Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How Should We Celebrate Christmas?

Part 4 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made know to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heart it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:15-20).


Christmas Traditions 

Every family has its own Christmas traditions. When I was a kid, every Christmas Eve we’d go to our church’s Christmas Eve service and then take a drive to look at the neighborhood Christmas lights. Before we went to bed, we’d eat chips and dip and watch a Christmas movie.

Around the world, there are many unusual Christmas traditions. In Caracus, Venezuela, it is customary to travel to Christmas church services on roller skates. In Italy, a witch named Befana hands out presents to children at Christmas. In Germany, children leave a boot or shoe outside their bedroom door on Dec. 5. If they have been good, a tree branch covered in goodies will be their reward. If they have misbehaved, they will find only a branch. In Norway, it is said that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrive of evil spirits and witches, so households hide all of their brooms before they go to sleep. In Portugal, during the traditional Christmas feast, families will sometimes set extra places at the dinner table for deceased relatives. In Japan, the traditional Christmas dinner for many is Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There are many ways to celebrate Christmas. In Luke 2:15-20, we discover how the original Christmas was celebrated.


Believing in Christmas

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made know to us’” (v. 15). The shepherds believed the message God revealed to them through the angel. The angel had said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).

The Christmas story does us no good unless we believe it. 

The shepherds “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (v. 16). The baby lying in that manger was God in human flesh. Jesus “is God,” and he “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).


Celebrating Christmas 

How should we celebrate Christmas? The shepherds and Mary show us three ways we should celebrate Christmas.

1. Share the good news of Christmas. 

“When [the shepherds] saw [the baby lying in a manger], they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (vv. 17-18). The news of Jesus’ birth was “good news of great joy” (v. 10). A Savior had been born. The news was so amazing that the shepherds couldn’t keep it to themselves.

We also have good news to share—not only the good news of Jesus’ birth, but also the good news of his death and resurrection. But we have many excuses why we don’t share the gospel. One excuse is that we don’t feel qualified. But neither were the shepherds. They were uneducated men.

2. Ponder the miracle of Christmas. 

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (v. 19). We should not let the busyness of Christmas to prevent us from pondering the miracle of the incarnation. Ponder that almighty God became a baby. The one who made the stars slept in a manger. The one who fashioned the earth sucked his thumb. The one who gave life to the human race cried for his mother’s milk. The one who created the fish of the sea, the bird of the air, and the beasts of the earth became vulnerable (cf. Matt. 2:13). Paul writes, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: [Jesus] was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). 

Ponder that God lived life as a human. He learned (“increased in wisdom,” Luke 2:52). He worked. He was tired. He was tempted. He was betrayed. He was mocked. He suffered. He experienced what we experience (without sin). He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15).

3. Worship the God of Christmas. 

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (v. 20). The shepherds returned to their jobs, but they continued to worship God. Worship is not something that is only done on Sunday mornings, it is a way of life.

Christmas Is All About Grace


If I had to sum up Christianity with just one word, I would choose "grace." What is grace? Simply defined, grace is undeserved kindness.

On the night of Jesus' birth, the angel announced to the shepherds, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Jesus was born to be a Savior. His name means "the Lord saves." He was given this name because his mission was to "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

The world needs a Savior because all of us are guilty of sin and deserve eternal condemnation. But God showed us grace (undeserved kindness) by bringing salvation to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christmas is all about grace.

So many people have Christianity backwards. They say, "I obey; therefore I am accepted by God." This is a wrong view of salvation. A Christian saved by grace says, "I am accepted by God through faith in Christ; therefore I obey." To Christians, the apostle Paul wrote these words: "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).

The greatest Christmas gift is the gift of salvation through Jesus. God, in his grace, freely gives this gift to all who will humbly acknowledge their sin and trust in Jesus as their Savior. Have you received God's gift? I urge you to receive it today.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heralded by Angels

Part 3 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14) 


What Is Christmas All About? 

My favorite Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It begins with Charlie Brown depressed about Christmas. He says to Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Finally, as Charlie Brown is trying to direct a Christmas play, he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds by reciting Luke 2:8-14. (Network executives didn’t want Linus to recite Scripture, thinking that viewers wouldn’t like it. But Charles Schulz was determined to keep the scene in, saying, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” (Source: Wikipedia).


Unlike Charlie Brown, most people in Canada know that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. But I think most people miss the significance of his birth. Why does the birth of Jesus matter?


Good News! 

There are many surprising parts to the Christmas story. One surprise is that the first people to be told about Jesus’ birth is a group of lowly shepherds. God cares about ordinary people. These shepherds were “in the same region …out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (v. 8). Imagine the shepherds’ surprise when “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (v. 9). As we would expect, “They were filled with fear” (v. 9).

The angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news” (v. 10). The good news that the angel brought to the shepherds was new “of great joy” (v. 10). (We could contrast the lasting joy of this good news with the temporary joy that most Christmas presents bring.) The angel also said that the good news “will be for all the people” (v. 10)—for all kinds of people. In the Christmas story, Jesus is presented as being born for all sorts of people (the shepherds, the wise men, Mary, Zechariah).

The good news was the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). What day was “this day”? We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but the Bible doesn’t say on what day Jesus was born. The baby Jesus is given three titles: “Savior,” “Christ,” and “Lord.” A “Savior” is a deliverer (cf. 1:47, 69). The “Christ” is the “Messiah,” which means “Anointed One” (cf. Ps. 2:2). “Lord” is a title used for God. “For Luke this title will become the key Christological term to describe Jesus (Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:33-36), and these later texts will define what κυριος means. For now, Luke is content merely to present the term from the angelic announcement and not explain it” (Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, p. 218). 

