NINE MONTHS BEFORE CHRISTMAS – Luke 1:26-38

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Why have I entitled this message, “Nine Months Before Christmas”?  If you’re a mother, you would have no difficulty understanding what I mean.  Every year at this time, we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.  But there is another amazing miracle that is often overlooked during this season.  If you believe that life begins at conception, as I do and as the Bible teaches, then the Lord Jesus Christ became a human person at the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.  I personally think that this is an even more amazing miracle than His birth.  Since I already have at least two messages on this site that focus on the birth of Christ, and since this sermon’s title is often overlooked during the Christmas season, let’s study the sequence of events and the miracle that occurred at His conception.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 26-27)

The story begins in Luke chapter 1.  Verses 26 and 27 say:  “Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  Luke states that it is the “sixth month”.  He means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  He’s marking time from the last appearance of the Angel Gabriel, and the miracle of pregnancy that was promised to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth.  They were going to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

In verse 27 we are introduced to Mary, a virgin girl, probably in her early to mid-teen years, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph.  They were both from Nazareth so they were probably very poor.  This town, and the Jews in it, were despised by the Jews in Judea because Nazareth was a small, poor, out-of-the-way town in the region of Galilee where there were more gentiles than Jews.

Mary was “espoused” (betrothed, engaged) to Joseph.  Among the Jews at that period of time, the marriage vows were said at the betrothal, and it required a divorce to end the relationship.  It was the custom for there to be an interval of usually a year before she could take up residence in her husband’s house and the physical union could be consummated.  It must have been near the end of that espousal period.  I have more details about the marriage custom in my sermon on John 2:1-11.

II.  THE GREETING (verses 28-29)

Everything seems to be going according to plan for Mary and Joseph, and then something unexpected happens.  God sent the angel Gabriel on another mission, this time to Mary.  Gabriel’s name means “the strength of God”, and he is often seen delivering messages of kindness and blessing.  His appearance to Mary is recorded only in Luke’s gospel.

There seems to be a fascination with angels, especially at Christmas time.  Recent surveys have shown that anywhere between 55-70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels and their activity in our world today.  There have been several major motion pictures about angels, as well as movies having angels in them.  The classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown every Christmas season, and the angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows George (James Stewart) what life would have been like if he had never been born.  If you’ve never seen this movie, please put it on your “must see” list this year.  You will really enjoy it!

The Bible says that angels are “innumerable” (Psalm 68:17).  There are too many of them to count.  Yet only two angels are named in the Bible:  Gabriel and Michael.  It’s interesting to note also that both Zacharias and Mary recognized that it was an angel who was visiting them.  I’ve often wondered whether the faces of angels shone because of being in the presence of God and seeing Him face-to-face.  We will know some day!  Let’s see what the angel Gabriel has to say to Mary.  Luke 1:28 says, “And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you’.”  Many of the homes in that day had a small or large courtyard just outside the living area.  Apparently Gabriel entered that courtyard, and then greeted Mary as soon as she saw him.  Gabriel greets Mary joyfully and respectfully, telling her that God has chosen her for a special privilege.  He’s not putting Mary on a pedestal above other women   He is letting her know that God has given her a unique role in His plan of salvation.  It is an unmerited favor from God.  She didn’t earn the right, nor did she deserve it, but as we shall see, she did not gloat over it but humbly accepted it.  Stephen is also called “full of grace” in Acts 6:8.

In verse 29 we see Mary’s initial response to his greeting:  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  I can imagine that many thoughts and questions were going through her mind, such as “What an unusual greeting”.  “Why would he be saying those words to me?”  “I’m supposed to return his greeting; what words should I say?”

III.  THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)

The angel Gabriel seems to understand her fears and concerns because he tells her: “Do not be afraid”, calling her by name.  Then he declares to her the announcement that was given to him by God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”

After that description, I don’t think there was any doubt in Mary’s mind that this child he speaks of is going to be the Messiah.  The phrase the “Son of Most High” is a Messianic title, and His lineage and everlasting reign eliminate all other possible contenders. (Psalm 89:36,37; Isaiah 9:6-7).

