GOD’S HARVEST IN SAMARIA – John 4:35-42

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One evening a man who lived in the western part of the United States was walking home across an open field.  Looking up he saw his little son running through the tall grass to meet him.  Suddenly the boy disappeared.  The father thought he had just stumbled, but when he came nearer he heard a gurgling cry and found that the child had fallen into an open well.  He was almost too late, and was barely able to save him.  When the little fellow finally regained consciousness, he looked up and said, “Daddy, why didn’t you hurry?”  Those words, and the child’s gurgling cry for help, rang in the father’s ears for many days.

We’ve spent much time studying the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  At the end of that conversation she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and, leaving her water pot behind, she hurried back to her town to tell the men about Jesus.  I think she jogged the half-mile or so to her town of Sychar and probably made it there in less than 10 minutes.  Verse 30 tells us that the men of the city listened to her, believed her words, and were following her out of their city and coming to meet Jesus.  Have you ever done any speed walking or power walking?  I don’t know how effectively you could walk in such a way on dirt roads, and wearing long robes and sandals, but she was doing her best to make haste.  Not only is this woman an evangelist to her people, she’s also their personal guide and pace-setter!  She wanted to get everyone there before Jesus and His disciples left the well and continued their journey.  I imagine that the pace slowed down a bit once Jesus and His disciples came into view.

I.  TIME TO HARVEST (verse 35)

Meanwhile the Lord Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples.  In verse 35, Jesus uses a popular saying:  “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest.’ ”  It may have been a saying that a farmer would use in order to let people know that his seed had been sown and the crop would be ready to be harvested in four months.  That’s the normal growing season for grain in that part of the country in those days.  The farmer may also be using it to spread the news, and have others spread the news, that he’s going to need help harvesting his crop in four months.  So those words “there are yet four months, and then comes the harvest”  would be passed along in people’s conversations.   Along with those words goes the promise that he will pay a day’s wages for a day’s work when harvest time comes.  You could say that this was a way of advertising and “spreading the good news”.  The Lord Jesus is saying these words to His disciples as both an illustration and a contrast to what is about to happen.  Once again Jesus is using physical realities in order to lead into and explain spiritual realities.

The Lord Jesus continues the conversation by giving them some startling and convicting news.  “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”  He probably used the words “lift up your eyes” because the grain fields were on higher ground which slopped down toward them.  The term “white for harvest” means that the grain is already mature and dried out, ready for immediate harvesting.  He directed their gaze away from Himself by stretching out His hand and pointing in a sweeping motion in the direction of the city, to the grain fields along the way.  As they look, they begin to realize the difference between physical harvesting and spiritual harvesting. What do they see?  At first glance they see green fields of grain that are not mature because it is not yet that time of the year.  What they see next really startles them.  The fields are beginning to turn white as droves of Samaritans, dressed in their white tunics, are walking toward them down the hillside along the paths through the grain fields, and they are being led by the Samaritan woman.  What the Lord Jesus has just said to them is literally coming to pass:  the fields are “white” for a spiritual harvest!

II.  SOWING AND REAPING (verses 36-38)

While the Samaritans are still a short distance from the well, the Lord Jesus uses this opportunity to teach His disciples about sowing and reaping, and about the rewards that come as a result.  He says in verse 36, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.”  Usually it’s the reaper who gets the glory here on this earth.  But the sower works hard cultivating the ground, then planting the seed and watering it.  It’s a responsibility that requires patience, persistence, and faith.  There are prayers to God, often with tears, that God would provide favorable, growing conditions and rain at the proper time.  All this work is done without seeing any immediate results, and without the assurance that he will see any results for his efforts.  Harvesting is also hard work but the results are immediate and the joy is immediate.

In this case, Jesus is pointing out that the spiritual harvest of souls has followed closely behind the sowing of the seed pf the gospel message.  The woman believed and is bringing the men of the city to meet Jesus and to hear what He has said to her.  But even in this case, there were others who may have had a part in preparing the ground and sowing the seed.  The Old Testament prophets predicted His coming and gave information concerning the coming Messiah.  John the Baptist may have been baptizing nearby and many Samaritans may have observed him and listened to his words.

In verses 37-38, the Lord Jesus uses His explanation of what is happening before their eyes to teach them two principles about sowing and reaping a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.  “For in this case the saying is true, ‘one sows, and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Each step in the process of a spiritual harvest of souls is equally necessary and equally valuable in God’s sight.  It’s a team-effort, even though we may not know, and may not have met all of the members of the team.  The popular saying “one sows, and another reaps” gives us principle #1:  OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO BE FAITHFUL AND OBEDIENT WITNESSES FOR CHRIST.  THAT’S WHAT HE DESIRES OF US, AND THAT SHOULD BRING US JOY BECAUSE OUR LABORS WILL NOT BE IN VAIN.  GOD WILL BRING THE HARVEST AND WE WILL BE REWARDED FOR OUR FAITHFULNESS.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 4:1-2, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”

In many eastern countries, professional weavers often are unable to complete the extensive tapestries assigned to them during their lifetime.  As one of them dies, however, another weaver picks up the threads and weaves on according to the original pattern until the masterpiece is completed for all to see and admire.  In a similar way, God wants Christians to be faithful witnesses for Him by their words, their prayers, and their example so that others may enter into their labors to continue the work.  Thus, even after we die, others will be reaping where we have sown and watered the seed of God’s word.

A second principle may be drawn from Jesus’ words in verse 38:  WHEN GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF HARVESTING SOULS, REMEMBER THAT OTHERS HAVE PREPARED THE WAY FOR US, AND THAT ONLY GOD DESERVES THE GLORY.  Speaking of the harvest of souls in the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6).  Without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit of God, as He empowers the Word of God, there would be no salvation, and there would be no changed lives as a result.  Let’s give God the glory when He gives us the privilege of bringing others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and as we witness the changed lives that are a result of that commitment.  Remember, only God can make things grow; only God can change the heart of a person and impart spiritual life.

A Chinese National, Christiana Tsai, told of her ministry to her family after years of suffering pain through many illnesses.  One day, one of her brothers, who had rejected the gospel, assembled the members of the family without them knowing the purpose behind it.  He then said to them, “I have been to see Christiana many times and wondered how she could endure all this suffering.  Now I can see that she has been given some sustaining power and can only explain it as coming from God.  So, I have decided there must be a God after all.  I have read the Bible and realize that I am a sinner.  So here and now I want to tell you that I have accepted Christ as my Savior, asked Him to forgive my sins, and promised to follow Him.”

