Tuesday, December 15, 2015

God Came to Save

Part 3 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: Matthew 1:21

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

Baby Names

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

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

The Name "Jesus"

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

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

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

God to the Rescue

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

Good News of Great Joy!

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

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

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

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

[1] http://www.todaysparent.com/top-100-baby-names-in-canada-2014/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/07/30/alberta-baby-names_n_7906094.html

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

God Came to Serve

Part 2 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: Philippians 2:3-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

A Christmas Surprise 

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

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

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

When God came to earth, he came to serve. 

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

Equal with God

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

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

An Act of Unmatched Love and Humility

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

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

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

Two Responses

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

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

2. We must answer the call to serve. 

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Really God

Part 1 of Unwrapping Christmas

Text: John 1:1-18

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

A Surprising Gift 

Did you ever receive a surprising Christmas gift?

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

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

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

Who Is Jesus? 

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

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

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

God Made Known

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

Jesus was born so that we might know God. 

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

Two Responses

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Are the Body of Christ

Part 4 of We Are the Church

Text: Romans 12:3-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

Church Is Not Optional

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

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

Like Parts of a Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're Better Together

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

We Are the Bride of Christ

Part 3 of We Are the Church

Text: Revelation 19:6-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). 

The Big Day! 

We call a wedding day “the big day,” and Canadians spend a lot of money to celebrate the big day.

  • The average cost of a Canadian wedding (including the honeymoon) is $31,110. 
  • The average cost of a bridal gown is $1,716. 
  • The average cost of being a bridesmaid is $1,695. 
  • A destination wedding costs guests $1,500…and that doesn’t include the gift. 
  • The average cost of a wedding gift is $109; however, if the couple is close family, the price almost doubles to $200. [1]

There’s a wedding day coming for the church: “The marriage of the Lamb has come” (Rev. 19:7). The “Lamb” is Christ, and “his Bride” is the church. Why is the church called the bride of Christ?

Here Comes the Bride

Sometimes a metaphor can be taken too far. The church is not like a bride in every way. We are called the bride of Christ for two reasons.

1. The church is loved by Christ. 

Christ is “the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). When a man loves a woman, he is willing to make sacrifices for her (e.g., time, comfort). The sacrifice that Christ made for the church was his life. The apostle Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25; cf. 5:2). There is no word that adequately describes the degree to which Christ loves his bride.

2. The church is to bring joy to Christ. 

The church is to be like a beautiful bride. One of the greatest joys in a man’s life is seeing his beautiful bride on their wedding day. Revelation 19:8 says, “It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” The fine line is interpreted for us: “the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Paul states that Christ died for the church so “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. 5:26-27). [2] The beauty of the church is her righteousness and holiness.

Is Your Life Bringing Joy to Christ?

Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). We desire to have “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” but we are often more devoted to other people or things. Thankfully, Christ doesn’t abandon us. He will keep his marriage covenant. But how can we be unfaithful to the one who died for us?

Is your life bringing joy to Christ?

[1] http://www.slice.ca/weddings/photos/canadian-wedding-facts/#!aaf4a67218ebe47626fbc7eb67064a67
[2] There is probably a link between Ephesians 5:27-27 and Ezekiel 16:1-14.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We Are the Temple of the Holy Spirit

Part 2 of We Are the Church

Text: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

You can listen to this sermon here.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17).

God Is With Us 

First Corinthians was a letter written by the apostle Paul to a church located in the city of Corinth. Paul tells these believers, “You are God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). In the original Greek, “you” is plural. Paul is saying that the church is “God’s temple.”

Why is the church called a temple? Before the tabernacle (the predecessor of the temple) was built, God said, “Let [the Israelites] make me a sanctuary [i.e., the Most Holy Place], that I may dwell in their midst” (Exod. 25:8). Why was the tabernacle built? It was built so that God could “dwell in [the Israelites’] midst.” In 2 Corinthians 6:16, Paul writes, “We are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’”

God dwells in the midst of the church.

Paul writes, “God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16). The church “is [God’s] temple; his Spirit dwells in the church, in each local church.”

Never Alone 

Have you ever walked alone in a forest at night? Everything is scarier when you’re alone in the dark. But as a church and as individual Christians, we are never alone. God is with us. Many times in the Bible God gives the promise of his presence to people who are afraid: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

God’s presence gives us courage in the face of danger. 

Paul says that there are people in this world (sometimes even in the church!) who want to destroy us (“If anyone destroys God’s temple,” v. 17). How will God deal with a person who destroys a church? “God will destroy [i.e., eternally condemn] him” (v. 17).

The Walk of Faith

There’s coming a day when God’s people will be with God forever in heaven and there will be no reason to ever be afraid: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). The heavenly city will not have a temple “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22). Until then, we—the church—are God’s temple. God is with us. We can’t see him, but he dwells in our midst.

At our church youth group, we had a challenge called “The Walk of Fear.” It was scary because they had to do the walk alone in the dark, not knowing what would happen. We are not to do the walk of fear; we are to do the walk of faith. In every situation, God is with us to give us the courage and strength to face any danger.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We Are the Family of God

Part 1 of We Are the Church

Text: Ephesians 2:19

You can listen to this sermon here.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). 

What's a Metaphor?