As a Jewess, should Mary have known that the Messiah was going to come by virgin-birth?  Yes.  Was it her fault that she didn’t know this?  No.  This information given by the Angel Gabriel should not have come as a surprise to the nation of Israel.  There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that point to the virgin birth of the Messiah.  The first is Genesis 3:15.  After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”  This verse is speaking of the Messiah.  God says “her seed”.  A woman doesn’t have a seed.  She has eggs.  The man has the seed.  If this mother of the Messiah is going to have a seed apart from man, then she will remain a virgin, right?  If the seed doesn’t come from man, then it has to come from God.  Isaiah 7:14 confirms this.  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name “Immanuel.”  The Scribes and teachers of the Law ignored, overlooked, and failed to teach about the suffering Messiah because they were looking for the conquering Messiah.

IV.  THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER (verses 34-37)

Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement is not the same as the response of her relative Zacharias. When he was told by the angel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son even though she was past child-bearing years. he questioned whether this could happen and asked for a sign to verify it.  As a result, the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the child was born.  Mary, however, believed that God could do what the angel said.  She didn’t ask for a sign as proof that what he is saying is true.  She is just curious as to the  “process” by which it would be done since she was a virgin.  So she asks the question:  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel Gabriel goes on to answer her question and provide more information in verse 35.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.”  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in his answer (the Most High, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God).  This was to be a combined effort, and each Person of the Trinity had a specific role.

So, just how did this all come about?  Obviously this was going to be no ordinary conception!  Firstly, Gabriel says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”.  (Gabriel is answering her question with words that she would understand – words from the Old Testament Scriptures).  When she heard those words from Gabriel, she was reminded of Old Testament stories she heard from her parents and learned in the synagogue about how the Spirit of God “came upon” Joshua (Num. 27:18), David (I Sam. 1612-18), Saul (I Sam. 10:10), Bezalel (Ex. 31::2-5), and others.  In each case the Spirit came upon them to empower them and enable them to accomplish the work that God had called them to do.  This would have directed her thoughts toward the power, the provision, and the faithfulness of God.  As she did this, her worries would begin to fade away.

Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”.  Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people.  To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them.  The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped.  The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months.  He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).

V.  THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)

The angel Gabriel’s second announcement is one of joy and encouragement to Mary.  She learns that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s grandmother or even great-grandmother!  What a pleasant surprise that must have been to hear that news about Elizabeth, and to hear the words that followed!  In verse 37, the angel Gabriel ends his announcement with these words:  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It’s a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah’s words of praise to God in Jeremiah 29:17, “Ah, Lord God!  Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”

VI.  THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)

Verse 38 tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement:  “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”  The Message puts it this way:  “Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.  Let it be with me just as you say.”  Then the angel left.  As a humble servant of God, Mary accepted her calling from God immediately, in spite of the suffering, misunderstandings, and adjustments that might lie ahead for her.  She joins the ranks of other virtuous women such as Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and others who chose to obey God, and desired to be used by God in spite of the consequences to themselves.

VI.  THE LESSONS

Thomas a Kempis, a Catholic priest in the 1400’s who wrote the book, The Imitation of Christ, had these words to say about obedience:  “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Are there things you know God wants you to do or complete, and you haven’t done them?  Are there people you know God wants you to visit or contact; are there relationships God wants you to mend and you’ve been putting it off.  You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Better late than never, but better never late.”  Let’s turn that around for the things we need to catch up on with God, and then turn it back.  “Better never late, but better late than never.”

Finally, is our devotion to God motived by love?  Do we spend time daily in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer before we begin our other activities on our schedule for the day.  Remember that the Lord Jesus spent nine months pretty-much incapacitated in Mary’s womb out of love for us, so that He might identify with us as our High Priest in heaven today.  Is it asking too much this Christmas season for us to spend some time in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer as we begin our day?  If we do so, He’ll be in our thoughts, and a source of joy throughout our day.  We might enjoy the time with Him so much that we’ll want to do so “in season and out of season”!  After all, we are always on His thoughts and in His mind, “in season and out of season”!