Christiana commented that “the brother who tore up my Bible and persecuted me in the early days at last confessed my Lord.  In all, fifty-five of my relatives have become God’s children and expressed their faith in Jesus.  I have never been to college, or theological seminary, and I am not a Bible teacher; I have only been God’s hunting dog.” (Christiana Tsai, Queen of the Dark Chamber, p. 184).  I like her description of herself.  As a “hunting dog” she has stayed close to her Master, obeyed His every command, and is always ready to retrieve what belongs to Him.  No advanced degrees or professional licenses are required – just a willingness to be of service and a deep love for the Master and for all whom the Master loves.

III.  MINISTRY TO THE SAMARITANS (verses 39-40)

By this time the crowd of Samaritan men from Sychar, who were seen coming toward them, had arrived at the well.  Verse 39 says, “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done’.”  So many of these Samaritans had already believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, based on the testimony of the woman, before they even met Jesus.  Such is the effect of a personal testimony empowered by the Spirit of God.  An important principle can be learned from this verse of Scripture, and evangelist Billy Graham expresses it very clearly and powerfully.  He says, “As we look at history time and again, we are struck time after time by the fact that God has used the most unlikely and the most unworthy instruments to bring about spiritual awakening.”  First Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.”

Billy Graham continues by giving a challenge:  “If God could use such a woman two thousand years ago to bring a revival to the city of Sychar, how much more can He use you and me today, if we would put ourselves in His hand!  He can use us in our community, our town, our city, our country!” (Unto the Hills, pg. 166,167)

Verse 40 says, “So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.”  What a generous and enthusiastic response by the Samaritans!  They were treating Him like a King with His royal officials, and were eager to show their hospitality and learn more about Him!  Never had Jesus received such treatment before, and never would He receive it again during His three years of ministry; and it came from Samaritans, not Jews!  You might say that a revival was taking place in Sychar, Samaria, and Jesus gladly accepted their invitation.  He had already shown them that He was free from racial and social prejudices.  Those two days in Samaria included more than just holding meetings, sharing God’s Word, and answering questions.  Jesus and His disciples were getting to know the people of the city personally, on a first-name basis  – visiting their homes, meeting their families, eating their food with them, and sleeping in their beds.  What a learning experience this must have been for His disciples!  Many of the Jewish rules and traditions were being set aside because people are more important than traditions.

IV.  THEIR RESPONSE (verses 41-42)

What was the result of their time spent with the people of Sychar, Samaria?  Verse 41 says, “And many more believed because of His word.”  Not just “more”, but many more”!  You know how it is when something really unusual and exciting is going on – people from outlying areas come to the city to find out what’s happening.  Good news spreads fast, doesn’t it?  Especially when the good news is that the Messiah is here in Sychar – “Come and see”!  Notice that the Samaritans didn’t ask for any signs.  Jesus performed no miracles for them.  They didn’t need any miracles because they believed who Jesus was, and eagerly received the words He said to them.

After spending two days with Jesus, the men of the city said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”  This is the first time that the title, “the Savior of the world”, is used when referring to Jesus, and the title was given to him by the Samaritans.  Jesus had said to the woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews”.  By using that title (“the Savior of the world”) when referring to Jesus, the Samaritans were saying:  “We have found, not just salvation but a Savior, and not just the Savior of the Jews but the Savior of the world.”

CONCLUSION:

Is the Lord Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?  If not, why not?  Can you face that question honestly and be honest with yourself and with God?  You are in the process of sinking into the mire of your own sins by your own choice, and you’re the only one who can choose to be pulled out of it by the grace of God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in your place.  The saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is true.  Delayed intentions are “non-intentions” in the sight of God.  He doesn’t accept “promissory notes” as proof of repentance and commitment.  The saying, “You’re playing with fire; you’re going to get burned” is also true.  Please, don’t put off until tomorrow what you will eternally regret if this turns out to be your last day on this earth.  If there was something that you really wanted to do, more than anything else on this earth, and there was nothing standing in your way, would you put it off?  I don’t think so.  If you say to yourself, “I’m working on it”, what’s left to be done that can’t be done right now?  Please don’t put off for another moment the joy of being a new person – a child of God, and the assurance of spending eternity with Him in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

If you are a Christian, are you concerned about those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?  If you saw a little child fall into a well, you would do everything in your power to save his physical life, wouldn’t you?  What are you and I going to do today, and every day, for those around us who are drowning spiritually and eternally?  Be sure to apply this lesson from the response of the Samaritan woman at the well:  IF YOU WANT OTHERS TO KNOW WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR THEM, LET THEM SEE AND HEAR WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR YOU.

May God give you the desire and enabling to do what you know He wants you to do as a result of studying this passage of Scripture.

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS (Part IV) – John 3:19-21

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS

INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever played Hide and Go Seek?  It was one of the after-supper games that the children in our neighborhood would play.  The way we played it, as kids, was with one “seeker” who was chosen for the first game, and the position rotated so that each of us had at least one turn.  The rest of the children were “hiders”.  The seeker would begin by closing his eyes, then counting to one hundred loudly, giving the hiders time to find a place to hide.  For those who couldn’t count that high, they could count to ten for each of their ten fingers.  When the seeker finished counting, he would say loudly, “Ready or not, here I come!”  Then the search began.  The winner was the last one found.  At first it was pretty easy to find the hiders, but as the evening wore on, it became darker, and finding one another became harder.  That was because the darkness became part of your hiding place, and you could sometimes even move to another hiding place without being seen (which was against the rules but nobody would know).  When our parents called us in to get ready for bed, it always seemed that it was at the time when the game was becoming the easiest for the hiders and the most challenging for the seekers.

The darkness had become our friend.  While the sun was out, it was our enemy, so to speak.  The sun made it harder for us to hide because there weren’t as many good hiding places.  We could too-easily be seen.  But the darker it became, the more we blended in with the darkness.  That’s why some of the kids wore dark clothing.  They were more obvious when the sun was out, but when the sun was going down they were better able to blend in with the darkness.  Our parents realized that the darkness could also be our enemy, causing us to stumble or bump into things and get hurt because we couldn’t see where we were going.  That’s why they called us to come inside, even when we didn’t have school the next morning.

