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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Matt's Messages - Guest Speaking at Our Sister Church in Ashland, Ohio

“No Greater Prayer Request”
January 1, 2006
Ephesians 3:14-21

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Ephesians. Ephesians chapter 3, starting in verse 14. Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21.

It is an honor and a privilege to open God’s Word with you today. I have high regard for your former pastor, Jeff Powell (who is now my pastor as District Superintendent) and high regard for your present Pastors John, Ron, and Greg. And I thank Pastor John for asking me to divide the Word with you today. It is a privilege to speak from his pulpit.

I’d like to speak this morning on the subject of prayer from the book of Ephesians chapter 3. I have just begun a doctoral class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on the subject of prayer, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. And I think that prayer is a good subject to start a year with. So, prayer it is.

How did you learn to pray? Most of us didn’t learn to pray from some book (though books may have been helpful to us along the way). Most of us who have learned somewhat how to pray learned it from listening to others pray, didn’t we?

We learned to pray from our parents, from our pastors, from a youth leader, from Sunday School teacher, from a friend.

I remember joining (for the first time) a prayer group of guys that met every Monday at 10am at Moody Bible Institute. That group existed to pray and nothing else. We came together and met in the storage room on our floor. A bunch of us sitting on boxes in the storage room. I can still see them now. Ruddy Chapparo, Kipp Wilson, Mark Boardwine, Buddy Delaporta, a few other guys, and myself. And we’d share requests, and then we’d get right down to praying. I had never been a part of anything like that before.

And I learned a lot from listening to those guys pray. The things they prayed for and the way that they prayed for them. Listening to these other guys about my age go to God with their hearts, with their needs, with their requests–I learned a lot about how to pray.

Well, here in Ephesians chapter 3, we get to listen in to the Apostle Paul praying!

How would you like to do that?!

This is a prayer report of what and how the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church. Do you think we could learn a few things about how to pray from the Apostle Paul? What he prayed for them? How he prayed for them? I think so.

And I think that in this passage, there is a BIG PRAYER REQUEST! A Goliath. A Paul Bunyan of a prayer request. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for a believer, there is no greater prayer request than this one! No Greater Prayer Request.

It comes right in the middle of the book of Ephesians. It’s really the climax–the high-point of the book. Paul has been driving the whole book to this point (3 chapters of glorious theology erupt into this prayer) and then the next 3 chapters of powerful application flow out of this prayer. This is the high-point of the book.

Let’s listen in.

Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21.

[scripture reading, prayer]

I think that the last phrase in v.19 is the greatest prayer request ever. The thing that our Lord’s church needs to pray more than anything else. That we would be (v.19) “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That request has captured my attention and should capture yours, as well.

It is a huge request, brothers and sisters! The fullness of God is everything! God’s glory is infinite, without end, overflowing, all-encompassing in fullness. And that’s the standard of the experience of God that Paul prays for this church. Filled to the measure or filled unto the fullness of God.

Do you want to “experience God?” This is the fullest experience of God possible.

“Filled to His fullness.”

God has so much to offer us, so much to give, so much that He is, in and of Himself. And Paul prays that we would have it all! That we would be filled to the measure (filled past capacity) “to the measure” of the fullness of God. That is the hugest prayer-request ever. None greater. None greater.

And you can see by looking at today’s passage that it is the culmination (the high-point, the mountain-top) of two sub-requests. Two things that Paul prays for the church in vv.16-19. They are both prayer requests for power.

Let me give you a road-map of this passage. It is all one prayer. Vv.14 and 15 tell us whom Paul prays to. Then v. 16 and the first part of v.17 has the first sub-request for power. The second part of v.17 and then vv.18 and 19 have the second sub-request for power. And then Paul caps them both with the awesome request that we would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God and bursts forth with a power-packed exclamation of praise in vv.20 & 21.

This is one of the most powerful prayers in all of the Scriptures. I would say only the “Real Lord’s Prayer” in John 17 is more powerful and that’s because the Son of God Himself prays for us there. But this is almost as powerful and just as all-encompassing and the request of v.19–I personally think there is none greater. Do you want your prayers to be great and powerful? Learn to pray along these lines.