The angel gives to the shepherds a “sign” (v. 12; cf. 1:19-20, 36): “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). “What is amazing is not that the child is wrapped up, but who the child is and where he is. One hardly expects to find Messiah in an animal room. One would expect a palace…. Messiah’s life will contain an unusual bookend for a king, since he was born in an animal room and will die with robbers” (ibid., p. 219).

After the angel had told the shepherds the good news, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host” (v. 13). A “host” of angels is an army of angels. All of the angels were “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (vv. 13-14). God in heaven is given glory, and people on earth are given peace. “Those with whom [God] is pleased are the elect. It could also be said that they are those who have embraced Christ as Savior.

The good news of Christmas is that a Savior has been born.


What Christmas Is All About 

The angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth should cause us to ask two questions. First, why does the world need a Savior? Second, what kind of peace did Jesus bring to earth?

1. The world needs a Savior because of our sin. 

After Adam and Eve sinned, God said to the serpent (Satan), “I will put enmity between you the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This prophecy is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.”

The woman’s “seed” is Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16). According to biology, a woman does not have a seed, so there is a hint of the virgin birth in Gen. 3:15. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). When we became broken because of sin, God had a plan to put us back together—spiritually. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Because Christ was broken (on the cross) for our sin, we can be put back together.

2. Jesus brought to earth peace between God and man. 

Part of putting us back together is restoring our relationship with God. That relationship was broken because of our sin. But through faith in Jesus, we can receive eternal life. That’s the good news!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Five Favorite Christmas Carols


5. "Angels We Have Heard on High"

Come to Bethlehem, and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ the lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

4. "Silent Night"

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!

3. "What Child Is This?"

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary.

2. "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning,
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv'n; 
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

1. "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing"

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmaunuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Laid in a Manger

Part 2 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).


Christmas Surprises

As a parent, it’s fun to surprise your children on Christmas morning with a gift they aren’t expecting.

There are many surprises in the Christmas story. In Luke 1, there are two surprises: (1) the choice of Mary, a young girl from a small town, to be the mother of the Messiah, and (2) the virgin conception. In Luke 2, we find a few more surprises.


The Humble Birth of Jesus 

About 700 years earlier, the prophet Micah foretold, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. The prophecy was in danger of going unfulfilled. But God used a decree by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) to fulfill Micah’s prophecy (v. 1; cf. Matt. 2:4-6).

The purpose of the “registration” (“census,” NIV) was for people of the empire to register for paying taxes. “In calling the census one of the ‘whole world,’ Luke uses the standard description of any event that covered much of the Roman Empire” (Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, p. 202). The decree required people to be registered in their ancestral homes. Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David” (v. 4; cf. 1:27), so he traveled to Bethlehem, “the city of David” (v. 4) to be registered.

Verse 2 says, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Ancient historian Josephus writes that Quirinius ordered a census in A.D. 6 (cf. Acts 5:37). But both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was born during the time of King Herod (Matt. 2:1; Luke 1:5), who died in 4 B.C. This is a complex issue, but there are reasons to believe that Luke was not wrong about the census. (Darrell Bock in Luke 1:1-9:50 gives a good defense of the historicity of Luke 2:1-2.)

Mary also went with Joseph on the journey to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary were probably married at this time. Perhaps Luke calls her Joseph’s “betrothed” (v. 5) because their marriage was not yet consummated (cf. Matt. 1:25). The virgin Mary was “with child” (v. 5) as a result of the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit (1:34-35), and her baby was due to be born soon. It seems that Mary wanted to be with her husband when the birth took place.

While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, “the time came for [Mary] to give birth” (v. 6). Luke doesn’t give us any details about the delivery of the baby. He simply writes that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger” (v. 7). A manger is a feeding trough for animals. Since Jesus was placed in a manger, he must have been born in a place where animals were kept. It would have been a dirty, smelly place. Some say he was born in a cave. Others say a stable. Jesus was born in a place for animals “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7).

The one who would be King was placed in a manger. 

We could contrast the lack of concern for Mary’s baby with the world’s fascination with “the royal baby”—the unborn baby of Kate Middleton and Prince William.


’Tis the Season to Be Humble 

C. S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” This is what Jesus did. “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” (Phil. 2:6-8). Almighty God became a helpless baby!

The humble birth of Jesus confronts us with our need for humility. 

Paul said to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5, NIV). But humility is very elusive. The moment I congratulate myself for being humble, I have become proud of my humility. So how can we increase our humility?

Humility is the by-product of marveling in the grace of God. 

In Luke 1:46-55 (a passage known as the “Magnificent”), Mary thanks God for what he is going to do in her life. She begins her song of praise by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:46-47). We will never understand the grace of God until we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus came to be our Savior. On the night of his birth, the angel said to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11). The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” The angel told Joseph that he was to name Mary’s son Jesus because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus can never be my Savior until I humbly acknowledge my need of salvation.

Mary marveled that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. She said, “God has looked on the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:48-49). Jesus was born so that God could do “great things for me.” For me! Jesus humbled himself so that he could bring me salvation. It wasn’t that he had to do it. He was glad to do it. The grace of God is surprising. It is this grace that leads us to salvation and inspires us to live with humility.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Born of Mary

Part 1 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

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

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).


The Virgin's Name Was Mary

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God” to tell Mary that she would soon give birth to a son. Gabriel had also been sent inform Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would have a son (1:19; cf. Dan. 8:15-16; 9:21). “The sixth month” refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (1:24). Luke provides a few details about Mary.

First, Mary was from Nazareth. Nazareth was “a city of Galilee” (v. 26). In that day, Nazareth was a small town of no more than 2,000 people. Luke probably adds that Nazareth is in Galilee because most of his readers wouldn’t know where it was. When Nathanael was told that Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46; cf. 7:41).

