All posts by davidmckinley

About davidmckinley

I am the Senior Pastor of Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA. The Schwenkfelder Church is a community of faith birthed from those persecuted in Silesia (Poland) during the 16-18th centuries, whose adherents traveled to Pennsylvania circa 1734. For more on the Schwenkfelders as a historical movement, see www.schwenkfelder.com. Central Schwenkfelder is a Christ-centered, Bible-believing congregation. For more info, see www.centralschwenkfelder.com. My ordained standing is with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. See www.ccccusa.org or www.easternpa4c.org.

The Blessing of Forgiveness

Forgiveness can come from an unsuspected source and is sometimes met with odd responses.

An attorney, after meditating on several Scriptures, decided to cancel the debts of all his clients that had owed him money for more than 6 months. He drafted a letter explaining his decision and its Biblical basis and sent 17 debt canceling letters via certified mail. One by one, the letters were returned by the Postal Service, unsigned and undelivered. Perhaps a couple people had moved away though not likely. Sixteen of the seventeen letters came back to him because the clients refused to sign for and open the envelopes fearing that this attorney was suing them for their debts. How profound! We owe a debt for our sin and God is willing to cancel it but too many people will not even open the letter that explains how.

Today’s message is about forgiveness shown to a most unassuming person, a criminal. Many of us believe that a criminal is deserving of the punishment he stands to receive. And that is true. The law is based on justice. But what about forgiveness? And how does that relate to us?

Today, we turn to Luke 23 and see how Jesus treated one of the criminals hung beside him. And in it, we will find some unsuspecting lessons on the “The Blessing of Forgiveness.” Let us gain a context for this topic was we look at the scene of the Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notice verse 32:

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

“…there they crucified Him,” This is no little thing. Crucifixion was the most painful of all executions that mankind has ever known. Spike impaling the person at the wrists and feet, exposing the victim to horrendous pain and agony. The person eventually dies of suffocation. All four gospels record Jesus’ crucifixion, but none of them go into detail. The reason for this is that they seek to explain why He was crucified more than describing the event itself. Everyone knew what crucifixion meant in the first century. But to us in 2018, we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus died the most horrible death you can imagine.

And yet even in His agony, he uttered these words over His persecutors: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At what volume Jesus said these words is unknown. Safe to say it was loud enough for Luke’s source to record it and for the onlookers to react to it. And only Luke records the words of this prayer. Well known was it to the extent that Stephen, the church’s first martyr, repeats it for his persecutors in Acts 7:60. But notice that…

THE WORLD REACTS PRIDEFULLY TO GOD’S GRACE AND OFFER OF FORGIVENESS.

Notice the context that this forgiveness is proffered. It is in the most ruthless, venomous environment. Here, we are told that the rulers scoffed at him. The soldiers mocked him. The sign above him read: “King of the Jews,” but it was displayed out of disrespect. Lastly, the criminals hung on either side of him ridiculed him, one saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Each of these sneers come with mockery of Jesus’ true identity: “the Christ, the Chosen One of God or that He was King of the Jews- most unusual responses to the statement: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Only Luke mentions the comments of the two criminals. Walter Liefield states the reason for this is “…to emphasize the humiliation of his execution and perhaps also his identification with sinners in his death as well as in his life.” Remember that hundreds of years before this event, the prophet Isaiah preached : “Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” We identify with these criminals from a human perspective. We all have gone astray; all have committed crimes against God and others made in His image. Jesus dying between two thieves is poetic in this sense. Secondly…

ONLY THE HUMBLE AND CONTRITE TOWARDS GOD ARE FORGIVEN.

“But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'”

Walter Liefield states that the believing criminal’s words “…reinforces two characteristics of Luke’s gospel. One is the innocence of Jesus; The other is the immediate realization of God’s saving grace through Christ.”

What is the definition of forgiveness? According to Question number one of the Heidelberg Catechism, one part of the only comfort you have in life and in death is that Jesus has fully paid for all of your sins. You see, you incurred a debt against a holy and righteous God, through your sinful thoughts and actions. The word in the book of Ezekiel tells us: “The soul that sins shall die.”

But Jesus was sent to bear that punishment. 1 John 4:10 tells us: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And Psalm 32:1-5 reminds us that: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

From this we know that the concept of forgiveness in “a covering.” This is where we get the idea of atonement. As one commentator states: “There is a contrast in the kind of covering: when God ‘covers’ sin, he graciously blots it out; when man ‘covers’ his sin, he is sinfully hiding it.” The Romans felt that what this man did was worthy of capital punishment. But
be that as it may, Jesus had the power and love to forgive Him, upon request!

Notice that Christ only says this to the one thief. Jesus does not make the same promise to the other thief who was reviling Him. We do not believe in universalism: the belief that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God and will be in heaven.

But here, we see firsthand what is involved in granting forgiveness here? Truth: “This man has done nothing wrong,”; confession of sin: “you and I are guilty;” and a request: “Remember me.” In this, He acknowledged that Jesus was the head of a heavenly kingdom and that He alone could grant admission.

Notice also that the repentant thief could not do anything to earn God’s favor. He could not serve at the local food bank. He could not witness door to door. He could not serve on the board of Deacons. He could not
even get baptized. He was helpless and in need of one thing: Forgiveness. A.W. Pink puts it this way:

“He had no moral life before his conversion and no life of active service after it. Before his conversion he respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. After his conversion he died without having opportunity to engage in the service of Christ. …Hence we are shut up to the conclusion that if saved at all he was certainly saved by sovereign grace.”

And none of you will be saved except by sovereign grace. That is why you must repent and believe today!

Confession rubs against the grain of society today. Guilt is seen as useless and unproductive at all costs. Very few want to acknowledge their wrongdoing. But Jesus taught us that it is a part of everyday prayer. He taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” And David wrote in Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover my iniquity.”

In contrast, our first parents attempted to cover their sin my hiding from God and making coverings for themselves. This did nothing. Today, people try to cover their own iniquity. They say: “I was mistreated as a child; therefore, I have every right to behave this way.” Or, pointing to others while saying: “I was done wrong,” in order to justify their poor decisions. Or some cite their genetic predisposition, their personality type, their financial plight or something else.

But God has given a special and kind formula for obtaining forgiveness: “repent and believe.” Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin and righteousness. Our sin can grieve the Holy Spirit. And He is faithful in showing us where we’ve gone astray.

Someone once described a proper response to Christ and the gospel as A, B, and C.

A: Admit that you are a Sinner; Confession. Someone once said that confession is “agreeing with the Holy Spirit.” 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

B: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

C: Commit your life to Him. Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

In closing, notice Jesus’ response in verse 43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That term “paradise,” is the Greek barrowing from a Persian word that means “park” or “garden.” It reminds us that God is about restoring things to their original beauty before the fall. The promise that Jesus made was that the repentant thief would be with Him in paradise, the place that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Notice that there is no mention of Jesus going to hell or of the thief paying for his sins in purgatory. Rather, he enjoyed the Lord’s presence immediately after he shut his eyes and breathed his last.

But so many misunderstand how to get there. During an edition of the news program “60 Minutes,” Dan Rather interviewed Jack Welch, the outspoken former CEO of General Electric. At the end of the interview, Rather asked Welch, “What’s the toughest question you have ever been asked?”

Welch replied, “Do you think you’ll go to Heaven?”

