Sermon February 18, 2018 Treasures of the Kingdom of Heaven

As we look at Matthew 13 we see that Jesus taught eight parables, and each time he said something to the effect of “the Kingdom of Heaven is like….”, and then told the parable. Some longer, like the parable of the sower, and some shorter like the leaven in the flour, which is only one sentence.

But we need to define the Kingdom. Matthew wrote to a predominantly Jewish audience, as a result, he used the term Kingdom of Heaven, whereas Luke and the other gospel writers used the Kingdom of God for the same principle meaning.

The Kingdom of God is the rulership of God over all things. He owns and sustains all things, but because of man’s sin, the world has been under the rulership of Satan. This is not to say that he rules the world completely; God is still sovereign. But it does mean that God, in His infinite wisdom, has allowed Satan to operate in this world within the boundaries God has set for him.

The earth is in subjection to the rule and influence of Satan until Jesus comes again and destroys his evil kingdom. Paul writing in Romans 8 describes how all creation has been groaning and eagerly waiting for the new kingdom to be revealed. When Jesus began his public ministry, he began the introduction of the Kingdom of God to a lost and dying world. The Kingdom of God is not strictly a future hope tied in with Christ’s second coming. it is the realm of God’s rule both present, and future. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, of which He was the embodiment, when He commenced His earthly ministry (see Matthew 4:17).

When Jesus died on the cross and defeated Satan, he began the process of dismantling Satan’s kingdom and installing the Kingdom of heaven. So, the kingdom of heaven is present in the world, but not yet in it’s fullness.

The kingdom of Heaven is so foreign to the world’s kingdom, especially in our era, where the focus of our worship is ourselves. Jesus uses eight parables to introduce some of these foreign concepts of the Kingdom, four of which he tells the crowd, and then another four he tells privately to his disciples, he turns his attention to his inner circle, continuing to explain to them that this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.

Focusing our attention on two of these parables; the man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and the merchant who finds a pearl great value, what can we learn from them?

When a person makes Jesus Christ Lord of their life, it must cause a dramatic change in one’s value system. The things we valued the most, we set aside;  the things that the world views as treasures become worthless in the knowledge of eternal life.

These two short parables speak volumes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. What is valuable to you? Not just possessions, but people, titles, position and places. For some people their treasure is their sport, or their hobbies or their career (see  Matthew 6:21).

In both these parables, the man and the merchant sold everything they had to obtain a greater treasure. This is foolishness, this is extreme, this is radical. These are the same adjectives that people use when describing followers of Jesus.

RT Kendall wrote: “Once you have truly experienced the anointing of the Spirit, your money, reputation, love for the world, fear of what people will say and so on all pale into insignificance.”

The Bible does not say that having material possessions is wrong, rather it is when those things become more important to us than God, then we have a problem. This is because there is no comparison between the treasures of this world and the treasures of the kingdom of heaven.

The merchant who sold all that he had to buy one pearl, didn’t simply exchange one treasure for another. He found a treasure supremely more valuable than anything in his life.

This is what Jesus offers us and when we become part of the kingdom of God, we experience a treasure and a life that makes all other desires small in comparison.

So here is the big question, does this reflect your Christian experience?

Or have you simply tried to add a bit of religion to your life by raising your hand in a meeting in response to an altar call, but you really don’t know this treasure of the Kingdom?  Salvation is more than simply avoiding hell because our sins are forgiven. What you have available to you are treasures of inestimable value (see Romans 8:32).

When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, God gives us his Holy Spirit to fill us and to reign in us; we become a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we become a follower of Jesus, we become like the leaven that impacts the dough, we become a change agent in our community, preparing the way for the fulfillment of the Kingdom when Jesus comes again.

When we see it that way, and we see all that it means to be a Christian, we would be fools not to view all our earthly treasures as worthless in comparison. Do you really know what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven?

But there is a different way of looking at these parables that will hopefully transform your thinking. When Jesus was telling these parables, he was proclaiming the Gospel message. Jesus came to the earth, setting aside his heavenly throne and took on flesh, he became a man just like us as he set aside his golden crown to take a crown of thorns (see Philippians 2:7-11). When we see this, we see that Jesus is the person who found a treasure in a field, it is Jesus who found the pearl of great value and it is Jesus who gave up everything to obtain it. It is Jesus who bought the treasure of salvation by buying the whole field of creation. These parables reveal the Gospel, they reveal the glory of Jesus who denied himself even to the point of dying on the cross so that he would receive the name above every other name.

The kingdom of heaven operates on a completely different currency than our small world.  Have you discovered this kingdom? Give everything you have to the Lordship of Jesus and God will give you a life and a future of infinite value.

Sermon February 11, 2018 – The Trilogy of Parables

We all know of the original Star Wars trilogy released between 1977 and 1983. A trilogy is a set of stories, each with their own plot, but connected to a bigger plot when combined as a three-part story.

Jesus also told a trilogy of stories, in Luke 15 we read three well known parables that Jesus told. The three parables of Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son, were all told by Jesus in quick succession in response to the grumbling Pharisees (see Luke 15:2).

The Pharisees were grumbling because Jesus was receiving sinner, I am so glad that Jesus still receives sinners today! I pray that our church never shy’s away from fellowship with sinners, because we are all sinners saved by grace and have nothing that makes us better other than the grace of God and His gracious indwelling presence.

