Bible, God’s book of wisdom. If you’re traveling to New York City, you won’t find a straight road that goes directly there. If you’ve never been there before, you will need a map. The Bible is like a map. It might not give us exact instructions for every personal decision, but it does offer principles of wisdom for daily living. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The wisest decision we can make is to follow the Bible’s way to eternal life through faith in Christ.

In this passage, the Preacher talks about wisdom and folly.
  • Wisdom and folly are not measured by one’s IQ. There are many smart, stupid people in this world. You might know someone who is considered a genius, but lacks common sense. You don’t have to have a high IQ to be considered wise by God’s standards.
  • Wisdom and folly are measured by one’s obedience to God’s Word. The Bible says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). If a person respects God, he or she will want to obey God’s Word, and obedience to God’s Word is the wise way to live. On the other hand, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). The fool says no to God’s wisdom. Is your mind filled with God’s wisdom? Is your heart determined to obey God’s wisdom?
  • Wisdom is valuable, but often unappreciated. "But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard" (9:16). In 9:13-16 we see an example of wisdom: a poor man’s wisdom was able to save his city against a powerful king. It’s sometimes said that “brains are better than brawn.” However, his wisdom was soon forgotten. Recently, there was a story of a group of nuns who were given an old Honus Wagner baseball card. It was badly damaged, and they assumed that it wasn’t worth much. They were surprised to find out that the card could be worth $200,000! Similarly, godly wisdom is valuable yet unappreciated.
  • The loudest voices are often the voices of fools. "The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools" (9:17). For example, the loudest voices in our culture mock the idea of sexual abstinence before marriage. But imagine all of the problems that could be avoided if people just followed this one piece of wisdom from Scripture.

A LITTLE FOLLY, A LOT OF HARM

A little bit of folly can cause a lot of harm. A reputation can be ruined in an instant. A few examples are (1) former President Bill Clinton, (2) actor Tom Cruise, (3) NHLer Patrick Kane.

A moment of folly can tarnish a lifetime of wisdom.

Wisdom is often forgotten, but folly is usually remembered. (Of course, with God there is forgiveness.)

Always be on guard against folly:
  • One foolish person. "Wisdom is better than the weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good" (9:18). It's often said, “One rotten apple spoils the whole bushel.” A foolish person in a group of young people can lead the whole group astray. One foolish person in a church can cause that church to split. First, don’t be that foolish person. Second, avoid that foolish person.
  • One foolish action. "Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor" (10:1). We are all prone to foolishness. We are all sinners by nature. In 10:8-9, the hunter, farmer, stonecutter, and woodcutter are injured due to their own carelessness. Don’t be proud and think that you will never fall into sin, or you will be like the hunter who falls into his own pit.
  • One foolish neglect. "Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks" (10:18). There are sins of commission (bad things we do) and sins of omission (good things we don’t do). James writes, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Are you neglecting to share an encouraging word with someone? Are you neglecting to share the gospel with a friend? Are you neglecting to spend time with your family? Don’t be guilty of foolish neglect.
  • One foolish word. "Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter" (10:20). We still use the expression, “A little bird told me.” Often when we say something foolish (especially in today’s world of email, twitter, and Facebook), people will end up hearing it somehow. Be careful what you say. “The walls have ears.” The Bible contains much wisdom about our words. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). If we need to begin a sentence with the phrase, “I probably shouldn’t say this but…”, then you probably shouldn’t say it! James, writing about our speech, says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5). One foolish word can do great damage.

A HEART OF WISDOM

"A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s to the left" (10:2).

No, this verse has nothing to do with right-wing or left-wing politics. It’s talking about the source of wisdom and foolishness. The source is the heart. Our heart leads us either in the right direction (“the right”) or in the wrong direction (“the left”). Jesus once said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). He also declared, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Again, we need to consult and follow the map, God’s Word. Fill you mind with God’s Word and determine in your heart to follow its wisdom.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Living Life to the Full



Part 12 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 9:1-12


TIME AND CHANCE

What if you knew you were going to die in 30 days? How would your life change? The truth is that each day could be our last, so we should live life to the full.

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him (v. 1).

We don’t know how long we will live, but God knows. Our lives are "in the hand of God."

Remember that the Preacher is making observations about "life under the sun." From the human perspective, we can't tell if God loves us or hates us based on our circumstances since bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Of course, when we read the New Testament, we discover that God proved His love for the world by sending Christ to die on the cross and will accept all who put their faith in Him.