Second, Mary was a virgin. Since Mary was a “virgin” (v. 27; cf. Matt. 1:23), she could have been as young as twelve.

Third, Mary was engaged. She was “betrothed to a man named Joseph” (v. 27; cf. Matt. 1:18). Unlike our marriage engagements, Jewish betrothal was a legally binding contract and could only be broken by divorce (cf. Matt. 1:19). Luke adds that Joseph was “of the house of David” (v. 27).

Fourth, Mary was shown grace. The angel addressed Mary as “favored one” (v. 28). And he later said, “You have found favor with God” (v. 30). To find favor in God’s eyes means to be a recipient of God’s grace. By his grace, God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus. (The Catholic translation is misleading: “Hail, full of grace.” Mary is not the bestower of grace.)


You Shall Call His Name Jesus

Gabriel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (v. 31). The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” The child was to be given this name because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Mary was given several promises about her firstborn son.

First, Mary’s son would a great King. The angel said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (vv. 32-33). Centuries earlier, God had promised David, “Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:14; cf. 1 Chron. 17:11-14). Jesus is presently reigning as head of the church and will one day return as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Second, Mary’s son would be miraculously conceived. Mary did understand how a child could be conceived in her womb while she was a virgin. She asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34). The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (v. 35; cf. 3:23).

Third, Mary’s son would be holy. The angel declared, “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (v. 35). “Holy” could signify that Jesus was set apart for a special mission. Or it could mean that the virgin birth prevented him from inheriting a sinful nature.


An Example of Faith

God used an ordinary girl from a small town to bring Jesus into our world. God’s plans are often surprising! 

Mary is not worthy of our adoration, but she does deserve our admiration. In her response to God’s plan, she is an example of faith.

1. God’s plans often bring adversity and confusion. 

Mary probably anticipated that God’s plan would threaten her marriage and hurt her reputation (cf. Matt. 1:18-19). She also couldn’t comprehend how the virgin birth would happen. Being involved in God’s plan is not always easy.

2. God is not limited by our limitations. 

Mary didn’t ask for a sign, but one was given to her anyway. The angel told her, “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 36). Earlier the angel had said to Mary, “The Lord is with you!” (v. 28). We all have our limitations, but the God of unlimited power is with us!

3. God only asks us to be his willing servants. 

In the end, Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). This should be our response to God’s will. God doesn’t need the powerful, wealthy, or famous to perform his plans. He is simply looking for ordinary people like you and me who will say, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Children of Light

Part 27 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 

“Awake, O sleeper, 
and rise from the dead, 
and Christ will shine on you” (5:7-14). 


Now You Are Light in the Lord 

Paul writes, “Therefore do not become partners with them [people who are “sexually immoral,” “impure,” and “covetous,” v. 6] for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (vv. 7-8a).

The Christian life is always a call to be who God says you are. 

“…Paul does not say merely that before their conversion Christians were in darkness and that now, since their conversion, they are in light, though that is true. He says something more profound. Before they were darkness, now they are light. He is pointing to a change in them, not merely to a change in their surroundings. Before they were not only in darkness; darkness was in them. And now not only are they in light they are light….” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, p. 183).

Walk as Children of Light 

Since we are now “light in the Lord,” we should “walk as children of light” (v. 8b). “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). God “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). How are we to live as children of light?

1. Children of light should live lives that please God. 

Paul says that “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (v. 9; cf. Rom. 6:21-22; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 1:11). “Goodness” is often used of showing benevolence to others (unlike “covetousness,” v. 3). We are to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (v. 10). “What is pleasing to the Lord” is a positive way of saying, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (4:30).

2. Children of light should not participate in the works of darkness. 

We are to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (v. 11). In verse 7, Paul says that we are not to become “partners” with those who do the works of darkness. “Paul is not telling Christians to avoid all contact with nonbelievers but to avoid joining them in their sin” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2270). (In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul says it’s unrepentant professing Christians, not unbelievers, whom we are to avoid.)

3. Children of light should expose the true nature of the works of darkness. 

Instead of taking part in the works of darkness, we are to “expose them” (v. 11b). The works of darkness are “unfruitful” (v. 11) and “shameful” (v. 12).


Leave the Light On

“Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (v. 14b; cf. Isa. 60:1; Jonah 1:6). Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

“Turn the light off!” This is what my Dad would say whenever I forgot to turn the light off in a room. As Christians, we need to leave our lights on.

The way we live may result in others escaping the darkness. 

Jesus said to his followers, “You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14, 16).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

God's Holy People

Part 26 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (5:3-6).


Dare to Be Different

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is addressed to the “saints” in Ephesus (1:1). “Saints” (hagios) are “holy ones.” Christians have been made saints (because we are holy “in Christ”) and are to act like saints. We must avoid two extremes of holiness: (1) legalism (salvation by law keeping) and (2) antinomianism (salvation without the need for law keeping).

To be “holy” means to be different (in a good way). 

In Isaiah 6:3, the angels cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” God who is holy is different from other gods, and so people who are holy are to be different from other people. Believers are to reflect God’s character. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16; cf. Lev. 11:44).

The Great Commission says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). To “observe” Christ’s commands is to obey them. That’s holiness.

The gospel is not only the story of how God saves people from sin’s punishment, but also how he saves people from sin’s presence. “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4; cf. 1 Thess. 4:7). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25, 27; cf. Col. 1:22).


A Desire for More

How are Christians to be different? To the Ephesians, Paul writes, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you” (v. 3).

Christians are to be different by avoiding sexual immorality and covetousness. 