Jesus responds to them by telling three short parables, the first one is the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to search for the one which was lost. Then Jesus tells the story of the woman who has lost a coin, she searches diligently until it is found. Jesus ends both these parables with the gentle rebuke to the Pharisees and the scribes in verses 7 and 10, “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents …”.

These sinners that the Pharisees viewed as worthless, were of immense value in the kingdom of heaven.

Then Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal son, or the lost son, seems more appropriate.

This son asks his father for his share of his inheritance, essentially telling his father that he wishes he was already dead. He takes the money and wastes it, he defiles himself and ends up reaching a point of desperation. It is at this point that he seems to come to his senses, the Bible says; “came to himself”. He turned and headed for home.

In our salvation experience, we all must come to the place of turning, realizing that we cannot do anything good on our own to earn our salvation. We must hit rock bottom and cry out to God to be saved by accepting the free gift of salvation and asking Jesus to be the Lord of our lives.

The prodigal son goes home and hopes just to be a slave, hoping to pay back what he wasted. He just wants to be around his father and the household, in his mind he has disqualified himself from sonship.

Then we see the overwhelming Gospel story in the prodigal son, as the brokenhearted father, who has missed his son so much, is waiting for him. The son begins his prepared speech, humbly asking for a position of servanthood, but the father doesn’t pay any attention to his plea and commands that he be given three things. These three items are vital in our understanding of the story.

The Best Robe: The robe symbolizes cleansing and forgiveness, a washing and putting on new clothes. When you become a Christian, you are washed with the blood of Jesus and then you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

 The Ring: The ring was probably like a signet ring, which carried the seal of the family. The implications of this are huge. The son was reinstated with authority into the family. He has been brought back into his original position. When you become a Christian, you are adopted into God’s family with full authority of a son or daughter of the King. You are an ambassador, you have the authority to represent the king of kings.

 The sandals: Sandals were given to represent the fact that the son was not a slave, he had freedom. Slaves were kept in subjection, without shoes, but true children were free to walk around.

The tragedy is that so many people come to Jesus and ask for the forgiveness of their sins and then assume that the Lord has recruited them to be his hired hands, rather than being a beloved child whose debt has been paid in full by the blood Jesus shed on the cross.

Is that you today? You are limping in with a dirty coat, when God shows you the ring, the robe and the sandals, you decline because you feel unworthy of such forgiveness and grace, and you would be right!

But God gives you and I that new robe of righteousness, the ring of adoption into the family, and the sandals of freedom. Stop living as a slave and begin living as a desired and treasured part of the Family of God (see 1 Peter 2:9).

As Jesus ends the parable of the lost son, he throws in the picture of the older son, the Pharisees must have really felt the slap in the face of that. It was obvious that Jesus was referring to them and to all self-righteous people in the church who don’t know who they are in Christ, living according to a set of rules, rather than living as a child of the king.

But why the three parables in answer to the grumbling of the Pharisees? Jesus never wasted words, he didn’t simply tell three stories to make the same point, combined the parables reveal a profound truth about our salvation.

When we look at the parable of the good shepherd, we can easily see that the shepherd is Jesus. Jesus himself said that “I am the good shepherd” in John 10.

In the parable of the lost coin, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the house in search of it. The Holy Spirit is the light revealing the word to us and sweeping out the house of our souls to prepare the way for the transformation of God in our lives.

When we look at the parable of the lost son, we see the true focus of the story is on the Father who forgives and lavished love and blessings on the returning son. Tim Keller writes in his book “The Prodigal God”, where he shows God to be the prominent prodigal, because he loves us with reckless abandon, pouring out unmerited favor and blessing, holding nothing back.

We have three parables revealing distinct aspects of the working of the trinity in God’s plan of salvation.

The parable that consumes our attention is the Prodigal son, because we can so identify with either the young son or the older son. Neither son realized who they were in the family, and sometimes we are no different, we choose to live as orphans when our Heavenly Father has adopted us into His family.

We choose to live in spiritual poverty when we have been granted unmerited spiritual authority.

We have been clothed in righteousness and given the Holy Spirit to help us daily in our walk.

Do you really know what it means to be a Christian?

Sermon February 4, 2018 – The Pillar of Compassion of the Church

In Luke 10, we read the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. This well-known parable has become a part of our culture, even past presidents have referred to it in speeches. The parable was told by Jesus in response to a challenge, a question posed by an expert in the Mosaic Law. His question was interesting, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He was obviously trying to trick Jesus, because he knew exactly the requirements of the law. Jesus answers the question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26). Jesus immediately directs the man to an authority that they both can accept, the Law of Moses.

The scribe answers Jesus’ question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

This is the correct answer, but the learned man is not satisfied, he knows that that he is not perfectly loving towards his fellow man, so he is looking for a lower standard. He tries to limit the law’s command by limiting its parameters and asked the question “who is my neighbor?” One of the meanings of the word “neighbor” in the Greek could be translated as someone of the same race or tribe. But this makes the goal attainable, so Jesus tells this parable of the Good Samaritan to correct the false understanding that the scribe had of who his neighbor was.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, Jesus doesn’t mention anything about the man, we don’t know his nationality or race, and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had, including his clothing, and is beaten to within an inch of his life. Both a priest and a Levite pass by the man and refuse to offer assistance to him. The next person to come by is the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man, due to the racial prejudice between the Jews and the Samaritans.

