ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

The scene opens.  Mary had just told the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . . May it be done to me as you have said” (NIV translation).  She has agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, and the angel Gabriel has just left her to return to the presence of God in heaven.  She is now alone, with her mind filled with thoughts and her heart filled with emotions.  “What do I do now?”  “Has the angel’s announcement already happened?”  “Am I already pregnant?”  “How will I know?”  “Who can I share all these amazing occurrences with?”

That’s where we begin our study of Luke 1:39-56.  The answers to those questions, and what happens next, are all found in this passage of Scripture.

I.  THE JOY OF ELIZABETH (verses 39-45)

Once Mary is able to gain some control over her thoughts and emotions, she remembers the angel’s words about Elizabeth.  “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was barren is now in her sixth month.”  From the response that follows, Mary may have thought, “Elizabeth is having a supernatural pregnancy also!  We have that in common!  She’s the only person I can talk to about these things that the angel told me.  I can’t tell Joseph since I’m not sure it has happened yet or when it will happen.  Her home will be a place of safety for me, and I can be of service to her.”  Are you getting the picture of Mary’s dilemma?

Verse 39 says, “Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah”.  Mary probably grabbed a few necessities for the trip, and may have left a note for her parents and for Joseph explaining that she had gone to Elizabeth to help her in the final trimester of her pregnancy.  Then she took off “in haste” to avoid any conversations and questions from family, friends, and neighbors.  The home of Zacharias and Elizabeth was 80 miles away, a journey of four to five days on foot.  In her haste to get there, Mary may have arrived in four days or even less.  She had plenty to think about along the way!  But all the travelling is going to be worth the effort on her part.  Her visit with Elizabeth and Zacharias is going to be beyond her highest expectations!  The Spirit of God is going to do some amazing things!

As Mary reaches the hill country of Judah and the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth is in sight, she has been rehearsing in her mind what she is going to say to Elizabeth and how she is going to say it.  There is probably some uneasiness about how this information is going to be received and the responses she might get.  However, when she enters their house and greets Elizabeth, the Spirit of God takes it from there and performs a miracle to her amazement.  Verse 41 says, “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”  I’m not sure that Mary observed those two things happening to Elizabeth, but she certainly heard the results.  The Holy Spirit immediately informed Elizabeth that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, and then the Spirit took control of her voice as she described what happened and why it happened.  Verse 42 says, “And she (Elizabeth) cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.”  Her voice was ecstatic and loud.  Notice that Elizabeth says “blessed among women”, not blessed above women.  It is a place of unmerited privilege, not a place of veneration or worship.  Her words were a confirmation to Mary that she was already pregnant.  “But how could she have known that information?”, Mary wonders.  “I haven’t told anyone that information and the news couldn’t have travelled that fast.  God must have told her.”

The answer comes in Elizabeth’s next statement in verse 43:  “And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Elizabeth not only knows that Mary is pregnant, but also that she is pregnant with the Messiah.  This is a second confirmation of the angel Gabriel words to her.  In verse 44, Elizabeth describes to Mary what happened within her womb when she heard her voice.  “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”

You mothers know what it looks like and feels like when your baby has moved around in your womb, especially when you are close to term.  Fathers and older brothers and sisters have watched wide-eyed. and with bursts of laughter, when the baby’s arm, elbow, or foot, protrudes in your belly.  It’s an amazing sight to watch and enjoy!

What Elizabeth described to Mary went well beyond the usual occurrence.  You might say that her experience was a miracle in itself.  It makes you wonder what it must have felt like when it happened!   I wonder whether the unborn John the Baptist was not only jumping for joy, but also assuming a position of worship before the Messiah in Mary’s womb.  Just a thought.

Finally, Elizabeth says in verse 45:  “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  The Holy Spirit had even given Elizabeth insight into Mary’s heart, and Mary’s faith in God’s promise.  Because Elizabeth is saying these things under the control of the Spirit, this commendation of Mary comes not only from Elizabeth but also from God Himself.