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  I call this particular construction project:  “Putting up the decorations for the Christmas season”.  I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what the Lord Jesus realized and experienced when He chose to become a human being like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 2:17).  As I think of what Jesus experienced from the moment of conception, my heart is filled with awe and wonder.  I hope this has been your experience also.  May this Christmas season be filled with a fresh and ever-deepening love for our Savior as a result of examining more closely what’s recorded in His Word.

P.S.  I’ve decided to end this message at verse 38.  There are too many joy-filled words spoken by Elizabeth and Mary to “skim over”.  Rather than being an “extra room”, they deserve a site of their own!  See you in the next construction site!  Hopefully I’ll have it completed before Christmas also.

JESUS CHRIST: “Life” and “Light” – John 1: 4-5

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Often, at the beginning of a work of literature or piece of music, a writer or composer will present a theme, and then allow that theme to recur again and again.  John’s major themes in his gospel are “life” and “light”.  The word “life” occurs 36 times, and the word “light” occurs at least 15 times in John’s gospel.

I.  JESUS CHRIST:  “The Life” (verse 4)

We have already learned, from verses 1-3, that Jesus Christ (the Logos) is eternal (“In the beginning was the Word”), that He is equally God along with the Father and Holy Spirit (“and the Word was with God”), and that He was involved in the work of creation (“All things were made through Him . . . “).  Now, in verse 4, John carries the concept of the Logos a step further when he says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  There is a connection  between “life” and “light” in this passage of scripture,  One obvious connection, in a physical sense, is that light is necessary for physical life.  There are at least four things that are necessary for human life:  light, air, water and food.  The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”,  the “Light of the world”,  the “Bread of Life”, the “Living Water”, and “breathing on His disciples He said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ “.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the source of physical life, spiritual life, and eternal life.  We aren’t really living until we have Christ living in us and are living for Him.  I like the way that evangelist Billy Graham put it:  “Jesus is Life with a capital L!”  He shared this illustration about one of the greatest Christian writers of this modern age.  “C.S.Lewis,  a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford and later at Cambridge, had to do the same thing.  He spent his life exploring the literature of the centuries.  In his remarkable autobiography, SURPRISED BY JOY, he tells of his pilgrimage from atheism to Christianity.  His turning point came with the realization that the writing with the deepest meaning and greatest content was based on a deep, personal faith in God, written by men like St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, and George Macdonald.”  Reading their writings brightened his days and pointed him to the source of their joy and convictions about life.  As a result. C.S. Lewis decided to re-study the scriptures and re-consider the claims of Christ. His life was changed and his book, “Mere Christianity” is a classic.  In the following quote from “Mere Christianity” you will see how C.S. Lewis’s pre-conceived ideas about Jesus Christ changed as he studied God’s Word:

“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him:   ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher. but I don’t accept his claims to be God.’  That is one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool. you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great moral teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

As the “Bread of Life”, Jesus satisfied the craving that C.S. Lewis had for knowing the truth.  He found that truth in a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and his life changed dramatically because “the Life” now lived and reigned in Him.

II.  JESUS CHRIST:  “The Light” (verses 4-5)

The Greek word John uses is “phos”, which literally means “brightness” or “brilliance”.  We get our English words “photo” and “phosphorous” from that word.  The Greek gods were said to live in a world of brightness, whereas our world was one of darkness.  However, according to myth, when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, things weren’t quite so dark anymore.

Jesus’ life was a light to men.  The Lord Jesus is not only the giver of physical and spiritual life, He is also the source of light for our journey through life.  He was a revealing light.  He reveals what we are in comparison to Him.  Pastor and evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “A holy life will produce the deepest impression.  Lighthouses blow no horns; they just shine.”  Jesus’ light is so bright that it is meant to take the focus away from ourselves and put the focus on Him.  The light of His Person and His character shows us life the way it really is; the way it was meant to be.  When we have the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ living and reigning in us, we can’t help but shine.