“Sexual immorality” (porneia) means “any sexual intercourse outside marriage.” “Impurity” (akatharsia) means “sexually deviant behavior.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality” (cf. Gen. 39:12). People often say, “I’ll do what I want with my body.” But the Christian’s body belongs to God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 

“Covetousness” (pleonexia) means “a greedy desire to have more.” Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, then one of the richest men alive, “How much money is enough?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15; cf. vv. 16-21). Heb. 13:5

We live in a culture flooded with sexual immorality and covetousness—so much so that those who avoid these sins are often considered weird.


Motivation for Holiness

Paul could have simply written, “Avoid sexual immorality and covetousness because the seventh commandment says, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex. 20:14), and the tenth commandment says, ‘You shall not covet’ (Ex. 20:17). But he provided reasons for why the Ephesians should avoid these sins.

Why should we avoid sexual immorality and covetousness?

1. Sexual immorality and covetousness are not fitting for saints. 

It is “proper among saints” (v. 3) that these sins be eliminated. They are “out of place” (v. 4) in the lives of saints.

2. Sexual immorality and covetousness reveal ungratefulness. 

“Instead let there be thanksgiving” (v. 4). “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave our nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5; cf. 1 Tim. 6:8).

3. Sexual immorality and covetousness equal idolatry. 

A covetous person is an “idolater” (v. 5).

4. Sexual immorality and covetousness do not characterize people of the kingdom. 

“You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (v. 5; cf. Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

5. Sexual immorality and covetousness provoke the wrath of God. 

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (v. 6).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Imitators of God

Part 25 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (5:1-2).


Loving Like God 

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us” (vv. 1-2a). Paul gives the Ephesians two exhortations: (1) “be imitators of God” and (2) “walk in love.” Of course, it’s impossible to imitate God in everything. “Walk in love” explains how we are to imitate God.

To be an imitator of God is to live a life of love.

Once again, Paul uses the word “walk.” Our walk is our lifestyle. We are to walk in unity (4:1-16), in holiness (4:17-32), and in love (5:1-2). The word “therefore” points back to the first three chapters of Ephesians and also to 4:32 where Paul says that we are to be gracious to others as God has been gracious to us.

Both God the Father and God the Son have modeled love for us. First, we have received love “as beloved children.” We have been adopted into God’s family (1:5). He has made us his “beloved” children. The Greek word for “beloved” (agapetos) was often used to describe an only child. For example, Jesus is called the “beloved” Son of God (Matt. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35). God has millions of sons and daughters, but he is able to extend his love to each of his children as if he or she was his only child.

Second, we are to give love “as Christ loved us.” To understand how we are to love others, we must comprehend the love of Christ, which he demonstrated by dying for us on the cross.


Sacrificial Love 

Christ “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (v. 2b). His death was voluntary. He declared, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; cf. vv. 15, 17).

Christ’s sacrifice of himself is the ultimate demonstration of love. 

Paul presents three truths about the sacrifice of Christ. First, Christ's sacrifice was costly to him. He “gave himself up.” The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals how much he agonized about dying on the cross.

Second, Christ’s sacrifice was beneficial to us. He died “for us.” He once said, “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; cf. 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Christ “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20; cf. 1:4). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Think of how undeserving we were of his death for us!

Third, Christ’s sacrifice was pleasing to God. His death was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” A “fragrant offering” is one that is pleasing to God (“pleasing aroma,” Gen. 8:21; Ex. 29:18; Lev. 4:31). The death of Christ was pleasing to God because it brought us salvation. Our sacrificial love is pleasing to God and beneficial to others. When Paul received a gift from the Philippians (possibly money), he described it as “a fragrant offering, as sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).

Sacrificial love is to characterize our relationships with one another. 

Jesus said to the disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). The apostle John wrote, “By this we shall know, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him. Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

Christ’s love cost him his life. Should our love be without cost?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The New Life

Part 24 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (4:25-32).


The Christian's Lifestyle 

In this passage, Paul gives his readers five exhortations. Each of these exhortations has three parts: (1) a negative command (what they should not do), (2) a negative command (what they should do), and (3) a reason for obedience.

The Christian life includes both rejecting what is sinful and doing what is right. 

“Each of these exhortations has to do with personal relationships within the body of Christ (v. 25). In particular, they are intended to foster unity within the people of God, that unity of the Spirit which the readers have been urged zealously and energetically to maintain (v. 3)…” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 334).

(1.) “Having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (v. 25a). Why? “For we are members of one another” (v. 25b).

(2.) “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (v. 26). Why? So that you “give no opportunity to the devil” (v. 27).

(3.) “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (v. 28a). Why? “So that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (v. 28b).

“The believer, then, is to sense real need and then share the fruit of diligent labor. In this instance as in other NT passages (Acts 2:45; 4:35; Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4), those who benefit by such sharing are fellow believers. This is in agreement with verse 25 where the neighbors are considered fellow believers because they are members of one another. It does not mean that Christians are never to help the needy who may not be believers but their primary responsibility is to those who are of the household of faith. This will demonstrate a love for one another and the world will know that they are his disciples (John 13:35)” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 627).

(4.) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion” (v. 29a). Why? “That it may give grace to those who hear” (v. 29b).

Before you say something, ask yourself, “Will my words build others up or tear others down?”

(5.) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (vv. 31-32a). Why? Because “God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32b).

We must get rid of what destroys relationships (lying, stealing, corrupting talk, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander). We must practice what strengthens relationships (honesty, reconciliation, sharing, encouraging speech, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness).


The Best Motivation 

Our sin causes the Holy Spirit to “grieve” (v. 30; cf. Isa. 63:9-10). (Some people believe the Holy Spirit is merely a force. But if he can be grieved, he must be a person.) In 4:25-32, the Holy Spirit’s grieving is connected with “corrupting talk” (v. 29). “The Spirit is grieved when God’s people continue in any of the sins that divide and destroy the unity of the body” (O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 346).