When asked how he had answered that question, Welch said, “It’s a long answer, but I said that if caring about people, if giving it your all, if being a great friend counts—despite the fact that I’ve been divorced a couple of times, and no one’s proud of that. I haven’t done everything right all the time. I think I got a shot. I’m in no hurry to get there and to find out any time soon.”
The truth is no one is good enough to get to Heaven except for Christ. We must trust Him and Him alone to forgive our sin and save our soul. The 17th century Puritan John Owen said: “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”

Christ is Preeminent in and over Creation

“To look at the window . . .as I did that first day . . . to look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.”—John Glenn, speaking about his view of the Earth from the space shuttle Discovery

To think of creation when summer is upon us and we are outside more often, is appropriate. Yet, there is little else that is more controversial today than the subject of origins of the earth. The Bible is clear on such matters, as our Thought for Meditation is taken from the first verse of Scripture. Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

And yet some get riled at that verse. Our children are indoctrinated from sixth grade that man came about by chance; and that God had nothing to do with how things came about. It was all natural selection, a process of the survival of the fittest.

The Bible is not a story book. Our God is a God of miracles. There is good evidence to support creationism, the belief that an Almighty God made all that we see. Christians have affirmed God’s creative power in the Apostles’ Creed states: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”

But today, I not only want to advocate for Genesis 1:1, that God created everything that we see, as well as you and me. But that Jesus holds first place in it. He is preeminent. Webster’s defines preeminent as having paramount rank, dignity, or importance : OUTSTANDING, SUPREME

Consider the following in our time together:

• Jesus was never created, but participated in creation as Co-Creator;
• Jesus taught creationism;

Let’s first understand that Jesus was not created. Note how Colossians 1:15 reads:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

It is easy for the unbelieving world to assume that Jesus was just another man on the landscape of human history. But He was not. He was unique. Jesus was the God-man. He continually talked about being sent from the Father and having glory given to Him before the world began. He also said in John 8: “Before Abraham was, I am.”

Unfortunately, I heard a minister once pray to Jesus in a service: “For this purpose you were created.” I was shocked to hear such blasphemy. Jesus was never created. He is the Creator, as John’s gospel says in its opening statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The Bible is quite clear that Jesus participated in creation as Co-Creator.

Jesus was never created. As the Nicene Creed states concerning Christ:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

Genesis 1:1 is also a doorway into the study of the Trinity. God the Father’s primary role is that of Creator, but Jesus also is creator. He is Co-Creator with the Father.

Jesus holds the highest place in the universe. He is the “firstborn of all creation,” which is a title of honor. He is worthy of our praise as the Divine Son of God. He proved He was God by doing Creator-like things such as walking on water, calming the storm, raising Lazarus from the dead, and healing the blind. And after He was raised from the dead, he appeared to His disciples and Thomas saw his wounds and proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus is God’s message and holds a place of honor as Co-Creator. Hebrews 1:2: “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” In addition…

Secondly, Jesus taught creation.

He said of the Scriptures that not one stroke would be abrogated, until all is accomplished. What’s more is that He affirmed the truthfulness of the Old Testament Scriptures in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth.”

The Bible teaches that God is a Father; and God is a Creator. Jesus affirmed that several times. God as Creator is stressed again and again throughout the Scriptures.

He is our Maker, worthy of our worship! Psalm 95:3: “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” God as Creator ought to cause you to raise your hands, bow your head or hit your knees in awe!

In addition, He is our Helper, the One we call upon! Our God is loving and condescends to us when we need help! Psalm 121:1: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” God did not create everything and then go on vacation. Rather, he is intimately engaged and sustains it all today.

And the Bible is pretty explicit on how this was done. Intriguing is how each of the increments is described, “Then there was evening and morning, the third day; then there was evening and morning, the fourth day” etc., etc. Is this literal language, or poetic language?

Historically, it would seem that creation week has been taken literally. Some cross references seem to indicate 24 hour increments: Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Exodus 31:17 ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ”

Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Millard Erickson states about creation week: “…we cannot be dogmatic. The age of the universe is a topic which demands continued study and thought.”

Martin Luther said: “How long did creation take? When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned then you are…. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His word in the direction you wish to go.”

So then, humility is needed on both sides of the argument. Even the most skilled scientist graduating from the most prestigious school, did not witness creation at its commencement and could not observe what took place or how it came to be. We must be careful of man’s explanation about the past.

But notice that Jesus was a creationist. He encouraged the Pharisees to read and believe Genesis in Matthew 19:3: “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Our Lord believed that the world had a beginning, citing that the tribulation that it would encounter at the time that Jerusalem was destroyed would be significant. Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

Finally, Jesus taught that the Father is our provider, who takes away our worries. Jesus also taught that God takes care of His creation: In Matthew 6:26, Christ states that the Father is responsible for feeding the birds of the air. “…for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” And verse 30: “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” God is engaged with your world and your circumstances and wants you to turn to Him!

But Jesus’ teaching is offensive and has serious ramifications! The first sentence of Scripture states: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Dr. Johnny Gibson of Westminster Seminary says that Genesis 1:1 is the most offensive verse in the Bible. Why, you might ask? Because if Genesis 1:1 is true, then we are accountable to this Creator. And this Creator has stated that we have sinned against Him, greatly offending Him. And that we are not autonomous, but accountable to Him.

If you teach child they are graduated monkeys, don’t be surprised if they behave like it. Young people lack purpose and hope. Or if they live as if they are not accountable to anyone, don’t be surprised at the amount of trouble they get into or their dismal outlook on life. But if you teach them that they are here because of a loving Creator, then you are one step closer to the gospel.

If you deny the existence of a literal Adam, you undercut the gospel entirely.

It is in Romans 5, that Paul the Apostle refers to a literal Adam in his explanation of death. Verse 12 states: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Was death the result of a cycle of biology, or did it come about as a penalty for disobedience.

What’s more is that John’s Revelation in chapter 21 records the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth, created by God. The creation/arrival of the new, presupposes the creation/arrival of the old/first.

And the Holy Spirit was also active in creation. We are told in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”.

God is still creatively active in our world, especially in bringing men and women, boys and girls to Himself! And Jesus says that the Spirit is ever-active in the rebirth of a person, spiritually, from John 3:3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

All of God’s creative activity is not mechanical, void of relationship. Rather it is loving and powerful. What’s more is that God brings His creative power into our lives when we become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, which is by His doing. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

Have you experienced this new birth? Can you testify that He has made you a new person to where you no longer want to live for yourself, but for Him?

More is there than meets the eye! Again and again, the Bible directs us to see God as our Creator who is ever engaged in our world and ever engaged in your life.

So let us not separate Genesis 1 from the rest of the Bible and be tempted to chuck it aside because our idea of science does not endorse a creator God. Rather, more science speaks of a creator than you think.

For instance, Dr. A Cressy Morrison, past president of the New York Academy of Sciences stated: “So many essential conditions are necessary for life to exist on our earth that it is mathematically impossible that all of them could exist in proper relationship by chance on any one earth at one time.”

Lee Strobel, in his documentary, The Case for the Creator, reveals that there are many indicators that our universe has a design. Take for instance, Physics where the force of gravity is at such a setting that all things hold together. If it were moved even slightly, then all things would cease to exist. Picture if you were to stretch a ruler across the universe, some 14 billion light years and that was its possibly range for gravity and the present setting were that of just an inch, making all life on earth able to exist. But move that setting just one inch, and the effects would be catastrophic. No large scale life forms could exist. Maybe bacteria, but not conscientious observers.

Or the cosmological constant, which states that the expansion speed of the universe is one part to 100 million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion. If it were not so fined tuned, material objects could not form. It is so fine-tuned that it has been compared to if you were to travel hundreds of miles into space and throw a dart to the earth and it were to hit a bullseye the width of an atom.

Or the nuclear force that binds atoms together. If this were off just slightly, then Hydrogen would be the only element and life would cease to exist.