We find this idea expressed and implied in many places in the Old Testament.  God’s nearness or closeness was indicated or demonstrated by light (Exodus 13:21ff, Nehemiah 9:12, Daniel 2:22, Habakkuk 3:4)  The “pillar of fire”, “the light”, “the sunlight” are among the many indications of God’s presence and holiness. and are among the many self-manifestations of God.

Secondly, the Lord Jesus is a guiding light – a Light that shined in the darkness.  This may seem obvious to you, but it’s been a fresh insight to me and I’ve been thinking about it all day.  It is this:  Darkness cannot extinguish light, but light can extinguish darkness.  No matter how dark the darkness, a bright light will extinguish enough darkness for us to find our way.  Applying those thoughts to John 1:4-5, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only remedy for mankind who is in the darkness of sin.  John records these words of Jesus in chapter 8, verse 12:  “I am the light of the world. he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The world’s difficulties and problems can be summed up in the words of verse 5:  “And the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”  Even today, there are many in this world who are living in spiritual darkness and don’t even realize it.  I believe there is a much greater number of people in this world today who have chosen to live in spiritual darkness and oppose the light of Jesus Christ.  Are you in the darkness or in the light?

The Greek word “katelaben”, in verse 5, has several meanings.  It can mean “understand” and it can also mean “overcome”.  Did you do any wrestling in high school or college?  Have you ever watched a wrestling match in person or on T.V.?  The Greeks loved the sport of wrestling, and this word was used when a wrestler took down his opponent and pinned him to the mat.  King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus when Jesus was only a little child.  He gave the order that all the male babies in Bethlehem  and the surrounding areas who were two years old or younger must be killed.  Yet he failed to kill the baby Jesus!

Mothers and fathers who lost their children in that slaughter by Herod must have wondered, “Is it ever going to end?  How can it get any worse than this?  Those were dark times!

During His public ministry the Scribes and Pharisees tried to kill Jesus many times, but their plans failed because it was not yet His time to die.  When that time came, Jesus went voluntarily and peaceably to His death.  While Jesus was on the cross, darkness came over the earth for three hours, and the forces of darkness thought they had won the match.  But Jesus would not go down for the count!  He rose from the dead and was victorious over the powers of darkness!  Jesus was, and is, a beacon in a world of darkness; a Light that has no power failures!

We are also living in dark times today.  There is moral and social decline, political unrest, and spiritual decay, to name a few.  The difference is that there are now many lights all over the world, shining like stars in the night-time skies.  These stars are men and women, and boys and girls who have repented of their sins and invited Jesus Christ to have His rightful place in their lives as Lord and Savior.  As a result, their lives have changed dramatically and the light of Christ is shining out through their actions and attitudes (Matthew 5:16).

May the life and light of the Lord Jesus Christ shine forth in your life.  Maybe it’s for the very first time; maybe it has been a moment-by-moment experience for many years,  In either case, stay close to Him and “be shiny”!

 

 

 

More will be added to this work-in-progress soon.  Please come back and visit this construction site again soon.

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).

 

 

 

 

 

PRACTICING THE TRUTH – James 1:19-27

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INTRODUCTION: James now comes to the basic theme of his letter:  the importance of behaving like we believe.  In these verses James states that we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word;  and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest relationship with God and with others.

I.  PREPARE OURSELVES TO RECEIVE THE WORD (verses 19-21)

Our first responsibility toward God’s Word is to prepare ourselves to receive it.  James says that we can do this by: 1)  Being quick to hear.   To prepare ourselves for the truth, we must be ready to listen to God and to others.  Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing  by the Word of God.”  Just as a servant is quick to hear his master’s voice, and a mother is quick to hear her baby’s smallest cry, so the believer should be quick to hear what God has to say.  Listening is a part of loving.  It involves giving of ourselves and our attention wholeheartedly to another person.  And this involves really caring;  setting aside our own concerns and focusing on God or on others.  It’s much easier to find a good speaker than a good listener. 2)  Being slow to speak.  Proverbs 17:27 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words.”  God gave us two ears and one mouth,  which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak.  An anonymous poem goes like this:

A wise old bird sat on an oak.  The more he saw the less he spoke.                         The less he spoke the more he heard.  Lord, make me like that wise old bird.

