“The 2nd Greatest Commandment”
“To love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This is a law that would have been well known to the scholars and scribes at the time and is found in Leviticus 19:18. In looking at this command, I want to refer to Luke 10 where Jesus tells the very well known parable of the good Samaritan. The lead up to the parable Luke 10:25-29 sounds very familiar to Matthew 22. We have an expert of the law who is trying to trick Jesus into making a mistake, the expert in the law actually proclaims the profound truth that Jesus told in Matthew 22. And then Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the good Samaritan, a story about a Samaritan man helping a Jew who was attacked as he walked along the road to Jericho. And even though the Samaritan was considered by many Jews to be a lesser race, this Samaritan helped the Jewish man and went above and beyond what could have been expected of a fellow Jew. Jesus was using an extreme example of someone that the Jews would not have even remotely considered as their neighbor. At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the expert of the law; “Which one of the travelers was a neighbor to the injured man?” The legal expert had to sheepishly admit that the Samaritan was the true neighbor, and then Jesus dismisses him by saying, “Go and do likewise”. Jesus very simply, but very profoundly silenced the devious critic.
Jesus knew that what he was saying was impossible to do. Jesus knew that the man asking the question was far from the Kingdom of God, he was an expert in the law of God, but had no personal relationship with God. The response from the scholar should have been one of resignation; he should have said “how can I do this? I am not able I need help, please help me.” But the expert of the law rather tries to justify himself, to find an out, to find a lower standard that he can handle, a palatable law that would work for him.
Does this sound familiar? Sadly too many teachers of the Word are trying to make the commands and requirements of the Bible easier to accept. The clear instructions of the Bible are simply not politically correct as a result scholars try to find a way to get around it. “Well, maybe the translation is not very good? Maybe we have the context wrong.” No, my friends, the truth is that if you truly follow the word of God and do as it says, you will be in the minority and will probably be ridiculed for it.
So, the question that was posed to Jesus is still posed to us today, who is our neighbor? And I would like to add another question; why does it matter?
I think we can all agree that our neighbor is not only the person or persons who live in the adjacent house or apartment. Jesus was drawing attention to the fact that our neighbor is anyone we come into contact with. Whether or not they look like us, dress like us, have the same socio economic standing, or even believe in Jesus as the Son of God. We are not allowed to discriminate in any way. If God brings a person into your path, that person is your neighbor.
Jesus came to earth with the purpose to offer himself as a sacrifice to provide the way of salvation to all who would call on his name, not just a few people who we like to hang out with. Not just those that we feel comfortable with.
We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus for those who do not know Jesus as their personal savior. By our actions and love for the hurting, we will be able to introduce them to Jesus. We need to be careful here, it is easy to care and help the needy and hurting, but if we are not introducing them to Jesus, we are not helping them at all, they may have a temporary respite from their pain and discomfort, but their eternal destiny remains unchanged.
And then there is the aspect of loving fellow believers, this is something that Grace Point is known for and commended for. We are a loving Church. But our society is becoming more and more insular. There is an epidemic of loneliness, and unfortunately it is no different in the church. Jesus said it once again in John 13:34 & 35. Jesus was speaking here to his disciples, just before his crucifixion. Jesus knew how important it would be for them to love and care for each other in the days ahead. In this day and age, the world is longing for genuine love and care; they need to see in us the kind of love that Jesus was talking about here. I praise God for Grace Point, God’s grace is truly here and by his grace we have an unusual love and care for each other. I pray that this will never be diminished but rather it will grow and continue to be a witness and testimony to those in our community.
“The Greatest Commandment”
Text; Matthew 22:34-40
37Jesus replied: “?‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38This is the first and greatest commandment.39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Jesus’ quick reply summarized the entire ten commandments in two laws. If we look at the Ten Commandments, we see that the first four are focused on our relationship with God and the next six are relating to our fellow man. Jesus took a step back from the letter of the law and surveyed the intent of the law. Love for God and Love for others is the intent of the law of God.
But then Jesus goes on to make a statement that must have stunned them into silence, we read in verse 40; “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
These two commandments are the sum of the entire Old Testament that the Pharisee’s had devoted their lives to studying.
Jesus has a way of making the profound sound simple. All the Laws that the Lord God had given to Moses and all that the prophets had written could be summed up in the law of Love.
There has been much debate and discussion over the differentiation between heart and soul and mind; simply put, our heart is the source of our passion and drive, our soul is the eternal part of our being, that part of us that connects with the Holy Spirit in prayer, and our mind is our reasoning and intelligence. Jesus was not saying that we need to develop three different types of love and work at bringing them all into agreement. No, he was saying that we need to love God with every single aspect of our being. In our passions, our reasoning, and our prayers. Total commitment and obedience to God.
But the reality is that this is impossible for us to do. How do we Love God with all our heart and soul and mind? It is impossible. In the natural state of man, it is impossible no human being with a fallen and sinful human nature can possibly love God with all his heart, soul and mind, and that is precisely the point that Jesus was making to the Pharisees. Jesus was trying to get them to see that they were spiritually bankrupt and that they needed a savior. This applies to us today, we are sinful and have no hope without the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, and without the presence of the Holy Spirit within us giving us the ability, we would never be able to Love God completely.