Let’s look at them a little closer. Paul prays to the Father in vv.14&15. Look at that.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

We pray to God as Father. The word “Father” should conjure up for us both the connotations of respect and intimacy. Every family in heaven and on earth gets its name from God the Father.
In other words, there is nothing that exists that God has not brought into being and named. He is the Author of Everything and the One who owns all the power in the universe and to whom all praise is due. And yet–He is also our FATHER. He’s our Abba. And that’s whom Paul addresses with this prayer. The Father.

And then the first sub-prayer request. V.16

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Stop right there.

Now, follow this train of thought (it’s a little complicated, but the basic idea is pretty simple). Paul prays that God would reach into the un-ending storerooms of His glorious wealth, the limitless treasure-vaults of His glory, and give us...what? One word. Power.

Paul prays that God would give us power...now where? Where does the power go? In our inner beings. Literally the original says, “in our inner man,” in our hearts, the immaterial but most important part of us. He prays that the Spirit of God would give us power to strengthen us in our inner-most parts–in our hearts.

What does that say about you and me? It says that our hearts can be very weak. And that God must do a work in us for them to be strong. “They are weak, but He is strong.” Paul prays that God would strengthen our inner-beings by giving us power through the Holy Spirit from the riches of his glory.

Now, follow this. That power then has a goal. And that goal is awesome! V.17. “I pray that you would have this power ‘so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’” What does that power look like in action? It looks like Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith.

“Now wait a second, right there. Hold on. Slow down. Back up. When I became a Christian, Pastor Matt, Jesus came into my heart! And Paul is praying for Christians here, is he not? What is he talking about? Jesus doesn’t disappear from our hearts and then we need to pray that He’ll return, does He?”

No. That’s not what this is saying. When you receive Christ, Jesus does come through the Holy Spirit to live in your heart.
And He does not leave us nor forsake us if we are truly His.

What Paul is praying for here is that the power of God would come to us to strengthen our inner beings so that Christ might be at home in our hearts.

Let me put it this way. Prayer Request #1 is for God’s Power to Remodel Our Hearts for Christ. Paul prays, and we need to pray for God’s Power to Remodel Our Hearts for Christ.

The Greek word translated here “to dwell” (katoikeo) could be rendered “to settle in,” “to take up residence” in other words, to make oneself at home.

How many of you have read the little booklet: My Heart, Christ’s Home? This is the passage that that booklet comes from.

Think about your heart–your inmost being, the real you–as a house. When Jesus came to be your Savior and Lord, you invited Him to live in your house, your heart. But for Jesus to live there comfortably, for it to really be His house, some remodeling needs to be done.

How many of you have done some remodeling in your home? There’s always some work to be done, isn’t there?

Remodeling takes some effort. It means making some changes. And it’s not always comfortable. It’s a process that takes power tools and deconstruction as well as reconstruction. Paul is praying that God would reach into his glorious riches and bring His power-tools to a remodeling project of our hearts with the Holy Spirit as the General Contractor so that Jesus would feel more and more at home there. This is another way of praying that we would become more Christ-like. That our hearts would be the kind of place that God would want to dwell.

We need to pray for God’s Power to Remodel Our Hearts for Christ.

Can you see Jesus looking at a certain wall of your heart and saying, “You know, I love this house, but that wall has to go. That attitude has to go, that sin needs cleaned out of here, that priority needs to be adjusted and hung on a different peg. That relationship needs to move, and now.”
Jesus is Lord, brothers and sisters, and He wants to rule our hearts as the Master of the House.

Now what’s our part in this? Paul prays that it would happen, so he’s putting the onus of responsibility on God to do this in us. God’s riches, God’s power, God’s strengthening, God’s Spirit, Christ at home. It’s His work! The whole work of the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ is the work of God the Holy Spirit. But what do we do?
We exercise faith. Look again at v.17.

“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

The remodeling project that God is up to requires our cooperation by believing in God’s promises to us. Faith is our part in the project.