We learn while listening, not while talking.  Those who want to learn the truth must silence their tongues in order to hear God speak. 3)  Being slow to anger.  Don’t get angry at God or His Word.  A pastor once said:  “Temper is such a valuable thing, it is a shame to lose it!”  It is temper that helps to give steel its strength.  The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it.  But James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us.  Like the man who broke the mirror because he didn’t like the image he saw in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.  The story is told that when Leonardo da Vinci was about to paint his masterpiece “The Lord’s Supper”, he had a serious quarrel with another man.  A spirit of revenge began to grow in his heart.  It occurred to him that when he painted the picture of Judas, the one who betrayed the Savior, he could easily make Judas’s face look like the face of his enemy.  And that’s just what Leonardo did.  At last he came to the figure of Jesus.  His attempts to paint his impression of Jesus were a complete failure.  He tried again and again, but still no success.  In his heart he knew why he was having such difficulty.  He finally took his brush and painted out the face of Judas.  Then, going to his enemy, he confessed the ill-will he had been feeling toward him.  With a cleansed mind, he returned to his work and painted the figure of our Lord with the freedom and genius that resulted in a masterpiece.  Leonardo found that when he had evil and revenge in his heart, he was not able to reproduce the likeness of the Master, neither in his own personal life, nor on his canvas.  Anger makes a mess of our lives and blocks God’s truth from coming in. 4)  Having a prepared heart  (verse 21)  James saw the human heart as a garden.  If left to itself the soil would produce nothing but weeds. James urges us to pull out the weeds and prepare the soil for the implanted Word of God.  How?  First, by confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us.  Then by meditating on God’s grace and asking Him to “plow up” any hardness in our hearts.  Finally, we must have an attitude of “meekness”, which is the opposite of wrath.  “Setting aside filthiness” means demonstrating that we appreciate the blessings of God by eliminating the sins and bad habits in our lives that destroy our witness for Christ. One day a preacher visited a coal-mining town and noticed how dingy it was.  The coal dust seemed to blacken the buildings, the trees, the shrubs and everything else.  As he was walking down the street with the foreman of the mine, his attention was focused on a beautiful, white flower.  He said, “The owner of this flower surely must take good care of it.  There’s no dust and dirt on it at all.”  The foreman threw a handful of dust on the flower.  It immediately fell off and left the flower as stainless as before.  “It has a natural enamel which prevents any dust from clinging to it”, the foreman explained.  “I think it must have been created especially for such a place as this.”  This is the way Christians are to be in this world, which is filthy because of the dust and dirt of sin.  God gives a spiritual enamel to those who yield themselves completely to the leadership of the Holy Spirit,  and who  seek to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives.

II.  PRACTICE THE WORD (verses 22-25)

It is not enough to hear God’s Word.  James says, in verses 22-25, that our second responsibility toward God’s Word is to practice it.  Many Christians have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study makes them grow and get God’s blessing.  It’s not the hearing, but the doing, that brings God’s blessing. In verses 23-25, James compares the forgetful hearer with the doer.  The forgetful hearer is like the person who looks at himself in the mirror, notices his uncombed hair, dirty face, and unbrushed teeth, and instead of taking care of himself, he goes on his way, forgetting all about the problems and presenting a very unattractive appearance to others.  In the same way, a Christian who hears God’s Word without doing anything about it,  turns other people away from the Savior, rather than drawing them to Him. A bus driver became annoyed with his job because he had to wait seven minutes after every run near an open field which “litterbugs” had made into an “unofficial dump”.  He often thought that someone ought to do something about that unsightly mess.  One day he himself decided to get out and pick up some of the tin cans and other debris which were lying all around.  This improved things so much that he soon was eager to complete his route and spend all his free moments in cleaning up the area.  When spring came, he was so enthusiastic about his project that he decided to plant some flower seeds.  By the end of the summer many people were riding to the end of the line just to see what the bus driver had accomplished by “doing” what he and others had only “talked about” before.  Are you brightening the corner where you are? In verse 25, the words “looks intently” come from the Greek word which means “to stoop down”.  It refers to the Christian who humbles himself before the Word of God and lets God’s Word become a part of him, so that he becomes more like Christ in his attitudes and actions.  I have been reading from a daily devotional by Billy Graham, and in yesterday’s devotion on becoming like Christ, he said a few words that convicted me so much that I wrote them on a piece of paper so that I could put it in my wallet as a reminder.  Speaking to Christians, he said these words:  “You should be closer to God today in heart, soul, and body, than at any other time in your life.”