In the NT, there are several metaphors for the church. A metaphor is “a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show or suggest that they are similar” [1] (e.g., “The exam was a piece of cake.”) In this series, we’re going to examine four metaphors for the church. The church is (1) the family of God, (2) the temple of the Holy Spirit, (3) the bride of Christ, and (4) the body of Christ. In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, all four of these church metaphors are found (see 2:18-22; 4:11-16; 5:25-27).

The Church Is Not a Place 

We often say, “I’m going to the church,” but the church is not a place; it’s a group of people. In the NT, the Greek word that’s translated “church” is ekklesia, which literally means “assembly,” or “gathering.” A church building is where a church meets. [2]

When we think of the church as a building, there is the danger that Christianity becomes compartmentalized. When Christianity is compartmentalized, we “look at Sunday as the totality of the Church experience.” [3] But wherever we go, we are the church. Wherever we go, we are to take the love of Christ with us.

One Family

Paul writes that the Ephesian believers (i.e., the church at Ephesus) are “members of the household of God” (2:19). Why is the church called the family of God?

God is our Father, and we are brothers and sisters.

We find the family metaphor throughout Ephesians:

  • God “predestined us for adoption as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ” (1:5). 
  • “Through [Jesus] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18). 
  • We are united because we all have “one God and Father” (4:6). 
  • Paul refers to other believers as “brothers” (6:23). 

Being called members of God’s family would give the Ephesians (mostly Gentiles) a sense of belonging.

Family Likeness

Paul writes, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (5:1). We are God’s “beloved children.” The Greek word for “beloved” (agapetos) was often used to describe an only child. 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.

As children of God, we are to imitate him.

How do we imitate our heavenly Father? We are to be people of love. If it were not for God’s love (i.e., the giving of Christ for us), we would not be his children.

Family Responsibilities

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he writes, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). We all know that we have the responsibility of caring for our family members. As Christians, we also have the responsibility of caring for our church family.

As brothers and sisters in God’s family, we have the responsibility to care for one another. 

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). How can we care for one another? There are many ways: (1) pray for one another (instead of gossiping); (2) offer to help others (e.g., a widow) with a need; (3) invite people into your home.

Not Just Individuals

A church is not to be just a group of individuals; it’s a family. God is our Father, and we are brothers and sisters. When we leave our church building, we shouldn’t forget about each other until the following Sunday. We have a responsibility to care for one another throughout the week. 

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metaphor
[2] In the NT, “church” can refer to either a local church or the universal church (i.e., all believers throughout the world).
[3] Carl Jones, “When We Think of the Church as a Building,” http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/when-we-think-church-building

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

There Is No Middle Ground

Part 26 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 7:13-29

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (vv. 13-14). 

Middle Ground 

Sometimes it’s good to take the middle ground. For example, in politics it can be helpful to take the middle ground between two extreme positions. But when it comes to following Jesus, there is no middle ground.

There Are Only Two Roads

Many people want to live in the middle ground (e.g., “I believe in Jesus, but I’m not religious”). What does Jesus say to people who want to live in the middle ground? Here’s what he says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (vv. 13-14). In other words, there is no middle ground.

You’re either on the road that leads to life and the road that leads to destruction, so make sure you’re on the right road. 

People don’t like to hear about hell. But if there is a hell and it can be avoided, my conscience demands that I share the truth. It’s often said that Jesus—known for his compassion—talked more about hell than any other person in the Bible.

The Right Road

How do we make sure we’re on the right road? This is the most important question in life. It’s a question about our eternal destinies!

1. We must do a 180. 

When Jesus began his public ministry, he announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). To “repent” means to turn (i.e., do a 180 degree turn). To get on the narrow road, we must turn from our sin (i.e., repent) and turn to Jesus (i.e., put our faith in him).

2. We get confirmation that we’re on the right road by our actions. 

Notice the emphasis Jesus places on our actions:

  • “You will recognize [false prophets] by their fruits (v. 16). 
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). 
  • “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (v. 24). 

But we shouldn’t interpret Jesus’ words to mean that we work our way into the kingdom of God. We enter God’s kingdom by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9), but faith results in works (Eph. 2:10).

The Road Jesus Traveled

Jesus came to earth to go to the cross. He declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). “For” means “in the place of.” Jesus died in our place so that we could escape sin’s consequences (i.e., hell).

People often ask, “If God loves us, why do people go to hell?” There had to be atonement for sin. If God could simply overlook sin, why did Jesus die on a cross?

Life's Biggest Question

We often spend a lot of time thinking about lesser questions (e.g., "Will I have enough money for retirement?")

There is no question more important than “Am I on the road that leads to heaven?”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Grateful Heart

A Thanksgiving Sermon

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God (v. 11). 

Gratitude List

Have you noticed that we’re good at noticing the bad things that happen to us, but we often take the good things for granted? (We often say, “That’s just my luck!” thinking we have an unusual amount of bad luck.) A good practice (not just on Thanksgiving Day) is to make a list of the good things in our lives (i.e., a gratitude list). When we focus on the good things, our perspectives will change.

God Is a Giver

The song “Count Your Blessings” says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” But it shouldn’t surprise us. Why should we have grateful hearts? 

We should have grateful hearts because God has given to us an inexpressible gift. 