We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion, he only saw a person in need of assistance, and he assists him by going above and beyond what would have been expected.

He pays for the man’s care and essentially gave the innkeeper a blank check. He seemed to be very trusting, but I don’t think the lesson is trust, I think the lesson is abundance, he was not concerned because he knew that his supply was from God, and that God never will run out of money. So even if the innkeeper took advantage of him, it would be okay, because it wasn’t his money anyway, it was God’s money and He will pay the bill (see Proverbs 19:17). God’s kingdom is not a kingdom of lack or a miserly mindset, God’s kingdom is a kingdom of excessive abundance, of extravagant generosity, of joyful giving, because that is what our Heavenly father gives to us (see Luke 6:38). Let us be extravagant in our generosity because we serve an extravagant God.

The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need, and we are to follow the Samaritan’s example in our own conduct by showing compassion and love for those we encounter in our everyday activities regardless of their race or religion; the criterion is need.

However, there is no person on earth who can meet this standard, our desires are mostly selfish. When left to our own, we do the wrong thing, we see the person in need and justify why we don’t need to help them. What about the drug addict, the homeless person or what about the Muslim refugee? One could go on listing examples of modern-day needy people who make us look far worse than priest or the Levite.

Even if we do right by the Lord, and those in need,  we must realize that no amount of good works will ever meet the standard set by Jesus. We will never be able to do enough good things to inherit eternal life. The question of the legal expert, is the question of the ages, “what must I do….to inherit eternal life?”

We don’t need a list of tasks, we need a savior. To inherit eternal life, we must put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and allow the Holy Spirit’s transforming power to enable us to love our neighbor. We cannot love our neighbor without the Holy Spirit in us, leading us and giving us the love of God for those around us. If you find it difficult to love that person who annoys you at work, who offends you or who hurt you, you don’t need patience or more strength; you need Jesus Christ in you, transforming you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Compassion is a pillar of the church but does not stand alone, there needs to be a strong connection between compassion and mission, between compassion and worship and between compassion and the Word. James chapter 2 explains to us that faith without works is dead; rather we show our faith in God through our works of good deeds.

The compassion of the church must always bring glory to the name above all names. Acts of social justice done for the Glory of God are in themselves acts of worship. However, compassion without the foundation of the Word of God lacks true empathy because it lacks true power to change lives. Only the word of God coupled with the revelation of the Holy Spirit has the power to change lives.

Compassion is essential in the church, not because it is what good people do to help one another, compassion is essential because it is the way the church points people to Jesus. As Jared Wilson wrote in his book, “the story telling God”, “Economic justice is temporal justice…the Gospel’s justice is eternal.”

Just like the work of the church is not done until the Great Commission is completed, so too the opportunities for the church to be a compassionate example of Christ will not go away until Jesus comes again. Let us be a church that proclaims the Gospel loud and clear, intentionally helping those in need with an eternal perspective.

January 7, 2018 Worship or Fear, we have a Choice

Matthew 6:25-34

At the beginning of the New Year we are looking at the four foundational pillars of our church, which are Worship, Word, Mission/ Evangelism and Compassion. This week we will be turning our attention to Worship by looking at Mathew 6 and verses 25-34. Not normally a scripture portion that is associated with worship.

What is Worship?  Is worship singing? Is it a church service? Do we only worship on a Sunday morning?  The word Worship comes from an old English word which is made up of two words, Worth and Ship. We worship what we give value to and what we dwell on. It is not just singing, or meditating, although that is a large part of worship. We worship what we give value to, the way we use our money, in the way we work, the way we share the Gospel with others and how we spend our free time. When we understand worship, we understand that we worship God with our very lives.

Frequently we hear the question, “how did you like worship today?” If you think about it, that is an absurd question as it reveals that the true nature of our desire to come to a church gathering is not to worship God, but rather to worship our own desires and our own preferences.

One of the ways that a lack of worship manifests itself is in fear and anxiety, this is especially true at the beginning of the New Year as the global future looks more and more unstable.

We don’t have a fear problem, we have a belief in God problem. And I contend that We don’t have a fear problem, we have a worship problem. If we really knew God, and that begins by daily reading His word and daily talking with him in prayer, we would find that our fears would melt away.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus has just been teaching his disciples about the importance of not storing up for themselves riches on the earth, but rather store up for themselves riches in heaven. Jesus taught things that were counter culture in the first century and even more so today. Jesus makes it very plain in verse 24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Jesus makes it very clear, that if we focus on the things around us, if we focus on building our own little kingdom here on this earth we cannot serve God. You may say that saving money for a rainy day is simply prudent, but how much of our saving is based on the fear of the unknown, which in turn is based on the fear that God really cannot take care of His children.

Jesus continued in verse 25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t try to encourage them to try not to worry, rather he forcefully tells them not to worry at all. It is a sin to worry, because when we worry, we show that we doubt the power of God over our circumstances. When we worry, we take God off the throne in our lives and we pay lip service to the all-powerful God, but do not believe it.