So, let me ask you the big question. What’s He moving around? If there is no heart-re-modeling going on in your life, you’ve got a problem. Where is the Master of the House calling you to make some changes? A relationship? An attitude? A job change? A new calling here at church? A priority adjustment? Is your heart more Christ’s home now than it was at the beginning of 2005?

I want to ask you to write down on the back of your bulletin a change that you know that God is calling you to make. A sin to repent of, a change of priorities, a new direction to take your prayer life, a habit to overcome by faith. Go ahead and write it down.

Some of these changes require a lot of trust. Sometimes when Jesus says to tear down a wall in our hearts, we think that that wall will bring the house down with it, and so, we’ve got trust Him. And when we do, our hearts will never be a more beautiful home!

Do you see how this is being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God? How is that fullness going to fit if we don’t let God’s power strengthen our inner beings to make a suitable dwelling place for the Lord Christ? For us to have all of Him, He needs to have all of us!

We Need to pray for God’s Power to Remodel Our Hearts for Christ.

Paul prays that we would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God by giving all of our heart over to Christ’s skillful remodeling hands.

The second sub-prayer request is in v.17.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge...”

Paul prays, and (we need to pray) for God’s power to grasp the love of Christ.

This prayer request is also a prayer for power. Do you see that in v.18, “I pray that you may have power...”

The Greek word here for “power” is different from the word in v.16. This word is a stronger word that occurs only here in the New Testament. It means “strong ability.” It was sometimes used to mean “the ability to sack a city.” To have what it takes to ransack a town and make it yours. This word is put with a word that means to “seize something” or “to grasp something,” so that together, it means to have the strong ability to comprehend or personally understand–to fully realize something.

Sub-Request #2 is a prayer for the power to understand in a personal way (not just intellectually–not just “head-knowledge”) the love of Christ.

We Need to Pray for God’s Power to Grasp the Love of Christ.

Paul knows that we have been rooted and established in love, that is, we have come to faith in Jesus and have a taste of His love at work in our lives. That much is certain. It is our root, our foundation. “We are rooted and established in love.” But Paul prays for MORE. More. More personal knowledge of this love.

He wanted it for himself, did he not? Philippians chapter 3, “I want to know Christ...I consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (vv, 10, 8, 12).

“Knowing You, Jesus, there is no greater thing!”

And he wants it for us. More personal knowledge of the love of Jesus.

And that takes power.

We Need to Pray for God’s Power to Grasp the Love of Christ.

He prays, “Rooted and established in love, I pray that you may have power, together with all the saints (notice the word TOGETHER here, this knowledge of God’s love is not a Lone-Ranger kind of expedition–it takes the whole church to do it. We need each other in the Body of Christ!), power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

Do you see what he’s doing? Paul is trying to paint a picture of the infinite dimensions of Christ’s love. Go as far east as you can and you won’t exhaust it. Go as far west as you can and you won’t exhaust Christ’s love. Go as far north, as far south–go to the moon, go beyond our galaxy, go beyond the universe, no matter what the direction you travel, you will not be able to find the end of Jesus’ love for His people.

What does this tell you about us? It tell us that we are weak! We need power to understand how much Jesus loves us. It doesn’t come naturally. We need power. We are weak. And it tells us that Jesus is strong. Jesus awesome and glorious and matchless in the dimensions of His love for us.

How do you measure love? We know that there are greater and smaller amounts of love in the world. I have a greater love for my daughter Robin than for other little girls. One writer asks, “can we say `how many buckets of love do you have?’” How do you measure love? I’m not sure how to put it on a scale. But if there was a four-dimensional scale available for measuring love, Christ’s love for His church would not fit on it. It would be off-the-scale. The Cross shows us this limitless love!

And Paul prays that God would pour into us a power to grasp in a finite way the infinite dimensions of Christ’s love.

I love how he puts it in v.19. “To know this love that surpasses knowledge!” That doesn’t mean to know the unknowable, that would be meaningless.

That means to know something that cannot be fully grasped. To catch the tail of the great beast. To see the tip of the iceberg. To feel the rush of wind from the first blasts of the hurricane. To dip your feet in the ocean. Jesus’ love is limitless–but it is experience-able. “To know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

We Need to Pray for God’s Power to Grasp the Love of Christ.