But if you know Jesus as your personal savior, you have the Holy Spirit within you and you have the ability to love God the way you should.
There are three things that we need to understand in this regard;
First and most importantly we need to realize that we are not the originator of love, God is. The apostle John writes in 1 John 4:7-8; “7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – God is Love! He is the originator of love, we cannot generate love within us without it first coming from God himself.
Secondly we need to understand that God is personal, he is not a being who is way off in the distance and who is not approachable. God wants to have a relationship with us. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to have fellowship with them, but man chose to walk away from God. God wants that relationship to be restored, so much so that he sent his son to the world to provide a way for us to be restored to a right standing with him. The uncreated creator of the Universe wants to reveal himself to you in a personal relationship.
And thirdly our love for God grows as time goes by. If you have been married for a number of years, you know that love grows deeper as you grow together and navigate the trials and joys of life together.
- As we walk with God in our daily lives we become aware of his hand protecting us, we love him more.
- As we step out in faith, and we see him providing for us as we stretch our faith, we love him more.
- As we feel the comforting arms of our heavenly father, when we encounter the pain of life, we love him more.
God’s protection, provision, and comfort draw us to love him more.
We cannot Love someone we do not know, and we cannot know someone unless we spend time with them. If you are serious in obeying the Lords commands, it starts with spending time with him, studying the Word of God and spending time in prayer. Those who are consumed with the love of God are hungry for his Word, they spend much time in prayer and they are eager to tell others about their personal relationship with Jesus. It is as we live out these spiritual disciplines that our love for God grows and matures to the Glory of God.
Will you commit this year to Loving God with all your heart, soul and mind? Ensuring that there is nothing in your life that hinders your walk with God. Anything that is taking the place of God in your life. If there is anything in your life that draws your attention away from God, and his place of preeminence, it is an idol.
Making money, building a business, exercise in excess, watching too much TV, and food, are examples of things that can become idols in our lives.
The truth is that if we are faced with the choice between spending time with God, in worship and prayer, sharing the Gospel or serving Him, if we are faced with the choice to do what God asks us to do, or to relax on the couch with a remote control, or anything I have previously mentioned, that thing becomes an idol in your life.
As you look forward into the New Year, make some new year’s resolutions and ensure that they have the goal of drawing you closer to God and loving our Heavenly Father. Let us ask the Lord to reveal the idols in our lives, we all have them, it doesn’t take much for us to realize how we make choices in our lives reveals our idols.
Let us pray and ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to put him first.
Text: Lamentations 3:22-27
As we rapidly approach the end of another year, it is normal and healthy to look back and evaluate the year. It is vital to spend some time in prayer, looking back and evaluating our lives. How have we grown? And to have the courage to look at the mistakes we have made, learning from them and making adjustments to our lives. If we are not more like Jesus today than we were this time last year, we need to take a serious look at our Christian walk. Often times looking back is painful, reminding ourselves of the hurts we have experienced, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or the sting of a broken relationship, or maybe the regret of missed opportunities. But if we look back and are honest with ourselves, we will also see something that even in the midst of brokenness and pain is undeniable, we will see the faithfulness of God. It is in the midst of pain and suffering, struggles and hardship that God is most real to us.
It is widely agreed that the prophet Jeremiah is the author of Lamentations. This poetic collection was probably written after 586 BC, right after the fall of Jerusalem and the time when the Southern Kingdom of Judah was taken into exile. The people were still overwhelmed with grief, Jeremiah himself describes the agony of the time and the personal pain that he himself went through. The book of Lamentations describes in detail some of the pain and the anguish that the nation experienced. But Jeremiah was not simply a reporter recording the things he was seeing, no, he was personally in pain as well. Looking at the verses that precede our scripture reading today, we see a vivid picture of the suffering prophet. He ascribes his affliction to the hand of God, he understands that this is God’s punishment for the sins of the nation.
Can you imagine the depths of despair that Jeremiah was experiencing, it was not a happy time of looking back.
But then we see a shift in his mindset, in verse 21 we read; “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:”
He begins to look at the faithfulness and love of God, and he sees things from a different perspective. In the midst of his pain, he sees the compassion of God! He understands that God is compassionate in his correction and discipline. God is not playing with his people, rather he is working out his perfect plan.
Looking back on 2014 at Grace Point, we can also see the faithfulness and compassion of God. It has been a year of change, and a year of fruitfulness. I believe that we have seen the beginning of a revival that the Lord is doing in our midst. We are seeing lives changed and the community being impacted with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
On a personal level, this has been a defining year for us. At the beginning of 2014 we were in South Africa visiting my mom and family, and we really did not know what the Lord had for us. It was a time of uncertainty that certainly stretched our faith. I knew that the Lord wanted me to apply for the position at Grace Point, but couldn’t see how it would all work out. It seemed all to unlikely. Yet we began the interview process. Graduating from Seminary in May and beginning the position of Senior pastor here on August 1st, all seemed to happen so quickly and smoothly. It was not without its stress, but the Lord was clearly moving and directing our path. I had the absolute joy of baptizing Christie, and in addition to all this we were miraculously blessed to be able to buy a house right near the church.