Putting God first is a constant struggle as we are so overwhelmed with information and entertainment in our day.

Think of how God feels when we carry around useless burdens which do nothing but weigh us down. Like a good parent God doesn’t want His children to struggle with things that He could help them with. God is our heavenly Father, the all-knowing Father who owns everything and lavishes his love on us. Jesus continues in verse 26 to say that Our Heavenly Father is committed to caring for His creation, why would we think that He is not able to care for us His children?

In verse 32, Jesus said, “your Heavenly Father knows you need all these things.” God is not unaware of your need to pay your mortgage, your health issues, your children’s education, or your ailing parent. God knows everything about your life.

“No man ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to the burden of today, that the weight is more than a man can bear.” — Gordon MacDonald

If worrying is a sin, how do we practically stop worrying? Jesus makes this clear in verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Worship is focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven, worship is focusing on the God who created the universe (see Psalm 145:13-16). Worship is about taking our eyes off our small world and focusing on the Kingdom of God

(see Philippians 4:6-7). That is living by the Spirit, God designed us to live by the Spirit in Christ and when we do that our very lives are consumed by worship. Being led by the Holy Spirit we are directed into His presence where our fears melt away.

We can worry, or we can worship, it is a choice we make and a decision we will live by. Worshipping God is always the best option, one that produces life. Anything in our lives that is more important than God, that causes us to take our eyes off God is and idol. Fear and worry are idols. Which altar are you worshipping at?

When we truly worship God, and get a glimpse of His glory on the throne, all the problems and the concerns of life will melt away. As the song by Helen Lemmel goes,

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth
Will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”

What Child is This? part 3 – December 17, 2017

So much of our Christmas season focuses on the birth of Jesus, but we cannot look at the birth of Jesus without looking at the reason why Jesus came to live amongst us.

Luke’s Gospel tells the narrative of how Jesus would be conceived and named. In Luke 1:26-35 we read how Mary had an encounter with the angel Gabriel, and he told her that the baby would be called Jesus. Jesus means God Saves, this must have been another indicator to Mary of who Jesus really was.

Every child carries some of the attributes and characteristics of their mother and their father. The angel told Mary that Jesus would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would have some of the attributes of Mary and some of the attributes of God himself. And we know from Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is fully God and fully man.

Jesus said to his disciples in John 14 verse 9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

So, this child, conceived miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the exact representation of God the Father and he is fully God, but by being born of Mary, he also has some of the nature of Mary. This is by God’s infinite design so that by being a man, Jesus would one day be able to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in Philippians 2:6-8.

We know that Jesus reflected the nature and character of God the Father, but how much of the character of Mary did Jesus possess as he walked the earth?

Looking at the way in which Jesus dealt with people we can see some of what Mary must have been like. Jesus was compassionate and kind, especially with children Jesus displayed patience and tenderness.

Jesus sought out the people on the fringes of society, calling them, showing them compassion and embracing them.

When the angel encountered Mary, he told her in verse 30, that she had found favor with God. God saw in Mary something special, she found favor with God possibly because she displayed the characteristics of gentleness, compassion, patience and tenderness. Perhaps it is possible that God saw in Mary the character traits, that He placed in her in the first place, but the character traits that would be necessary for Jesus to be who he was.

This child that lay asleep on her lap would one day grow up to have the character traits of care and compassion that his mother had.

There are several times in the Bible where the nature of God is described using motherly language and imagery (See Isaiah 66:13, Deuteronomy 32:11-12a, Psalm 22:9-10, Hosea 13:8a, Luke 13:34).

We see these images of God in the Bible as partial descriptions of the nature and character of God. Jesus is the exact representation of God; therefore, he must have these attributes himself. The same attributes that Mary displayed.

In addition to these characteristics, Mary and Jesus both displayed strong character in their lives. They both displayed great faith and trust in God. They were both willing and committed to the mission that God the Father had called them too. When Mary received the instructions from the Angel, her response was in Luke 1:38, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

When the time came for Jesus to face the completion of his mission, just before he was arrested and crucified, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, humbly submitting to the perfect plan and will of the Father (Luke 22:41-42).

Both Jesus and Mary lived lives of extraordinary consequence, but both suffered deep pain. We only have a glimpse from the account of the crucifixion of how much pain and suffering Jesus went through as he paid the price for our salvation, but Mary also suffered. When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple they met Simeon who praised God for allowing him to see the Messiah before his death, and went on to prophecy over Mary foretelling of the pain that she would one day endure (Luke 2:34-35).

Even in the Christmas carol, focusing on the birth of Jesus, we read of the purpose of why Jesus came to earth and gave up his glory in heaven. Mary was present at the crucifixion, standing by the cross, and enduring the agony of seeing her son die in the most excruciating way. Mary never left the side of Jesus, she was committed to being there for her son. This is also a promise of Jesus and one of the primary characteristics of the nature of God, he is a faithful God who promises to never leave us.

No matter how dark the season is that you are going through, no matter how lonely you feel at this Christmas season God is always near and his Word promises that He will be with you.

Jesus promised his disciples when he left them his Great Commission (Matthew 28:20b).

