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.