The Preacher makes two observations about life:

1. Life is short.

It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all (vv. 2-3a).

Over and over again in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says that life is "vanity." The Hebrew word for "vanity" (hebel) literally means "vapor." In this passage, "vanity" means "brief" (v. 9). Vapor rising from a tea kettle appears and vanishes quickly. Life is like that. James writes, “What is your life? For you are a mist [vapor] that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). According to one death clock website, I will die on Tuesday, May 16th, 2051. Of course, I could die before that date or after. No one knows, but God. One bumper sticker says, “Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.”

2. Life is unpredictable.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and life birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them (vv. 11-12).

Human ability is not a guarantee of success in life. For example, the winner of the race is not always the most “swift.” We see this in the Olympics. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the gold medal. Sometimes he pulls a muscle or falls down or is disqualified.

Disaster and death often arrive unexpectantly. Here is an example. Bob Cartwright was disappointed when he was unable to accept an invitation to fly to New York with his friend Tyler Stanger and MLB pitcher Cory Lidle for a playoff game between the Yankees and the Tigers. He felt differently when he saw the news that Stanger and Lidle had crashed into an apartment building and died. “I was supposed to be on that plane,” Cartwright said. Yet just one month later Cartwright died in another plane crash, near his mountain home in California (Philip Ryken, Why Everything Matters, pp. 221-222).


LIFE’S PLEASURES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

In light of life’s brevity and unpredictability, how should you live?

1. Enjoy your life!

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun (vv. 7-9).

God wants us to enjoy our food and drink (v. 7). “God has already approved of what you do.” In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve a variety of fruit to eat (Genesis 1:29). We don’t necessarily need to drink wine, but whatever you drink (coffee, tea, etc.), enjoy it. (Once a week I enjoy a cafĂ© mocha at Starbucks.)

God also wants us to enjoy our spouse (v.9). God did not create us to be loners. It was “not good” for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). (While not all of us are married, we all need companionship.) “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4). A wife (or husband) can be a crown or a cancer. To those who are single but looking, choose your husband or wife wisely. Choose someone you can enjoy for a lifetime. However, if your husband or wife is not enjoyable, you are to love him or her (“the wife whom you love”).

Enjoy life’s simple pleasures, not just life’s big events. “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

White garments and oil are symbols of joy (v. 8). (Black garments and ashes are symbols of sorrow.) God made us to not only need these things (food, drink, marriage), but to also enjoy them. The good things of life are not guilty pleasures, but godly pleasures.

Jesus was criticized for enjoying life. He once said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard’” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus attended the wedding at Cana and even turned the water into wine (John 2:1-11). When Jesus knew that “His time was at hand,” He made preparations to share a final meal with His closest friends. The eating and drinking of the Last Supper anticipates the eating and drinking of a future meal with Jesus: the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9) when the bride of Christ (the church) will be clothed in white and eat and drink with Jesus.

If we don’t enjoy God’s gifts, we dishonor the Giver.

Imagine giving your friend an expensive watch and they never use it. You would probably be very disappointed. God wants us to enjoy the blessings He gives us. The Bible doesn’t teach spirituality by abstention.

2. Don’t waste your life!

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (v. 10).

We can apply this verse to our service as believers. We need to avoid three enemies of Christian service: (1) Excuses – “Whatever your hand finds to do.” Do “whatever” you have the opportunity to do, even things you would rather not do. For example, don’t waste opportunities to share your faith with others (pray, prepare, look for opportunities). (2) Procrastination – “Do it.” Turn intentions into actions. Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon on the verse, said, “No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow.” (3) Apathy – “With all your might.” Over time, we often become apathetic. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Death is coming, and then our earthly work will be finished. Work now with your whole heart!


LIFE’S CLOCK

Obviously, there needs to be a balance between enjoying life’s pleasures and fulfilling life’s responsibilities. We are not to be gluttons or drunkards, but we are also not to be workaholics.

On my parents’ kitchen wall, there used to hang a picture containing a poem called “Life’s Clock.”
The clock of life is wound but once,
And on man has the power
To tell just where the hands will stop—
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
As no man can restore.

The present only is our own;
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in tomorrow,
For the clock may then be still.
Life is short and unpredictable. So enjoy your life. But don’t waste your life. Live as if you only have 30 days to live. Live your life to the full.