Or Richard Leakey, the World’s Foremost Paleoanthropologist, in a 1990 PBS documentary, stated: “IF pressed about man’s ancestry, I would have to unequivocally say that all we have is a huge question mark. To date, there has been nothing found to truthfully purport as a transitional specie to man… if further pressed, I would have to state that there is more evidence to suggest an abrupt arrival of man rather than a gradual process of evolving.”

The point is this: Science can only take us so far. And, upon a closer look, there is more in science that points to the design of the universe than that of naturalistic happenstance. And if there is a design to the universe, there must be a Designer. What’s more is this Designer speaks to us in His creative order, in His word, the Bible, and most specifically in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only through trusting Christ and repenting of one’s sins that a life of meaning and purpose can be realized, as well as reconciliation to our holy and righteous God.

Robert Jastrow, in his book God and the Astronomers, states:

“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

“Our Unrelenting God”

Some of you, a couple of weeks ago, awoke at 4:30 a.m. to watch the royal wedding. Along with the beauty and the pageantry associated with the event, you may have been curious about the outfits that the rich and famous would wear to such an occasion. Or you were curious about who came, and thus who was invited. And you noticed the vacant chair on the second row.

Our passage today is stated as an invitation to something much more important and more elaborate than any ball or wedding; yet there is no discrimination involved. Everyone receives an invitation. This is all the result of the death and resurrection of God’s servant mentioned in chapter 53- the one we know as Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We might ask as we approach our text, what does God invite us to? And how may we respond? We first see that…

GOD’S GRACIOUSLY INVITES US TO SPIRITUAL SATISFACTION.

Isaiah 55:1 says:

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

The term which begins our passage is unique. The Hebrew means ah! alas! ha! It is meant to grab attention to something special. And this invitation was something unique.

And this invitation had spiritual relevancy. Living in Israel during this time, thirst would be a common occurrence. It was an arid part of the world. People could relate to being thirsty. Incidentally, water for consumption was sold in the days of Isaiah. The seller would call out to would-be buyers to come and purchase from his stand. The mention of wine and milk represents happiness and nourishment. What’s more is that unlike the necessity to buy these items in real life, they are indeed free to the one who responds to God’s gracious invitation. God uses these symbols to offer what is free to the needy heart, that only He can supply! They cost nothing to the person who responds.

Speaking of these other items, it should come as no surprise that
what we call communion, the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, consists of bread and drink. Let us remember what we did on Pentecost Sunday, as a reminder that Jesus is the soul’s true food and true drink. It is only through His great sacrifice that we can commune with God. And when we observe the Lord’s Supper, it is a time of rededication of faith and repentance from sin, realizing that our soul’s hunger and thirst is satisfied in Christ!

Notice how Jesus uses water and rest to illustrate the He can give us our souls deepest longings. Many times Jesus used water to illustrate His ability to satisfy spiritual thirst. Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:13:

“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

And in John 7:37, Jesus spoke openly to all who would hear: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Jesus satisfies spiritual thirst.

Jesus also grants spiritual rest. He gives soul rest to everyone who follows Him. He said in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Such an invitation says something about God. Notice that in these requests, the Lord is not hiding Himself. He is not stand-offish or reserved. Rather He calls us to follow Him and promises us what we so desperately need: Himself! God establishes His covenant and invites us to enter in. The God of the universe lowered Himself to us. He came to our level and invites us to follow Him. Jesus came to lead us to God. Secondly…

WE MUST BE CAREFUL TO RESPOND TO GOD’S INVITATION APPROPRIATELY.

Notice what verse two states:

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live….”

These verses imply that some wanted to spend their spiritual currency on other things. They had bought into other religious fads and ideas that did not benefit the way in which God blessed the one who turns to Him.

Some of you here are looking for God and spiritual fulfillment in places other than Jesus Christ. But we come by this honestly. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, puts it this way. He states that we all have a problem.

“We are homo-idolater, the creature who would fashion our own god. This the true perennial heresy. …We are natural-born idolaters, and it is good that we admit this up front. …The reason is simple- we must worship, we will worship. Even as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven. We are born idolaters (Mohler, Words from the Fire).”

God invites you to reorient your compass to Christ; to reject the object, the activity, the person or the self and worship Him alone! He offers you the Grand Invitation, a summons to come to the living God and give Him our lives. Every day there is an invitation to follow Him.

But such an invitation must invoke a specific action. Verse 6 states:
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”

The people of Judah needed to turn back to God. They had drifted far away from Him. And now He was calling them back; calling them out of their idolatry, their fornication, their lack of integrity. God accepts us as we are, but He asks us to change with His help. Some of you have drifted from God. You need to come back to Him, today! And there’s no better time than the present.

Such a gracious invitation is not what we would construct. We would undoubtedly make it more difficult. But God asks of us to turn. Jesus preached again and again: “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repentance means to change. It is implied in the act of confession, when a person comes before the Lord in prayer, and asks for forgiveness and turns from their wrongful deeds.

The other act is faith- which goes beyond believing that there is a God. But means embracing God, following Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”

With these actions, they can be summed up in a drawing; a seeking. “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” preaches Isaiah. Jeremiah 29:13: “You will search for Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” James 4 tells us: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

All of this is not based on human knowledge or invention, but on God’s infinite wisdom. Thankfully, God did not consult us. He said in verse eight: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

And He uses the preaching of His word to bring about His desired outcome! That is why Christians are people of the book. We hold a very high view of Scripture, believing it to be the very word of God. It came from Him. Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” And He was referring to Scripture! God’s word is sometimes compared to a seed. Jesus told the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. There, the condition of the ground was key to each portion of seed scattered, and its production.

God will never allow the preaching of His word to be truly ineffective. There are ineffective preachers. And there are ineffective listeners. But there is no ineffective word. Set your spiritual hunger and your spiritual thirst upon God!

The story is told of a young student who went to his spiritual teacher and asked the question, “Master, how can I truly find God?” The teacher asked the student to accompany him to the river which ran by the village and invited him to go into the water. When they got to the middle of the stream, the teacher said, “Please immerse yourself in the water.” The student did as he was instructed, whereupon the teacher put his hands on the young man’s head and held him under the water. Presently the student began to struggle. The master held him under still. A moment passed and the student was thrashing and beating the water and air with his arms. Still, the master held him under the water. Finally, the student was released and shot up from the water, lungs aching and gasping for air. The teacher waited for a few moments and then said, “When you desire God as truly as you desired to breathe the air you just breathed — then you shall find God.”

God is Faithful

How do you encounter adversity? What has been your reaction to disappointment or struggle? Experience is a great teacher. It drives home the lessons that the Holy Spirit brings into our lives from God’s word, the Bible. Scripture and experience are two tools used by God to equip us for life. Heaven forbid that we should go through something and it be a wasted experience, producing no faith or reliance upon God.

A young woman named Anne Steele had encountered one trial and disappointment after another. Her mother died when she was three, and when she was nineteen she suffered a severe hip injury that left her an invalid. Eventually she fell in love and was engaged to be married, but the day before the wedding her fiancé drowned.

Later Anne Steele penned the following song:

“Father, whate’er of earthly bliss Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace, let this petition rise:
Give me a calm, a thankful heart, from every murmur free!
The blessings of Thy grace impart, and make me live to Thee.”

Suffering, when it comes to the humble and godly heart, teaches great lessons. We see the power of suffering in the Bible. For our lesson today, we turn to the book of Lamentations.

Lamentations is a poetic interpretation of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The term “lamentations” comes from the verb: “to cry aloud.” The overall gist of the book is that it is a series of cries, or “five melancholy poems of mourning over the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians,” according to Charles Ryrie.

But the third chapter shifts in its person, from third and second person usage to strictly first. J. Andrew Dearman states: “The emphasis of the previous two chapters on the tragic fate of Jerusalem is on the background of chapter three.; front and center is the travail of an individual.”