The apostle Paul concludes his section on giving by praising God for the gift he has given us: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (v. 15). Human words are unable to express how amazing God’s gift is. And what is God’s “inexpressible gift”? It is Jesus (and salvation through his death).

“God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7) because God is a giver. “Every good and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). People who see God as a taker don’t have grateful hearts.

The Benefits of a Grateful Heart

Being grateful has many benefits. In this passage, we see two benefits of having a grateful heart.

1. If we have grateful hearts, we will have generous hearts. 

Paul writes, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (v. 11a). Notice that he says we are “enriched in every way” not merely so that we can have more but that we can give more (“to be generous in every way”). Of course, God doesn’t enrich us with only material blessings but also with spiritual blessings. “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” (2 Cor. 8:9). Gratefulness for God’s grace produces generosity.

2. If we have generous hearts, others will have grateful hearts. 

Our generosity not only helps others; it also can result in people giving thanks to God. Paul says that the gift of money for the believers in Jerusalem “will produce thanksgiving to God” (v. 11b). Paul writes, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (v. 12). God is glorified when we give. And doesn’t God deserve to be glorified? He has given us an inexpressible gift!

Gaining by Giving

We often think of giving as losing something (e.g., losing money, time), but we should really view generous giving as a gain. What do we gain? The joy of helping others and glorifying God. But we won’t see giving as a gain unless we have grateful hearts.

Every child of God can write a long gratitude list, and at the top of the list is God’s inexpressible gift!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Part 25 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 7:12

You can listen to this sermon here.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (v. 12). 

Can You Spot the Difference? 

When I was a kid, I liked to play Spot the Difference games. Sometimes it can be difficult to spot the differences.

How are followers of Jesus to be different?

We are to be different by being people of love. 

Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (v. 12). That’s love, and it’s not easy. “This simple principle would by itself revitalize human relationship if people everywhere were to begin to live by it.” [1] “Others” includes anyone. Remember what Jesus said in 5:44: “Love your enemies.” People usually treat others as they are treated (e.g., if you insult me, I’ll insult you). [2]

It's All About Love

Jesus declares that doing good to others (i.e., being a person of love) “is the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, it’s the essence of the Law and the Prophets. “The Law and the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that on two commandments “depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). What are these two commandments? First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (v. 37). Second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 39; cf. Lev. 19:18). [3]

If you’re wondering how you should act, remember one word: love. 

The apostle Paul writes, “The one who loves has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Obeying God’s commands can be difficult, but knowing what we should do isn’t complicated. Love is the answer. Paul adds, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8).

So Where Do We Get the Love? 

The word “so” at the beginning of verse 12 points back to verse 11, which says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” If I believe that God will graciously give me all the good things I need, then I “will have the inner freedom and impulse to live the Golden Rule.” [4]

Your Will Recognize Them by Their Fruits 

Jesus states, “You will recognize [false prophets] by their fruits” (vv. 16, 20). “Their fruits” refers to the way they live. Someone who knowingly is a false teacher lacks love. “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22).

Can people spot the difference with you? Are you a person of love?

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 265.
[2] To love someone doesn’t mean we always have to accept their behaviour (see v. 5). Sometimes doing good to someone requires correcting him when he does something wrong.
[3] Earlier, Jesus had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5:17).
[4] John Piper, “The Spring of Persistent Public Love,” http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-spring-of-persistent-public-love.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why We Should Pray

Part 24 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 7:7-11

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 7). 

The Greatest Invitation

Imagine being invited to meet your favourite celebrity. We wouldn’t ignore that invitation. Every child of God is invited to enter God’s presence through prayer, but we often ignore that invitation. “The greatest invitation in the world is extended to us, and incomprehensibly we regularly turn away to other things.” [1]


Jesus invites us to pray by telling us to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock.” In the original Greek, these three words are in the present tense, which means that Jesus is talking about habitual prayer (i.e., keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking). Why should we pray?

God is our loving Father and will give us good things when we pray. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly refers to God as our Father. For example, Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name” (6:9). Generally, parents want to give good things to their children (like a father gives his son bread and fish, not a stone and a serpent, vv. 9-10).  Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (v. 11). 

Anything We Want?

Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (vv. 7-8). Is Jesus promising that God will give us anything we ask for in prayer? No, though this is a popular teaching. [2] Grant Osborne calls this teaching “materialism made spiritual” and comments that it is “incredibly dangerous, indeed heretical, because it says we control God.” [3]

Only Good Things

The promise that Jesus gives us is that God will give us “good things,” not anything we want. We are often like little children, asking our Father for things we think are good but are actually bad.

God’s “no” is always a good thing.

God is perfectly good, so he always desires what is good for us. God is perfectly wise, so he always knows what is good for us. And God is perfectly strong, so he is able to do what is good for us. 

Prayer Works!

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Hab. 1:2). Frustration with prayer is common. We don’t know exactly how prayer works, but what we do know is that Scripture promises that prayer does work.

When we pray, we must not forget that God is our Father and that he loves us and wants what is best for us. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

[1] John Piper, “Ask Your Father in Heaven,” http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/ask-your-father-in-heaven.
[2] Other Scripture passages used to support this teaching are Mark 11:22-24; John 14:12-14; 15:16; 16:23-24; 1 John 3:22; 5:14-15.
[3] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 264.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Judge Not?

