Sermon Sunday June 20 2021 – Are you a Follower or and Observer?

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Mountain top experiences part 9
Luke 23:21-49

Calvary is the mountain top encounter that all the others point to. This little hill just outside Jerusalem, is the peak on which all of human history pivots. During the Roman empire, this was the place where criminals were executed by the most inhumane method of crucifixion.

As we look at the various people who witnessed the death of Jesus, I want to challenge you by saying that on that day, Jesus had only one follower. There were many observers but only one follower. Looking at your life today, are you a follower or are you an observer?

As we read the account of the crucifixion, we subconsciously categorize people as guilty or innocent. The women were innocent, the soldiers were guilty, Pilate was confused and guilty, Simon of Cyrene was innocent, and the two criminals were both guilty, but one was saved.  

But the reality is that there was only one person innocent in the entire world, and that was Jesus. Luke does well to point this out in Luke 23 verses 22, 41 and 47.

Jesus was the only one who was sinless, and he died for all sinners (see Romans 3:22-23).

Everyone was impacted that day by the decisions they made and what they saw.

Pilate saw that Jesus was innocent and he tried to recuse himself (see Matthew 27:24).
He was a politician and a people pleaser. He did not have the character to stand by his convictions. But I wonder if I would have the courage to stand against the angry crowd on that day. He gave in to the pressure of the fear of man, and as a result he was guilty.

Simon of Cyrene was not involved in the crucifixion but was drawn in (Luke 23:26).He was a religious man from Libya who had travelled eight hundred miles to celebrate the Passover. Jesus was understandably exhausted and weakened by the beatings and interrogations, and could not carry the cross, so the crowd had this foreigner carry the cross.

There is a significant picture here, to carry your cross was a sign of guilt, it was perfectly ordained by God the Father that Jesus was not to carry his cross to the hill.I want to come back to Simon later in this article.

The rulers, soldiers and one of the criminals mocked Jesus. These religious leaders were the men who had studied the law and the prophets, the Old Testament, but they were blind to what they were doing. In verse 36, we read that the soldiers mocked him, getting drawn along by the crowd, they seemed to be enjoying the moment and teased Jesus. Even the dying criminal next to Jesus had energy left to mock and jeer at Jesus.

But then we come to the repentant criminal. His dialogue with Jesus is often used to explain the fact that we are saved by grace and not by works. There is nothing this criminal could do to earn his salvation, he simply asked Jesus to save him. But we can easily miss the tremendous faith that it took for him to ask Jesus to save him. He possibly had never seen Jesus before, we don’t know. But here in front of all the people, as he was dying, he declared that Jesus was the King of Kings. If you were drowning, would you ask a drowning man for help?

Here was a dying man, asking a dying man for help. A crazy idea, unless he really believed that Jesus was the son of God.

As Jesus died, we have a snapshot of a centurion. He was a hardened Roman soldier who had probably witnessed hundreds of crucifixions, but he had never seen anyone die like Jesus did. He knew that Jesus was innocent, and he gave glory to God.  He knew that he had just witnessed God in the flesh, and he was forever changed.

The people who were cheering the crucifixion were changed (Luke 23:48). They came to see a spectacle and to mock but left in fear and remorse. As they witnessed the spotless son of God dying, they became aware of their own sins and began grieving. How terrible and hopeless that must have felt for them.

Coming back to Simon, the man recruited to carry the cross. It is likely that what he saw that day, led him to be a Christian. In Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13 we see that his sons were a part of the early church.

Carrying the cross changed Simon and, on that day, he was the only true follower of Jesus. He was walking out a prophetic picture of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Before Simon met Jesus, he was a religious Jew, going about his devotion. But to come to know Jesus, he had to leave behind his plans and his religion. He had to die to his plans and his ideas of what he wanted to do, and then he had to take up the cross of Jesus. Do you see the picture?

Matthew 16:24 is often misinterpreted. People often talk about a “cross” as a burden to carry, something like a chronic sickness or a thankless job, and we say, “it is my cross to bear”

But this is not what Jesus meant. In the 1st century, to carry your cross, was to walk to your death. It was a cruel and humiliating form of capital punishment. It wasn’t a temporary inconvenience.

Today we celebrate the cross as a symbol of our salvation and the love of God, but when Jesus said these words, it would have sounded a whole lot different.
To take up your cross is to completely abandon our plans and goals and submitting to the perfect will of God. This is the first step in being a follower of Jesus (see Luke 14:27).

Are you a follower of Jesus? Have you seen that radical change in your life? Or are you still the master of your own plan.