Look at these verses and discover some marvelous things about the God of the Bible. One thing is…

YOUR TRIALS MUST SERVE TO HUMBLE YOU.

Lamentations 3:19: “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”

Dr. Ryrie also points out that the bulk of the book is written in what is known as a “limping meter, a cadence used in funeral dirges (which) is most appropriate for this lament over the destruction of Jerusalem.”

Incidentally, Jerusalem was destroyed twice in its history. In 586 BC by the Babylonians and again in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Therefore, the Jews read this book publicly once a year to commemorate both events. Our passage likely contains the most well-known verses from this book.

The book itself does not name its author but it is thought throughout church history that Jeremiah wrote it. The style is similar to the book of Jeremiah and 2 Chronicles 35:25 seems to indicate a Jeremiah connection. “Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments.”

Your trials are meant to bring pause to your life. They serve to remind you that you are limited in knowledge and ability. And that you are completely dependent upon God!

“For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” the Psalmist wrote.

Or as James 4:14 puts it: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In other words, you are not invincible. You need God!

ALTHOUGH YOU EXPERIENCE ADVERSITY, NEVER FORGET THAT YOUR GOD IS MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL.

Lamentations 3:21: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

These verses tell us that the Lord is faithful. The Hebrew term of “compassion,” or “steadfast love” is the term “hesed.” It is translated: “abundant lovingkindness in other places such as Exodus 34.

God’s love is unlimited. And He presents them on a daily basis. It says His mercies are new every morning. The statement is not made from an emotional mountaintop experience but rather from the deepest valley. If you start in chapter 3, you’ll see the Jeremiah knows full well that God is judging Jerusalem and the people of Judah for their sins. He’s turned his ear away from their prayers. He has also turned his hand toward them, ready to smite them.

Contemporary thought renders God either unable or uncaring. There are those who hold on to an idea of an all-loving God that would never do anything but give you positive things. The other popular idea is of a God unable to judge, unable to speak, and unable to act. This God cannot act in the affairs of men and women.

But the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture is One who “…has mercy on whom He has mercy and hardens whom He hardens.” (Romans 9:18)

Remember that Jesus, reminded us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

But Jeremiah the third chapter teaches us that he disciplines those he loves. He is slow to anger and abundant and loving kindness. But there comes a time when he must act and he must judge. God performs discipline in our lives on a regular basis. The hardship that comes your way is meant to teach you. It is also designed to make your paths straight.

Every child who grows into adulthood and is successful, can recall a home life where he did not getting everything he wants, but rather all his needs were provided for and he is taught about God from the Scriptures.

John Chrysostom, the fourth century Church Father, stated:
“Afflictions are with us, whether young or old, rich or poor. One need only look at the lives of leaders or the wealthy to see that not even they are exempt from trials, but they only benefit from them if they learn from these trials.”

You listen to your betterment. Your adversity is not meant to be experienced for selfish reasons.

DO NOT WASTE YOUR TRIALS, BUT USE THEM FOR MINISTRY, SERVING GOD AND OTHERS.

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

What’s also important to understand is everything that we might encounter comes from God‘s hand. Such things are meant to equip you to help others. You are blessed in all your afflictions because He is a God of mercy. He gives us the ability to comfort others in their afflictions, when we are afflicted first.

Some might argue that what is described in Lamentations 3 is what Jesus endured during his passion. Jesus experienced suffering. Paul did too. In fact, most of the apostles died a martyr’s death. Such a view is presented in in the hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” penned by the 18th century Moravian minister James Montgomery:

“Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of Him to bear the cross.”

Remember that trials serve to humble you; that God is faithful orchestrating your life in His mercy; and that your experiences are not to be selfish in nature, but are meant to be utilized in your own personal ministry.

It has been said that diamonds are formed under great pressure and heat. If these conditions do not exist, they are simply not formed. It is not that they will be low quality, or smaller in size, but they will not form. God brings His refining fire into our lives to create in us what He sees fit. When He sees our lack of character, He will bring into our lives what we need. So next time a fiery trial comes, thank God. He is producing exactly what He knows you need in your life. The only difference between a diamond and a piece of coal is pressure.

The Triumphal Entry

The world has seen many kings. But arguably none crueler or more demented than Nero. The Roman Emperor, responsible for the executions of Peter and Paul, reigned from 54-68. One source states: Nero’s rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He shed the blood of many, including that of his mother, and the probable murder by poison of his stepbrother Britannicus. He is infamously known as the Emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned” and as an early persecutor of Christians. He was known for having captured Christians to burn them in his garden at night for a source of light Nero, who sought to serve himself and sacrifice many others in the process, was Rome’s best offer as a king.

What kind of a king would you be? Certainly, there are many perks. For instance, you would live in a large home known as a palace. You would have staff delivering every kind of food you desired. There would be no shortage of resources. You would have power, prestige, and influence. Every whim and wish granted by a host of servants. You wouldn’t even have to use words- just hand gestures.

Palm Sunday is about the recognition of a king; but not just any king; a special king who was willing to serve, not be served. Palm Sunday is a coronation, of sorts.

The account of the Triumphal entry is one of the few events recorded in all four gospels. A great crowd of pilgrims always came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. On one Passover, Josephus records that 2.7 million gathered in Jerusalem for the event. We take up in verse 12:

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Many in the crowd that day would have been Galileans familiar with his ministry. Others would have heard about the raising of Lazarus and would have been eager to see Jesus, the one who could raise the dead!

For this reason, people laid their cloaks and palm branches in the roadway, so Jesus could ride across them. Palm branches were a national symbol. Donald Carson notes that these, “…may have signaled nationalist hope that messianic liberator was arriving on the scene.” Riding into the city on a donkey’s colt would have been a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9:

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. …He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus was truly a king! But the real question is this. Is He your king? Every person has one of two kings. Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” but that is masked by the fact that many people live as if they were their own ruler, that self is king. But Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus is the One King, “Faithful and True.”

After this incident, Phillip is approached by some Gentiles that wanted to see Jesus. Verse 20 states: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Everything in Jesus’ life had an intentional design to it- a fulfillment of Scripture. This was symbolic, and indicated to Jesus that His time had come to go to the cross. His ministry to Jewish people of His day was complete and now He has now appeared to the nations, a book end to the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2, the conclusion of what we know as Epiphany. These Gentiles trigger what we know as Jesus’ Passion. Up to this point, Jesus often said: “My time has not yet come.” But now He says: “The hour has come.” There is a shift in the story. Jesus will now be faced with his imminent death. It will end with His resurrection, but there would be much pain and suffering to experience beforehand. It is His time; the time for which He came to this earth.

In verse 24, Jesus describes the purpose of this time, and His calling as king. Unlike other kings of the earth that demand so much from their subjects, Jesus is willing to give His life so that we might find ours. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

But unlike other worldly kings that shed the blood of others freely, King Jesus would lay down His life for us, that we might become children of God. Jesus would give His life. He would sacrifice Himself. What king does that? Only One. It is as one poet wrote:

Full many a king a golden crown has worn,
But only one a diadem of thorn:
Full many a king has sat on jeweled throne;
But only One hung on a Cross alone:
Through garlanded gay streets, cheered by the crowd
Great kings have ridden—One, with His head bowed
Beneath the burden of His Cross, passed on
To die on Calvary, one King, but one:
All other kingdoms pass; are passing now—
Save His Who wore the bramble on His brow.