Every believer is “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22). To seal something means to secure it (e.g., the tomb of Jesus, Matt. 27:66). Believers are secured until “the day of redemption” (cf. 1:14), which is the day of Christ’s return. Elsewhere Paul refers to it as “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14) or “the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16).

Our redemption has two phases: (1) deliverance from the punishment for sin through the death of Christ and (2) deliverance from the presence of sin at the return of Christ. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is our guarantee that we will experience this final phase of our salvation. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Do you want to grieve the Father who sent his Son to redeem you? Do you want to grieve Christ who willingly died for your sins? Do you want to grieve the Spirit who has sealed you until the day of redemption?

The best motivation for obedience is the desire to avoid what grieves God and to do what pleases him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Avoidance of sin

Part 4 of the Bible study series Teach Us to Pray



"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13). 


Introduction 

After a petition for the forgiveness of past sin (v. 12) comes one for protection from future sin. We need to remember that there are spiritual forces of darkness in this world. Every morning we should ask for God’s protection throughout the day.


Discussion

The Greek word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can mean either “temptation” or “testing.” “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin’” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1832). How can difficult circumstances both test and tempt us? 

Read 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12. Why are trials that test us sometimes necessary?


Explanation 

Read Matt. 4:1. In the wilderness, Jesus was both tested by God and tempted by the devil. The Greek phrase translated “evil” can mean either “evil” or “the evil one” (i.e., Satan).

Read James 1:13-14. “God ‘tests’ his people (e.g., Abraham, Gen. 22; Israel, Ex. 16:4; Hezekiah, 1 Chron. 32:31) so that their character is strengthened, but he never tempts (i.e., lures people into sin). Since ‘God cannot be tempted with evil,’ and he is unreservedly good, he would never entice human beings to sin or seek to harm their faith” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2392).

Read James 1:2-4. If trials are good for us, why should we pray, “Lead us not into [temptation/trials]”? “We know that trials are a means for our growing spiritually, morally, and emotionally. Yet we have no desire to be in a place where even the possibility of sin is increased. Even Jesus, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, first asked, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” before he said, “yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt’ (Matt. 26:39). He was horrified at the prospect of taking sin upon Himself, yet He was willing to endure it in order to fulfill the will of His Father to make possible the redemption of man. Our proper reaction to times of temptation is similar to Christ’s, but for us it is primarily a matter of self-distrust. When we honestly look at the power of sin and at our own weakness and sinful propensities, we shudder at the danger of temptation or even trial. This petition is another plea for God to provide what we in ourselves do not have. It is an appeal to God to place a watch over our eyes, our ears, our mouth, our feet, and our hands—that in whatever we see, hear, or say, and in any place we go and in anything we do, He will protect us from sin” (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, pp. 395-96).

In the KJV, verse 13 ends with a doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” This doxology “is evidently a later scribal addition, since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is the reason why these words are omitted from most modern translations. However, there is nothing theologically incorrect about the words, nor is it inappropriate to include these words in public prayers” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1832).


Application

Read Eph. 6:10-20. Prayer is essential in our battle against evil. In what ways can we specifically pray that we would have victory over the evil one?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The New You

Part 23 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (4:17-24).


Transformation 

In Ephesians 4:17-24, Paul says that for the Christian, there was an “old self,” and there is now a “new self.”

In 4:1 Paul said, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Now in verse 17 he writes, “You must no longer walk as Gentiles do.” Our “walk” is our lifestyle. Paul is saying that the Ephesians should no longer live as they used to live.

Conversion should result in lifestyle transformation. 

Christians have “put off [the] old self” (v. 22) and “put on the new self” (v. 24). The “old self” is who I was before my conversion. The “new self” is who I am after my conversion. My “new self” has a different “walk.”


The Old Self 

The old self was “alienated from the life of God” (v. 18). The root cause of separation from God is “hardness of heart” (v. 18).

There isn’t a contradiction between verse 19 (“they have given themselves up”) and Romans 1:24 (“God gave them up”). “There are two stages: (1) people exercise their perversion of free will and give themselves over to sin, and (2) God’s response is then to give them over to the sin which will continue to enslave them” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 590).

The lifestyle of the old self is a lifestyle of futility, not freedom. 

People who reject God “walk…in the futility of their minds” (v. 17). Paul says, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (v. 19).


The New Self 

The new self has been “created after the likeness of God” (v. 24). Humanity was originally created after the likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). That likeness was distorted by the fall. But now “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49). 

The lifestyle of the new self is a lifestyle of reflecting God’s character. 

Paul mentions two of God’s attributes that we are to reflect: his “righteousness and holiness” (v. 24). Why is it so important that we live out this new lifestyle? Here are three reasons: (1) reflecting God’s character brings glory to God; (2) reflecting God’s character is befitting of our calling (cf. 4:1); and (3) reflecting God’s character is beneficial to ourselves and others (cf. 4:18-32).


Living Like the New Self

It’s easy to fall back into bad habits regarding eating and exercising. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Every Christian has the desire to live lives of righteousness and holiness. We have not become “callous.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not easy to fall back into the sinful habits of the old self.

When trying to lose weight, it helps to think of the outcome of your decisions. I hardly ever want to do an exercise workout, but I never regret doing it once I’m done. And most times I feel like eating a bag of potato chips, but I’m never happy about doing it once the chips are in my stomach.

As Christians, we need to constantly “be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds.” It helps to remind ourselves of the outcome of a lifestyle of righteousness and holiness: this lifestyle glory to God, it befits our calling, and it is beneficial to ourselves and others.