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

After hearing these words from Elizabeth, Mary’s heart is overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God.  She responds with one of the most beautiful and worshipful prayers or declarations of praise to God in the Scriptures.  It is often called the Magnificat.  The Latin Vulgate translation begins with the words “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (“My soul magnifies the Lord”).  The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states:  “Some of the greatest works of Christian art have been produced around the Magnificat themes.  Artists, poets and musicians have celebrated its theme of joy at the salvation now graciously offered mankind through the gift of the Messiah.”

Mary’s words are similar to the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10, where Hannah praises and thanks God for giving her a son (Samuel).  You might want to read that passage of Scripture and compare the two prayers.

This declaration of praise to God reveals much to us about Mary’s character, her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, her concept of God, and her trust in Him.  Let’s take a closer look at her words as she declares the greatness of God’s character, and His wonderful deeds.  Before we study the individual verses of Mary’s declaration of praises, let’s look at all ten verses of the Magnificat so that you can see the whole prayer at once.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble estate of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.  And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.

He has done mighty deeds with His arm.
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever”

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  With just a few modifications we could turn that into our own declaration of praise to God.  As we see, this young lady (Mary) must have spent a lot of time meditating on God’s Word.

Mary begins by expressing the source of her praise and joy.  In verse 46 she refers to God as Lord, and in verse 47 she calls Him my Savior.  She is echoing the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2, and the words of David in Psalm 35:9.  Like everyone else, Mary had to acknowledge Him as Lord, repent of her sins, and receive His salvation.

In verses 48 and 49, Mary rejoices in what God has done for her personally. Though she is the least of His servants, God has blessed her with the undeserved privilege of being the mother of the Messiah, who is now in her womb, and every generation will acknowledge this blessing of God upon her.  The focus of her attention is on God, and not on herself.  He is the one who has done these things.  As she says in verse 49:  “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”   I am impressed by Mary’s humility and her willing surrender to God’s will, as well as her concept of God’s power and holiness.

In the next section of her song, Mary includes those who are in the same socio-economic condition as herself (poor, humble and despised followers of Him).  Quoting from Psalms 103, 98, and 118, she praises God for His faithful mercies as He scatters the proud, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed.  Quoting from Job 5, Mary declares how God has exalted the humble and brought down rulers from their thrones.  Mary knows the Word of God, and her praise and confidence in Him is based upon God’s faithfulness to keep His Word.

Lastly, Mary gives praise to God for the things He has done for His people Israel.  In her prayer of praise she recalls to her mind Genesis 17:7 and 17:19, declaring God’s forever-promises to Abraham and his descendants: the land, the seed, and the blessing to all nations.  Many other passages in the book of Genesis are included in these promises.

After Mary finishes her hymn of praise, the Gospel writer Luke writes these words:  “And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home” (verse 56).  “Three months” – so for three months Mary and Elizabeth were praising God together for what God was doing in their lives.  Zacharias was praising God also.  We just don’t have any word from him.  He was speechless until after his son was born.

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

I think my favorite definition of worship is the one written by William Temple.  He was an Anglican minister, an advocate for social reform, and served as an archbishop for many years.  We have a William Temple House and a William Temple Thrift Store here in Portland, Oregon.   He says:  “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  As I look at Mary’s prayer again, I find that she employed all of those characteristics of worship.  Mary declares God’s holiness and quotes from God’s Word several times.  She focuses on God’s character (His mercy, power, sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness).  As she expresses these words you can tell that her heart is filled with love for Him, and she counts it a privilege to serve Him.

Beloved, do you find it hard at times, as I do, to express praise and worship to God?  Do frustrations and distractions put you out-of-focus sometimes and rob you of joy and thankfulness to God?  What has often helped to restore my focus on God and an attitude of worship and praise has been to read one or more of the Psalms and reflect upon the character of God and His concern for us.  As a result of this study, I’m also adding the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Hannah to my list of Scripture passages to read in order to prepare my heart for worship.   Many recording artists have recorded renditions of the psalms and other passages on YouTube.  Esther Mui, for example sings beautifully many of the psalms as well as other worshipful passages of Scripture.  You can read the lyrics as she sings and the photos are awesome.  She is one of many artists who have placed their songs on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.