Jesus’ choice to giving His life for us secures atonement for our sin, but it also functions as a model of service. Jesus would go on to say in verse 25: “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” Jesus is using hyperbole to prove a point; an exaggerated statement to drive home a lesson. One commentator notes of the two kinds of people in this world: “Those who are absorbed by the interests of life on earth encounter ruin while those detached from worldly interests will through Christ’s work attain to eternal life.” It is a matter of value and priority. This, friends, is the key to spiritual fruit: prayer, Bible study, the obedience that comes from faith, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the blessing of others.

For the true follower of Christ, this world does not compare to the blessing with following God. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And so His subjects do not place the value of their lives in this world either.

The benefits are tremendous: forgiveness of sin, abundant, eternal life, becoming a child of God. But the cost is great! It involves a shift in priorities: one in which Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. Paul would write in Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Friends, when you become a Christian, your life belongs to another. You are not your own.

In contrast, those who love this life, devote themselves to wealth, prestige, advancement and recognition; things that become idols that replace God. To live for this world means that you live for those things mentioned in 1 John 2:16: “For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world.”

But the mark of a disciple is to give one’s life unreservedly to God and to the advancement of the gospel. Peter Waldo, the probable leader of the pious Waldensians who lived in the 1200’s, was a rich merchant from France. He was converted through the death of a friend. At one point in his life gave up all his wealth to follow the Lord. Everywhere he went he preached the claims of Christ, using the words, `Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!’ These are the prerequisites of discipleship. This is our calling: “Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!”

Which is your life? Who is your king? Is it Jesus? Or self?
Don’t answer so fast, that you don’t know what is required. Henry Drummond was a Scottish evangelist who lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He was once asked to address a meeting of a select West-End Club in London. On his arrival he found his audience assembled and everything arranged for him to give his message. He commenced his address with these words: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the entrance fee into the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing: the annual subscription is everything.’

I would tell you the same thing. `It doesn’t take much of a man to be a Christian, but it takes all there is of him,’ said Thomas Huxley. My prayer is that Jesus Christ would be the king of your life.

Reflections on Billy Graham

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matthew 13:43

I was taken aback when I heard of the passing of Rev. Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Graham was an icon on the American religious landscape, since his ministry started in 1947. He was arguably the most influential Christian in the last 100 years.

Billy Graham preached his crusades throughout the world from the 1950’s through the early 2000’s. His last American crusade was in New York City in 2005. All in all, he preached in 185 countries and to over 215 million people. Dr. Graham authored over 30 books (www.msn.com). He cofounded the seminary from which Dr. Drake and Andrea Williams and I graduated, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

What made Dr. Graham so effective was his loyalty to Scripture and his willingness to reach people from a variety of backgrounds. Most of all, Dr. Graham loved Jesus Christ and His gospel. A touching tribute from his daughter Anne is found at http://www.annegrahamlotz.org/2018/02/21/daddy-is-at-home/.

Two things stand out to me from his long and effective ministry. For one, he was a man of integrity. He refused to compromise his values and lived an upright life. Secondly, he is quoted as saying: “If I knew that Jesus was coming back in three years, I would study for two of them.”

Both of those things inspire me as a minister. I must live uprightly and continue to diligently study God’s word, in order to serve in His kingdom effectively.

Reaching and Retaining the Next Generation

Experience can be a cruel teacher. It must be balanced with loving instruction. A young man decided to take private boxing lessons. He found a boxing coach at a nearby gym who agreed to give him twenty-six weekly sessions. As part of his instruction, the young man was required to spar with other aspiring boxers at the gym.

After the first session, he was sore and swollen. He didn’t realize that it would be this difficult. The battered youth had some questions for his coach.
“You say there are twenty-six lessons in this course?”
“That’s right,” answered the teacher.
“And the rest of them are going to be like today?”
“That’s right,” the coach replied.

Scratching his head, the student asked, “Well, sir, I was wondering if I could take the other twenty-five lessons by correspondence?”

Now it would have been good if there was more instruction and less experience. I wonder if the church expects the next generation to learn the art of Christian living by experience only? Do we not have an obligation to pass along what we have learned over the years? How might we do that?

The goal of today’s message is to help you understand the value of the next generation. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God. So today, I would like to give you two reasons why we as a church should invest ourselves in the lives of young people. For one…

JESUS REGARDED YOUNG PEOPLE AS PRECIOUS, EVEN AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL.
Our Lord referred to children, youth and young people several times in the gospels and most, if not all of them, were positive. For instance, regarding the gospel message, Jesus said in Matthew 11:25:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

And then He gave that gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest….” He invited all ages to come, follow and learn. But the revelation is given to those who are young- babes, those humble and hungry.

God’s work of revealing Himself to humans is not discriminatory regarding age. Neither does sin. How many of us have thought of our youthful ignorance and the things we’d like to do over? Anyone can come to faith at any age. In fact, studies have shown that if a person does not receive Christ by the time they are 18, then it is likely that they will not. In fact, the gospel is a safeguard to the awful teacher that sin is.

Young people need faith, hope and love today. “Nearly 80 percent of deaths of Americans age 30 and younger result from injury or violence… .” “Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”

While some young people see their lives as invincible and expendable, Jesus saw them as delicate, impressionable and precious in value. Matthew 18:5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus had a profound interest in children. He often took them in His arms and blessed them. Matthew 19:13 tells us:

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”

Jesus employed the young as faith examples. He said in Matthew 18:2:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

And so we must take notice and see the ministry ahead of us among young people. Because in blessing them, we bless ourselves. Why? Because…

YOUR CHURCH’S HEALTH DEPENDS, IN PART, ON HOW YOU SERVE THE NEXT GENERATION.

Towards the end of his ministry, the apostle Paul writes a letter of encouragement to his friend Timothy. He tells him to be dedicated to his calling, which was preaching, teaching and ethical excellence. He instructs him regarding his ministry in 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Notice the list of imperatives given here: devote yourself, do not neglect, practice, immerse, keep close watch, persist. And his obedience in such things would equate to an overall blessing found in verse 16: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

According to Alan Nute, Timothy, “…needs to be encouraged to teach with authority. His comparative youth, (probably he was in his late thirties) may lead some to treat him with a measure of suspicion, if not disdain. He must not allow himself to be intimidated.” In contrast, Timothy must be a faith example.

Such advice is priceless. And I wonder if God is not calling Central to use the wisdom given to this church to make a positive and Christ-honoring impact on the next generation, with some effort from us.

We must reject the notion that children, youth and young adults don’t have much to contribute to the life of our church until they get to be 40 or so. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God.

At Central, the younger demographic is our fewest represented. We understand that our church, to be at its peak, must grow in this area. My comments must not be misunderstood into thinking that the upcoming changes and new ways of ministry is attempting to change Central into a “young persons only” church. That is far from the truth. There are other churches that are doing that. Nevertheless, it would be a sad thing for Central to have no young adults or young families in the years ahead. My friend, that is not God’s will. We must strive for balance. The younger generation is equated with more young people serving and being active in the life of our church.

Our church survey revealed that 73% of you said that either adding new families or reaching younger people was our top priority over the next three years. Generations are meant to exist side-by-side. As I’ve said before, some of my strongest friendships in ministry have been with people old enough to be my parents and/or grandparents. And, as a pastor, I try to cultivate influential relationships with those much younger than me. The latter, are relationships of investment, where I try, as I’m led and allowed, to pour myself into someone, as well as listen to them.

There is a wealth of ministry in which you can participate! The Old Testament equates advanced age with wisdom. Proverbs 16:31 tells us that: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” And, Proverbs 20:29: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” But let us also be willing and open to hearing different ideas and offer different programs to serve a wide range of age groups, even if it stretches us a bit.

But it would be a shame if we neglected the ministry ahead by living for ourselves and not investing in the next generation. So, in three years we hope that the demographic of 18-44 year olds will be the fastest growing segment of Central. We want our children’s ministry to increase and a large number of you to be involved with mentoring and investing in the next generation.