I can assure you that the only way to live in peace and have eternal salvation, is to be a follower of Jesus and not an observer.

Sermon Sunday June 13, 2021 – The Value of Prayer

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Luke 22:39-46 

Contrary to popular belief, you cannot make time.

But you can invest time. What if I said that you could invest your time in something that is infinitely valuable and has eternal rewards?

I am talking about prayer.

This week we come to Luke 22 and the prayer that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

This is a pivotal moment in human history. Jesus has just celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, and he was on his way to be arrested and crucified. Jesus knew the battle that lay ahead of him, and he needed to be alone with the Father.

In Luke 22:39, we read that Jesus had a custom of going to this mountain to pray. Jesus was a man of discipline. When it comes to prayer, people often say, “well I am not that disciplined”. The truth is that every person has the capacity to be disciplined; we just are not motivated.

Motivation comes from what we value. What we value we elevate in importance, which becomes the thing that we worship. Ultimately, we are motivated by what we worship, what we give value to. When people say they cannot discipline themselves to pray and to feed on God’s Word, it is simply evident that they do not place a value on prayer and the Word.

In verse 41, we see that Jesus separated himself from his disciples and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42

Jesus prayed fervently that God would remove this trial from him. Jesus knew that he was about to take on the sins of the world and the Father would have to turn His back on him. I am so grateful that Jesus submitted to the will of the Father. Jesus had a yes in his heart, he knew that this was the moment he had come to the earth for.

When we approach the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are right to focus on the cross where the price was paid for our salvation. But we must not overlook the Garden, this is where Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn away from the cross. This is where Satan threw everything at Jesus to persuade him not to go through with the crucifixion. I believe that this was the last attempt by Satan. Satan knew that if Jesus was going to submit to the will of the Father, he was defeated.

It was fitting that the battle for our salvation took place in a garden. In the beginning the first Adam rebelled against God in the garden of Eden and ushered sin and death to the world. The second Adam came to fight in the garden on the mount of Olives for you and me, to defeat the power of sin and death.

Jesus knew the plan; he knew that he would be raised from the dead, but his soul experienced agony as he faced what lay ahead of him and was tempted to turn back. This was not a normal quiet time of prayer; Jesus was in agony (Luke 22:43). But the victory was won. The victory for our salvation was won by Jesus on his knees in prayer. Let us always remember that prayer is the most powerful use of our time.

As we compare Luke’s account with the other Gospels, we see that Jesus prayed three times for the cup to be removed and three times he came back to his disciples and found them sleeping. The disciples had no idea of the pain and the trial that would lie ahead of them. Isn’t it incredibly comforting to know that this same Jesus, who was so disciplined in his prayers on earth is now praying for us (see Hebrews 7:25)?

In verse 46, and verse 40, Jesus said “pray that you may not enter into temptation”. As Jesus was being led to the cross, all his disciples eventually fled or disowned him. Notice this, don’t miss this. The only person who remained strong during this terrible day was the one who had stayed awake and prayed. The disciples who didn’t pray, fled, and abandoned Jesus.

Looking at the phrase “that you may not enter into temptation”. This is the same phrase the Jesus used in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

We know from James 1:13-14 that God does not tempt us. But the Greek word used in Luke and Matthew’s Gospel account is πειρασμός (pronounced – peirasmos), which is a word used throughout the New Testament and can mean to be tested, or to undertake an examination, or to be tempted to sin. This is the same word that we find in Matthew 4:1, right after the baptism of Jesus, as he was led to be tempted in the wilderness.

God the Father allows trials and testing in our lives. These are the works of Satan, but God allows it for our growth, faith, maturing and for our sanctification (see James 1:2-4).

The Bible teaches that testing is good for us, but we are also encouraged to pray to avoid testing if it is the Father’s will. We have an example in Luke 22:31-32a as Jesus is speaking to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

Satan the accuser (Revelation 12:10), accuses the saint’s day and night before God. Satan demanded to test Peter, but Jesus, our great High priest, stepped in and prayed for him. Jesus knows the power of prayer before the throne of God!

We know from 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will not test us beyond our ability in Christ to bear it and will always provide a way out. If the wording of the Lord’s prayer refers to trials, then the meaning of Matthew 6:13 is, “do not test us, do not afflict us”. King David understood this (see Psalm 141:4).

How is your prayer life?

Sermon, Sunday June 6, 2021 – The Transfiguration

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Matthew 17:1-13

Have you ever been in a meeting or a gathering where you wonder why you were asked to be there? Maybe you were called into a meeting to discuss some important subject with a group of experts, and you were not one of the experts!