Maybe for you, 2014 was a very difficult year, you experienced the sharp pain of the loss of a loved one. You may have experienced some other loss or personal brokenness. I want to assure you that what Jeremiah experienced is still valid. If you go through trials and pain without God, it is impossible to sustain hope, true hope can only be found in the promises and the knowledge of the faithfulness of God. You heavenly Father knows you better than you know yourself, he is working all things together for your good as Paul writes in Romans 8:28. He has not forgotten you, his promises are still valid. We are always in such a rush to get out of the hot fire of the crucible that God has us in, we want to find a shortcut, an easy way out to avoid the pain and discomfort. But God knows what you need, and he Loves you more than you can imagine.
The truth that we so easily forget is that we are not made for this world, this world of corruption and sin will pass away, and Jesus will come again as our savior and King. Our role throughout our journey here on this earth is to be the salt and the light, declaring his praises and proclaiming the message of Jesus to a lost and dying world.
We need to remember that we are living for eternity, this brief sojourn on earth is merely a blink of an eye, but the decisions we make here and now affect eternity.
So this week as you look back, I encourage you to spend some time sitting down and writing a journal. Asking the Holy Spirit to remind you of the many times that God has been faithful to you, and I am sure you will be surprised. Looking back is not healthy if we wallow in the pain or regret. Rather looking back should fuel our passion to give more of our lives to living for Jesus next year. Committing to make the most of every opportunity and making our lives count.
Text : Luke 2:25-32
In the reading today we see Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice. Earlier in the chapter we see a reference to the purpose for their visit to Jerusalem from Bethlehem. We read in Leviticus chapter 12 that a woman who gives birth to a son is ceremonially unclean and needs to offer a purification sacrifice at the temple on the fortieth day after the birth of the child. This could only be done in Jerusalem, hence their journey to the city.
In addition to this Mary was presenting Jesus to the Lord as per the requirements of the Law in Numbers 18:15-16. Parents were required to consecrate their firstborn to the Lord at the temple and then offer a sacrifice to God in order to redeem the child back. The standard offering was a young bull or lamb, however if the parents were very poor they could offer two young birds. Joseph and Mary offered the birds as a sacrifice, which gives us another indication of the poor and humble family into which the Son of God came.
As Jesus is brought into the temple, probably Joseph and Mary were a little shy and feeling embarrassed because they could only afford the poor offering, this probably old man comes up to them and grabs Jesus in his arms and begins to sing a hymn at the top of his voice. Praising God and prophesying aloud. It must have been a bit disconcerting to say the least. Here they were wanting to get in and out quickly, trying not to be noticed, and this man they have never seen before begins to draw attention to this baby Jesus.
We know very little about Simeon, this is his only cameo we have of him in the Bible. We do know that he was a faithful Jewish remnant, who was waiting and believing in the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming messiah. He was a righteous man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel, that means the redemption or freedom of Israel. The Holy Spirit was on him. For four hundred years, God had been silent, and all prophecy had ceased, Israel hardly remembered what a prophet was or did, but here was a man moved by the Holy Spirit, sensitive to the Holy Spirit. He was watching and waiting, he believed in the promises of God. Simeon must have been an exceptional man. Probably an outcast amongst society and probably an outcast amongst the religious community and the Pharisees of the day.
He had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died and he lived for that day. In fact it had been his burden to bear, he was laboring through life, waiting for this day, never giving up hope. He was literally ready to be released of the burden of this life, he was ready to go home. Simeon knew that he was not a citizen of this world.
All those around Simeon at that time were waiting for the Messiah and hoping for the political deliverance from the Roman empire, but I believe that Simeon understood the greater significance of Jesus. He was led by the Holy Spirit to sing a song that included in verse 32 a reference to the salvation of the Gentiles. This must have sounded so strange to those who heard him. Can you imagine being in the temple at that time, everyone there hated the Romans and despised their occupation, and here was this crazed old man who was declaring that this baby Jesus was the light for revelation to the Gentiles? It was probably the last thing they wanted or expected. But Simeon, being led by the Holy Spirit was aware of the bigger picture, he had an eternal perspective.
This song of Simeon, as he held Jesus in his arms, has glimpses of the great commission that Jesus would give some 33 years later. He talks about Jesus being a light for all nations, not just the Jewish people. The coming of Jesus changed everything. The Jewish people would need to have a change of perspective, a complete paradigm shift.
We need to be like Simeon, he was doing three things that we can do:
- He believed the promises of God and was not swayed by the mood of the day or the false teaching of the day. We too need to know the word of God, believe the promises of God and not be swayed by the false teachers who say whatever people want them to say in order to fill church buildings or sell books.
- Simeon was also a man who waited and prayed he was patient and had faith in the consolation of Israel. We also need to watch and pray. Simeon was righteous and devout, are we walking in the righteousness that Jesus gives us and are we devout in our walk with the Lord waiting for him to come again
- And finally we read in verse 27 that Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple at the time when Joseph and Mary were there presenting Jesus. He would have missed it if he hadn’t heard the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Being led by the Spirit is a requirement of our Christian walk. It is not an optional extra that a chosen few experience. If we have made the commitment to make Jesus Lord of our lives, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us and we can hear his promptings and direction. We need to pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive to his direction and leading in our lives. There is so much that we miss out on because we fill our lives with so much noise and busyness. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and begin to live by the Spirit as we are supposed to do.