To accomplish this priority, three things need to develop at Central Schwenkfelder Church:

For one, we want to develop a Young adult ministry that specifically targets young adults ages 18-30. This ministry will be focused on building community and relationships, encouraging spiritual growth, and reaching out to Christian and non-Christian young adults who are not currently connected with a local church. The foundations of the ministry will include small group Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, and community outreach and service events.

Secondly, while maintaining the excellence of the traditional service, we also want to further develop the informal worship service. I understand that for a number of you, that service is not your “cup of tea.” Nevertheless, we need you to support the service and not begrudge it. Young people, not exclusively, but by-in-large, like a contemporary worship service. The traditional service, up until seven years ago, was the only worship style we had. But we made the decision nearly a decade ago that we would have a contemporary worship service. And it has done well. But we think it can do better.

One of the things that came from our study with the Center, is that no growing church has a service that goes past 11:45 a.m. So, in the coming year, we want to change the time of that service, and possibly change the structure of Sunday morning, and also make some changes to Fellowship Hall, to give the Contemporary worship service the best opportunity to succeed, while maintaining a Biblical message.

Lastly, we want to develop a young family Support Center. This means providing resources for young families to be connected, cared for, and supported. Offering programs to aid young families like MOPS, Marriage and Parenting, including one-day seminars, and various events. A media content manager will coordinate an online resources centered to support these ministries.

The goal with each of these is to reach more people for Christ. Inter-generational ministry is an incredible strength, not to be minimized. We have the tools to do it. We must create space and time for this to happen. Mentoring and Christians sharing life-on-life must be not only something we wish we could do, but it needs to be reality. And for it to be reality, we must be intentional about it. Pastor Brian will be speaking more on such things next weekend.

Someone once said: “The most significant contribution we make in life, is the passing of our faith to the next generation.” One church in Columbus, Ohio saw this as critical to their existence. In the Winter 2017 edition of “On Campus,” magazine, Mike Richardson, Lead Pastor of the Indianola Church of Christ, said:

“When I came to Indianola five and a half years ago, the leaders of the church were facing many important decisions. After decades of declining attendance, we had to decide whether or not we had a reason for continuing on as a church family in the community where we were located.”

Faced with some difficult challenges and located just down the street from the 53,000 students of Ohio State University, the church, “transformed their building, their worship services, and their financial priorities in order to make their space inviting to college students.” They did things like making their fellowship hall into a coffee shop outreach; providing dinners during finals week, intentionally welcoming college students, and even taking many of them out to lunch after church.

The end product? “There is now a growing understanding and appreciation between the generations. As our senior adults continue to serve our young adults, our young adults are finding ways of serving our senior adults in return. The most exciting thing is to see God move in and through our congregation- seeing new young people come to our (programs). Their youthfulness and enthusiasm are infectious!”

A Common Element Among an Effective Church

Spring is coming, I’m convinced! And with it will be mild temperatures, green grass, beautiful flowers and the reminder that it is good to be alive. Growth will set in. The growth season in our area begins after the last frost, sometime usually after April 1 and ends at the last frost of the year, usually before October 31st. In between those times, trees will bud, shrubs will sprout, flowers will appear and things will appear new.

We serve a God who brings about growth. John Newton said:

“I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”

I believe that God has us positioned for a season of growth for our church. But it will depend on the question: “Is our church a contagious church?”
Charles Swindoll states:

“…we need to define what it is that makes a church contagious. How should a church grow biblically? What environment causes a community to take notice? It isn’t just the building, or the sound system, or the music. It’s not even the preaching. I repeat, it’s the context that makes a church contagious. It’s the people.”

Today’s text speaks of gardening as an illustration of spiritual vitality. This concept was important for the disciples to understand. In the context, Jesus was preparing to leave them. In chapter fourteen, Jesus presents the necessity of His death, resurrection and departure to be with the Father. He also spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the gospels, Jesus forecasted His arrest, torture, death and resurrection. But this troubled His disciples; They thought of death as abrasively final. But His disciples had the capacity to focus only on His death. They couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, so they did not hear of His resurrection and ascension. They could only think on the fact that they would be alone, without their leader. How would they survive in a hostile world that hated God? How would they carry on in a culture that misunderstood Him?

With that a bridge is provided to the connective-growth language of chapter 15 and the subject of spiritual health and love. If we were to divide this chapter, we might see the following: Verses 1-8 have to do with our relationship with God, touching specifically on the means of spiritual fruit. Verses 9-17 have to do with our relationship with one another as followers of Christ, a product of spiritual fruit. Such a relationship is laid with a foundation of love because Christ has loved us. Today, I’d like to continue with considering our priorities as a church over the next three years in a message entitled as “One Church, One Family: The Common Element.” First,

THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE THAN THE FATHER PROVIDING FOR OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH THROUGH HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST.

In other words, there is no greater love shown than God’s preemptive care over our spiritual vitality. John 15:5 tells us:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Here, Jesus talks about vines, branches, vinedressers and bearing fruit. Jesus speaks about “bearing fruit” several times, but he is not speaking of gladiolas or tomatoes. In this section, “bearing fruit” is a metaphor for a life-bearing spiritual qualities which indicate a relationship with God. This is why Jesus uses the “vine” illustration, which was not foreign to these Jewish disciples. Thomas and Gundry state: “The vine as a symbol for Israel was well known from the Old Testament, (and their connection with God) …Only by abiding in Him who is the true vine does one belong it.” From this we understand that our entire being, our existence, our day-to-day survival is dependent upon Jesus Christ working in us.

Just as a branch cannot survive without being anchored to the main vine, so we cannot survive without anchoring ourselves in Christ. This is primarily through prayer, Bible study, public worship and putting one’s faith into practice. “Abiding” is a life word. The Greek verb means “to remain, stay, abide; to live, dwell; endure, and continue.” This verb is used roughly 33 times in the Gospel of John, with a concentration in chapters 14 and 15. Just by position, Jesus is speaking of the disciples remaining in the Father’s love because in a little while, Jesus would no longer “remain” with them. D.A. Carson notes: “…there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity….”

And churches must also be fruitful in order to be healthy. Charles Swindoll shares that the acrostic W-I-F-E stands for the four most common elements of churches that are contagious.

• W stands for worship;
• I stands for instruction;
• F stands for Fellowship;
• E stands for evangelism.

The determiner of whether the branch can survive is only if it is attached to the vine. Abiding in Christ was the key to bearing spiritual fruit. The alternative was death and decay: “for apart from Me you can do nothing.” From this we know that bearing spiritual fruit is not a result of human effort but comes from the life we receive from Christ as the Holy Spirit works among us as a body of Christians. Secondly, …

THE GREATEST LOVE, DISPLAYED AT THE CROSS, ENABLES US TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Spiritual fruit and Jesus working within us are things that enable us to love one another. John 15:10:
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Abiding in Jesus’ love includes obedience and obedience is the key to joy. When we don’t obey the Lord, our conscience bears witness; we feel heavy on the inside. Conviction can consume us. And if it does, we must ask “why?” What have we done to bring it on? Our Lord would give us the supreme example of love when He referred to His approaching death on the cross. Jesus said that the best example of love is when one gives up his life for his friends. Jesus was referring to what He was about to do on the cross. Earlier, in John 10, Jesus called Himself the good shepherd. John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Love was something that naturally came from the Son of God, but it is not something that comes naturally for us. Rather, it is something that transforms us as we come to know the Lord, as a result of the Holy Spirit working in us. And after you come to know the Lord, you must intentionally practice-love. We must “put it on,” like a garment and wear it, that it might cover everything we do, as the Apostle Paul teaches us to do in Colossians 3:12:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Someone once spelled LOVE like this:
L- Listening when another is speaking,
O- Overlooking petty faults and forgiving all failures;
V- Valuing other people for who they are;
E- Expressing love in a practical way.