I hope that you have found reasons to rejoice and worship God.  If not, let’s start finding resources today.  I’ve given you a place to start.  I hope you will carry your quest for an attitude of worship and praise beyond my suggestions, and give some suggestions to me as well.

An illustration I just read caused me to realize that we will know when we are truly worshipping and praising God in our hearts because we will feel the nearness of His presence and experience the joy of His presence.    Here is the illustration:  After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today – – but I wish you had been there!”

May you experience the nearness of God’s presence and the joy of His presence today as you take time to praise and worship Him.

 

THE TRUE MINISTER – I Corinthians 4:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

How do you evaluate a pastor?  All kinds of criteria have been used to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective ministers.  Some magazines take surveys and write extensive reports, ranking pastors by church membership, attendance at worship services, sizes of church staff and Sunday school, academic and honorary degrees, books and articles written, numbers of messages given at conferences and conventions, and so on.  As popular as this practice may be, it may not always be true to God’s Word.

I Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the true nature and marks of God’s ministers.  Paul is not speaking here of the traditional concept of a full-time employee of a church who  is hired to do the preaching, the teaching, and the counseling, as well as officiate at other church functions.  This concept is unknown in the New Testament.  It came into the church only within the past 500 years.  A minister of Christ in the New Testament was anyone, “anyone”, who, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, was a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God.  That is what Paul is talking about here.  And Paul gives basic guidelines and standards by which ministers are to minister and be evaluated.  He also gives us the characteristics of a true minister.

I.  THE IDENTITY OF THE MINISTER (verse 1)

In verse 1, the first characteristic Paul gives us is the identity of the minister.  When Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner”, he is referring to all men, both Christians and non-Christians.  He wants them to see God’s ministers according to what God has called them to be, that is, “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The word “servants” is a translation of the Greek word “huperetes”, which literally means “under-rowers”.  Everyone in Corinth understood what that word meant.  Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire crossed the isthmus that separated the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea, and the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck was the place where the lowest class of slaves sat.  Then, on a little deck, raised up about them all so that all could see him, was the captain of the ship.  It was the rowers’ task to row according to what he said.  If he wanted the ship to move,  then they were to row.  If he wanted them to stop, they were to stop instantly.  Their whole business was to obey his orders.  That is the word that Paul chooses to describe those who are teachers, preachers, and ministers of the Word of God within the congregation of the church.  They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

A young pastor at a pastor’s conference once asked an older pastor whom he respected, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?  My church board called me in and said to me, ‘Look, there are some things we want you to understand.  One is that this is our church;  it is not your church.  We were here before you came and we are going to be here when you leave.  Therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.’  What would you say to a church like that?”  The other pastor told him that he would call together the elders of the church and would say to them, “Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors.  One, you think this is your church, but it is the Lord’s church.  Churches belong to Him.  They do not belong to the people.  They are not a democracy, owned by the people.  Jesus said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’  So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church and it is His work to tell us what He wants the church to be, and not our job to tell Him what we think it ought to be.”

“The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not.  I did not come on that basis.  I have joined you to share the ministry with you.  I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside and given me support from the congregation so that I don’t have to spend time earning a living but can devote my full time to the study of God’s Word, and to the ministry of preaching and teaching His Word.  If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere.  I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.”

He went back to his church, shared these principles with them, and they fired him.  But now he has another church, and he made his stand clear from the beginning, and things are working out very well with him.  So, to look first of all at men’s needs is to fail men as well as to fail the Lord.  A minister who becomes so occupied with counseling and helping his congregation and community that he spends little time in the Word is unable to meet those people’s deepest needs.  To serve Christ is to serve His Word, which is the revelation of His will.  As a servant of Christ, his function is to obey God’s commands as revealed in His Word, serving Him with all humility.

Ministers of the Gospel are also “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  The word for steward is “oikonomos”, meaning “housekeeper”.  When you are on an airplane you find a stewardess or a steward who serves coffee, tea, milk, and other beverages, as well as serving a tray of food at the proper time.  They are entrusted with certain valuable commodities which they are responsible to give you.