Text: John 1:14-18
In this second part of our Christmas series, I want to look at the miracle of Jesus coming to earth as a child, what in theological lingo is called the incarnation, which comes from the Latin word for “flesh” – carnis. Literally it is the taking on of flesh by almighty God.
John the Apostle was the last apostle to die and wrote this Gospel or portrait of Jesus, some 40 years after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. John’s Gospel is unique in that its purpose was to unveil the Man Jesus and reveal him as God in the flesh. (John 1:14)
Let’s go way back to get some perspective. Let’s go back to before the creation of the world. A time before time existed, before light existed. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit existed together in unity. Jesus, the Word of God, speaks creation into existence. Jesus was present at the moment of creation and He spoke it into existence. (Colossians: 1:15-17)
Jesus always was God and will always be God. He is uncreated, eternal God. (John 1:1-2)
Jesus clearly understood himself to be equal with the Father, and had the right to do things that only God had the right to do. He was self conscious of his deity, he referred to “his angels” his kingdom”, Jesus forgave sins; he declared that he would judge the world. And in his most revealing and powerful declaration of his deity, Jesus said in John 8:58; ““Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” I AM! That is the name God called Himself when Moses asked for his name. (Exodus 3:14)
Jesus made many statements regarding who He was, “I and the Father [God] are one” John 10:30. “If you knew me, you would also know my Father” John 8:19. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” John 14:9 . “I am the way and the truth and the life” John 14:6.
One of the difficulties that people have in understanding the Deity of Jesus is the term “Only Begotten Son” that is found in John 3:16, in the KJV and the NASB and other versions. This does not mean that Jesus was created by God, or there was a time when Jesus did not exist. However here the NIV gets it right by translating the term “one and only son”, meaning that Jesus is unique and the only one of his kind. Jesus Christ is eternal God and has always existed.
God has revealed himself to mankind in various ways. Theologians use the term “general revelation” to explain the revelation of God through nature and through his works in History. But the Word of God is what is known as “special revelation”. Special Revelation is needed, so the gospel can be known and preached. The Bible is the written word of God and Jesus is the incarnate, living Word of God. Jesus is the special revelation of God.
Jesus came to reveal and explain the nature of God (1:18), and everything he said and did revealed something of the nature of God the Father.
Verse 14 of our text today says that Jesus dwelt among us. This is a reference that the people would have understood, to the time in the Wilderness when God had Moses construct the tabernacle for the dwelling place of the Lord. Now let us be sure to understand, God does not need a place to reside, or be confined to. But by the grace and omniscience (all knowing) nature of God, he had Moses build the tabernacle to point to Jesus. Jesus would be confined in the human form for a time, dwelling with mankind, revealing God to us. The Greek word that John uses here describes literally that Jesus “pitched his tent” here on earth. I love the way the Old Testament points towards Jesus!
Jesus said in John 8:12; “I am the light of the World”. He came to his own creation, pitched a tent here and humbled himself. Jesus became a man in order to lead us to our salvation, he took on flesh, pitched a tent here on earth in order to be the light to direct us to God the Father. Even though Jesus was and always is God, he was also fully man. He experienced temptation, he experienced hunger and thirst. He felt sorrow, joy and anger. He was not exempt from the human experience. He experienced life on earth just like you and me.
Jesus did this in order to be the bridge between God and man. Jesus had to become a man in order to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. This is the foundation and ultimate truth of Christianity that sets it apart from any other religion.
Jesus is the only way. I don’t care how well meaning any other religious leader might be. Christianity is the only “religion” where God himself stepped down and became one of us in order to provide a sacrifice for us to spend eternity with him in Heaven.
Here is a great story told by the late Paul Harvey that puts a unique perspective on the incarnation:
The Real Meaning of Christmas
Text : Mark 1:1-8
If you know the Gospels you might be asking why I am preaching this first week of December on the Gospel of Mark and his introduction to Jesus. We pick up the account of John the Baptist pointing the way to Jesus, but Jesus was already born and about to start his ministry. So I might be accused of getting my chronology mixed up and jumping ahead of the story, but the fact is that we cannot talk about Christmas without looking to the cross, the crucifixion, death, burial and glorious resurrection of our Savior. Jesus came for a purpose.
The story of Christmas is a powerful miracle of the Son of God coming to earth in the form of a baby. However the world celebrates the little baby, the nice sweet Jesus who is meek and mild and who is contained safely in a manger in a stable. But Jesus came to change the world. He taught with authority, he recruited a band of brothers, he raised the dead, he was crucified and died, but he rose again and conquered death, he ascended to the right hand of the father and lives today ever interceding for you and me. This is the story of Jesus, the Gospel message.
The introduction or prologue of the Gospel of Mark begins with a triumphant declaration, leaving the reader with no doubt as to the identity of this man Jesus. He bypasses the birth narrative that Matthew and Luke describe in much detail. He focuses on the man, the Messiah. He starts with a man called John, who is called John the Baptist. John’s primary focus was to point the way towards Jesus. He was not like the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day, he was a humble man, and probably didn’t smell too good. He lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and wild honey. He was not someone who people were attracted to, but people came out to him in droves. Verse 5 states; “5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” He had the attention of the people, but he pointed them to someone else. He was aware of his role and understood that he was unworthy even to untie the straps on the sandals of Jesus.