Part 23 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 7:1-6

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (vv. 1-2). 

The Non-Christina's Favourite Bible Verse

It’s probably safe to say that the non-Christians favourite Bible verse is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” If you say something is wrong, a non-Christian will often reply, “Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Judge not’”?

Is It Wrong to Judge?

Is it wrong to judge? The answer seems clear: Jesus said, “Judge not.” But if you really think about it, when a person says it’s wrong to judge, that person is making a judgment (i.e., judging a person for judging).

Yes, Jesus said, “Judge not,” but when we interpret Scripture, we must always look at the context. In verse 6, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” “What is holy” and “[our] pearls” probably refer to the gospel. “Dogs” and “pigs” are probably people who are only interested in mocking the gospel. Jesus is telling us to stop sharing the gospel with them. This requires us to make a judgment (i.e., to discern whether or not the people with whom we are sharing the gospel are “dogs” and “pigs”).

We should also examine what the rest of Scripture says about the same subject. There are several verses in the NT that tell us to judge between right and wrong and to correct another believer if necessary. For example, Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; Phil. 3:2; Heb. 3:13; 1 John 4:1).

So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not”? He was saying that there’s a certain kind of person who should never judge.

A judgmental person should never judge. 

Don't Be Judgmental

What are the characteristics of a judgmental person?

1. A judgmental person lacks honesty about his own sinfulness. 

Jesus describes a judgmental person as someone who tries to remove a speck from someone else’s eye while he has a log in his own eye (vv. 3-5). A judgmental person feels superior to others, but he’s a “hypocrite” (v. 5). “If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:2). A biblical example of a judgmental person is the Pharisee in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

2. A judgmental person lacks a loving concern for others. 

If we need to correct someone, we are to do it as an act of love. We are to “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). When someone sins, we are to seek to “restore [that person] in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1). “Admonition has a humility that says, ‘I love you enough to want to help you, and tomorrow you will need to correct me.’” [1]

How Can We Look Down on Others?

Jesus says, “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (v. 2). “The absence of mercy and love in the way we treat others will result in unmerciful judgment from God at the final judgment.” [2]

Someone who has experienced the mercy of God can’t be judgmental. We “were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We were helpless and hopeless. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). How can we look down on others?

[1] Grant R. Osborn, Matthew, 258.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Faith or Worry?

Part 22 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:25-34

You can listen to this sermon here.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). 

An Anxiety Epidemic

It’s been said that worry is “the disease of the twenty-first century.” There’s an anxiety epidemic in our world. People worry about the safety of their children, their finances, their health--the list goes on and on.

Of course, worry is not a new thing. It plagued people of the first century also. [1] To people who struggle with worry, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (v. 25). [2]

The Antidote for Worry

The Greek word translated as “anxious” is merimnao. Sometimes merimnao “expresses an appropriate feeling of intense concern” [3] (e.g., Timothy was “genuinely concerned for [the Philippi-ans’] welfare,” Phil. 2:20). Other times merimnao “expresses intense feelings of anxiety about the issues of life” [4] (e.g., “do not be anxious about anything,” Phil. 4:6). This is the meaning of merimnao that Jesus has in mind when he says, “Do not be anxious.” [5]

Is there an antidote for worry?

The antidote for worry is to daily put our faith in a sovereign God who loves us. 

Faith can either be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the object of our faith. Faith in God is a good thing because (1) he is able to provide what we need (“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”, v. 25), and (2) he cares about us (“Are you not of more value than [the birds]?”, v. 26). We can “[cast] all [our] anxieties on [God], because he cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7).

The Irrationality of Worry

Worry is irrational. You can try to reason with a worrier, but worriers are immune to reason. (They’ll say, “I know, I know, but….”) Jesus asks, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (v. 27). [6] In other words, he’s saying that there’s no benefit to worrying.

Our Priority

Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (vv. 31-32). Unlike the pagan Gentiles, we have a heavenly Father who knows about our needs. They were filled with worry, but we are to be different.

Instead of worrying about the future, we should be doing what's right in the present. 

Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). “First” means “above all else.” [7] We are to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:6). We can’t control the future, but we can seek to live righteous lives right now.

When the Time Comes

Worriers live in the future, but Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 34). [8] When you catch yourself worrying about something, remember the phrase “when the time comes.” The worrier thinks, “What will I do when [something bad] happens?” God will give you the strength to handle it when the time comes. 

Remember that God is sovereign and that he cares for you. Trust him.

[1] Many first-century workers were paid one day at a time. Most lived from hand to mouth. If a man couldn’t work (e.g., because of illness), his family would have no money for food, drink, and clothing (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 171.)
[2] The words “Do not be anxious” are found three times in 6:25-34 (vv. 25, 31, 34).
[3] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 296.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jesus was not saying we shouldn’t plan for the future or that we don’t need to work. God provides food for the birds (v. 26), but he doesn’t drop it into their beaks.
[6] Actually, chronic worry can be harmful to one’s physical health.
[7] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle location 5412.
[8] Jesus told us to ask our heavenly Father for our “daily bread” (6:11).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

God or Money?