A minister of Christ, whoever he or she may be within a congregation, is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls “the mysteries of God”.  These are the secret truths and the hidden wisdom which can only be found in God’s Word and nowhere else.  As a steward of God’s mysteries, a minister is to take God’s revealed Word and dispense it to God’s household, so that lives are changed and are lived on the basis of these remarkable truths.  A preacher or teacher’s concern should not be to please his hearers or to dispense his own views.  As the apostle Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

II.  THE REQUIREMENT OF A MINISTER (verse 2)

In verse 2, Paul says that the most important requirement of a good steward is that he be trustworthy or faithful.  God does not require brilliance or cleverness or creativity or popularity.  He can use servants with those qualities, but only trustworthiness is absolutely essential.  So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?”, or “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?”  The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?”

God supplied His Word, His Spirit, His gifts, and His power.  All that the minister can supply is his faithfulness in using those resources for God’s glory.  George Washington Carver once asked the Lord to tell him all about the universe.  According to Carver, the Lord said, “George, the universe is just too big for you to understand.  Suppose you let me take care of that.”  Humbled, George Carver replied, “Lord, how about a peanut?”  The Lord said, “Now, George, that’s something your own size.  Go to work on it and I’ll help you.”  George discovered over 300 uses for peanuts, and he helped farmers by showing them how to take care of the soil.  Carver used what little he had, and God rewarded his faithfulness.

III.  EVALUATION OF A MINISTER (verses 3,4)

In verses 3 and 4, Paul uses his own situation as an example of the evaluation of the minister.  Paul is not bragging or placing himself above other ministers, or above any other Christian.  What he said about his own attitude about himself should be said by every minister and every Christian.  It should be “a small thing” to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is examined by other Christians or “by any human court”.  The word “examined” means “to investigate, question, evaluate”.  It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence.

It is important to remind ourselves that in the spiritual realm, outward appearance means nothing.  You cannot fool God!  That’s what Paul emphasizes here.  He declares that he is not concerned about the judgment people place upon him and his work.  This doesn’t mean that a sincere word of appreciation from others or a helpful criticism can’t be useful and even a blessing.  But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are, or whether he is working within the Lord’s will.  Because their knowledge and understanding of his motives are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect.

In fact, Paul says that even his own evaluation of himself isn’t really important.  What matters is the Lord’s verdict.  A person can do things that make him look good before men, and in the process even fool himself into thinking he is pleasing the Lord;  yet, in reality, he may be motivated by selfishness and greed.  Men see only the outward deeds and may be favorably impressed, but God sees the intentions of the heart.  Therefore He alone can judge with complete fairness.

There is the story of a young composer whose music was being performed.  He kept his eye fixed intently on one man in the audience, watching every expression that appeared on his face.  It was his teacher.  He cared more for the slightest mark of favor on his face than for all the applause of the large audience.  In our own lives as well, we should watch the face of Christ, as mirrored in His Word, caring only that He should be pleased.

Whenever you are tempted to speak insincerely, or do a good deed only for the praise of men, remember that the Father in Heaven is watching.  In His sight it’s what you really are that counts.  God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of our service.

IV.  GOD’S EVALUATION (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul looks ahead to God’s evaluation of His people.  Paul tells us not to go on passing judgment before the time.  We need to remember that our brothers and sisters in the faith are at different stages of growth and come from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Conversion to Christ is just the beginning, and a lifetime of replacing old thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions with new ones follows after it, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who continually works to change us.   We must take the time to understand people, get to know them, learn their backgrounds, and ask for God’s wisdom to discern each one’s stage of spiritual development.  We should never draw hasty conclusions.

God has a day when He will “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness”.  I do not believe “things hidden in the darkness” refers to sins or anything evil, but simply to things presently unknown to us.  We know from this Scripture that the rewards and praise that God will give to his servants will not be based on the degrees behind our names, the numbers we have preached to, taught or witnessed to.  It will also not be based on the programs we have planned and directed, the books we have written, or even the number of converts won to Christ through us.  It will be based on one thing alone:  the motives of our hearts.