I’ve just shared about physical light and darkness, and their affect on our game of Hide And Go Seek.  Jesus is concluding his conversation with Nicodemus by talking about spiritual light and darkness.  He’s going to tell Nicodemus why many people don’t want to be born anew by the Spirit of God, and why they do not want to admit their own sinfulness and hopelessness, and look to Him in faith.

I.  THE VERDICT (verse 19)

Verse 19 says:  “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The Lord Jesus is calling Himself “the light who has come into the world”   People don’t want to be born again by the Spirit of God.  They don’t want to recognize their sinfulness and helplessness, and look in faith to His Son for forgiveness and healing.  They like their evil ways and don’t want to give them up

Of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah was the best known, and his writings were the most-often read.  The reason for this was his focus on the coming Messiah.  His words were a source of hope, joy, and expectation.  I’m sure that Nicodemus had memorized many portions of Isaiah, and as Jesus talks to him about light and darkness, those Scriptures are coming to his mind, and Jesus knows that this is happening.  In the book of Isaiah, the Messiah is often referred as a “light in the darkness”.  For example, Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”  Another Messianic prophecy in Isaiah is Isaiah 60;2,3:  “For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you.  And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  Jesus’ words and His judgment were not unfamiliar to Nicodemus.  He also remembered Scriptures referring to light and darkness in the psalms.

Through these illustrations, Jesus is saying that He didn’t come into this world to judge, but to save.  However, people are judging themselves when they refuse to turn from their darkness and respond to His light.  William Barclay shares an illustration that brings the point across.  A visitor was being shown round an art gallery by one of the attendants.  In that gallery were certain masterpieces beyond all price, possessions of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius.  At the end of the tour the visitor said, “Well, I don’t think much of your old pictures.”  The attendant answered quietly, “Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer on trial, but those who look at them are.”  That man’s reaction demonstrated his own blindness to beauty and talent.

II.  THE EXPLANATION (verse 20)

In verse 20, the Lord Jesus explains more fully what He said in verse 19.  Here are His words:  “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  The light that Jesus is referring to is Himself, “the light of the world”  He’s not using these words in a physical or intellectual sense, but from a moral and spiritual perspective.  He’s telling Nicodemus that, in spite of the fact that God loves the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for their sins so that they might have forgiveness and a new life, the vast majority of the people do not want to come to Him.  In their pride they are saying, “I like living in my sin.  Leave me alone!  Don’t expose me to the truth because I don’t want to hear it!”  The word “hate” is a very strong emotion and choice.  It’s directed not only toward it’s revealing effects, but also to its Source.  They don’t want to see themselves as they really are.  Therefore they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus.  It’s a self-imposed spiritual blindness and darkness.  In the Old Testament, darkness (in a spiritual sense) is a place where the light of God does not shine.  Jesus has given Nicodemus a description of those who will not come to the light, as well as the reasons for that choice.  The apostle Paul gives a description of such people when he speaks to Timothy about the last days.  “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:2-4).  That’s quite a description!

I found an illustration that fits that description to some degree.  The story is told of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong distain for “religious” things.  As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship.  October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever – the best in the entire county.  When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God.  Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”  The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite.  In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared.  It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.” (William F. Brown in Making Sense of Your Faith)

III.  THE ALTERNATIVE AND THE INVITATION (verse 21)

Verse 21 gives the last words recorded by John of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  The Lord Jesus says, “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”  Nicodemus did “come to the light” (Jesus), even though it was under the cover of darkness.  This act shows a desire to want to know the truth about Jesus, but his understanding is unclear.  He hasn’t acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah because there has not been a response of worship, repentance and obedience.  There has been no evidence of change in his life and no commitment to follow Him.  I sense that an invitation is being given to Nicodemus by Jesus.  The next step in his life is to be born again by the power of the Spirit of God so that he can manifest the glory of God in his life.

The conversation ends abruptly there.  John records no parting remarks.  He leaves it there and moves on.  We aren’t told the affect this meeting has had on Nicodemus.  There don’t seem to be any immediate results.  Nicodemus goes back home and his life continues where it left off before this meeting.  He has much to think about and sort out in his mind.

In 1964, Billy Page wrote a song and his brother Gene arranged it.  The song was originally performed by Dobie Gray in 1965 and became a big hit here in the USA and in the UK.  The name of the song is “The In Crowd”.  Here are the words to the first stanza:

I’m in with the “in-crowd”; I go where the “in-crowd” goes.
I’m in with the “in-crowd”, and I know what the “in-crowd” knows.
Anytime of the year don’t you hear; dressing fine, making time.
We breeze up and down the street; we get respect from all the people we meet.
They make way day or night; they know the “in-crowd” is out-of-sight
.

Nicodemus is leaving the presence of Jesus to go back to the “in-crowd”.  As a Pharisee, and especially as a leader in the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus is in the “in-crowd” of Jewish society at that time and place.  The words of that song ring true for him.  But if any member of the “in-crowd” found out that Nicodemus had a personal meeting with Jesus, he would be out of the “in-crowd” in a hurry!  Make no mistake about that!

Nicodemus is “out-of-sight” alright!  He makes a comment about following God’s Law when his associates are making accusations about Jesus in John 7:50-53, and then we don’t hear about him for over two years!  I believe that Nicodemus was there, together with the other rulers, watching Jesus die on that cross (Luke 23:35).  It would have been obvious to him that Jesus’ illustration of the serpent on the pole was being fulfilled before his eyes.   Did Nicodemus become a follower of Christ?  I’m convinced that he did.  He wouldn’t have gone along with Joseph of Arimathea to request the body of Christ from Pilate, and he would not have spent a fortune for aloes and spices in order to give Jesus a King’s burial if he wasn’t convinced that Jesus was his Messiah (John 19:38-40).  He was no longer a member of the “in-crowd”.  He had become a child of God and was now a member of God’s family:  the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION:

There is much that we can learn from Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus.  For one, Jesus’ life was a major part of His witness.  Nicodemus was impressed with Jesus and with His method of teaching.  He wanted to meet Him and talk to Him personally.  By welcoming Nicodemus, showing respect and listening to him, Jesus was given the privilege of responding to him. and focusing on his deepest need.  Jesus let Nicodemus know that there was a cure for his deepest needs, even though Nicodemus didn’t express them.  Everyone needs a cure for sin and its effects on their lives, and Jesus pointed Him to the only cure.  Jesus kept His presentation simple, using physical illustrations that were familiar to Nicodemus in order to help him understand spiritual realities.  Most importantly, Jesus stressed the love of God for him.  God’s love for him and for the world was Jesus’ primary focus.  That’s why God provided a way to Himself through the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is why Nicodemus would give up what he had and become a follower of Jesus Christ.  Let’s keep those principles, demonstrated by Jesus, in mind and follow His example in witnessing.