III.  SHARE THE WORD (verses 26,27)

In verses 26 and 27, James tells us that our third responsibility to God’s Word is to share it.  James gives us three tests to enable us to find out if we are taking God’s Word seriously.  The first test is self-control.  Are we able to control our speech so that we’re not lying, gossiping, or using filthy language.  The second test is compassion.  Are we concerned about the needs of others, and are we demonstrating that concern.  The third test is  holiness of life. Noah sent out two birds from the ark.  One was a raven – a ceremonially unclean animal;  the other was a dove, which was a clean animal and became the symbol of the Holy Spirit and holiness.  The raven did not return to the ark, even though the waters were still upon the earth.  No doubt it found a place to rest upon the floating body of some animal.  The second bird, however,  a ceremonial clean creature, returned to Noah for she could find “no rest for the sole of her foot.”  The dove would not land on an unclean thing like a corpse!  Someone has said, “In a world of sin we too have the choice of being a raven or a dove, unclean or clean, spotted or unspotted.  By the power of God’s grace, let’s keep ourselves uncontaminated by the things of the world.  While the Christian must live in the world, he should not let the world live in him..

CONCLUSION:  No sermon is done until we have done something about it.  As the apostle James said:  “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only”.  May our prayer be that of the hymn writer, Ira Wilson:  “O Savior, I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today.”

NEW YEAR 2014

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Are you in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions?  One dictionary defines a resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”.  Another dictionary says:  “a serious decision to do something.”  From those definitions I get the impression that resolutions are choices we commit ourselves to do. What are you looking forward to in 2014?  What are you dreading?   What do you hope to find?  What choices did you make in 2013?  Are you satisfied with those choices? The search engine Google put a short film on U-Tube entitled “What Did The World Search For This Year.”  It focused on personal and world events that made life worth living in 2013.  At the end of the film are written these words:  “Search On“. I hope that you have come to this site to gain an eternal perspective on life, and to seek God’s  wisdom to guide you on your continuing search for answers and meaning to life.   The Bible tells us that there are only two things in this world that are going to last forever:  God’s Word and people.  In Matthew 24:35 the Lord Jesus told the parable of the fig tree, and said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”  In I Peter 1:24-25 the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40 when he says:  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” The other entity that lasts forever is people.  They will live forever in one of two places:  heaven or hell.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life.  He will not come to judgement, but has passed from death to life.”  By contrast, the apostle John records in Revelation 20 what he saw in a vision:  “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it. . . . And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The wonderful and exciting thing about heaven is that it lasts forever.  The terrible and terrifying thing about hell is that it lasts forever.  Each year brings you closer to death, and also to eternity.   May you choose to have a joyful eternity by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Savior and Lord.  Then every day and every year until eternity will be filled with joy, inner peace, and unfading hope.

Please let me know your honest reaction to this New Year’s Eve message.  I will gladly respond to any comments you make and any questions you might have.  My purpose was not to dampen your spirit, but to put the year in perspective.  These were a few of the thoughts that came to my mind this New Year’s Eve.  I’m interested in knowing your thoughts also.  Thank you for visiting, and a happy New Year to you!