According to a legend, a desert wanderer found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness.  The water was so pure that he decided to bring some to his king.  Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the water and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace.  When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his king, the water had become stale because of the old container in which it had been stored.  But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use.  He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and the loyal man went away with a heart filled with gladness.  After he had gone, others sampled the water and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it.  “Ah”, he said, “it was not the water I tasted, but the love that prompted the offering.”

Our service to God may be marked by many imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives.  He rejoices in our loyal actions, no matter what others may think of them.

Have you become discouraged in your work for the Lord?  Remember the parable of the water and let it motivate you to keep on serving the King of Kings, being faithful to Him and His Word.  Someday your faithful efforts will receive God’s praise.  What is done for Christ now will be rewarded in eternity.

 

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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I.. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)

Have you ever been ripped off?  Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what your paid for them?  I imagine that most of us can think of a particular product, movie, place of entertainment or eating establishment that has left a bad impression in our minds.  Rip-offs aren’t just common to our day.  You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden.  Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth.  He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would become like God, knowing good and evil.  They fell for his lie, and as a result, they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.

We human beings aren’t the  only  ones who get ripped off.  God gets ripped off sometimes too.  This passage of Scripture shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people.  In verses 12 and 13, Jesus, His mother, His family, and His disciples spent a few days in Capernaum.  A figure of speach called a “polysyndeton” is found here.  The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group.  From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.

The city of Capernaum was to become Jesus’ home and the headquarters for His ministry in Galilee.  In this case they were there only a few days because they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover.  The Passover was an annual feast in memory of the time when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, and were led through the Red Sea and to the promised land.  In Exodus 12, before His last plague on Egypt, God said that each family was to kill an unblemished lamb and put some of its blood on the outside doorposts and lintel so that the death angel would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born children.  They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread before fleeing from Egypt.

CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

In verse 14, Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes.  In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards.  First, there is the court of the gentiles, then the court of the women, then the court of Israel, and finally the court of the priests.  Jesus was in the court of the gentiles in verse 14.

Because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities decided to set up their animal market and tables for the money changers in the court of the gentiles. It had become a very corrupt system.  For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to attend the Passover feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal right there in the temple.  But there were many cases where a priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable.   So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals.  Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals.  On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell, the highpriest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar.  That’s quite a reduction in price!

This monopoly on sacrificial animals and the outrageous charges tended to make the temple worship hateful to the people.  The sacrificial system was originally set up by God in the book of Exodus to allow the worshipper to bring one of his own animals, an animal that the person cared for from its birth and cherished.  By giving this animal to be sacrificed, the person was giving a part of himself and his work to God.

This was also the time of the year for the annual temple tax to cover the cost of repairs to the temple.  The temple officials would only accept payment with the sacred half-schekel of the temple, so all the local and foreign money had to be exchanged, and, of course, there was a substantial service change!  The temple had become like a circus!  The sounds of the animal auction, the noise of the money changers, and the offensive smell of a barnyard distracted the people from worship.  That’s what the Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced when they walked into the temple that day.

III.  CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (verses 15-16)

In Exodus 12:15 God tells His people on the first day of the week of the Passover to remove all leaven, and everything with heaven in it, from their houses in preparation for the Passover meal.  Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption, and the Lord Jesus was about to rid the temple of the corruption that was in it.  He made a scourge of cords and used it to drive out the oxen.  He turned over the money tables, and you can imagine the scramble for the rolling coins!  He also herded out the sheep, and ordered those who sold the doves to remove the cages from the temple.  You can see the Lord’s restraint.  He wanted to safeguard the innocent birds and do no harm to the animals or the people.  It’s at this time that He calls God His Father in verse 16, thereby proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Within minutes the place was cleared.  All that remained to be done was the picking up of the litter and cleaning the floor!

Jesus took on the powerful hierarchy of the scribes, pharisees, priests, and sudducees.  In Matthew 23:38, when Jesus cleansed the temple for the second and last time, He called it “your house”.  Jesus had prophetically handed “their” temple over for destruction, and the temple was later destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.