Part 21 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:19-24

You can listen to this sermon here.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also […] You cannot serve God and money” (vv. 21, 24b).

What Do You Treasure?

In 6:19-34, Jesus talks about money and possessions. Materialism is one of the big problems of our culture. Craig Blomberg writes, “It is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church.” [1] We who are followers of Jesus are to be different. Our lives are not to be all about making money and acquiring possessions.

What do you treasure? Jesus declared, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). What you treasure, you will pursue. Do you pursue God (knowing and obeying him), or do you pursue wealth (or something else)? There are many reasons why people pursue wealth: security, personal worth, power, independence, and pleasure. [2]

Knowing and obeying God should be the treasure we pursue.

The Danger of Money

Money can be a danger to our relationship with God. The apostle Paul writes, “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” (1 Tim. 6:10; cf. Matt. 13:22). [3] The person who craves for wealth has a “bad” eye (v. 23). [4]

Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money” (v. 24). If we are pursuing wealth more than we are pursuing God, we have given our heart to an idol. Paul calls a person who is “covetous” (i.e., greedy) an “idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” [5]

All of us would probably say, “I don’t worship wealth. I don’t love money.” But are we fooling ourselves? What are your goals? What do you spend your time thinking about? Do you think about how you can grow in your knowledge of God and obedience to God? Or do you think more about material things (e.g., getting an iPhone, going on a dream vacation, saving money for retirement, renovating the house)?

The Foolishness of Pursuing Wealth

It’s foolish to devote your life to pursuing material wealth. Why? Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (v. 19). Material possessions are temporary. They can be, as Jesus states, ruined or lost. Even if our possessions aren’t ruined or lost, we only have them during this life (like the rich farmer in Luke 12:15-21).

Wealth is most attractive when we view this life as all there is. 

Jesus declares, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (v. 20).

Our Hearts Should Belong to God

Knowing and obeying God should not be seen as a duty but as a delight. Why? Because of what God has done for us. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Our hearts should belong to God. We should treasure nothing more than knowing and obeying him. 

[1] Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions, 132.
[2] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 303.
[3] Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
[4] Wilkins writes, “When we focus on something evil, the eye becomes the conduit by which evil fills the inner person” (Matthew, 295).
[5] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Hunger to Please God

Part 20 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:16-18

Sorry, there is no audio available for this sermon.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (vv. 17-18). 

What If Nobody Was Watching? 

Would your life change if nobody was watching? For example, if nobody was watching, would what you buy change? It’s been said, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

Do You Have a Hunger to Please God?

Sometimes we can have a greater desire to please others than to please God. (When we do something good, there’s something within us that wants others to notice what we’ve done.) How can we know if we really have a hunger to please God? 

We can know if we really have a hunger to please God if we would still do what we do if there was nobody to impress. 

The gospel should give us a hunger to please God. “We love [which includes pleasing God by our obedience to him] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Our love for God is a response to his love for us.

Fasting in Scripture

Basically, fasting is “abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” [1] In Scripture, fasting is both corporate (e.g., Israel on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 23:26-32 [2]; the church at Antioch, Acts 13:1-3) and personal (e.g., Jesus, Matt. 4:2). It’s usually connected with prayer [3] and repentance. In the OT, there are warnings about hypocrisy in fasting: “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’”

What Jesus Said About Fasting

Jesus says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (v. 16). They are more concerned with impressing others than pleasing God. Jesus adds, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 16). Their reward is the applause of people.

Then Jesus tells his followers, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vv. 17-18). This doesn’t mean that nobody can know when we’re fasting. Jesus’ main point is about our motivation for doing what we do.

Why Is Fasting Neglected?

Notice that Jesus says “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (vv. 16, 17). He assumed that his followers would fast. Why is fasting neglected by evangelical Christians today?
  • A misinterpretation of Matthew 9:14-15. Jesus was asked by the disciples of John the Baptist, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (v. 14) His answer: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (v. 15). Jesus didn’t say his followers would never fast; he said “they will fast.” 
  • Not commanded in the NT. Fasting isn’t a regular religious duty like prayer, but we do read in the NT of occasions when Christians fasted. 
  • A reaction against Catholic teaching. Reactions tend to go too far. 
  • Health concerns. Obviously, some people (e.g., pregnant women) shouldn’t fast. 

God Is Watching

Jesus says that the Father “sees in secret” (vv. 4, 6, 18). Even if nobody notices, God sees everything we do. Sometimes we view this truth as a negative thing (e.g., when we sin). But we really should view this truth as a positive thing. Do you remember when you were a child and you wanted your mother or father to watch you do something (like play sports)?

God desires us to do good. He is cheering for us. May this thought give us a greater hunger to please him.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 314.
[2] The Israelites were to “afflict themselves,” which included fasting.
[3] Fasting is not a hunger strike. We can’t force God to answer our prayers by fasting.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to Pray

Part 19 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:9-15

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (v. 9). 

What's the Purpose of Prayer?

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer [1] by saying, “Pray then [2] like this” (v. 9). Jesus intended this prayer to be a model for our prayers, not a prayer to mindlessly repeat. In Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). [3] What does the Lord’s Prayer teach us about the purpose of prayer?

Prayer should be more about honouring God than helping us. 