When the Gospel account of Mark begins, the people of Judah had experienced over a century of oppressive Roman occupation. The people of Judah were longing for the Messiah, the one who would come and establish his throne in Jerusalem. The people had been holding on to the writings of the prophets that spoke about the coming Messiah. Zechariah, predicted the coming Messiah about 500 years before Jesus’ birth. Micah prophesied about Jesus some 700 years before Christ. And Isaiah prophesied about Jesus around 700-740 BC. Even though they had these prophecies, they still did not expect Jesus to come and live the way that he did. They were waiting for a mighty ruler, a conquering hero, someone who would establish Israel as a powerful kingdom.
As we read Isaiah 9:6-7, it is plain to see how easily the people of Israel would have been looking for a mighty warrior king? But The Kingdom of God is not like earthly kingdoms. It is a kingdom of power; true power not the weak authority and power of earthly kingdoms that rise up quickly and the fade away.
When Jesus did come he came to a spiritually dry and barren land. Those who were following the Law of God were following rituals and the Pharisees had added many many laws to burden the people. They saw the law as a burden to bear and not a way to salvation.
But we can’t talk about Isaiah 40 without Isaiah 53. Isaiah 40 speaks about John the Baptist as he points towards the coming Messiah, Isaiah 53 speaks about the suffering servant, who was despised and rejected. That is our savior, the suffering servant, the true Messiah.
You may say to me “pastor this is Christmas, a joyous season, why are you talking about Jesus as the suffering servant?”
I would say that the Christmas story is just as much about Calvary as it is about Bethlehem. Jesus was born in a manger as a poor weak child in order to become the suffering servant of Calvary. Without Calvary and the cross, the manger is meaningless and just another story.
The Christmas story is one that we have heard many times over and we tend to lose the true facts of what took place some 2000 years ago.
In many respects, John the Baptist and the Prophet Isaiah are still calling out today. Calling out in a dry and barren world.
We are seeing Christmas lights all around, shinning in the darkness. But January is coming. You and I are meant to be the light of the World as Matthew 5:14 and 16 states; 14 “You are the light of the world………” and “16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
That is our role, our commission, our privilege. We are to be the voices crying out in a dry and weary land, preparing the way for the coming Lord.
So in answer to the question that was asked in the title of this sermon; “why did Jesus have to come?”
He didn’t have to come, he chose to come in order to provide salvation and eternal life for you and me and all who would believe. Mark 10:45 states, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for you and for me and for all who would believe in him and put their faith in him. Jesus came as a baby, humbling himself because of his great love for you and for me. That is the miracle of Christmas.
The Focus of our Gratitude.
This past week we celebrated another Thanksgiving day. It is probably my favorite holiday of the year. A day set aside to thank God for all His many blessings. When Debbie and I first arrived in America in April 2000, we adjusted to the calendar of a new country and adopted the national holidays; such as 4th July, Labor Day and Memorial Day. But without a doubt the holiday that we most appreciated was Thanksgiving day. It is a holiday that has not been taken over by commercialism and greed, if you ignore Black Friday Shopping that is.
When we enjoyed our first thanksgiving we understood a little bit of the reason behind the early Pilgrims giving thanks on this day. We had arrived with little or nothing and the Lord had put generous people in our path, who cared for us and taught us how to navigate the American system.
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.
Dante Rossetti once said; “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank”.
Our scripture today is Psalm 100; it is a Psalm of thanksgiving or put another way it is a sacrifice of praise and thanks to God. The psalmist encourages people to come joyfully into God’s presence, acknowledging him as the creator and Good Shepherd. His goodness, faithfulness and love will last forever.
As I meditated on this Psalm I was drawn to the first part of verse 3; “3 Know that the Lord is God.” In order to thank God, we need to believe in God, but also we need to believe that he is who he says he is.
This led me to Deuteronomy 6:4; “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is the greatest statement in the Hebrew Law and also the first verse that every Jewish child memorizes.
I was also reminded of Hebrews 11:6; “6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
In order to be truly thankful, we need to meditate on the nature and character of God.
Do we thank God for his benefits or do we thank God for who he is?
Do we thank God that he is just and kind?
Do we thank God that he is loving, and slow to anger?
Do we thank God that he is merciful and unchanging?
Even though being grateful for the benefits of knowing God is proper and the right thing for us to do, it is only a part of what we must be thankful for. True gratitude must be rooted in the beauty and excellency of the character of God.
When we only focus on the blessings of God we are like a child who gets a gift from a parent and then uses that gift in a way that is not honoring to the parent. Do we focus on what we can get from God? James wrote very directly about this in James 4:3;” 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Jonathan Edwards once said; “And God is not glorified if the foundation of our gratitude is the worth of the gift and not the excellency of the Giver. If the gratitude is not rooted in the beauty of God before the gift, it is probably disguised idolatry. May God grant us a heart to delight in him for who he is so that all our gratitude for his gifts will be the echo of our joy in the excellency of the Giver? “
What are you thankful for today? Do you thank God by giving back to him, by blessing others, by using what God has given you to bring others to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Let us strive this week to show our gratefulness by looking for opportunities to share the Gospel message with others and spend our resources on the things of the Kingdom of God.