There are also lessons to be learned from Nicodemus.  What I’ve learned this week is that Nicodemus was an exception to the rule.  He was not the typical Pharisee and Ruler.  But every person has the potential of being an exception to the rule by the grace of God.  Look at the apostle Paul!  So don’t give up on people.  Love them, take an interest in them, befriend them, listen to them, and pray for them.  Remember that you also have the potential of being an exception to the rule by the grace of God.   



CONSTRUCTION SITE :

Welcome to this completed work site: John 3:19-21.  It’s time to move to the site next door as we keep working our way down the block.  John the Baptist designed the next building for us, and it’s time to follow his blueprint and enjoy seeing what it looks like with each working day.  Please come back again soon or visit other completed messages on this blog.  May God shed the light of His Word on your life and cause you to shine brightly for Him, as He lives and reigns in you.

 

QUESTIONS TO PRAY ABOUT – James 5:13-16a

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James begins this verse by asking, “Is any one of you in trouble?”  Do you think that James is expecting a “no” answer?  Is he using the laws of probability here? Let’s say that James expects at least 5000 people to read or hear this letter. Therefore there must be at least one person who has this “trouble”.  I don’t think so.  James is expecting a positive response.  If that’s true, then why is he asking the question?  Why doesn’t he just tell them to pray when they are troubled? James is asking a “rhetorical question” here, and he uses three of them in verses 13 and 14.

Sometimes a rhetorical question is used to give the recipient a moment to pause and think about it before receiving the answer.  It can be used as a teaching tool.   Since the reader or listener knows that the answer is “yes”, he may be more likely to listen and pay attention to what is said next.  The Lord Jesus used rhetorical questions.  In Mark 8 He used them repeatedly for the purpose of encouragement and application.

I.  ARE YOU TROUBLED? (verse 13a)

The Greek word translated “troubled” in the NIV, is the word kakopathei.  It can refer to suffering evil or hardship of any kind.  These Hebrew Christians and their families have been scattered all over Asia Minor because of the persecution, so they are struggling to find jobs, learn a new language and adjust to a different culture.  That can be very frustrating!  James knew that they needed some encouragement and some practical steps to take in order to ease their troubled minds.

Let me translate the Greek word into terms and expressions that we can all identify with.  “Are you feeling down?”  “Are you worried or distressed?”  “Are you having a bad day?”  “Are things just not going your way today?  “Do you feel like you got up on the wrong side of the bed?”  James’ response to his question is:  PRAY.  He doesn’t mean “say a prayer”.  He is encouraging them to go into the presence of God, praise and worship Him, get right with Him, give thanks to Him, and then bring their requests to Him.  By the time they get to their petition, they might find that they don’t have any urgent requests anymore.  They now feel refreshed and have a new perspective on their day.  The focus of attention has moved from their problems to their all-sufficient God.

II.  ARE YOU CHEERFUL?  (verse 13b)

The Greek word translated “cheerful” here means feeling good inside; a joyful spirit that is not dependent upon circumstances.  James says, “when you’re cheerful, sing about it, and don’t sing just any song, sing a psalm – a song of praise to God!”  Let the joy that’s inside come out – don’t keep it to yourself!   The apostle Paul and Silas were singing praises to God at midnight while they were in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25)!

Many of you have probably enjoyed listening to a large choir as they sang the great hymns of the faith.  But if you’ve ever sung in a choir yourself, you know that singing your heart out with the other choir members after all the hours of practice is an even greater experience of joy and praise to God.  And don’t forget the enjoyment that God is experiencing as He listens to your voices and the expressions of praise from your hearts.  It is a mutually gratifying experience!

Singing played a major role in the history of the people of Israel.  There are several times in the Old Testament when the whole nation of Israel sang together to the Lord.  These occasions probably came to the mind of James as he was writing these words, and also to the minds of his readers and listeners.  The first time was in Exodus 15, when Moses and the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, and the entire Egyptian army drowned when the waters returned to their place.  The first few words of that song are:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea” (NKJV). Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?  Thousands of people singing it as loud as they could, their faces beaming with joy!  If you read the entire song, you will see that it was more than just a song.  It was a cheer to God, a vocal applause, shouting out to Him in song in response to the great things He has done. When was the last time you gave God a “round of applause” for the things He has done in your life and in the lives of others?  Don’t you think He deserves that kind of a response from our mouths?

When we’re happy we can be a source of cheer and encouragement to others also.  If you’ve been to a football, basketball, or soccer game, and the cheerleaders have you and the rest of the crowd cheering, your team usually plays harder and better.  Your cheers are urging them on and building their confidence. Statistics generally show that more games are won when the team is on its own “home field”, or has the “home court advantage.”

Once, when a great fire broke out at midnight and people thought that all the occupants of the building had been evacuated, way up on the fifth floor a little child was seen crying for help.  Up went a ladder, and soon a fireman was seen ascending to the spot.  As he neared the second story the flames burst in fury from the windows, and the multitude almost despaired of the rescue of the child.  The brave man faltered, and a comrade at the bottom cried out, “Cheer him!”  Cheer upon cheer arose from the crowd.  Up the ladder he went and saved the child, because they cheered him.  When we’re happy, let’s be “cheerleaders” to those around us.

There are several other occasions where the whole nation of Israel sang praises to God.  For example, there is I Chronicles 15 (the return of the Ark of God), and II Chronicles 5 (dedication of the temple).  In addition to these occasions, James remembers the final Passover meal that he and the other disciples celebrated with the Lord Jesus.  Since Jesus presided over the meal, after they had eaten the lamb and unleavened bread, it was Jesus who also led them in the customary singing of a hymn.  Jesus sang a hymn of praise and deliverance from the land of Egypt, knowing that the next day He was going to be that Lamb Who would be sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world.  Yet He was able to sing for joy!  I hope and pray that there is a song in your heart, and on your lips today!