This is seen in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. The first half is about God (“your name,” “your kingdom,” “your will”), and the second half is about us (“Give us,” “forgive us,” “deliver us”). [4]

Our Father 

The Lord’s prayer is addressed to “Our Father in heaven” (v. 9). [5] Our prayers should be characterized by both love and reverence. “We address God intimately as ‘Father,’ but we immediately recognize his infinite greatness with the addition ‘in heaven.’” [6]

In the Lord’s Prayer, there are three requests about God’s honour. (1) “hallowed [7] be your name” (v. 9); (2) “Your kingdom come” (v. 10); and (3) “Your will be done” (v. 10). The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” probably applies to all three requests.
Prayer is not first and foremost an exercise to vindicate the disciple’s causes, meet the disciple’s needs, fulfill the disciple’s desires, or solve the disciple’s problems. Rather, one’s priority must be the promotion of God’s reputation, the advancement of God’s rule, and the performance of God’s will. These three petitions are essentially one expression of burning desire to see the Father honored on earth as he is already honored in heaven.” [8]

Our Needs 

There are also three requests about our needs: (1) “Give us this day our daily bread [9]  (v. 11); (2) “forgive us our debts [10], as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12); and (3) “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (v. 13). Verses 14 and 15 offer a comment on the request about forgiveness: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

A couple of common questions emerge from the last two requests. Does this mean that God will only forgive the forgiving? No, we don’t earn God’s forgiveness. But “If we don’t forgive, it is evidence that we haven’t experienced forgiveness ourselves.” [11]

Would God ever lead us into temptation? No. The Greek word for “temptation” (perirasmos) can mean either testing or temptation. [12] Any circumstance that tests us can also tempt us to sin. God does allow us to be tested, but he doesn’t tempt us. “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin.” [13]

Seeking God's Honour in Our Prayers 

What can we do to make God’s honour a priority in our prayers?

1. When we pray, we should ask ourselves, “How will God be honoured if he grants this request?”

Sometimes getting the things we ask for from God would result in God being dishonoured. For example, we might think that God would be honoured if we were wealthy, but Proverbs 30:8-9 says that both poverty and wealth can lead us away from God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [i.e., daily bread], lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” [14]

2. When we pray, we should remind ourselves that sometimes God is most honoured and we are most helped when God denies our request. 

In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul writes that he once prayed that a “thorn” would be removed from him, but God denied his request. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). By not removing the thorn from Paul, God would be more honoured and Paul would be kept from pride. Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; rather, it is seeking his agenda for our lives.

[1] Some Christian prefer to call this prayer “the disciples’ prayer.”
[2] “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[3] Scholars often debate whey there are many differences between Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. D. A. Carson suggests, “The reasonable explanation is that Jesus taught this sort of prayer often during his itinerant ministry and that Matthew records one occasion and Luke another” (“Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 168).
[4] 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 not found in the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts, which suggests that it was added later.
[5] The plural pronoun “Our” indicates that this prayer was intended to be prayed with other children of God, not in isolation.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 144.
[7] “To hallow God’s name means to hold it in reverence” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 276).
[8] David Turner, Matthew, 187.
[9] “Daily bread” is “a metaphor for a person’s daily needs” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 227).
[10] “Debts” are our sins against God.
[11] Wilkins, 279.
[12] See James 1:2-5, 13-15.
[13] ESV Study Bible.
[14] “The Old Testament prayer for daily bread comes in the context of a believer asking to be kept from temptation” (Bryan Chapell, Praying Backwards, 41).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Not to Pray

Part 18 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:5-8

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (v. 8).

Praying to Our Father in Heaven 

Before Jesus tells his followers how they should pray (vv. 9-13), he tells them how they should not pray. How can we avoid praying in a wrong way?

When we pray, we must always remember that we are praying to a loving Father.

We know God loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). If an imperfect father “know[s] how to give good gifts to [their] children, how much more will [our] heavenly Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). 

Praying Wrong 

When we forget that we’re praying to a loving Father, we will pray in wrong ways. Jesus gives us two ways we should not pray.

1. Don’t pray to impress others (vv. 5-6). 

Jesus declares, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (v. 5). They “love to…pray,” not because they love prayer or because they love God, but because they love themselves. It wasn’t their posture (“stand”) or their location (“in the synagogues and at the street corners”) that was wrong; it was their motive (“that they may be seen by others”). [1]

Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 5). Their reward is the applause from others. People might be impressed by this kind of prayer, but God isn’t. Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 to describe the religious hypocrites of his day: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matt. 15:8-9).

Then Jesus states, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6). “Your room” probably refers to an inner storeroom, the only lockable room in an ordinary Palestinian house (Matt. 24:26; Luke 12:3; 2 Kings 4:33; Isa. 26:20). Jesus isn’t saying that public prayer is wrong since he himself often prayed publicly (Matt. 11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42). [2] Again, Jesus is addressing the motive of prayer.

2. Don’t pray to badger God (vv. 7-8). 

Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (v. 7). [3] The “Gentiles” refer to “people who don’t understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father. So instead of trusting a Father to fulfill their needs, they think they must badger a reluctant Deity into taking notice of them.” [4]

Jesus isn’t condemning long prayers or persistent prayer since he himself once prayed all night (Matt. 14:23-25) and taught that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). He’s saying that when we prayer we must believe that God cares about us. He’s not an indifferent god who won’t listen to our prayers unless we get his attention with our “many words.”