And that, Paul believes, that would lead to being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!

For God to increase our capacity to understand, to realize, to grasp, to enjoy the unending dimensions of his love in ever-expanding magnitudes!

To be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Do you see it? There is no greater prayer request. Sub-request #1, that God would remodel our hearts by His power so that Christ can really move in and fill us and make our hearts the home of all His measureless glory. Sub-request #2, that God would empower us to grasp in ever increasing amplitude the limitless frequencies of His love. Wave upon wave of His love breaking over us for all eternity!

Filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

There is only one more question to be asked. This awesome prayer request begs one important question....

Can He do it? Can God answer this request?

This is the greatest prayer request ever for anybody. Have you ever prayed this into someone’s life? Pastor John, memorize this and pray this for your people. Elders, memorize this and pray this for your people. This is what we need, brothers and sisters. More. More. Limitlessly more of God.

But, can God do it?! Has Paul asked for too much? We have reached the greatest prayer request ever. The summit of the mountain. But, can God do it? Can we be filled to the measure of His fullness or is that asking too much?

Not by a long shot! V.20

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Can God do it? He is able! Paul breaks out into “doxology,” words of praise to God because this is possible for God. He has a power (see that word POWER again?). He has a power at work within us who believe that is able to accomplish this prayer request in our hearts–to remodel us as a suitable dwelling for Jesus and to give us clear understanding of His matchless love. He is able!

In fact, He is more than able. The KJV says he is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

Let me tell you about the word that is translated “immeasurably more” in the NIV.

The word is huperekperisou. It’s a compound word. Perisou by itself would mean full; God is able to fill us that much that Paul prays for. He can do it. But then it has a preposition on it. Ek. Out of. God is able to do what Paul prays for and more than that, out of that! And then Paul tops it off with another preposition. Huper. “Beyond.” God is able to do what Paul prays. God is able to do out of that level. God is able to fill us out of, and beyond. “Beyond, out of, full.”

Let me show you what this word means with this glass of water. We need to understand the power that God has and wants to demonstrate in our lives.

The glass is Paul’s greatest prayer request for us. That we would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Water is God’s ability to answer that request. V.20 “to him who is able to do”

“perisou.” Perisou is filling the cup. Ek-perisou is filling the cup and letting some of it overflow and dribble on the stage. But the word here is huper-ek-perisou. That means taking another jug of water and pouring into the cup until it overflows and overflows and gets the carpet completely soaked.

“Immeasurably more than all we ask... or even imagine!”

He can do it, brothers and sisters!

Don’t be afraid to ask, with Paul, to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
He can do it and exceeding abundantly more!

And because He can, we should give Him praise. Paul says, “to him be glory in the church (that’s us!) and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations (He’s still able today to do this!), for ever and ever! Amen!”

Let’s join Paul in praise of this Awesome Father before Whom he has knelt and offered the greatest prayer request for the church, ever.

God’s power to remodel our hearts for Christ. Trusting Him even when it seems like the whole house is going to fall down in the renovation.

God’s power to grasp the love of Christ. It is limitless and unimaginably great. We need to know it.

Filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Closing the Books on 2005

Since 1999, I have kept a running list of books that I've completed reading in a given year. I posted on the first half of the year back in July.

[Note: this is not a recommended reading list. Some of these books are terrific and some are terrible. Read at your own risk. They are in the order completed (not started or enjoyed!)]

Sayers, Dorothy L. Have His Carcase

Woodbridge, John and Timothy George The Mark of Jesus: Loving in a Way the World Can See [My brief review is posted here.]

Sayers, Dorothy L. Gaudy Night

Sayers, Dorothy L. Busman’s Honeymoon


Robinson, Marilynne Gilead [My very brief review.]


Mahaney, C.J. Humility: True Greatness [Read my extensive review here. This one is highly recomended.]

Doyle, A. Conan The White Company

Sayers, Dorothy L. The Five Red Herrings

Hewitt, Hugh Blog


Malphurs, Aubrey Leading Leaders

Dever, Mark The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. [You can buy a copy of this book and get a free .pdf version, too, directly from Crossway.]