We always regret living like the old self. We never regret living like the new self. May you and I live lives that reflect God’s character.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Daily Needs and Forgiveness

Part 3 of the Bible Study Series Teach Us to Pray



"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:11-12).


Introduction 

The Lord’s Prayer contains six petitions: (1) God’s name, (2) God’s kingdom, (3) God’s will, (4) daily needs, (5) forgiveness of sin, and (6) avoidance of sin. The first three concern God’s glory (“your… your…your”); the last three concern our good (“us…us…us”).


Discussion  

Jesus gave some amazing promises about prayer. Read John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24. Six times Jesus says, “Ask me anything, and I will do it.” How do we often respond to these seemingly too good to be true promises? 

Paul Miller writes, “Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart” (A Praying Life). How is this true?


Explanation

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread.” “The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds. It is for one day at a time (‘today’), reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time and for whom a few days’ illness could spell tragedy…. The idea of God ‘giving’ the food in no way diminishes responsibility to work but pre-supposes not only that Jesus’ disciples live one day at a time (cf. v. 34) but that all good things, even our ability to work and earn food, come from God’s hand (cf. Deut. 8:18; 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). It is a lesson easily forgotten when wealth multiplies and absolute self-sufficiency is portrayed as a virtue” (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 171-72).

Read James 4:2-3. Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life, likens “Good Asking” to a path with a cliff of both sides. On the left side is the Not Asking cliff. On the right side is the Asking Selfishly cliff. “James describes two dangers in asking. The first danger is Not Asking. James writes, ‘You do not have, because you do not ask.’ The second danger is Asking Selfishly: ‘You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions’ (4:2-3). We can fall off either cliff. Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane demonstrates perfect balance. He avoids the Not Asking cliff, saying, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me’ (Mark 14:36). Those who err on the Not Asking side surrender to God before they are real with him. Sometimes we try so hard to be good that we aren’t real.... In the next breath, Jesus avoids the Asking Selfishly cliff by surrendering completely: ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will’ (14:36). Jesus is real about his feelings, but they don’t control him, nor does he try to control God with them. He doesn’t use his ability to communicate with his Father as a means of doing his own will. He submits to the story that his Father is weaving in his life.”

The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This “does not mean that believers need to ask daily for justification, since believers are justified forever from the moment of initial saving faith (Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1; 10:10). Rather, this is a prayer for the restoration of personal fellowship with God when fellowship has been hindered by sin” (ESV Study Bible, 1832).

Read Matt. 6:14-15. “Just as the phrase ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (6:10) related to all three of the previous petitions, so also here the words of 6:14-15 on the necessity of an attitude of forgiveness relate not just to 6:12 but also to all three requests for human needs. Disciples are hereby warned not to ask for their needs to be met in a spirit that is unwilling to meet the needs of others. Rather, disciples will realize that their experience of God’s forgiveness enables them to forgive others (cf. 5:23-24, 38-48; 18:21-25)” (David Turner, Matthew, 189).


Application

“My experience is that most people do not put God to the test. They don’t ask him for what they want. I say this cautiously because many Christians have experienced unanswered prayers that are still unprocessed. Nevertheless, most people consistently fall off the left side of the Not Asking/Asking Selfishly chart. They don’t ask” (A Praying Life). Why don’t we ask? 

Read Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8. All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be summarized with one word: ask. Why should we ask?

Monday, October 15, 2012

What the Cross Says About God's Sovereignty

Part 2 of The Cross: What It Says About God

You can listen to this sermon here.



“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty words and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:22-24).


 The Sovereignty of God 

The sovereignty of God is the biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control, and that nothing happens without his direction or permission. He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).

God uses all things to fulfill his purposes and even uses evil for his glory and our good. 

“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is the power to make great and to give strength to all” (1 Chron. 29:11-12).


Who Was Responsible for Christ's Death?

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (v. 23).

1. On the human level, Judas gave Jesus up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. 

“The one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matt. 26:14-16).

“So when [the priests] had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that it was out of envy that [the priests] had delivered him up” (Matt. 27:18).

“Then [Pilate] released for [the people] Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matt. 27:26).

2. On the divine level, the Father gave Jesus up to die for us. 

Jesus was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” but he was also “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” We see here the paradox between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The participants in the crucifixion of Jesus “were not forced by God to act against their wills; rather, God brought about his plan through their willing choices, for which they were nevertheless responsible” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 327).

Judas gave Jesus up to the priests out of greed. The priests gave him up to Pilate out of envy. Pilate gave him up to the soldiers because of fear. But the Father gave him up to die out of love.


God's Good Plans

“The cross of Christ proves that God’s plans are good. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the most evil deed ever committed on this planet. God’s own perfect Son was put to death by wicked men. What could be more evil than that? At the same time, however, the crucifixion of Jesus was the best thing that ever happened on this planet” (Philip Ryken, The Heart of the Cross, p. 116).

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28; cf. Gen. 50:20).

In Acts 4:23-31, the followers of Jesus faced a crisis. They had been prohibited by the Jewish authorities to preach the gospel. Would they obey the authorizes and escape suffering or obey God? They needed boldness, so they prayed. In their prayer, the believers addressed God as “Sovereign Lord” (v. 24). And they acknowledged that the suffering of Jesus had been according to God’s sovereign plan (“whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,” v. 28). The sovereignty of God encouraged these believers to have courage in the midst of a crisis.

As God was able to do a good work through the cross, he is able to do a good work in any crisis in your life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Worship God, Not Idols

A Thanksgiving sermon

You can listen to this sermon here.



For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:18-23). 


Truth Suppression 

Thanksgiving Day was intended to be a day to give thanks to God.

Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts is believed to have made the first Thanksgiving proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth: “Inasmuch as the Great Father has given us this year of an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of nine and twelve in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Six Hundred and Twenty-Three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

On January 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... is to be observed on the second Monday in October.”

But many people refuse to accept that there is a God to be thanked. They either don’t acknowledge that God exists or that blessings come from him. They have suppressed the truth.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them (vv. 18-19).

Whether people have the Bible or not, everyone is able to know something about God through creation. Creation reveals two truths about God.

1. There is a powerful and eternal Creator. 

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (v. 20).

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Ps. 19:1-2). “[God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

Creation provides many arguments for the existence of God: (1) the universe, like everything else, must have had a cause (cosmological argument). (2) the universe’s harmony, order, and design demands a designer (teleological argument). Richard Dawkins, an atheistic evolutionist, wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” (The Blind Watchmaker, p. 1). Of course, Dawkins believes that the apparent design in creation is an illusion. (3) Humanity’s sense of right and wrong comes from a God of justice (moral argument; cf. v. 32).

The problem is a moral deficiency, not a mental deficiency. Jesus said, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

2. Our Creator deserves our praise and gratitude. 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (v. 21).

God’s wrath against humanity’s sin is justified. “God’s anger is not selfish or arbitrary but represents his holy and loving response to human wickedness” (ESV Study Bible, 2158). What humanity knew about God, they rejected. “They are without excuse” (v. 20).


A Foolish Exchange

Instead of worshiping God, humanity turned to idolatry.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (vv. 22-23).

An idol is something put in the place that God alone deserves in our lives. 

The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Gary Beale, in his book We Become What We Worship, writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (p. 16). After the Israelites worshiped a golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6), God repeatedly called them “a stiff-necked [stubborn] people” (Ex. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13; 10:16; 31:27). “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Ps. 106:20). God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27; cf. Rom. 8:29), but when we worship other things, we become less and less like him (cf. Rom. 1:24-32).

Humanity “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Many people are now saying “Turkey Day,” instead of “Thanks-giving Day.” When we make Thanksgiving Day only about a turkey then we become like turkeys.

“The primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 162).


Our Creator and Savior

In Romans 1:18-3:21, Paul’s point is that no one is righteous. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). Everyone deserves condemnation. That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that God brought salvation to humanity through Christ. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). 

Don’t value anything—even good things—above God, our Creator and Savior.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reaching Maturity

Part 22 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (4:13-16). 


The Church's Greatest Purpose

Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (v. 13).

In Ephesians, Paul repeatedly describes the church as the body of Christ (1:23; 2:3, 16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30).

God’s greatest purpose for the church is maturity. 

According to Paul, “God’s chief purpose for the church is that it might become full-grown and that each of its members might contribute to that maturity by becoming spiritual adults” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, 147).

To be spiritually mature is to be like Christ. 


Back to the Beginning 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27). The Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents (e.g, an image in a mirror). We were created to be a reflection of God.

But the image of God in humanity was distorted by the fall. Adam and Eve thought that eating the forbidden fruit would make them “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Actually, their disobedience made them like Satan, knowing evil and doing evil.

The only person to have imaged God perfectly was Jesus. “Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). “Whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45). “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

God’s plan is to restore his image in humanity by people being conformed to the image of Christ. “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). (We will be like Christ in his perfect humanity, not deity.)

In Scripture, there are four stages in the doctrine of the image of God: (1) We were originally created in God’s image. (2) Because of sin, there was a distortion of God’s image. (3) Presently, redemption in Christ provides a progressive recovery of God’s image. (4) Finally, at Christ’s return there will be a complete restoration of God’s image. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

In Ephesians 4, Paul is not talking about something that will only happen in heaven. He’s talking about the church (Christ’s body) becoming more and more like Christ, its head.


Characteristics of Spiritual Maturity

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (v. 15).

Though Paul is referring to the spiritual growth of the church, we can apply his words to our own personal growth. The is a responsibility for every Christian (“we all,” v. 13).

Paul emphasizes two characteristics that are evident in a mature believer’s life.

1. A spiritually mature person is stabilized by the truth. 

We are not to be like children who are easily deceived (v. 14). False teaching is detected by those who know the truth.

2. A spiritually mature person is motivated by love. 

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).


Privileges and Responsibilities

If you have received the blessings of salvation, don’t ignore your responsibilities (unity, ministry, and maturity).

Imagine that Jesus were physically present? You could see him. You could hear him. You could touch him. And he said to you, “I want you to have more patience with __________.” Or, “I want you bear with __________ in love.” Or, “I want you to minister to others by __________.” Or, “I want you to spend more time studying the Bible.” What would you say to Jesus?

How could you say no to him—the one who died for you?

But he is here. He is no less here than if you could see him and hear him and touch him. He is here right now, and he is speaking to you through his word.

What has he been asking you to do? Will you do what he says? How can you say no to Jesus?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

God's Kingdom and Will

Part 2 of the Bible Study Series Teach Us to Pray



"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). 


Introduction 

The purpose of our prayers should be to pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done. Jesus himself told the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; rather, it is seeking his agenda for our lives. His ways are greater than our ways, and his plan is always better than our plans.


Discussion

Paul Miller writes, “Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers” (A Praying Life). How should the grace of God encourage us in our prayers? 

Some people use The Lord’s Prayer as an outline for their prayers. Another prayer system many people have found helpful is ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of using these kinds of prayer systems? 


Explanation 

The kingdom of God is an important theme in Matthew’s Gospel. Read Matt. 3:2; 4:17. “‘Your kingdom come’ has a twofold emphasis: (1) it is first a prayer that God’s rule and reign would continually advance in people’s hearts and lives until the day Jesus returns and brings the kingdom in perfect fullness; (2) thus it also refers to the future consummation of the kingdom already realized in part by Jesus coming” (ESV Study Bible, 1977). Read Rev. 11:17; 22:20.