III.  ARE YOU WITHOUT STRENGTH?  (verses 14-16)

Another time for specific prayer is when someone within the congregation is sick. I believe this is the only place in the New Testament where praying and anointing of the sick are mentioned in conjunction with each other.  Therefore we must be very careful to understand the context of James’ words, and especially to understand the meaning of the Greek words that are used in these verses. This is not a passage of Scripture that can be clearly understood by just reading it in several translations.  Rather, I think that this is a passage of Scripture that can be easily misunderstood and misapplied if it isn’t thoroughly examined.  Get ready for some hard work and attention to details!

After examining the context of verses 14 to 16, and in the process of studying the first significant Greek word in verse 14, I am getting an altogether different understanding of what is happening in these three verses.  Please join me in laying aside previous ideas and conclusions for a while, and let’s take a fresh look at this text and its applications to us today.

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself as I look at the context.  James has been addressing emotional, social, and spiritual issues in this letter.  Why would he suddenly switch to physical healing in an unclear manner and then back away from it as suddenly as he brought it up?  What does anointing with oil, confession of sin, and forgiveness have to do with sickness?  What kind of “healing” is being spoken about here?

The first Greek word I am now studying is the word asthenei.  It is the word I have highlighted in the NASB translation of the first sentence in James 5:14:  “Is anyone among you sick?  It literally means, “without strength”.  In Mark 6:13 it is associated with the casting out of demons. The apostle Paul used this Greek word when referring to one’s conscience being weak (Romans 6:19; I Cor. 8:7), and the weakness of one’s flesh when it comes to giving into temptation and sin (Romans 8:3).

Notice also in verse 14, it says, “is any one among you sick, let him call for the elders . . . “.  Whatever this “sickness”  or “lack of strength” is, it isn’t incapacitating and it doesn’t appear to be physically contagious.  Also, since he is the one calling upon the elders, his specific purpose for doing so is so that they might pray for him, anointing him with oil as they pray.    This person has come to the point where he wants to make it known that he is ready and willing to do this, and wants the elders of the church to be in charge of it.  If it seems that I am belaboring the point, there is a reason for it.

I like the way the Greek Interlinear New Testament literally translates what the elders are doing:  “let them pray over him, having anointed with oil . . . “.  The  word “anointed” here means “to rub”.  It is a different word from the one used to anoint people or vessels for service to God.  Here is my interpretation based on the context of what James dealt with before it, and what proceeds afterward. As we all may know from experience, many of the issues that James has been addressing (e.g. anger, jealousy, bitterness, guilt, and anxiety) can have overpowering effects on us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and also physically.  They can draw us inward and control our personalities much like the effects of a harmful addictive drug.  Therefore I personally wonder if the elders were giving this man something similar to massage therapy and aroma therapy to soothe and comfort him in his anguish.   At the same time they were praying over him, so that he might get some things that have been bothering him “off his chest” so to speak.  The penetrating oil, the soothing aroma, the faces of these elders above him, and the sound of their prayers are preparing him to release the troubles and sins that have been eating away at his soul.  It is done in the name of the Lord, because God deserves the glory and praise for what only He can do.

In verse 15, James says, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (NASB).  The word translated “prayer” is a different Greek word for prayer.  It is the Greek word euche, which means “intense prayer“.  It is intense because it is offered in faith – grounded in the assurance of God’s will in this matter, and trusting in His enabling.  It may also be “intense” because these elders are praying together for a common purpose.  The following devotional article in Our Daily Bread is a true example of intense faith and intense prayer.

Louis Banks relates a story of a veteran missionary who returned to China after a long absence.  On the day of his return, he was met by a former convert and six other Chinese nationals.  These six, as the missionary later learned, had received Christ while living in the dark shadows of opium addiction.  Amazed by their good health, the missionary asked his former convert what remedy he had used in their deliverance.  The man answered by pointing to his knees.  He had prayed for them, and when they came to him for help he encouraged them to pray for themselves.  When they came back saying that it did them no good, the man of faith sent them back to their knees.  He said he did this again and again until they stood before him clean, sound in body and mind.  Through prayer, their cruel chains had been broken, and they had new songs of joy and praise on their lips.

Dr. M.R. DeHaan II, ends his devotional with these words:  “This doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t use other means of help.  But it says that whatever help we seek, nothing must replace the role of prayer.”

As James says in verse 15, “the prayer of faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”  (NASB)  God has given each of us a body, soul, and spirit, and when one of these aspects of our being is weak and hurting, it affects the other two.  From this verse and verse 16, it appears that the source of the weakness is spiritual, but it has weakened the body and emotions as well.  When God “raises him up”, He is restoring vitality to every part of his being.

So James exhorts them in verse 16 to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NIV).  He is emphasizing that the sins they have been committing against each other are the source of their problems, and gives the remedy.  As Jews, his readers would tend to associate suffering with sin, and in this case they are correct.  The remedy is not only to confess their sins to God, but also to confess their sins to those whom they have wronged, praying for each other as well.  Only then can our relationships be healed.  As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “. , , first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:24).

Confession isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do in God’s sight.  God will always give us the strength to do what is right if we ask it of Him.  Is there someone you should talk to today, confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness?  The first stanza of the hymn entitled “The Evening Prayer” contains these words:

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive

by Maude Battersby

 

May you experience the joy of our Lord’s presence and closeness today, and may He shine out on your countenances as He did on the face of Moses!  BE SHINY!  (Matthew 5:16 – a child’s paraphrase).

 

 

 

 

II TIMOTHY – Background and Survey

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

John Calvin, the great theologian and preacher of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say about I and II Timothy:  he said, “What I owe to these two epistles to TImothy can never be told.”  In other words, he couldn’t say enough about them and their effect on his life.  II Timothy is one of the great heart-warming letters of the Scriptures.  It has been called Paul’s last will and testament to Timothy, and through him to the church.

Try to imagine how Timothy must have felt when he received this letter from his friend and spiritual father who had recently been taken away from him forcibly by Nero’s soldiers.  Timothy probably thought that Paul had already been put to death by the Roman emperor, Nero.  What joy and encouragement must have filled Timothy’s heart as he read about Paul’s affection for him, and about Paul’s appeals to him and promises to Him from the Lord Jesus Christ!  Tears must have filled Timothy’s eyes as he read this letter, realizing the sufferings Paul was experiencing and the death he faced because of his committment to Jesus Christ.