Doyle, A. Conan Sir Nigel

Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Greatest Gift

“The Greatest Gift”
December 25, 2005
John 3:16

You may have picked up that our theme for this year’s Advent Season was “The Gifts of Christmas.”

Every week, our Advent reading said, “Advent means coming. Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again. This year, we are preparing our hearts for Christmas and for Jesus by delighting in a few of God’s great gifts.”

Well, today, Christmas is finally here.

And I would like to take this time to delight in God’s greatest Christmas gift. “The Greatest Gift” ever.

And we see that in the most famous Bible verse ever, John chapter 3, verse 16. You can turn there in your Bibles if you like, it’s found on Pew Bible Page #1052. John 3:16.

I hope almost everyone here has it memorized:

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This most famous verse describes “The Greatest Gift” of Christmas.

Because it is so familiar, it would be easy to miss the powerful truth it contains. Let’s pray and then soak in and delight in John 3:16 together.

[prayer]

I want to point out four things for us this morning:

The Greatest Giver gave the Greatest Gift from the Greatest Love for the Greatest Life.

#1. The Greatest Giver.

Notice Who does the giving in John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son...”

God the Father is the Giver.

And He is the greatest giver there ever was.

This week, I did something stupid. I decided to have some film developed at Wal-Mart and just drop in to pick it up on Thursday. Just in and out, right?! Thursday was December 23rd! What was I thinking? There were wall-to-wall cars and people shopping on top of each other!

Everybody was looking to buy gifts. Because today, December 25, is the day when we become givers. We have something that belongs to us. And we designate it for and release it to someone else for their benefit.

We give. And when we give a gift, we are acting, in a small way, like God. We are doing something that God does. We are echoing God’s character and God’s nature.

When we give gifts we are imitating His graciousness. Because He is the Greatest Giver.

This verse tells us that God is gracious.

That’s stands in the face of a common misperception of salvation. It’s easy to think that God the Father is holy and wrathful at sin, but God the Son is loving and gracious and came up with a plan to appease the Father’s wrath.

It is true that God is holy and angry at our sin. That is true!

But it was God Himself in His grace that came up with a plan to satisfy His own just wrath.

That’s how gracious God is! God is the Greatest Giver.

We know that because He gave (#2) The Greatest Gift.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son...”

The Greatest Giver gave the Greatest Gift.

There is nothing in the universe more precious than God the Son.
There is nothing in the universe more precious TO GOD than God the Son!

Remember a few weeks ago what God told Jesus at His baptism? In Mark chapter 1?

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

God gave the most precious thing that He had...His One and Only Son.

Or “only begotten” Son.

This Christmas Season, I have been studying the doctrine of the Trinity in my devotional times.

I’ve been specifically learning about the Nicean Creed that was adopted by the church in AD 325. There was a controversy brought up by a man named Arius who believed that Jesus, though the Son of God in some sense, was not eternally God and equally divine with the Father.

And the church held a council, called the council of Nicea and they decided that the biblical teaching was that Jesus was eternally God and co-equal with God in essense and nature while being distinct in person.

But the controversy continued to rage for another fifty-some years with the fate of the church hanging in the balance. Arius’s followers sometimes took over the major leadership posts in the church, and it looked the church as a whole was going to fall into heresy.

But a man named Athanasius continued to lead the charge for biblical orthodoxy and the eternal deity of Christ even through death threats and three exiles.

And finally, the Nicene Creed was adopted and fully supported by the entire church.

Here’s what it says:

“I believe in one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” [THE NICENE CREED (A.D. 325; revised at Constantinople A.D. 381)]

Did you catch that description of Jesus?

“[I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father...”

That’s what God gave up for us!

He gave His one and only Son.

Now, I have three sons. And I can’t imagine giving them up for someone else.

But God has One and Only One Son like Jesus. And that’s what He gave!

Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

The Greatest Giver gave the Greatest Gift (#3) from The Greatest Love.

It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave...”

This is the greatest love ever shown.

You know why?

Because we are not lovable!