Jesus states, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). So why is pray necessary? It’s true that God doesn’t need our prayers, but “he chooses to work through the prayers of his people to demonstrate his care for us, our value to him, and the significance of our lives in his kingdom.” [5]

Don't Hesitate to Call 

A good father desires what is best for his child. Often, when a son or daughter needs help, they call their father. If imperfect fathers are willing to help their children, how much more is our heavenly Father willing to help us? When we pray, we pray to our heavenly Father who loves us and desires to hear from us.

[1] As stated in my sermon on 6:1-4, there isn’t a contradiction between 5:16 (“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them”) and 6:1 (“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”). Jesus is addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride.
[2] The pronouns are singular in 6:5-8 but plural in 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer can’t be prayed privately (“Our Father in heaven”).
[3] The prophets of Baal cried out to Baal for hours, even cutting themselves with swords and lances (1 Kings 18:25-29; cf. Acts 19:34).
[4] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 240.
[5] Bryan Chappell, Praying Backwards, 114.

Monday, July 13, 2015

God on a Cross

A communion sermon

Text: Philippians 2:1-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (v. 8).

Feeling "Humbled"

Last year, Lebron James was named the National Basketball Association’s MVP. It was the fourth time James had received the league’s highest honor. What was his response? He said, “It’s very humbling.” Humbling? I don’t think “humility” means what Lebron James thinks it means.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an NBA player. In those dreams when I was named the MVP, I didn’t feel humbled; I felt honored. Now every time an award is handed out, the recipient talks about how he or she is “humbled.”

To me, that always comes across as fake humility. In contrast to today’s fake humility, there is the humility of Jesus.

Selfish Ambition

Based on what the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Philippi, it appears that the Philippians struggled to maintain unity.

  • “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). 
  • “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). 
  • “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14). 
  • “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (4:2). 

The Philippians needed to be people of humble service, and so do we. How can we be people of humble service?

If we are to be people of humble service, we must think about who Jesus is, what he chose to do, and why he chose to do it. 

We are naturally self-centered people. (Have you noticed that when someone shows you a photo that you’re in, you always first check for yourself first? Everyone else in the picture could have their eyes closed, but if you look good, it’s a great picture.) Humility doesn’t come easy for us.

The Attitude of Christ

Paul writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (v. 5, NIV). In verses 6-8, we discover that the attitude of Christ is a mindset of humble service.

  • Jesus was “in the form of God” (v. 6; cf. John 1:1). The NIV reads “in very nature God.” 
  • Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). This is the opposite of “selfish ambition” (v. 3). 
  • Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” (v. 7). He declared, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He acted as a servant when he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5). 
  • Jesus was “born in the likeness of men” (v. 7; cf. John 1:14). 
  • Jesus “humbled himself” (v. 8). In other words, he chose humility 
  • Jesus became “obedient to the point of death” (v. 8). He “gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4). 
  • Jesus died “on a cross” (v. 8). Crucifixion was an excruciating and humiliating way to die. Jesus 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). 

If we are to be people of humble service, we must think about who Jesus is, what he chose to do, and why he chose to do it.

Who is Jesus? He is God in human flesh. What did he choose to do? He chose to die on a cross. Why did he choose to do this? To save us. 

If God served us to the extent that he died on a cross for us, who are we to refuse humbly serving others?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Doing Right Things for Right Reasons

Part 17 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:1-4

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (v. 1). 

Living for the Applause 

Comedian Jerry Lewis, in an interview with GQ, admits that his act “is fueled by an unquenchable thirst for attention. He says, “I need the applause.” [1] Lady Gaga performs a song called “Applause.” The song says, “I live for the applause.” Many performers live for the applause. As followers of Jesus, we must be very careful not to perform acts of righteousness for the applause of others.

The Best Reason to Do Right Things 

The word “righteousness” (v.1) refers to types of religious acts, such as giving to the needy (vv. 2-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18). Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (v. 1). But earlier he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16). Is this a contradiction? 

No, Jesus isn’t contradicting himself. He’s addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride. We are to “show when tempted to hide” and “hide when tempted to show.” [2] Jesus doesn’t merely want us to do right things. He wants us to do right things for right reasons.

The best reason to do right things is to bring glory to God. 

As the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Those who do religious things “in order to be seen by [other people]” (v.1) desire praise from those people. [3] Their motivation is their own glory. [4]

Religious Hypocrites 

Jesus declares, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 2). Jesus calls these religious show-offs “hypocrites.”

“A ‘hypocrite’ originally was an actor who wore a mask in a Greek play, thereby pretending he was something he was not. So it came to be used for a person who looked one way on the outside but was something else on the inside.” [5] In this context, “hypocrites” refers to people who “are not so much deceivers as disastrously self-deceived.” [6] They think they’re impressing God when in reality they’re only impressing other people. [7]

The Heart of Worship 

We can hide our true motivation from other people, but we can’t hide it from God. Trying to hide what’s in our heart from God is like a little child trying to hide by covering his eyes. “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

God said about the people of Isaiah’s day, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13; cf. Matt. 15:8). God isn’t pleased by religious acts that aren’t motivated by a love for God. If we live for the applause of people, we “will have no reward from [our] Father who is in heaven” (v. 1).