One of the most powerful scenes of compassion took place as Jesus hung suffering on the cross. Mary was there, and she wanted to help alleviate the pain, but Jesus looked at her and cared for her as he instructed the Apostle John to care for his mother (see John 19:26-17). What an incredible picture of love and compassion, in his pain he made sure that Mary was going to be taken care of.

“What child is this?” He is the one who came to love and to be the selfless sacrifice for all those who would believe in his name. But praise God, it didn’t end there. Jesus rose from the dead in a new resurrected body, Jesus became the first born of the new creation, and by his re-birth we can be born again.

Mary came to understand that this miraculous baby became the greater miracle, the way of salvation for millions of people who would put their faith and trust in him.

This Jesus is still the same today, full of compassion and love, ready to meet your needs.

If you are facing a huge trial and difficulty, Jesus knows what you are going through and he can meet your need.

If you are lonely and struggling with depression, Jesus knows your pain and is full of compassion.

Jesus came to earth as a little baby, to be fully man, so that he could identify with you and me (see Hebrews 4:15-16).

What Child is This? part 2 – December 10, 2017

In Matthew chapter 2 we read the account of the wise men who came from the east to meet Jesus.

We must ask ourselves, who were these men, and why did they get invited to meet the Messiah?

 The first thing we notice is that these wise men came from the east, most likely they were Gentiles from Arabia, this would have included modern day Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE and Iraq.

One of the clearest explanations for their place of origin would be the types of gifts they brought to Jesus as we read in verse 11 of Matthew 2. The Gold which these wise men brought was probably mined in the region of Ophir and Sheba, which is mentioned in 2 Kings 9 as the place where King Solomon obtained huge quantities of gold for his extravagant building projects. The gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh are also derived from trees that primarily grow in Southern Arabia. It is important to understand the origin of these wealthy travelers in order to understand that they were fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 60:1-6

So how does knowing this information about the wise men help us in answering the question, “what child is this?”

Firstly; both Jesus and the wise men came from a distant place to Bethlehem. The Wise men travelled from a distant country in the east, and Jesus as we know came from God the Father and took on human form as he became Emmanuel, God with us (see John 1:1-2, 9-12).

Secondly; one might be tempted to think that because of all the prophecies relating to the messiah being Jewish, it would mean that he only came for the Jews. However, with these wise men coming from the east, God clearly announced that Jesus came for all mankind.

Thirdly; these wise men were wealthy, but to say that Jesus came from a place of means, is probably the greatest understatement in history. If you read Revelation chapters 4 and 5, you will see a glimpse of the majesty and the incredible riches of heaven. Jesus was surrounded by wealth, power and majesty in heaven, and yet he humbled himself to come as a poor baby born to a poor couple in a humble stable.  This child born in the manger is the Lord who created everything and owns everything.

And finally, the wise men were generous as they brought extravagant gifts for Jesus. Jesus himself came to bring a gift of unimaginable worth to all who would receive it. Jesus came from a position of wealth and he came with a gift, the ultimate gift of eternal life (see Galatians 1:3-4a, 1 John 3:16, John 14:27a, Philippians 4:13, Mark 10:45).

Have you ever wondered why the wise men came to Bethlehem?

The greater question is, how did these wise men know that the King of the Jews was to be born. We know that ancient eastern scholars were students of the natural sciences and in fact they came from a culture that valued the study of the stars and the planets. Thus, when they saw this strange star in the sky, they began digging to find out why it was there. To find out how they came to know about Jesus, you must go back nearly six centuries to the Babylonian exile of the southern kingdom of Israel in 587 B.C. After the exile had ended, some of the people of Judah remained in the eastern lands where they maintained their oral traditions and scriptures. They would have taken the tradition of telling the stories of the ancient scriptures to whoever would listen. These transplanted exiles would have told of the prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel, and Isaiah about the coming Messiah the King of the Jews.

These wise men would have known of the ancient prophecies of the Messiah coming in the west. And when they saw the star, they came to meet this king. However simply knowing of an important birth happening hundreds of miles away probably wasn’t the real motivation for their coming to Bethlehem. I believe is the real reason the wise men visited Bethlehem was that God the Holy Spirit invited them and compelled them to meet Jesus.

Just as God invited, and prompted the wise men to come and see Jesus, so to, today, the Holy Spirit invites and compels people to come and meet Jesus.

One of the incorrect statements we often hear is, “I found Jesus”. Well the truth is that you didn’t find Jesus, he invited you to meet him.

When the wise men finally come to the house of Mary and Joseph, imagine Mary’s surprise when these wealthy, well dressed, upper class men come into her home and when they see the baby, they bow down and worship. These gentiles probably didn’t speak Aramaic or Hebrew, but they bow down and worship the king. They had been invited to witness the most important birth in all of history and unlike the rest of the people around them, they knew who deserved to be worshipped. The rest of the people in Bethlehem at that time did not recognize Jesus for who he was, and they never did.

These wise men were the first non-Jewish people to worship the Son of God, and just like you and me today, they were invited in. Because Jesus didn’t come only for the Jews, but he came for all nations for all people groups.

So, what about you? You have been invited to meet the King of Kings, the one born in Bethlehem, who brought the gift of eternal life to all mankind

Have you met Jesus? Have you worshipped Jesus? There is only one gift that we have to offer Jesus, and that is the gift of our lives, fully committing our lives to worship him and live for him.