II.  BACKGROUND:

The apostle Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy in 67 or 68 A.D., just five years after his first letter to Timothy.  Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome.  The first was more like a house arrest.  Paul lived in his own rented house and was given a great deal of freedom.  After this first imprisonment at the end of Acts 28, Paul made some more missionary journeys.  Then there developed a dramatic change in attitude toward Christianity on the part of the Roman government.  Just a few years  before the writing of this epistle, in July of 64 A.D., a great fire destroyed a large part of the city of Rome.  There was evidence that the fire had been ordered by Nero himself, and those rumors spread.  In a desperate effort to clear himself and get the focus of attention away from himself, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians.  The result was that many of the enemies of Christianity took sides with Nero and started persecuting and killing Christians.  This perseccution spread to all the Roman provinces.  It was not known for sure where the apostle Paul was when he was again arrested, but it may have been at Troas because Paul’s cloak and his precious books and parchments were left there.

The aged apostle Paul was now in chains in the dungeon of a Roman prison, locked in his cell and chained to a Roman guard day and night.  This epistle to Timothy must have been written only a few months before Paul’s death.  Whether or not Timothy arrived at Paul’s side before his execution is not known.

Timothy had been Paul’s faithful missionary companion for over 15 years.  He had travelled with Paul throughout most of his second and third missionary journeys.  He also went with Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 20 and may have been with him on his voyage to Rome.  Paul mentions Timothy’s name along with his own when he writes to Philemon and to the Philippian and Colossian churches.  In I Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”  He also calls Timothy his “brother and God’s faithful servant in the gospel of Christ” in I Thessalonians 3:2.  Because of Timothy’s genuine concern for the welfare of the churches, and because of the loyalty with which he served with Paul “as a son with his father”, in Philippians 2:20-22 Paul went so far as to say, “I have no one like him.”  Among all of Paul’s associates, Timothy was unique.

After Paul’s first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy in Ephesis as the accepted leader of that church.  But though he was in leadership, Timothy still had some things that weren’t in his favor.  Timothy was still young.  He was probably in his mid-thirties, but at that time a person of that age was still considered a youth in the Greek and Roman cultures.  He was also a frail person with several physical ailments, and he was apparently a shy person.

III.  PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF THE LETTER

Imagine for a moment the aged apostle Paul in a dungeon in Rome with no escape but death.  His apostolic work is over.  But now he must make sure that the work of Christ is carried on to future generations.  As Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy, Paul must have been thinking, “Who is going to continue the battle for the truth of the Gospel after I’m dead?”

Paul’ purpose in writing is to remind Timothy again that the precious Gospel is now committed to him, and now it’s his turn to assume responsibility for it, to preach it, to teach it, to defend it, and to preserve it for future generations.  In II Timothy 2:1,2 Paul says, “My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who may be able to teach others also.”

Paul’s main purpose in this letter is to focus on the character of the Christian, and he gives several images or portraits of the ideal Christian minister.  He is to be like his Master, the “suffering servant” described by the prophet Isaiah:  patient, gentle, hopeful, and praying for his enemies.  He is to be like a soldier who is single-minded and ready to obey his commanding officer.  Thirdly, he is to be like an athlete, running the race according to the rules of the contest, and fourthly, he is to be like a farmer, working hard and earning his reward.  Paul also gives an image or portrait of himself.  In II Timothy 4:7-8, in the face of death, Paul is unafraid, and gives his own eulogy.  He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

It is significant that the last time Timothy’s name is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:23 where it is reported that Timothy was recently released from prison.  He too is keeping the faith in Christ regardless of the consequences to himself.

IV.  AN OUTLINE OF II TIMOTHY:

There are many outlines of the second letter of Paul to TImothy, but my favorite is taken from John Stott’s book entitled, “Guard the Gospel”.  I like this outline because it is simple and easy to remember;  and also because it views Paul’s letter as a series of challenges to Timothy.  Here is his outline:

Chapter 1 – The Charge to Guard the Gospel

Chapter 2 – The Charge to Suffer for the Gospel

Chapter 3   The Charge to Continue in the Gospel

Chapter 4 – The Charge to Proclaim the Gospel

V.  THE SIGNIFICANCE AND APPLICATION TO US:

This church, and every church of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, needs to heed the message in this second letter of Paul to Timothy because many churches and many Christians are relaxing their grip on the Gospel, and in danger of letting it slip from their hands.  They are no longer determined to proclaim it;  they are unprepared to suffer for it;  and they are are unwilling to pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the next generation of Christians who will rise up after them.

In II TImothy we see that even though the aged apostle Paul faces death in prison, his passion for fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission by making disciples  is as strong as ever.  What does the Lord require of us?  He requires faithfulness to Him and His work, not only on Sundays but throughout every day of every week for the rest of our lives.  God wants us to finish the race He has entered us in, looking forward to the day when we shall see Christ face-to-face in heaven.  Paul’s final charge to Timothy is “Guard what has been entrusted to you”, and his final words are “Grace be with you.”

PAUL’S EXAMPLE IN WITNESSING – I Corinthians 2:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

In verses 18-31 of I Corinthians 1, Paul told us that human wisdom plays no part in man’s salvation.  In verse 31 Paul says that all glory goes to the Lord because salvation is a work of God.  Here, in chapter 2:1-5, Paul uses himself as an example and discusses his message, his method and his motivation for reaching the lost.