Let us live in thankfulness and always acknowledge God as the source of all our blessings.
Text: Nehemiah 8:1-9
Today is the final sermon in the Series on Nehemiah
Let us remind ourselves of the historical timeline that Israel and particularly the tribe of Judah had been on up to this point.
In 587 BC the Southern kingdom was taken into captivity and 70 years later the first returning exiles returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the temple. This was completed in 520 BC.
About 60 years later a Scribe by the name of Ezra returned to Jerusalem and his focus was to rebuild the spiritual lives of those who had returned to the land, his focus was to teach the Jews God’s law. About 13 or 14 years after Ezra returned God sent a man by the name of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and this took place in just 52 days as we have seen.
We pick up the account of Nehemiah at a time when the walls were completed and the Israelites had settled in their towns.
Ezra, was a direct descendant of Aaron. When he arrived in Jerusalem the moral and spiritual condition of the people was terrible. But Ezra was a faithful witness and teacher, he taught for 14 years with little fruit, however when the people had been inspired to build the walls, it was they, the people that asked Ezra to read the law. Notice this, the people came to Ezra, as we see in verse 1. The water gate was an open public place that was large enough for all the people to gather. Verse 1 says all the people gathered, scholars estimate that it was between 30 000 and 50 000 people. They even built a platform for Ezra to stand on and read the Law. What followed was an amazing church service. As Ezra opened the scrolls and began reading from the Law of Moses, which was the same as the first five books in our modern Bible. All the people stood in reverence and with a sense of expectancy, they listened attentively. Ezra read aloud, probably very loud from daybreak until noon, six hours.
Two things struck me as I read this first part of chapter 8; firstly the reading took place at the water gate. This place was chosen because the temple court was too small, but it is also significant that God’s Word was proclaimed in the Market place, in the streets and in the public square. The Word of God is meant to be proclaimed in the public places, in the market place and in society, as we do that, whole communities will be transformed. All too often the only place that the Word of God is proclaimed is in buildings like this one, we are doing such a disservice to our community by not proclaiming the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in our communities.
Secondly the proclamation of the Law led to an immediate revival, the people were overcome with remorse and wept as Ezra expounded on the Law of God. Their sins were being exposed by the Holy Spirit and they repented and turned from their ways. This is revival, God’s word proclaimed, the Holy Spirit convicts of Sin and the people respond in repentance. Life change happens.
Let us look at this word revival for a minute, we pray for it, we discuss it, we long for it, but what is it?
Firstly, what it is not is a church meeting. Revival can start in a meeting, but a meeting itself is not revival.
Revival refers to a spiritual reawakening from a state of dormancy and unfortunately many times, stagnation in the life of a believer. Notice how revival is personal, this is not something that we can hope the church encounters, it must start with you and me and our personal walk with God.
As we see from the account in Nehemiah, the people were overcome with grief and repentance as the law was read. This was an unusual encounter with the presence of God.
But this is what happens when we get a glimpse of the Glory of God and of his awesome purity compared to the sin in our lives. None of us is sinless, and as we allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins, and we see how far short of the Glory of God we are, we will break down in sorrow and repentance. Revival is a move of God, it is God’s grace and not something we engineer. Revival results in changed lives as people live in holiness and walk in evangelism and social justice.
There have been some incredible revivals that have taken place in the past and these have been well documented.
In the 1730s, a religious revival swept through the British American colonies. Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitfield proclaimed the word of God and the Holy Spirit transformed the nation.
In 1872 -1873 DL Moody’s evangelism led to the Scottish revival
In 1904 The great Welsh revival took place under the leadership of a coal miner by the name of Evan Roberts.
After the welsh revival there was an awakening in various parts of the world including Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, California, South Korea, China, Chile and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa.
Every Church needs revival, every nation needs revival, we need revival and that is my prayer for our church and our nation. Turning back to God with an overwhelming sense of his Glory and majesty.
All these accounts of revival and spiritual reawakening are well documented and frequently recalled, but what about today, the American Northeast, where the Great Awakening took place in America is a place where God is all but forgotten, where the church is a historical monument, not a lively representation of the presence of God. What has happened?
When we look at Nehemiah chapter 13 we see that this is not an uncommon occurrence. After serving as the governor in Jerusalem for 12 years, Nehemiah had gone back to Susa. He had gone back to serve King Artaxerxes presumably as his cupbearer. Nehemiah later went back to Jerusalem after what was probably a few years. To his dismay the people had slipped back into lives of disobedience to the Law of God. They were not following the Sabbath day, they were trading and working on the Sabbath. They had also intermarried with the foreign tribes in the region.
Nehemiah took drastic action. He quickly went about restoring order and bringing the city into alignment with the laws of God. In fact his example of church discipline is one that probably would have him thrown in jail in our society (13:25). Nehemiah was angry because he knew the consequences of the sins of the people would lead to further punishment from God. Nehemiah saw things from a heavenly perspective.
So applying this to our lives, how we keep the faith? How do we continue to grow and experience more of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Our lives should be a constant growing experience, becoming more like Jesus. If you are not more like Jesus today, than you were a year ago, something is wrong and you need to re-evaluate your walk with the Lord. You see, revival comes and revivals go, but it is up to you to appropriate that to your personal life, you are responsible for how you respond to Jesus’ call.