God’s love isn’t so “so” [Notice that word “so.” It emphasizes this love. “So loved.” God’s love isn’t so “so”] because the world is so big. It’s because the world is so bad!

The “world” in John’s Gospel is the fallen system of humanity that is full of rebel sinners against a holy God and are being led off by Satan.

That’s “the world” that God loves!

God so loved a world in rebellion[!] that He gave His most cherished possession!

That’s unbelievable!

The apostle Paul marveled at it, too. He said in Romans 5, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Vv.6-8).

This gift is motivated by the most amazing love!

A love that comes from deep within the Father’s character.

A love that is contra-conditional! It’s not just un-conditional. It is against the conditions that exist–namely, our sin.

Do you know this? By all rights, God should not love you! You do not deserve it!

But this says that He does.

If God is the Greatest Giver, you and I are the unworthiest recipients!

And that just brings Him more glory.

Amazing Love, How Can It Be?
That You, My God, Should Die For Me?

This is the gospel. This is the good news.

It is the Greatest Gift.

We can’t do any better than to think about this good news.

God, the Greatest Giver, gave His Son, the Greatest Gift from the Greatest Love, even though we were sinners, for the (#4) The Greatest Life.

This is what His gift does.

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him [the Son] shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This is talking about FOREVER.

This Fall, I preached a series of messages on the eternal stakes that are being talked about right here.

I said every week that forever is coming. It will be endless, interminable, eternal, everlasting, unending, unceasing, perpetual, abiding, incessant, unstopping, forever and ever.

And there are only two forever destinations: heaven and hell.

Our default destination is hell. That’s what this means when He says, “perish.”

That’s eternal death. That’s eternal dying. Eternal punishment.

Hell is what is coming for all who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hell is what the “world” deserves.
Hell is what Matt Mitchell deserves.
Perishing is what Matt Mitchell deserves.
Perishing is what you deserve, too.

But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall NOT perish[!] but have eternal life.

That’s the greatest kind of life to have.

Jesus says, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Jesus says that He has come that we might have life and have it abundantly. Life to the full. Forever!

The Greatest Giver gave the Greatest Gift from the Greatest Love for the Greatest Life.

That’s the message of Christmas. That’s what was happening in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

The Greatest Giver was giving the Greatest Gift from the Greatest Love for the Greatest Life.

What should we in response?

Two applications this morning.

#1. Receive the Gift.

Not everyone does. The “for” in “For God so loved the world” looks back to the conversation that Jesus was having with Nicodemus at nighttime. Nick and Nite, I like to say!

And Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he had to be born again and to believe in Jesus.
And Jesus likened Himself to the snake that God told Moses made in the desert that if people looked up to in faith they would be healed of the plague (Numbers chapter 21).

But only those who looked up in faith at the snake in the desert were healed. The others perished in the plague.

Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Only those who believe in the Son get eternal life.

In chapter 1 of John’s Gospel, John says that this believing is a kind of receiving. John 1:12 says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.”

God has given the gift, but we need to receive it.

Have you received this gift?

You cannot earn it. Don’t even try!

But you must receive it. You must turn and put your faith and trust in Jesus and what He did on the Cross for you.

“Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Whoever. Put your name there in that verse.

Pastor Matt believes in Him and shall not perish but have eternal life.

Put your name there in that verse and then pray it to God. Tell Him that you want to receive the Greatest Gift from His love.

And #2. Rejoice in the Giver!

This is the Gospel!

This is the Greatest News ever!

This is what we should live our lives for and be willing to die for!

This is the Gospel! It is worth rejoicing in!

It’s worth celebrating!
It’s worth thinking about.
It’s worth telling others about.
It’s worth turning away from anything that would distract us from this message.
It’s worth making central in our lives.

It’s worth worshiping about!

Rejoice in the Giver and His Greatest Gift!

Don’t allow anything to get in the way of your joy in Jesus.

If you have Jesus, you have the Greatest Thing in the Universe!

Good Christian Men (and Women), Rejoice!
With heart and soul and voice!
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save.
Calls you one and calls you all to gain His everlasting Hall
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save! [Ancient Latin Carol]


Isn’t that great news?!!!