I.  HIS MESSAGE (verses 1-2)

In verse l, Paul describes his message as “the testimony of God”.  The Greek word here is “marturion”, the word from which we get our English word “martyr”.  The word was often used in the lawcourts of that day.  A witness in a courtroom could only testify to what he himself had seen or heard or experienced.  He was not to make guesses or give opinions.  When Paul had come to Corinth he shared with them only what God had revealed to him.  If you would like to hold your place in I Corinthians and turn with me to Acts 18:1-11, I’m going to read about Paul’s visit to Corinth and ministry in Corinth.  (READ IT)

Getting back to I Corinthians, chapter 2, we read in verse 1 that Paul did not come to Corinth to glorify himself or to start a “religious club or cult”.  He had come to glorify God.  Paul did not depend on “excellency of speech or of wisdom”, as did the philosophers and teachers in Corinth;  he simply declared God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The focus of Paul’s message is given in verse 2 :  “Christ crucified”.  Paul didn’t’ preach Christ as the teacher, nor Christ as the example, but Christ as crucified.  In the Greek, the word “crucified” is the perfect participle, implying a past action which has continuing results.  The Lord Jesus Christ died on a cross outside Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago, and as a result, God has made it possible for men and women today to have their sins forgiven and have a personal relationship with God through faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

Paul is not saying that “Christ crucified” was all he talked about, but that it was the central focus of his preaching.  If Paul would have begun to preach about worldly wisdom rather than the cross, his preaching would have lost its power.  He said that in chapter one, verse 17.  Even though the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and considered foolishness to the Gentiles, Paul would not leave it out of his presentation of the Gospel.

How important is the message of Christ crucified?  The Lord Jesus Himself says in John 12:32-33, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself”.  In the next verse it says, “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”  In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, the first time the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was openly preached, 3000 people were saved at one time!

When the Moravian missionaries first came to Greenland, they found the people totally ignorant of the meaning of such words as “sin”, “righteousness”, and “justification”.  So they decided to educate them about various theological terms.  The results were so unproductive that, after a period of time, the missionaries decided that the situation was hopeless and they might just as well leave.  Since no ship was due for some time, one of the missionaries began translating parts of the Bible into the native tongue.  Seeking to test the accuracy of his words, he read a passage to those who had been unresponsive to his ministry.  The portion he chose was Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.

After he finished reading, the chief of the tribe asked him to repeat it. The missionary read the passage again.  “Why didn’t you tell us about this in the first place?” asked the chief. “Don’t leave now!  We’d be happy to listen to the words of a Man who suffered that much for us!”  So they remained and saw much fruit from their labors as they proclaimed Christ crucified.  The story of the cross had won the people’s hearts.

We too have the opportunity of telling others of the love that led Christ to die for them.  On my blogsite, biblentsermons.wordpress.com, I received the largest response to the sermon entitled “The Suffering and Death of Christ”.  Let’s make the cross the focus of our witness.

II.  THE METHODOLOGY (verses 3 and 4)

In verse 3, Paul says that his witness is “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”, yet in verse 4 he says that his message and preaching were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”  It seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?  How can there be power in weakness?  Yet Paul already said in chapter 1, verse 27, that “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong , , , that no one should boast before God”.

In a gun factory, an elongated bar of steel, which weighed 500 pounds, was suspended in the air by a chain.  Beside it, an average-sized cork was hanging by a silk thread.  It was swung gently against the bar which remained motionless.  For 10 minutes the cork, with a regular rhythum, continued to strike.  Then the heavy piece of metal began to move slightly.  At the end of an hour, both objects were swinging together like the pendulum of a clock!

Many of God’s children feel that they are not exerting a feather’s weight of influence upon others or making even a tiny dent upon the strongholds of evil.  This is not so!  As we recognize our fear and inadequacy, and continue to be an influence for good and a witness for Christ, relying upon the power of God’s Word and the Spirit of God, we will find that in God’s hands there is power in weakness.  Therefore courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquest of fear by relying on the power of God.  The Holy Spirit is the source of the power in the Gospel message.  Paul’s method was to depend on the Spirit of God to convince the person that the message he was sharing was the truth, and to allow the Holy Spirit to use that message to bring the person to saving faith. We allow the Holy Spirit to empower our witness when we stick to the Scripures, which are the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17).

III.  HIS MOTIVATION (verse 5)

In verses 4 and 5, Paul said that he didn’t use persuasive words of wisdom.  The reason he gives is so that “your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God”.

It has been said that the great preacher, Jonathan Edwards, read his sermons so that he would not be guilty of using human persuasive techniques to gain a response.  He wanted only the message to bring the results.  It makes you wonder how many there are in the world today who responded to an emotional appeal or to pressure tactics without a true understanding of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ.

About 40 years ago an evangelism program was set in motion by Campus Crusade for Christ.  It was called “Here’s Life America”, and I was personally involved in the program through the church I attended.  Maybe some of you were also involved in that evangelistic program.  Churches across the United States were given a list of phone numbers of the people who lived in their communities.  The purpose was to call each of these phone numbers, share the Gospel message with the people who answered the phone, and ask them to repeat a prepared prayer, asking Christ to come into their lives and give them eternal life.  About ten years later a study was done to determine the success of this evangelistic campaign.  The findings showed that, of the millions of people who prayed that prayer over the phone, the percentage of them who were now attending churches and showing evidence of a changed life and a genuine relationship with Christ was so small that it couldn’t be printed.

A valuable lesson was learned from this.  In spite of good intentions, committment by individuals and churches, and prayer, the United States could not be won for the Lord Jesus Christ through an impersonal and persuasive method such as this.  Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is a miracle performed by the power of God working through His Word.  True saving faith is the work of the Holy Spirit convincing a person of his sin, of the worth of Christ’s death on the cross, and leading that person to genuine repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

CONCLUSION:

To try to summarize this passage and apply it to our lives today, Paul is saying that as we witness for Chtist, our message must be God’s Word, not ours,  Our focus must be the cross of Christ, not our own human wisdom.  Our aim must be God’s glory, not ours.  And our confidence is to be in the Holy Spirit’s power, not ours.  Then, and only then, will we be useful instruments in the Master’s hands.

Are you equipped with an ever-growing knowledge of God’s Word?  Are you ready to focus on the cross of Christ?  Is your reliance on the power of the Spirit of God?  Is your aim to glorify God?  Then be an ambassador for Christ!  Your world is waiting!

EVIDENCE FOR CHRIST’S RESURRECTION – I Corinthians 15:1-11

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INTRODUCTION:

The most extensive treatment of the doctrine of the resurrection in all of Scripture is found here in I Corinthians 15.  Verse 1 tells us that the doctrinal problem in the church at Corinth was not their disbelief in the resurrection of Christ.  Their confusion was concerning their own resurrection from the dead.  In verses 1-11 Paul reviews the evidence for Christ’s resurrection so that he could later show how their own hope for resurrection is tied to the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  Paul gives us five evidences here for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I.  THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH (verses 1-2)

Paul’s first evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the Corinthian Church, the recipients of this letter.  The fact that these Corinthian Christians had received the Gospel message, believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and were living changed lives, is a strong evidence for the resurrection of Christ.  Every group of believers across the face of the earth that meets together for worship is evidence that Jesus Christ is alive and is building His church.