I want to give you 4 things you need to do to ensure that you are encountering God on a daily basis and living in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Bible – The first is reading and studying the Word of God, make it the priority of your life. This is the Word of God from which we gain our sustenance; it is the sword of the Spirit. Our primary offensive weapon in this world.
- Confession – unconfessed sin will prevent you from experience revival and it will also ensure that you remain a spiritual infant. Confess your sins before God, and ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart and lead you to repentance.
- Community – In this day and age, we hear a lot about community, but true community is rare. Even in our church, community is a goal that is seldom achieved. Connect with other Christians and commit to walking together, encouraging and challenging one another in your personal walk.
- Prayer – I cannot stress this enough. Prayer in your own private place, find a place, make it a regular encounter with God every day. And then praying together with other believers. Praying for revival. Worshiping God, thanking the Lord, Confessing our sins and bringing our requests before him.
Text: Nehemiah 6:9-16
Opposition is a normal part of the Christian life, we need to realize that and not be surprised when the enemy comes with his stealth attacks on us. Last week I encouraged you to begin rebuilding; rebuilding in your personal life, praying and reading God’s word and then getting involved in ministry. But be sure that Satan does not want you to do that. He will try multiple ways in which to throw you off the path that God has for you. But challenges allow us to grow. As we encounter challenges, we learn to lean on our Heavenly Father. That is when true growth in our spiritual lives occurs.
We pickup the account of Nehemiah in chapter 6. Last week we saw how Nehemiah got the green light and the building of the walls of Jerusalem was progressing well. But there was opposition to the rebuilding of the walls. Enemies of Judah did not want to see Jerusalem re-established and fortified.
Specifically we read about three men, Sanballat – who was the governor of Samaria; Tobiah who was a Persian official over the region of the Ammonites east of the Jordan and Geshem who was an Arab leader allied to the Samaritans. In these three chapters (4-6), we see multiple forms of opposition to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, culminating in chapter 6 in the direct attacks on Nehemiah himself.
The first attempt of intimidation against the people of Judah is found in ch4. It was a direct approach, the enemy was coming to kill the workers and put an end to the rebuilding process (4:11).
But Nehemiah encouraged the people to keep their eyes on the Lord (v14). The people rallied together and prepared themselves for the impending attack from the enemy. We read further in chapter 4 that they posted sentries and the workers worked with weapons in one hand to protect themselves. We don’t read that there was actually any attack rather it was a plot by Sanballat and Tobiah to intimidate and stop the building, but the end result was that the people rallied and came through the intimidation stronger and more committed to the project.
The second weapon that Satan used was to create disunity amongst the people. There was an intense famine in the land, coupled with the fact that many of the people were so committed to building the wall that they had neglected their own crops and businesses. The wealthy were beginning to lend to the poor and enslave them with high interest and impossible loan terms. This resulted in dissatisfaction and squabbling among the people. Nehemiah confronted the problem head on he did not wait and hope the problem would take care of itself (5:6). Here was a man who was obviously under stress and it didn’t take much to push him to anger. He was angry not only because of the injustice done to each other, he was angry because he saw the consequences of the disunity. The wall building was being hampered and the workers were being discouraged. Nehemiah once again displayed integrity and leadership in order to bring focus to the people of Judah.
Now in Chapter 6 we see the ways in which Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem focus their attention directly on Nehemiah. The walls had been completed, but the gates were still not in place.
These three men suddenly pretended to want to meet Nehemiah in a display of goodwill, however Nehemiah realized and saw through their plot to do him harm. On four occasions they asked him to come out to them and each time he responded with the same answer v3; “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Nehemiah displayed discernment and determination as he refused to be influenced by their repeated offers.
The next plan the three enemies hatched was to discredit Nehemiah by slandering him and creating rumors in an attempt to upset the King of Persia. But Nehemiah is secure in the truth and he simply rebuffs their false accusations. And he identifies their true motives as we see in verse 9. Nehemiah knew where his strength lay and did not fear man or the attempts to discredit him.
The final attempt to ruin the mission of Nehemiah was what we read in our scripture portion today. This prophet Shemaiah had been hired by Sanballat and Tobiah to try to get Nehemiah to go into hiding in the temple. This seems like a reasonable suggestion, since there were obviously people trying to do away with Nehemiah.
Just one problem, Shemaiah’s proposal was directly opposed to the Law of Moses. Only the Priests and Levites could go beyond the Altar of burnt offerings at the temple. Numbers 18:7 stated that any layman entering this part of the temple is to be put to death. But Nehemiah saw that this was just an attempt to discredit him, to show him as a coward and as a man who had no regard for the Law of Moses. Nehemiah showed discernment and again Nehemiah prayed and went back to work.
Nehemiah showed incredible courage and perseverance, he could have quite easily given up and gone back to Susa and resumed his role as cupbearer to the King. However he knew that his mission was assigned by God and that God would protect and vindicate him. As a result the wall was completed in just 52 days, a remarkable and miraculous feat.
With every challenge that Nehemiah faced he seemed to grow stronger and more determined.