What Child is This? part 1 – December 03, 2017

The Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” was published in the United Kingdom in 1871, and for close to one hundred and fifty years, the question found in the title of this carol has become an annual reminder that something significant happened on that night in Bethlehem as someone significant lay wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger.

The title of the carol is intended to be the primary question the shepherds must have asked on the night they visited the baby Jesus. After their angelic encounter and receiving the startling news while they tended their sheep on the outskirts of Bethlehem, their heads must have been spinning as they tried to comprehend all they experienced on that first Christmas night.

Luke’s Gospel records the scene in Luke 2:8-18.

While no nativity scene is complete without the shepherds’ presence, and the answer to this Christmas Carol’s question also would be only partial without the description of “shepherd.”

What child is this? He is a shepherd; Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd in John 10:11.

He is the one who came to lay His life down for all of humanity just as a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. While at times the shepherds in the Christmas story have been labeled as the ones who were a bit rough around the edges and living on the lowest rung of society’s ladder, Jesus describes Himself as being a shepherd who has great responsibility. There is no greater responsibility than holding the life of another in the control of one’s own hands. Protecting the life of others was the responsibility and calling of the shepherd.

The imagery of the shepherd is prominent in Ancient Near Eastern history. Shepherds were equated with righteous government and often appear in contexts where the subject of justice is prominent. Shepherds were expected to be the ones who showed kindness in counseling, protecting, and guiding those whom they were responsible for through every difficulty. Even the shepherd’s crook has been viewed throughout the ages as a symbol of power, authority, and strength.

shepherds are mentioned over one hundred times in the Bible. One of the first careers found in the pages of the Bible is that of the shepherd, Abel, the son of Adam and Eve was a shepherd (Genesis 4:2).

In the Bible, those who possessed flocks of sheep and other animals that needed shepherding, were viewed as wealthy and powerful. Great flocks and herds were seen as blessings from the hand of God. Abraham is an example of such a blessing of this type when he is described in Genesis 24:35. Jesus himself, speaks about having many sheep later in John 10:14-16.

Jesse’s son, David, was given the responsibility to take care of his father’s sheep before he would be called to care for and lead the people of Israel as their king. The place David was found before he was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel was out in the fields tending his father’s sheep in 1 Samuel 16.

Remember, the Lord sent Samuel to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the future King of Israel. Jesse presents each of his sons before the great prophet and the Lord rejects all of them, finally Samuel asks Jesse in verse 11, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse responds that there is one more, but he is out tending the sheep. He is the little shepherd boy, and the thinking was that he could never be the future king.

Even after this incredibly significant anointing of David as the future king of Israel, he continued to fulfill his duties as a shepherd while King Saul still sat as the King of Israel.

The child that would be born in the manger in Bethlehem would be near the pastures that David grazed his father’s sheep centuries beforehand. The Savior of the world, the good shepherd, would be born in the City of David and a direct descendant of the King who also was a good shepherd.

What child is this? He is a shepherd and king just as his ancestor David.

The principal duty of the shepherd was to make sure that the animals under his care had enough food and water. David’s most famous Psalm speaks to this in Psalm 23, that begins with truth that echoes the answer to the question of the carol: What Child Is this? (see Psalm 23:1-2).

Just as the shepherd was responsible for the food and water provisions of the sheep, protecting the flock also was a priority that continually must be provided. When David was preparing to fight against Goliath, he told king Saul about his encounters with wild animals as he protected the sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-35)

What Child Is This? He is the one who will provide for and protect all who are under His care.

The good shepherd went to great lengths to take care of those under his or her care. He would make sure they were kept intact and would go to great lengths to find one sheep that was missing (see Matthew 18:10-14).

What child is this?  He is the one who left all the riches and comfort of heaven to look for the ones who went astray. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one of us—to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6).

This child in the manger would grow to become the one who came to seek and to save those who were lost, alone, exposed, and astray.

What child is this?

He is the one who came to lay down His life.

He is the one who came to provide for and protect His flock.

He is the one blessed with ones He would call His own and who would come to know His voice.

He is the one who is the good shepherd.

Thanksgiving part 2 – November 19, 2017

Recalling the history of the early Pilgrims, Governor William Bradford wrote concerning their faith, “God gave them health and strength in a good measure; and shewed them by experience ye truth of the word.” And he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word, that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Thanksgiving is all about God, and recognizing who He is and all the blessings He has freely given us. In a world that has all but pushed God away in every sphere of society it is amazing that we still celebrate Thanksgiving, because how can we celebrate this holiday if we don’t acknowledge our Lord and Creator.

Thanksgiving is such a great holiday, but it is not an end in itself; thanksgiving must lead us into something. Thanksgiving should lead to something that is infinitely more significant.

In Luke 17 we read about a man that was truly thankful. This account from the life of Jesus took place while he was on his way to Jerusalem, on the way he encounters ten men with leprosy. At that time and according to the Law of Moses, people with leprosy had to wear torn clothing and live on their own outside of the city, waiting for their probable death.

They had nothing to lose and they cried out to Jesus, calling him Master, recognizing that Jesus was the messiah. Sadly, it is often only those who are desperate who recognize their need for Jesus.