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.

HOW TO OBTAIN WISDOM – James 1:5-8

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INTRODUCTION: Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together and make sense of them.  The people to whom James wrote this letter had problems with their praying.  When we are going through difficulties, what should we pray about?  James gives the answer:  ask God for wisdom.

I.  ASK FOR WISDOM (verse 5)

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials?  Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance?  We should pray for wisdom for this reason:  we need wisdom so that we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature in our Christian lives.  Wisdom helps us understand how to use these difficult circumstances for our good and for God’s glory.  This kind of wisdom comes from God.  It is a gift from God.  God’s wisdom enables a person to make decisions as God would make them, and solve problems the way God would solve them. In his search of the source of true wisdom, Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?”  His answer is that wisdom is not found among the living on this earth;  it is not found in the depths of the sea;  and it cannot be purchased with precious stones.  Finally Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”  True wisdom has its source in the true and living God. We all have a natural tendency to be selfish in our prayers.  Some of us recall how we were tempted to ask God for special help when facing a difficult examination during our school days, but in our hearts we knew He would not bring to our minds material which we had not studied.  Prayer is not a magical formula enabling believers to escape self-discipline and hard work.  However, it isn’t selfish to pray for spiritual wisdom – the ability to meet life’s problems and to make decisions that will please God.  King Solomon, with all his knowledge, realized that unless the Lord gave him spiritual wisdom to direct his actions, all his human skill and learning would be of littlevalue. President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with this truth during America’s Civil War.  A personal friend of his once wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President.  One night – it was just before the Battle of Bull Run, I was restless and could not sleep.  From Lincoln’s bedroom I heard the low tones of his voice.  Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten.  The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible.  He did not know that I could overhear his agonizing prayers as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me.  I cannot lead these people.  I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help.  O Lord, hear me and save this nation.’ ”  The answer he received is now history, for the Union was preserved.  Lincoln found that James 1:5 was not an idle promise.

II.  ASK IN FAITH (verses 6-8)

James not only explained what to ask for, but he also described how to ask.  We are to ask in faith.  The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief.  The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores.  Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street.  Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all-night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity.  Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire.  The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages.  His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss.  The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges.  After much deliberation, the judge declared, “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer, while the church members do not!”  We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are when we offer our prayers to God. Even the first-century Christians were guilty of such unbelief.  Acts 12 tells us that after Peter escaped from prison, he went to the house of Mary, where many were praying for his release.  When he knocked, Rhoda came to the door.  Hearing his voice, she ran back to the “prayer meeting crowd” and announced that the apostle Peter was outside.  “You are out of you mind!”, they said.  But when she insisted, they kept saying, “It is his angel”.  Well, Peter kept on knocking at the door, and when they finally let him in, “they were astonished” at the way God had answered their request. May our attitude be different when we pray!  Let’s believe God and expect the answer!  God loves to honor the prayers of those who earnestly seek His wisdom and want His will for their lives. Verse 8 talks about a double-minded person.  A double-minded person is a person who has a civil war going on inside him continually.  Two heads may be better than one, but a double-minded person is no good at all.  There is a smooth, shiny lizard called a skink.  This little animal wouldn’t attract any crowds at a zoo, but if one of these lizards showed up with two heads, one on each end of its body, that would be quite a spectacle.  A newspaper had a picture and a story about the two-headed skink I just described to you.  It was found by a homeowner in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was an illustration of absolute frustration.  When it tried to run, its two legs moved in opposite directions.  It was running like mad but going nowhere!  That’s the fate of a Christian who is trying to go his own way, and trying to serve the Lord at the same time. This is also true of the Christian who is more concerned about pleasing others than he is about standing up for the truth.  There was once a preacher who was approached by some members of his congregation concerning a disagreement in the church.  After stating their grievances, they said some vicious things about the people they disagreed with.  Responding to their complaints, the preacher said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  The next day, the other group came to his home and told their side of the story.  The preacher listened quietly, and when they had finished, said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  His wife, working in the kitchen, overheard everything.  As soon as the parishioners left, she rushed into the living room and said, “You’re just about the most wishy-washy individual I’ve ever seen.”  To that he immediately replied, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!” There are so many Christians who are unwilling to take a stand on issues.  Some are afraid;  others just don’t like to make decisions.  But God wants us to know His Word, to pray for His wisdom, and to take a stand for what we believe.  Then we’ll feel secure in the Lord’s strength, and then our prayers will not be hindered.  But when we do take a stand for what we believe, let’s do it with the wisdom and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