What is God calling you to build today? Last week I challenged you to begin rebuild the walls of your personal spiritual life and to ask the Lord where he would have you serve him. How has God been directing you? Are you feeling a stirring to begin building something for the Kingdom of God?
I guarantee you that as soon as you begin along the path of building something for the Kingdom of God you will encounter opposition. You will begin to have thoughts of doubt, thoughts along the lines of; “you can’t do this”, “you are not educated enough”, “you will just make a fool of yourself”, “you are going to lose your friends”, “if you get involved in that area of ministry, you will miss out on that favorite TV show”. The enemy will use every trick he has to prevent you from serving the Lord. However as you step forward in faith, you will see that God will give you grace and strength to accomplish more than you ever dreamt of.
Anything worth doing for the Kingdom of God will take somebody who walks in faith and determination. A holy determination, that believes in the promises of God.
Text: Nehemiah 2:11-18
We have all faced large projects at one time or another in our lives. It might have been a large paper due for college or high school, or a business launch, or even building a house or other large construction project. It is an exciting time. I have worked on many large engineering projects, in many different fields. And I can honestly say that the best part of the entire project is always the moment you receive the purchase order. That moment when your bid has been accepted and you finally see all the work of the quoting process paying off.
Right after that however, the work proper begins and you have to roll up your sleeves. The problems start coming and the project begins to give you sleepless nights. What project are you facing right now?
Nehemiah was at the purchase order stage. He had just been given the letters from the King and he had taken the 900 mile journey to Jerusalem. He must have had tremendous excitement and fear at the same time. But his entrance to Jerusalem must have caused quite a stir. He was the king’s representative and had a military escort. His arrival did not go unnoticed. There must have been a lot of people watching him and waiting to see what he would do next.
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he took some time to rest. Actually he rested for three days.
Nehemiah also was watching the people, he was looking for workers, people who had a mind to work. Notice in verse 16 he writes; “The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work” Nehemiah was assigning resources, like any good project manager, he was assessing the workers and seeing who could do what jobs and how best to allocate them.
But Nehemiah was still operating in tremendous faith. He had no idea of all that was about to happen in his life. Nehemiah completely trusted the Lord for the outcome of the project. He did not operate out of fear he operated out of faith as we saw last week. Nehemiah was preparing and doing his part, because he trusted that God would do his.
After completing the survey of the walls and the people, Nehemiah took a very bold step in faith he made his “sales pitch” to the people. Verse 17 tells us that he addressed the people. The people of Jerusalem were discouraged and defeated. They did not have much hope for the future. But not Nehemiah, he was filled with courage and boldness that came from his relationship with God and the secure knowledge that God would allow them to rebuild the wall. His presentation to the people was three-fold;
- Firstly he drew their attention to the obvious; “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.” They didn’t need reminding, but he wanted to create in them a sense of dissatisfaction, this is key like any good salesman will tell you.
- Then he went on to say “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem,” He didn’t say, I am here to make you build the wall, no he was invested, it was their project, he was all in.
- And finally he reinforces his appeal by showing them that this was God’s idea and plan, not his; “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me”. He encouraged them that God was going to bring this rebuilding project to be, and that God was with them.
The people responded immediately; “Let us start rebuilding.” Nehemiah just got his second purchase order!
This is such a great story of fear to faith to action, but it is more than just a Biblical narrative, what is the application for us today? What does God want us to rebuild here at Grace Point? When we look at the hand of God over this church in the last year, it is amazing to see all that He has done. But truthfully there is a lot of rebuilding to do, we are beginning to get a glimpse of the plan the Lord has for his church here. Are we going to respond like the Jews and say; “Let us start rebuilding” starting something new or are we going to hold back and resist the move of God.
But maybe God is speaking to you on a more personal level today. What is God asking you to rebuild in your personal life, in your home? Maybe today you have just received the purchase order to rebuild your personal and spiritual walls. Not walls to prevent others from being able to contact you, but walls from which to operate as a Christian from a position of strength and security in the Lord. Knowing who your God is and moving from fear and defeat into a life filled with peace and most importantly a life that God will use for His glory as you lead others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
So how do you go about rebuilding the walls of your spiritual life?It is all about time management, I am not going to give you a teaching on time management, but we all need that desperately. Time is a precious God given commodity, and we only have a limited amount of time on this earth. God is going to hold us accountable for the use of the time that he has given us. Successful people know the secret of success is what you read and who you spend your time with.Well as a Christian if that is true then we have a perfect answer, reading the Bible and spending time with Jesus in prayer. You can start today, what are you reading, and who are you spending time with? Building up the spiritual walls of our lives only happens as we pray and read God’s word.
But what about Grace Point? There is no doubt that this church is not what it was twenty years ago. But God is doing something here he is stirring in the hearts of his people here, and in this community. There is a definite shift that has taken place. God is bringing new people in, and raising up a new generation of workers who have a heart to build on the work of those who have gone before and have labored to build the foundations and walls of the ministry of this church.
Let us begin rebuilding, starting with our personal lives. We read in the book of Nehemiah that the people all rebuilt the wall section that was directly in front of their homes. They started rebuilding at home. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts, and convict us of areas and places that need rebuilding. Spend more time in prayer and reading God’s word. Praying for the Church and praying for your families. Then as God leads you get involved with the ministry of God here at Grace Point.