Jesus heard their cry for help and in response he told them to go and show themselves to the priests. The implication was clear to the lepers, according to the law, people with a skin disease had to be examined by a priest, who would determine whether they were clean allowing them to be re-integrated into society.

They hurried away to do just this, and Luke 17:14 says, “as they went, they were cleansed”. They didn’t go and sit back under the tree and wait for their symptoms to disappear. The Bible is clear that they were healed when they went in faith. Can you imagine their emotional roller-coaster they must have gone through? They started walking and after one mile they still were sick, maybe after two miles, they still saw no sign of relief. Every step was a step in faith and as they continued in faith they were healed. We are not told when the healing took place, but they were healed as they walked in faith. Faith in the healing power of Jesus often requires us to obey before we see the full evidence of God’s work within us

From the account in Luke’s Gospel it seems that all ten are healed, but only one man, a Samaritan comes back praising God (Luke 17:15-16).

The people of Samaria were of mixed Israelite and foreign descent, so the Jewish people did not accept them as part of the Jewish community. The Samaritans were despised by Jews for both ethnic and religious reasons; there was mutual hatred by the Samaritans toward Jews.

We don’t know the nationalities of the other nine, but the response Jesus gave in verse 18 seems to indicate that the other nine were Jews. This Samaritan fell at the feet of Jesus and worshipped loudly. He recognized and glorified God, and this is the key, his thanksgiving led to Worship. Worship is a natural response of a heart filled with gratitude.

It would have been logical for him to have followed the other men and gone to the temple, but he first came to the Lord Jesus with his sacrifice of praise. The law required that after being inspected by the priests at the temple, one would have to offer a sacrifice to God. But this Samaritan didn’t even get to the temple, he turned around and ran to Jesus, this pleased the Lord more than all the sacrifices the other men offered, even though they were obeying the Law. And instead of going to the priest, the Samaritan became a priest, and he built his altar at the feet of Jesus.

If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are a royal priesthood with a purpose. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Looking at our last verse, I saw something that I had never discovered before in this passage, in verse 19 Jesus said to the Samaritan man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

At first glance, this seems to tell us that the faith of this man is the reason for his physical healing, and yes to a certain extent it is. But the word used in the Greek to indicate being made well comes from the root word “sozo”.

What Jesus really said to the man was, “your faith has saved you”

This man was grateful, and he knew the reason for his healing, he immediately came to Jesus and worshipped him.

Dante Rossetti once said; “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank”.

The essence of Thanksgiving is that it is an act of worship. True worship flows from gratitude which comes from our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Are you worshipping God today? Is your worship coming from a heart of gratitude?

Thanksgiving part 1 – November 12, 2017

Psalm 107

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday what are you thankful for? As Christians we have been given something that is so immeasurably good and wonderful, that it should be the very first thing we share around the dinner table. Psalm 107 is a Psalm of thanksgiving and praise to God for deliverance and freedom, it starts with an exhortation to give God thanks (Psalm 107:2). To be redeemed means to have one’s debts paid for and to be set free. As Christians this is you and me, Jesus bought and paid for our freedom on the cross.

But, to be thankful, we need to be aware of what have you been saved from. Do you remember the day you gave your life to the Lordship of Jesus, the redeemer? Do you remember the hopelessness you felt before you encountered Jesus? For many of us, we need to be reminded of our lives before we met Jesus to awaken a heart of thanksgiving in us.

Continuing in verse 3 as the Psalmist paints a picture for us of the exiles returning to Jerusalem from the four corners of the earth and beginning in verse 4 we have four different examples of people being set free. Each of these four represent distinct characteristics of lostness.

The Wanderer (v 4).

The picture we have is of a group of people who have been banished from the promised land, they are lost and wandering in the desert, possibly the Sinai desert. These people were hungry and thirsty, but worse than their physical condition we read that their spirits failed them, they had given into the hopelessness of their situation.

People who do not know Jesus as their lord and savior, wander aimlessly, without the hope of eternity for them life is a hopeless gathering of possessions and wealth to lose it all when you die, what a miserable existence! However, in verse 6 they cried out to God and he rescued them, and led them to a city where they could live. It is a beautiful picture of a people being restored to their God and His Promised Land.

The Rebel Prisoner (v10).

Here the Psalmist paints a picture of someone in chains, in prison because they intentionally went against God’s perfect plan and will. Many of us have experienced the prison of intentionally going against the will and plan of God for our lives. There are many forms of imprisonment; addiction to drugs, pornography, alcohol, and pleasure. And then there is the prison of fear of man, the of fear of failure or guilt and shame from our past. Are you in prison today because of your rebellion to God? He can set you free as he did these prisoners in verses 14 and 15.

The Sick (v17).

This group of people are suffering affliction as a result of their sins, in the form of sickness as we see in verse 18.  This is a group similar to the previous one, whereas the previous group are in prison because of their rebellion, this group suffers sickness because of rebellion.

I want to make clear that not every sickness is because of sin, however, there are times when sickness is the result of our rebellion against God. The fact is that sin separates us from God, it separates us from the peace and joy of the Lord, as a result we suffer from stress, which is a known contributor to many kinds of ailments. Anxiety and hypertension are just two of the symptoms of stress that may be as a result of not walking in the way and the peace of the Lord. In many people’s lives, God has used the desperation of sickness to draw them back to himself, and through his healing power they are redeemed. In verse 19 and 20, the sick people cry out to God and he healed them. Is that your story? Do you remember being healed and set free by the healing power of the cross?