IV..  LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)

This incident in Christ”s life made a definite impression on His disciples, who remembered Psalm 69:9 – a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says  “Zeal for my Father’s house shall consume Me.”  In this passage it was predicted that when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God.  They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure.

Let us remember that as Christians, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Lord Jesus was anxious that the temple in Jerusalem should be kept pure, so we should be careful that our bodies are turned over to the Lord for continual cleansing by confessing our sins to Him and turning away from them.  Let us also remind ourselves that true worship is voluntary.  It involves the consecration of ourselves, and all we possess, to Him.  Have we given the Lord Jesus Christ the place of ownership in our own individual lives?  Are we being good stewards of all that He has given us, using it for His glory, as an act of worship to Him?  If so, it will be obvioius to those around us.  If so, we will reap an eternal inheritance, and receive His praise and rewards when we stand before Him in heaven some day.

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

 

 

 

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “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 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part I) – Jonah. chapters 1 and 2

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This is a message I have preached many times, especially when I was a college campus minister in Southern California.  Since I will be quoting several passages from this book, the message is much longer, so I will be sharing it with you in two parts.  I hope this amazing and entertaining book of the Bible will also have many lessons for you, and draw your heart closer to God.

INTRODUCTION:

I’d like you to think for a moment of a person   .  .  .  a person in your neighborhood, or where your work, or where you go to school, or where you do business.  Someone that you come in contact with often.  Someone you don’t like being around!  Is someone coming to mind?  Either because of this person’s nationality, or personality, or the way he or she looks, or acts, or treats you, or for whatever reason, this person causes in you feelings of anger or dislike.  Question:  Do you and I, as Christians, have a responsibility even to such a person?

THE BOOK OF JONAH

The book of Jonah, in the Old Testament, deals with this very issue.  How many of you have ever been fishing, or have friends or family members who like to fish?  Then you’ve probably heard some “fish stories”, like the story about “the one that got away”.  Have you noticed that the more often that story is told, the bigger that fish gets!

There are many people today who think of the book of Jonah as just another “big fish story”.  But the book of Jonah is God’s Word, and it has a message for us today.  ILLUSTRATION:  One day a young man travelling on a train began to discuss the Bible with a Christian seated next to him.  “If you can prove to me that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, I’ll believe all the rest of the Bible”, he said.  “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” asked his companion.  Surprised by the strange response, the first man answered, “That’s beside the point!”  “Oh no, it’s not”, replied the Christian.  “Tell me, do you think that Jesus Christ was wise?”  “Yes”, he said, “I think He was the wisest man who ever lived.” ” Well He believed what you call a ‘fish story’,  for see what He said in Matthew 12:40.”  The unbeliever was amazed to find that the passage of Scripture read, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  “You see”, said the Christian, “Jesus believed the account of Jonah!”  “Thanks mister”, was his reply, “That’s proof enough for me!”

To doubt the story of Jonah and the fish is to doubt the authority and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, for He considered this event in Jonah’s life to be a fact.  And the book of Jonah has an important message for us today

THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK

The writer of the book of Jonah had two main purposes for writing this book under the inspiration of God.  The first purpose was to show us Jonah’s motivation for the things he did, and for his attitude.  Secondly, the writer wanted to show us something about God’s character, what God is like.  Let’s look at the first two chapters of the book of Jonah and see what we can learn from them today.

I.  JONAH’S DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT (1:1-16)

Jonah 1:1-3 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  So he went down to Joppa, found a ship that was going to Tarshish,  paid the fare,  and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Nineveh was east of Israel, and Jonah went west, in the opposite direction.  He went to Joppa and boarded a ship headed for Tarshish, which is modern-day Spain.  Jonah wanted to get as far away from God and God’s plan for him as he possibly could.  Is it possible to escape from the presence of the Lord?  God is all-present, isn’t He.  Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”  How do we behave when no one is looking but God?  Let’s test ourselves this week.