The Applause of God 

Jesus says, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vv. 3-4). “The references to ‘Father’ rather than to ‘God’ in both verses 1 and 4 are intentional and probably allude to the fact that just as a child seeks the approval of his parents above all others, so the approval of the heavenly Father will matter more to the child of God than the approval of other people.” [8]

There should be nothing more satisfying than receiving the approval of the God who loves us. [9]

If you’re a parent, can you remember a time when you were really proud of your child? Now imagine your heavenly Father feeling like that about you. Isn’t the approval of God more satisfying than the approval of others?

To please God, we must do right things for right reasons, and the best reason is to bring glory to him. 

[1] http://www.gq.com/story/jerry-lewis-interview-gq-august-2011
[2] A. B. Bruce, Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 116.
[3] The same Greek word (doxazo) is used in both 6:2 (“praised”) and 5:16 (“giving glory”).
[4] This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t praise people who do good. This is a way we can encourage others. But we must always acknowledge that the ultimate praise belongs to God, who gives us the ability and opportunity to do good.
[5] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 219.
[6] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 237.
[7] “They were not giving but buying. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it, and they have got it. The tran-saction is ended and they can claim nothing more” (Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 91).
[8] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3682-3685.
[9] This doesn’t mean that we can gain God’s approval in the sense that we can earn salvation. But when we enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, God is pleased when we obey him because we love him.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love Your Enemies

Part 16 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:43-48

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (vv. 43-44). 

How Is It Possible to Love Our Enemies? 

In the English language, “love” has many meanings. John 3:16 helps us understand the biblical meaning of love: “For God so [in this way] loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” To love as God loves means to give of ourselves for the benefit of others.

An enemy is someone who hates you (e.g., someone who “revile[s] you and persecute[s] you,” Matt. 5:11). An example of someone in Scripture who loved his enemies was Stephen, who prayed while he was being stoned to death: “Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:60). [1] How is it possible for us to love our enemies?

We will never be able to love our enemies unless we see God's grace as amazing. 

The apostle Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Later, he says, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). God sent Jesus to this earth to die for his enemies.

My Enemy Is My Neighbour

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (v. 43). “You shall love your neighbor” is from Leviticus 19:18, but nowhere does the law say, "Hate your enemy.” [2] According to Exodus 23:4-5, people were to help their enemies: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him” (cf. Prov. 25:21).

The Jews wanted to restrict who their neighbour was. [3] Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). He answered by telling the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). The Samaritans and the Jews were enemies, but the good Samaritan helped the Jew who was in trouble. The Samaritan’s enemy was his neighbour.

Being Like Our Father

Jesus declares, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 44-45a). Jesus is saying that when we love our enemies, we show ourselves to be God’s children. [4] “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” [5]
Jesus did not command this response to persecution for pragmatic reasons. He did not teach, for example, that loving one’s enemy would transform the enemy into a friend, though it may. He did not teach that His disciples should pray for their persecutors because love defuses hate, though it may. Jesus’ disciples were to love their enemies “so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:45). Jesus commanded His disciples to love their enemies because this is the kind of love that characterizes God. Jesus’ disciples are sons and daughters of God who should resemble their Father in their character and conduct. [6]
Jesus states that God provides sun and rain for all people—even his enemies: “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45b). We are to love like God, which means that our love is to be very different from the world’s love: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

Our Goal

Jesus declares, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48). [7]

Our goal is the perfect love of God. 

To obey God’s law, we must love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8; cf. v. 10). “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).

Warmed by God's Grace

At the age of seventy-five, Abraham was given an incredible promise from God. He and his wife Sarah would be given something that they had desperately wanted for so many years: a son. But years after the boy’s birth, a shocking command came from God to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2).

We know the end of the story: the command was a test. God didn’t really want Isaac to die. But the question still remains: how could God ask a father to sacrifice his own son? Perhaps God wants us to put ourselves in Abraham’s place—to think about how heart-wrenching it must have been to be told to put one’s own son to death. Yes, the divine command given to Abraham is disturbing, but maybe God wants us to be disturbed. Why? Because the more we are disturbed, the more we should be amazed by God’s grace. What Abraham was told to do, God actually did. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

We will never be able to love our enemies unless we see God’s grace as amazing. Like hot coffee makes a mug warm, God’s grace warms our hearts.

[1] Stephen was following the example of Jesus, who prayed for his enemies while dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We also see from Stephen and Jesus that love is not incompatible with rebuke (Acts 7:51-53; Matt. 23:1-36).
[2] Psalm 5:5 does say, “You [God] hate all evildoers” (cf. Ps. 139:21-22). But Ezekiel 18:32 says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” I do believe it’s true that “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”
[3] Generally, the Jews of Jesus’ day considered fellow Jews as their neighbours and Gentiles as their enemies.
[4] Jesus is not saying that we become God’s children by loving our enemies. “He is not giving the means by which one becomes a child of God but indicates that love makes explicit the relationship between God the Father and Jesus’ disciples” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 253).
[5] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 89.
[6] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3442-3447.
[7] Luke 6:36 says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”