We shy away from prayers that invite God to rule our lives. They make us vulnerable. “These three petitions, though they focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, are nevertheless prayers that he may act in such a way that his people will hallow his name, submit to his reign, and do his will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course” (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 170-71).

“Many people wonder how God’s sovereignty can be related to praying for His will to be done. If he is sovereign, is not His will inevitably done? Does our will override His will when we pray earnestly and sincerely? That is one of the great paradoxes of Scripture, a paradox about which Calvinists and Arminians have debated for centuries.… It is absolutely clear from Scripture that God is sovereign and yet not only allows but commands that man exercise his own volition in certain areas. If man were not able to make his own choices, God’s commands would be futile and meaningless and His punishment cruel and unjust. If God did not act in response to prayer, Jesus’ teaching about prayer would also be futile and meaningless. Our responsibility is not to solve the dilemma but to believe and act on God’s truths, whether some of them seem to conflict or not. To compromise one of God’s truths in an effort to defend another is the stuff of which heresy is made. We are to accept every part of every truth in God’s Word, leaving the resolution of any seeming conflicts to Him” (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, 381-82).


Application

“Our ‘prayer doesn’t work’ often means ‘you didn’t do my will, in my way, in my time’” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life). When we experience suffering, our usual prayer is for God to remove the suffering as soon as possible. During times of suffering, how else can we pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done in our lives?

Usually, when people tell us of some hardship in their lives, we respond by saying, “I’ll keep in you in my prayers.” “‘I’ll keep you in my prayers’ is the easiest way to back away politely. Roughly translated it means, ‘I have every intention of praying for you, but because I’ve not written it down, it is likely I will never pray for it. But I say it because at this moment I do care, and it feels awkward to say nothing.’ It is the twenty-first-century version of ‘Be warmed and filled’ (James 2:16)” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life). How might something like a prayer card help our prayers?

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Fully Functioning Body

Part 21 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, 

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, 
and he gave gifts to men.” 

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (4:7-12).


Christ's Body Parts 

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift (v. 7).

Does the human body have useless parts? For years it’s been assumed that the appendix has no purpose. (It’s true that we can live without, but it actually might serve a function as part of the immune system.) Whether or not there are useless body parts is a matter of debate.

Every Christian is one of Christ’s body parts. “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). Every part of the body of Christ is important. There are no useless body parts.

Within the body of Christ, everyone has a unique ability. 

In verse 7, “grace” means “enablement.” The abilities that Christ gives us are also called “gifts”. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:6). God has given “each one of us” at least on gift. We shouldn’t be jealous of other people’s gifts because they are given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Ask yourself, “What spiritual gift has Christ given me?”

Within the body of Christ, everyone has a special purpose. 

Earlier in Ephesians, Paul wrote, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:10). By God’s grace, we receive the gift of salvation and gifts for service. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:14).

Ask yourself, “What has Christ gifted me to do?”


The Descension and Ascension of Christ 

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (vv. 8-10).

Verses 8-10 cause us to ask three questions. First, does Paul misquote Psalm 68:18? Psalm 68:18 says, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men.” Paul writes that “he [Christ] gave gifts to men” rather than “receiving gifts among men.” “The ‘you’ in v. 18 refers to God’s ascent of Zion, probably in the person of the victorious king (or perhaps in reference to the establishment of the ark, which symbolizes the invisible presence of the God of Israel, on Zion). He led his captives in triumphal procession as they made their way up the temple mount…. Paul applies this picture to Christ’s ascension, not because there was some vague analogy between the two events, but because he saw in Jesus’ exaltation a further fulfillment of this triumph of God” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 288-89). “After a conquest, the spoils were distributed among the leader’s men. Thus the psalm focuses on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, while Paul’s adaptation of the truth of the psalm focuses on how that conqueror distributed the spoils to his own” (ESV Study Bible, 1018). 

Second, to where did Christ “descend”? The traditional view is that Christ descended into Hades. Paul is probably referring to the incarnation. When the Son of God became human, he descended from heaven to earth. This descent included Christ’s death and burial.

Third, who are the “captives”? In Psalm 68, the captives are the enemies of Israel who were defeated when Jerusalem was capture. In Ephesians, the captives “can be either believers (2 Cor. 2:14) or principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). In light of Ephesians 1:20-23 on the Lord’s exaltation over spiritual forces, evil powers are probably in view” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, 201).

In summary, Christ descended from heaven to earth and was crucified and buried. But he rose from the grave, demonstrating his victory over Satan and his demons. Then he ascended to heaven and gave gifts to his people. Now Christ “fills all things,” meaning he rules over all the universe.


We're All Ministers

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (vv. 11-12).

These verses reveal God’s plan for ministry within the body of Christ.

1. Every Christian is to be equipped through the teaching of God’s Word. 

“Paul is listing gifts and not offices” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 539). God has given to the church gifted individuals who are to “equip the saints.” (Based on the original Greek, some commentators believe that the phrase “shepherds and teachers” should be translated “teaching shepherds.”)

2. Every Christian should be ministering to others. 

The saints are equipped so that they may do “the work of ministry.” Ministry is for everyone. “The body of Christ does not have two classes of members—clergy and laity—or two sets of expectations. Everyone has the same task of building up the body, even though responsibilities vary” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 224).

3. The result: increasing unity and maturity within the body of Christ. 

The equipping and ministering of the saints leads to the “building up” of the body of Christ. “What is the purpose of Christ’s gifts? It is to serve Christ’s people, so that the body itself might become increasingly unified in faith and mature in practice” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, 138). The body of Christ is strongest when all its parts are working together.