What was Jonah’s motivation for fleeing?  Was it cowardice?  Was he afraid to go to Nineveh?  Well he had good reason to be afraid.  Nineveh was probably the largest and one of the most wicked cities in the world at that time.  Chapter 4, verse 11 says there were “more than 120,000 people who did not know the difference between their right and left hand.”  If God is speaking in a physical sense, this could be referring to children under the age of five, because it’s often hard to tell whether a child that age is right or left handed.  If God is speaking in a physical sense here, the total population of Nineveh could have been over 600,000 people, which is a large city even by today’s standards.

So, was Jonah a coward?  No.  Let me read for you 1:11-12:  “So they said to him. ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us’ – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.  And he said to them, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  Jonah was willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of the sailors when God brought the great wind and storm in verses 4-14.  When the sailors cast lots in verse 7 to learn who caused this storm to come upon them, the lot fell to Jonah.  When they asked him for information about himself, he told them that he was a Hebrew, and when he told them about his God, the men knew he was fleeing from the Lord.

It’s interesting that they give Jonah an option when they asked him in verse 11, “What shall we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”  Jonah replied in verse 12, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  But the crew was unwilling to do it, and kept on rowing, and finally prayed to Jonah’s God and asked for forgiveness for what they were going to do.  Then in verse 15 they “picked up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging” just like Jonah said it would.  This caused the sailors to show reverence to Jonah’s God, and they offered a sacrifice to Him in verse 17 and made vows to God.  Jonah’s courage and the fulfillment of his words caused them to believe in his God.

II.  JONAH’S DELIVERANCE (1:17 – 2:10)

But this isn’t the end of the story.  Jonah did not drown.  Verse 17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.  ILLUSTRATION:  Some people say there isn’t a creature in the sea that is capable of performing such a feat.  But scientists know better.  For instance, in 1912 Captain Charles Thompson harpooned a huge mammal off the coast of Florida which, when it was brought to land, was found to contain another 1500-pound fish that it had swallowed whole!  Those who examined Thompson’s catch said it could have swallowed 20 average-size men!  A Baptist minister who came on the scene stood in the creature’s mouth, holding his hands above his head, and still found that he was too short to reach the top of the fish’s mouth!  And we must not forget that the creature referred to in Jonah 1:17 was especially “prepared” for its unique assignment by the Lord Himself.

Jonah was in the stomach of that fish three days and three nights.  God not only spared Jonah’s life, He gave Him some time to think about what he had done.  I’m sure that being inside that fish was by no means an enjoyable experience.  ILLUSTRATION:  A wealthy lady had a very spoiled and strong-willed youngster.  One day, when a wasp flew in the window, the boy, seeing its brilliant colors, began crying for it.  At last the mother called to the servant who was taking care of the child, “What is that boy crying for?  Will you please let him have it?”  A few minutes later she was startled by a loud scream.  “What’s’ the matter?” asked the mother.  “He got what he wanted” was the servant’s reply.  Sometimes in God’s great wisdom He allows us to feel the sting and misery of our own selfish, disobedient ways, that we might learn through our pain and humiliation that the Lord knows what is best.

We find in chapter 2 that Jonah prays to God from the stomach of the fish.  If you were in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights, what kind of a prayer would you pray?  I know what I would say:  “Help, Lord; please get me out of here!”  But in chapter 2 Jonah prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his life.  And at the end of his prayer Jonah says what God wants to hear.  In chapter 2, verse 9, Jonah says:  “That which I have vowed I will pay.”  After that promise by Jonah, verse 10 says, “Then the Lord  commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.”  And what are God’s first words to Jonah?  Does He say, “Jonah, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you smell like a fish.  Why don’t you go home and get some rest!”  No.  God’s first words to Jonah in Chapter 3 are:  “Go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”  God is going to have His way in Jonah’s life, and He brings Jonah back to His original command to Him.

So far we’ve learned that disobedience to God has its consequences.  We’ve learned that the book of Jonah is factual and should be treated that way.  We’ve seen some amazing things that God has done, and it’s going to get even more amazing in the rest of this book.  I hope to have chapters 3 and 4 finished next week and posted for you to read.  Don’t miss the exciting conclusion, and don’t forget that God is always watching you and wants you to enjoy His presence.