II.  THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES (verses 3-4)

The second evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the Old Testament Scriptures.  They clearly predicted Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24, Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures to identify Himself as their risen Lord.  For example, Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures”.  Psalm 22:16-18 is one of the Scripture passages that prophesies Christ’s crucifixion, and Psalm 16:10 prophesies His resurrection.  The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death for all time.”

III.  THE TESTIMONY OF EYE-WITNESSES (verses 5-7)

The third evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ.  The list given in verses 5-7 is not exhaustive, but includes those who were most prominent in the Church at that time.  Peter is mentioned, as well as the twelve apostles, more than 500 brethren at one time and place, James, and all the apostles over a period of 40 days.  A prominent lawyer, Sir Edward Clarke, did a prolonged study of the resurrection of Christ.  He said, “To me, the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court, I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly as compelling.”

IV.  THE APOSTLE PAUL (verses 8-10)

The fourth evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of the writer himself:  the apostle Paul.  He refers to himself as “one untimely born”.  He was too late to be one of the 12 apostles, and yet he was called by Christ to be an apostle.  What a turn-around in his life!  What a testimony to the truth and power of Christ’s resurrection!

V.  THE TESTIMONY OF A COMMON MESSAGE (verse 11)

The fifth evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of a common message.  Without exception, the teaching and preaching of the New Testament church centered around the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This message was declared as objective facts based on the testimony of eye-witnesses, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

CONCLUSION:

But there is a sixth evidence that isn’t mentioned specifically in this passage of Scripture.  That evidence is our own lives.  Have you repented of your sins, turned your life over to Jesus Christ, and invited Him to be your Savior and Lord?  If so, is your joy, your peace of mind and heart, and the power of the resurrected Christ obvious to those around you?  If the answer is “yes”, then you are a living, visible evidence of the resurrection of Christ to the world around you.

TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS – Philippians 3:1-11

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Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, can’t they? But so can things. And it is this thief that Paul deals with in chapter three. It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in things, isn’t it? And not only the things we can see and touch, but also things like reputation, fame and achievement. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15 that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Quantity is no guarantee of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy.

The key word in our passage of scripture for today, Philippians 3:1-11, is the word “count”. It means “to evaluate”, to “examine carefully”. Many people today are slaves of “things” because they’ve never sat down and seriously considered the values that control their decisions and actions, and this has robbed them of real joy. In the case of the apostle Paul, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very noble: a righteous life, obedience to the Law of Moses, and the defense of the religion of his ancestors – the Jewish religion. But none of these satisfied him or made him feel acceptable to God. Paul had high enough morals to keep him out of trouble, but he didn’t have enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus – it was good things! Paul had to lose his “religion” to find salvation. In this passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Paul explains that there are only two kinds of righteousness: righteousness based on works and righteousness based on faith, and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.

I. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON WORKS (verses 1-6)

In verse 1 Paul says, “Finally my brethren”. It doesn’t mean that Paul is about to end his letter, because he keeps on going. The word “finally” means “for the rest” or “for what remains”. Paul is changing his topic. He has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision”. We have to go back to the beginning of the church to find out what Paul means. From the beginning, the gospel came “to the Jew first”. The first seven chapters of the book of Acts deal only with Jewish believers or Gentiles who had become Jewish converts. In Acts 8 the message went to the Samaritans, but this did not cause too much of a problem since the Samaritans were at least partly Jewish. But when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts 10, this caused an uproar. Peter said that it was God who had directed him to preach to the Gentiles, and the problem seemed to be solved, but not for long. These strict Jewish believers told the apostle Paul that it was necessary for the Gentiles to obey the Jewish rules before they could be saved. They followed Paul wherever he went and tried to steal his converts and his churches. Paul uses three terms to describe them. He calls them “dogs” because they were following on Paul’s heels, viciously “barking” their false teachings. Secondly, Paul called them “evil workers” because these men taught that the sinner must be saved by doing the good works of the Law of Moses. Thirdly, Paul called them “the false circumcision” because they taught that circumcision was necessary for people to be saved. In contrast to these false Christians, Paul says in verse 3 that the true Christian is one who is directed by the Holy Spirit, boasts only in Jesus Christ, and puts no confidence in his sinful flesh.

In verses 4-6 Paul uses himself as an example. He was born into a pure Hebrew family, and was circumcised on the eighth day as required by Jewish law. He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin, the favorite and most faithful of all the tribes. Paul spoke the Hebrew language, and was a Pharisee, the strictest and most devout leaders of the Jewish nation. He was also a persecutor of the church, and was morally blameless. Paul had everything going for him.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON FAITH (verses 7-11)

But when Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, Paul believed and became a child of God. After this happened, Paul lost some things, but he gained much more than he lost. He recounts this here in verses 7-11. What did Paul lose? Verse 7 says that he lost his reputation as a Jewish scholar and religious leader. He also lost his religious achievements and his Jewish friends.

But what did Paul gain? Verse 8 tells us that Paul gained a personal, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 tells us that Paul gained the righteousness of Christ. When Paul trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, God put Christ’s righteousness into Paul’s account, and Paul’s sins were placed in Christ’s account. His sins were paid for in full by the blood of Christ on the cross. In verses 10 and 11, Paul experienced the fellowship of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. This was Paul’s desire, his goal, and a source of strength and joy.

Paul gained far more than he lost. The things he had lost were like garbage in comparison to gaining Christ. No wonder Paul had joy! His life did not depend on the cheap “things” of the world but on the eternal values found in Christ.

When God asks us to surrender something of temporal worth, He does so for the purpose of replacing it with a prize of eternal value. Are you willing to trust Him and obey Him? Is the Lord calling you to sacrifice something you treasure in order to give you something of lasting worth? People who live for “things” are never really happy because they must constantly protect their earthly treasures and worry about whether they will lose their value.

Can you say, along with the apostle Paul, that to have Christ, and know His resurrection power in your life, is your greatest joy? And can we agree that the things we left behind have become so unimportant that we consider them “but garbage”? Consider and reflect on these words written by the missionary Jim Elliot before he was killed because of his faith in Jesus Christ: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.