This week we are looking at the mount of transfiguration that we have recorded in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel accounts. Peter, James and John must have felt very self-conscious as they stood on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

Why were they singled out to be on this mountain top for this amazing encounter?

As I read the account in Matthew, I had so many questions:

  • Which Mountain?
  • Why Peter, James and John?
  • Why Moses and Elijah?
  • What is a transfiguration?
  • What language were they speaking?
  • How did Peter know it was Moses and Elijah?
  • What was the purpose of the transfiguration?

I will try to answer a few of these questions below:

  • On which mountain did this take place?

There are two choices, Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon for the site of the transfiguration.

Most Scholars believe that Mt Hermon is the correct location of the transfiguration. It is almost 9000 feet high, whereas Mount Tabor is only 2000 feet high.

Matthew’s gospel places events leading up to the transfiguration in the district of Caesarea Philippi, making Mount Hermon the closer site.

  • Why Peter, James, and John?

Jesus had an inner circle, these three disciples. Jesus revealed certain things to them as he was equipping them and training them to lead the early church.

Interestingly, we read in Exodus 24 that when Moses went up mount Sinai to receive the Law, he had three men with him, Aaron, Nadab and Abiu.

Peter, James and John became eyewitnesses to the glory of Jesus (see 2 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:14). What these men witnessed became their testimony and they were changed forever.

  • Why Moses and Elijah?

Why not some other Old Testament characters?

Moses and Elijah represent the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law and Elijah is the first among the prophets.

Jesus referred to the combination of the law and the prophets frequently as this encompassed the canon of the Old Testament (See Matthew 5:17, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:36-40).

The Appearance of Moses and Elijah, declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfilment of everything that they themselves pointed towards.  

  • What is the Transfiguration?

The Greek word translated transfigured gives us our English word “metamorphosis.” A metamorphosis is a change on the outside that comes from the inside.

Jesus did not reflect glory from elsewhere, but he radiated glory and light from within. His human features changed, so that for a brief moment the disciples could see his true glory.

During the transfiguration as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were talking, Peter struggling for words, asked if he could build a shelter for them. He wanted to remain there and enjoy the glory.

But God the Father came down in a cloud and dispelled any confusion that the disciples might have had. God the Father would never permit His son to be placed on the same level as any human being.

This encounter changed the three disciples. When you encounter the risen Lord Jesus, you will never be the same again. Have you encountered the risen Lord?

As Jesus and His three disciples came down from the mountaintop, He cautioned them not to reveal what they had seen, not even to the other nine disciples.

The disciples were obviously full of questions. If Jesus was the Messiah, what about the prophecies that they had been taught since childhood? Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”

Was this the beginning of the Day of the Lord, the great day of judgment?

Jesus explained to them that John the Baptist was the forerunner, he was the Elijah, that made straight the pathway for Jesus. Jesus went on to explain that he was about to suffer and that his agenda was different to the plans that they had been taught for the Messiah. Jesus was the fulfilment of Isaiah 53, the suffering servant.

They still didn’t grasp what Jesus was about to be and do. Do we fully grasp who Jesus is?

He is more than a good man, a powerful miracle worker, a good role model or a respected teacher. The world around us, accepts this version of Jesus, but he is so much more than that.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16). He is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). He is the only name by which anyone can be saved (Acts 4:12).

  • How did Peter James and John know it was Moses and Elijah?

This may shock some of the younger generation, but they did not have Instagram accounts during the time of Moses. There was no way they would know what they looked like.

This is where we get a glimpse into eternity. I believe that in heaven, we will know everyone by name, a supernatural knowledge of each person.

This was such an incredible event in the life of Jesus on the earth, but for me there was one significant moment that precipitated the transfiguration.

Jesus invited the disciples to follow him, and they said yes!

In Matthew 4 we see that Peter, James, and John were of the first disciples to be called by Jesus, and immediately they dropped everything and gave him their yes.

When Jesus invited them up the mountain, they said yes.

Daily God gives us invitations to say yes. Sometimes it is a small yes, like taking a meal to a sick neighbor or helping someone who needs a ride. Maybe it is simply praying for someone you meet in a store.

Sometimes it is a bigger yes, when God might invite you to leave your home and move to a foreign land as a missionary. God might invite you to leave your career and go into ministry.

Whatever the invitation, when you give your yes, I can tell you from experience that your life will never be short of adventure, and it will certainly never be ordinary.

In what area of your life are you withholding a yes from God?

The Lordship of Jesus over your life, is a predetermined yes in your heart.