SURVEY OF THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

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INTRODUCTION:

If we were asked the question, “Which book of the New Testament was written first”, I imagine that many of us might guess that it was one of the gospels since they talk about the birth, life, and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I was personally surprised when I learned that the first book of the New Testament was the epistle of James, in all probability.  It was written possibly as early as 45 A.D., and as late as 50 A.D.  That’s approximately fifteen to twenty years after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is important to realize that the arrangement of the books in the New Testament is a topical arrangement rather than a chronological one.  If the books were arranged chronologically by the dates that they were written, James would probably appear first.  It’s interesting that, in the book of James, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only appears twice.  His cross is never mentioned, nor is His resurrection.  The Holy Spirit is not mentioned either.  James is not a doctrinal book but a practical book, encouraging us to live our Christian faith.

I.  THE AUTHOR

Who was the author of the book of James?  Obviously it was James, but which James?  There are five men in the New Testament who are called by that name:  James, the father of the apostle Judas;  James, the son of Zebedee;  James, the son of Cleophas;  James the Less;  and James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ and the son of Mary and Joseph.  It is generally agreed that James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, was the author of the book.

The Scriptures tell us that during the time Jesus was growing up to adulthood, and even during His earthly ministry, His brothers did not believe that He was the Messiah.  In fact, Jesus experienced opposition from them at times.  And yet we find that James was a leader in the church in Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension into heaven.  We are left to conclude that it was after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that James came to the realization that Jesus was the true Messiah.  After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to various groups.  I Corinthians 15:7 states, “after that, He appeared to James;  then to all the apostles.”  It was probably after Jesus appearance to James after His resurrection that James placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Since James was not a believer in Jesus as the Christ during His earthly ministry, James was not one of the twelve apostles.  But after he became a Christian, James became one of the leaders in the church at Jerusalem.  He is mentioned as one of the speakers at the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, and his suggestion was accepted by the whole assembly.

III.  THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

The epistle of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because James goes from one topic to another.  The epistle is also very practical, and very convicting.  In the 108 verses of this short letter, there are 54 commands.  That means that half the verses are commands.  Someone has described James’ style as “a string of pearls”.  In a string of pearls there is a basic relationship of one pearl to the other, and yet each pearl is unique and different.

While James was still an unbeliever, he must have paid attention to what Jesus taught because his letter is very much like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We’ll see this comparison more clearly as we study the book of James in detail over the next several months.

The book of James has been misunderstood and condemned by many because of its emphasis on good works.  Martin Luther called the epistle of James an “epistle of straw” that ought to be burned.  He and several other leaders of the Protestant Reformation felt that the Epistle of James should be removed from the Bible because of its emphasis on good works.  But they misunderstood  its meaning.  The epistle of James is saying that “genuine faith produces genuine works”.  Or, to put it another way, “the person who has genuinely found the Way, walks in it”.

The problems that James discusses have a common cause:  spiritual immaturity.  The Christians mentioned in his epistle were not growing spiritually.  Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in our churches today.  The five chapters of James suggest five marks of a mature Christian.  In chapter one, a mature Christian is patient in trials and temptations.  In chapter two, a mature Christian practices the truth.  In chapter three, a mature Christian has power over his tongue.  And in chapter four, a mature Christian is prayerful in the midst of troubles.

Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly.  So, don’t give up, because mature Christians are happy, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage and build up others.  As we study this epistle of James together, with God’s enabling we will learn together and mature together, and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will become even more evident to those around us.