• Certainly we love our friends. Healthy relationships are known by a reciprocal love, a give and take, without anyone taking advantage or taking for granted.
• But Jesus gave us what may be the most difficult of His commands when He taught us to love those that are complicated to love. He said in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you….”
• And we are to love the lost. We do this because Jesus does (John 3:16). We are not a “holy huddle,” designed only to maintain ourselves. The love that God has shown us should spur us on to be outward and outreaching as a church.

MAY GOD GIVE US GRACE TO BE A CHURCH BODY, WHERE LOVE IS INTENTIONALLY PRACTICED.

In order to intentionally practice Christ like love, we want to intentionally create time, space and opportunity for us to enhance the fellowship that God has blessed us with. Whether it is through the presence of small groups, both on Sunday mornings and at other times and venues; or casual connections in the weekly life of our church body, we want to value relationships. Did you know the number one reason why people leave the church? They did not feel connected. And of those looking for a church, 83% responded that feeling welcomed was one of the top five answers. If we want our church to grow, we must understand that relationships play a big part.

One great example is a ministry started by Mrs. Amie Kipp and Tara Scavetti. These ladies felt the call of God a couple of years ago to start a MOPS chapter at Central. MOPS stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers.” One of its major components is to build community over a shared experience. Today, there are over 20 ladies gathering on weekly basis to study topics from God’s word and build relationships.

The survival of the Christian church depends, in part, on an inner, mutual preference. To take advantage of opportunities to pray with each other, hear each other’s burdens, encourage one another. Paul said in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” What was the law of Christ? All of what He taught, but especially to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love one another!

In our upcoming annual congregational meeting, to be held on February 25, we are going to be telling you about some exciting things coming to this church, producing a new vision. Hopefully you will have something in your hands to tell you more. Please come on the 25th for our 10:30 a.m. blended service, have lunch and stay for the presentation.

Our heritage is well over 300 years old. It could not have lasted that long without changes along the way. Change can be very healthy. We cannot stay the same. Nor can we go back to what the church was 20, 30 or 50 years ago. God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.

There is no greater love than what God has shown us through providing for our spiritual productivity in Christ. And there is no greater love than what was shown to us by Jesus on the cross. Yet, we are constantly confronted with a friction between Jesus’ love, and the tendency towards a lack of love in our own hearts. Let this short poem by Amy Carmichael speak to you, as it has to me. It is called: “If.”

“If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made you to differ? And what have you that you have not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.

If I take offense easily; if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.

If I feel bitterly towards those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.”

May God give us the grace to do so that we can be fruitful and productive in Christ.

One Church, One Family

Text: Romans 12:1-13

“An effective team is only as good as its members. No one holds the market on value. Sometimes we fail to see the value in each other. For instance, a sea captain and his chief engineer were arguing over who was most important to the ship. To prove their point to each other, they decided to swap places. The chief engineer ascended to the bridge, and the captain went to the engineer room. Several hours later, the captain suddenly appeared on deck covered with oil and dirt. “Chief!” he yelled, waving aloft a monkey wrench. “You have to get down there: I can’t make her go!”

“Of course you can’t,” replied the chief. “She’s aground!”

Both were responsible for the ship’s problems. It started when the two men lost sight of its other’s value. On any team one does not seek to better the other; one depends on the other.

That is a good picture of the church. If the church is going to go anywhere, each member has to realize his/her part and do it. We must understand the value of each other.

Why am I addressing this? Certainly God wants Central Schwenkfelder to be an effective church that makes a difference in our community and world. But it cannot happen without each member functioning in the ways in which God has called them. So it begs the question, how can we make the church go places? Are there ways in which Jesus, the head of the church, wants you and me to live out our faith? How must we live out our faith in relationship to the body of Christ? Let me give a couple of answers, as we love God by functioning as “One Church, One Family.” The first…

I. OUR FAITH MUST BE LIVED OUT SACRIFICALLY.

Romans 12:1:

“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the power of God in the gospel. In 1:16-17, Paul speaks of justification- accepted in the eyes of a holy God. This is done through, or by means of faith in Jesus Christ. Throughout this letter, the apostle develops the need for justification (our sin), how we are justified (Jesus’ sacrificial death) and the application of justification (faith). In Romans 12, Paul says that faith is not just something mental, but it is active.

Faith must be lived sacrificially …through the mercies of God. The Greek preposition gives off the meaning that through or by means of the grace of God, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. The verb means “to present, to show; to offer, to yield, even to dedicate.” In the Old Testament, animals were killed then placed upon the alter to be offered up to God. It was an act of devotion and a means of atonement for sin. Since Jesus was our ultimate sacrifice, Paul says that we’re to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. The Greek means sacrifice or offering. It was something that completely belonged to God. Here, our bodies are to be living sacrifices. Body here would denote our whole persons: our minds, our bodies, our interests, our talents, our service, our compassions. Since Jesus is the final blood sacrifice, both Jew and Gentile can now serve God while living.

Quite a difference with how we sometimes view our faith. Coming to faith in Christ is often understood as that which you do in order to get more comfort, more peace, and more benefits, such as fire insurance. Although there is tremendous personal benefit to being a Christian, we must not look at Jesus only as a means of self-help. Our view of membership ought to be one of service and sacrifice, not that of consumerism. Consumerism has negatively affected the church. Consumerism says: “I’m joining this church because they have a product I like. I’ll be here as long as I’m satisfied with the product. When I’m not, I’ll complain until I can’t take it anymore.” Under such pretense, many get upset and leave, only to go to some other congregation with the same false expectations. This leads to more frustration and eventual drop-out.

II. FAITH MUST BE LIVED OUT GENEROUSLY.
Verse four states:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

This passage also teaches that we must: “… recognize that there is a diversity of gifts represented in each congregation, Paul stresses that those who have gifts should use them for the good of the body and in humility.” (Waters, 191). When our spiritual gifts are in operation, love, service to one another, building each other up, is common place.

As we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, dedicating ourselves to God, we employ the gifts He has given us for ministry. When the Bible speaks of membership in the body of Christ, it has to do with service to God as an act of gratitude for all that He’s done for me. John F. Kennedy, our late president of nearly 50 years ago, is known for a statement during his 1961 inaugural address. Facing a tremendous task ahead of him, Kennedy stated that the work at hand would not be finished in the first 100 days of his administration, nor the first 1,000 days, or “perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.” Nevertheless, he announced, “Let us begin. … And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” I’d like to encourage us to think about that statement in reference to the church and how we understand membership. Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.

Living out our faith sacrificially implies faithfulness. We need to get back to faithfulness. God calls each of us to faithfulness. One person states:
“It is in the church, week after week, where we learn faithfulness. It is in the church where discipleship is carried out. It is in the church where accountability is modeled. It is in the church of Jesus Christ where we find the doctrinal roots that establish our faith.”

Your goal is to be faithful. To contribute. Are you faithful? Why are you on this earth, to live for yourself? Or to live for Him? Are you willing to sacrifice yourself to live more for Him? Dr. Guy Waters says that “… obedience is the response of the Christian to God’s goodness in Christ.” The list of imperatives in Romans 12 as necessary task of Thanksgiving toward God for his goodness. Lastly, …

III. FAITH MUST BE LIVED OUT OPENLY.

In the next three years, we’re trusting God to build our church body by your significant participation in a small group or a discipleship pathway that regularly graduates leaders and church members.

To develop a pathway that guides an attender to become a disciple of Christ, and then a member, and finally a leader. We want to create opportunities for casual connections.