The Sea Traveler (v23).

This is such an interesting picture, because during this time in the history of the nation of Judah, they were not seafarers like the Philistines. But the picture here rather is of someone on a ship consumed by the wind and the waves, it is a picture of someone consumed by a busy life. In verse 27 we read that they were at their wits end, desperate and overwhelmed.  The ocean traveler on a small vessel during a storm is constantly looking at the storm and the waves, just trying to survive. If your life is so busy that all you are doing is simply trying to stay alive, that is not God’s plan for you. Business is not a sin, but business that consumes you and takes your eyes off the plan and purposes of God for your life, can leave you desperately in need of redemption.

So, we have four pictures of desperation, four groups of people who are lost and in need of a touch from God.

Each of these 4 pictures ends with the person, or group of people crying out to God during their troubles. And the psalmist says that God rescued them, he brought them out of their distress. Verses 8 is a verse that is repeated at the end of each of these pictures like a chorus, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind”. These verses echo verse 2, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—  those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,”

We can all relate to being in one or more of these categories at one time or another in our lives, maybe you are there now, and you are crying out for freedom. God will hear your cry and he is waiting to set you free.

During this season of thanksgiving, I want to challenge you to think back and remember what Jesus saved you from. If you know what you have been saved from, you will never hold back praising God and declaring His wonderful works.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…” (Psalm 107:2a).

Sermon November 05, 2017 – International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

November 05, 2017

In his book, “The Global War on Christians”, John Allen calls the worldwide persecution of Christians, “the most dramatic religion story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.”

Christian persecution is any hostility, experienced from the world, because of one’s identification with Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said that persecution is a blessing! For those who have not undergone persecution, it is difficult to understand why persecution is a blessing. But it is a known fact that the church grows quicker in nations where it is persecuted.

John 15:18-25 is a passage that does not preach well in our western “Prosperity Gospel” mindset, where our culture, upbringing and education all teach us that we have rights.  It is expected that Christians are respected members of society and by living out our Christian values and principles people will give us honor. But this is so far from the reality of what Jesus taught.

We have the mindset that persecution is something that happens somewhere else, in third world countries, where people are less educated perhaps. We also tend to think that persecution of Christians was something that only happened in history.

However, persecution is right on our doorstep, Jesus taught that this world is not our home (see John 15:19), and Jesus continues in verse 20 to say that a servant is no greater than his master, this is the normal Christian life. We have recently completed the series on the normal Christian life, noting that the foundation for the normal Christian life is applying the cross of Jesus Christ to our lives, daily dying to ourselves, being willing to lay aside our preferences, our rights and our desires for the sake of the Gospel.

It is almost predictable that when I teach in any setting on dying to our rights, people get angry. It just proves how conditioned we are to expect that this Christian life is a life of leisure and prosperity and peace. Jesus taught the opposite and he was persecuted more than any other man in history. In 1 John 3:13 we read, “Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”  This is the normal Christian life.

For millions of Christians around the world, persecution is their daily reality. From intimidation to isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death, they live with the ongoing threat of persecution, and yet they choose to faithfully follow Jesus.

Faithfully being a follower of Jesus is the cause of persecution. Remember we saw that the life of the Christian is not found in simply becoming a better person, but rather we are “in Christ”. Being in Christ is the reason for and the target of persecution in our world.

In Romans 8:17, the apostle Paul tells us, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” So, when we share in Jesus’ sufferings we become heirs who will also share in his glory. Suffering is part of it the process that leads to us sharing in the glory of our resurrected Lord.

Persecution isn’t something we think about often, but it is incredibly real for believers all over the globe. The Pew Research Center estimates that 75% of the world’s population lives in regions with severe religious restrictions—with many of those being Christians. And according to the United States Department of State, Christians face persecution from their neighbors or government in as many as 60 different countries, simply because they claim Jesus as Lord.

Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary documents that one hundred thousand Christians, eleven per hour, have been killed on average every year of the past decade. And it is estimated that more Christians died for their faith in the last century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Unfortunately, many Christians today, operate under the assumption that persecution is a part of the Church’s past.

Jesus told His followers to expect persecution, John 15:20 reads,“…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” So this is expected but what is our response to be? How are we to respond as we sit here in comfort and ease without the threat of violence for our belief in Jesus.

It’s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid, but God did not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

It’s also natural to want to put an end to the suffering of persecuted Christians. But the persecuted Church isn’t asking for an end to their hardships, for them, persecution is normal. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted are praying for you and I, that we would remain strong in the face of an increasingly godless society. Instead, they pray for the strength to withstand persecution. These hardships produce believers with genuine faith, who truly understand the cost involved in being “In Christ”, and they ask for our prayers for strength to withstand.

Christian persecution is overwhelming, and we can all too easily become desensitized by the statistics.

But I want to challenge you to spend some time today praying on your own or as a family for the persecuted church. Let us pray with them rather than for them, that the word of God will move swiftly across the whole earth.

 “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Tertullian