“Casual connections become portals to the kind of authentic community God designed and for which people are longing. We see ourselves as one church family, offering help and hope to all. By attending and participating at Central, you will certainly know that you are welcome, loved, accepted, and needed. By participating in one of our small groups, finding your place to serve, and growing and spiritual maturity, you will be sharing real life with real people who are on the same transformative journey.”

Because it is in a small group the real community and fellowship can take place. Where individuals pray for each other. Where individuals see a need and react/respond. Where there is shared learning rather than just One Direction learning.

This will undoubtedly require some flexibility. It means some classes intentionally dividing to make two classes. It means some of you opening up your home is to hold a small group there for folks that want to be a part of our church, but cannot make it for Sunday school hour. It also requires some flexibility I’m on our youth. This will require restructuring current classes and creating new growth opportunities and classes.

Because the goal of such efforts is to encourage a one church, one family experience. Scottish theologian and Pastor James Torrance says that God‘s primary purpose for humanity is for filial…we have been created by God to find our true being-in-communion, and sonship, in the mutual personal relationships of love.” (Torrance, 38).

And this requires us to provide more opportunities to learn together, worship together, serve together, and be together! Verse three states: “For through the grace. This church, its operations, its assets, its programs, belongs to and exists for the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The Living Insights Bible puts it like this: “A vital sign of a healthy church is the exaltation of Christ as Head and supreme authority. Let us never forget that the body has one Head, and only one. The Head, remember is Christ. He-alone-is-Lord.”

In order to have a vibrant faith, we must remain connected to Jesus and with others, just as He said in John 15:5: “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in Him bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Lastly, faith was not given to you to make your life easier, or more enjoyable. Faith was given so that you might be more like Christ.

What work has God called you to do? Or is it to be employed in His operations. How can I help His cause? There are many needs at Central. We need Sunday school teachers, leaders, those committed to prayer, those to help with various tasks. Stewardship is defined as everything you do after you say you believe. Our Church Council has made it one of our goals to foster spiritual gift awareness in our church. Spiritual gifts are special abilities God has given you to aid others in the body of Christ. You are employed by God to use them. In the future, it is hoped that you will take a spiritual gifts inventory to find out the type of ministry God has called you to do in His church. I hope you’ll take every advantage of it.

There are two ways in which our faith must be lived out in three ways: sacrificially, generously and openly. A young schoolboy was trying out for a part in the school play. His mother knew that he had set his heart on it, though she was afraid he would not be chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, she drove to school to pick him up. The young lad rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement. Then he said some words to her that should remain a lesson to us all: “Mom, I have been chosen to clap and cheer!” In the same way, God has lovingly chosen each of us for different and special tasks, no matter the significance we might place on them, great or small.

The Greatest Gift of All

Christmas causes us to ask the question, “Who is this?” If you were to ask the people of Nazareth, they may say: “he was Mary and Joseph’s son, who grew up a carpenter.” Jesus was not warmly received by everyone. In Mark 6, He went to his hometown of Nazareth and was coldly received by his peers and others with whom He was raised.

If you were to ask the disciples, they would say: “He is the Lord of glory, who even the wind and waves obeyed Him!” (See Mark 4:35-41)

If you were to ask the angels of heaven, they would say: “He is good news for all people- the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 is a familiar Christmas passage, one about the Greatest Gift of All. It contains an announcement, news made public. Announcements are as useful to today as they were 2,000 years ago. Throughout history, they have come in varied mediums. In the Ancient Near East, they were given audibly. Today, we see them come across the ticker on our television set. We hear them over an intercom, or read them on the front page of the newspaper. An announcement is meant to inform, to prepare us. With this in mind, we must ask, what was the greatest announcement of all time? Its bearers: the angels of heaven. Its hearers: the shepherds of Palestine. It’s content: God. It was and remains today the most important announcement of human history.

But today, we see how the angels appeared to the shepherds and answered the question: “Who is this?”

THIS GIFT WAS GOOD NEWS FOR EVERYONE.
Let me explain. Luke 2:10 reads, But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. The angel brought to the shepherds of long ago, …good news of great joy that will be for all the people. When was the last time you heard some really good news? If we pick up our local newspapers or flick on the news at ten, we are given plenty of bad news. But the angels said this would be good news for all people. In other words, all people without distinction. We see this in the message’s first recipients. It would not be for just the rich or ruling. It was not exclusive to the merchant class. Shepherds were not your upper middle class of ancient Palestine. They were poor and smelled bad. Rather, this announcement would be good news for all people: black and white, men and women, poor and rich, ruling and ruled.

Do you need good news? The application to you this: Jesus came for you regardless of your race, your gender or your assets. He came in spite of who you are or what you have done. He came to provide for your greatest need. Christ came for you. Do you know that if you were the only one on this earth, Jesus still would have come to die on the cross for you? And this is good news. But why, you might ask? Next, we find that…

THE GIFT WAS A PERSON, BUT NO ORDINARY PERSON.
Once again, …the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. The reason that Christmas is good news to you and me is because Jesus is the world’s only Savior. In order to appreciate the good news, you must first understand the bad news. You see each one of us has disobeyed God from birth. Since the fall of humankind, not a one of you was taught how to lie, how to be selfish, how to steal. You do that naturally. The late R.C. Sproul said, “We are not sinful because we sin; we sin because we are sinful.” Because the God of the universe is perfect in character, all sin greatly offends Him, and requires His judgment.

But God, in His love, sent Jesus to be the answer to our horrible predicament.
Jesus was God’s promised gift. At the time of the fall, we see from Genesis chapter three that God promised to put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Genesis 3 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Jesus is the One who crushes Satan’s head. And for that, we must be thankful.

The birth of Christ answers our hearts greatest longing. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise Christmas is a reminder of hope, that God saw our greatest need and provided it for us. Someone once wrote:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

Think about it. God, looking upon your plight, sent His only Son to deliver you from such a dilemma. This is why Jesus is called Savior. The Greek word means one who rescues, one who delivers, one who preserves. It is the same word used in Matthew 1:21 in which the angel said to Joseph concerning his fiancée Mary: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” That has been good news for me. Whereas I have offended God through my actions, a relationship with God can be reestablished through faith in the who came and gave His life for me.

Kevin DeYoung states:
“The point of the gospel is not that Jesus saves us from low self-esteem, or from singleness, or from our crummy job. Sin is our deepest, most fundamental, most pervasive problem. Other teachers and heroes may be able to save us from life’s stresses and disappointments, but with this problem of sin, there is only One who can save, and His name is Jesus.”

Jesus was also called Christ. This was His title. Christ was the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew term Messiah, God’s chosen One who was promised to come to redeem Israel.

And He was also known as Lord. Jesus is Lord. That means He is Master. He is God in the flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the One who the angels worship.

Not to be overlooked was the fact that this message was delivered by angels, God’s messengers. Luke 2:13: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

These angels bore the message to the shepherds. God’s most important messages were always delivered by angels. They would sometimes bring messages of judgement. Other times they would announce warning or doom. Still other times they would deliver messages of encouragement. Here, they chose to appear to shepherds, which tells us that God cares for the common person.

CONCLUSION
This gift is exactly what we needed. Dare I say Jesus is the reason we give gifts at Christmas time. American author E. B. White said: “To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.”

I could never erase the guilt of my disobedience, Christ did it for me when He died on the cross. By virtue of His death, he saves those who come to Him by faith. Hebrews 7:25 tells us, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him… Christmas is good news because of what Christ did for us.
Let us never miss the meaning of Christmas. In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” The editor had completely missed the point! Don’t miss the point of Christmas. Jesus came for you.