The Greatest Giver gave the Greatest Gift from the Greatest Love for the Greatest Life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Receive the Gift, and Rejoice in the Giver!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Matt's Messages - Christmas Eve 2005

“The Gifts of Christmas: The Lord’s Christ”
Christmas Eve Advent Candle Lighting
December 24, 2005
Luke 2:21-40

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming–tomorrow. Jesus has come and is coming again.

This Advent season we have been preparing our hearts for Christmas and for Jesus by delighting in a few of God’s great gifts.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the Lockwoods lit this candle [First Candle] to remind us of God’s gift of prophecy–showing us who He is and what we are to do about it. Long before He came, Jesus was foretold. On the second Sunday of Advent, the Schiefers lit this candle [Second Candle] to celebrate the gift of prophecy fulfilled; prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. What a good gift! The Kellers lit the third candle for us [Third Candle] which stood for the gift of the Lord’s humility and all that we gain from it. Our great Lord had every right and ability to be born in a fabulous palace with the bells of every city in the world pealing out His birth announcement. Instead, He humbled Himself and chose a stable and a manger–a feeding trough. His birth announcement was made to a little group of frightened sheep herders. But He came! The McKnights lit the fourth candle [Fourth Candle] last Sunday to celebrate the gift of Immanuel, God with us.

Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See, Hail the Incarnate Deity
Pleased as Man with Men to Dwell, Jesus Our Immanuel

Jesus is God with us.

Tonight, we light the Christ Candle [Light Center Candle], the center candle that puts all of these “Gifts of Christmas” together. It reminds us that Christmas is all about Christ, what the Gospel of Luke calls, “The Lord’s Christ.”

Just after the part in Luke chapter 2 which Stacey read for us, is a lesser known but very powerful Christmas story: the story of Simeon & Anna.

Listen as I read it to you. Luke chapter 2, verse 21.

“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’),” Pause there.

Does that sound familiar? That’s Exodus chapter 13. It was instituted with the Passover and the Red Sea Rescue. Jesus was the fully consecrated firstborn Son! V.24

“and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’”

They were very poor.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. [This man loved the Lord and longed for the Kingdom.] It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.”

The Lord’s Messiah. The Messiah, the Savior, the Rescuer, that the Lord promised to His people.

“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. [It just so happened!] When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (NIV)

Isn’t that a beautiful story? These two older saints who are given the privilege of seeing and recognizing [!] the Lord’s Christ. [Note: Yes, I am assuming that Simeon is old. As some have pointed out, the text does not say so, but it "feels" like it when you read the passage.]

Imagine how Simeon and Anna must have felt. All of those years of waiting and hoping and longing for God’s kingdom to come.

And then being told by the Holy Spirit Himself that God’s King had come!

Simeon and Anna had waited in their own Advent Season for Jesus to arrive. And then they saw Him with their own eyes!

I love what Simeon says about Jesus as he cradles Him in his arms:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

Simeon knows that God is sovereign. He rules over all things.
Simeon knows that God keeps His promises. This was the fulfillment of prophecy.
And Simeon knows who this child is:

He is Salvation. He is Light. He is Glory.

Simeon says, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”

He can see in this little baby that rescue has finally come. This baby is a rescuer.

He is rescue personified!

Jesus has come to proclaim the kingdom of God, to live a perfect life, and to die on the Cross for the sins of the world.

He is salvation. And Simeon can see it!

And He is light. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

This candle for the Lord’s Christ shines a great light in the darkness.

Not just a light, but a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.”

Who are they? They are we!

We are Gentiles, non-Jews. And by all rights, we should be excluded from celebrating Christmas. It should be a Jewish holiday!

But Simeon could see into the future. He could see that Jesus was to be a light for the people of America, too. For the people of Pennsylvania, too. For the people of Philipsburg, Clearfield, Lanse, Kylertown, Drifting, Winburne, Grassflat, Frenchville.

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

The light of the Lord’s Christ! And He is also glory.

“Glory to your people Israel.” Simeon said.

He came “down from His glory” as Blair and Lita sang for us. And He lived for the Father’s glory in His condescension and incarnation. And He was glorified for His Cross work.

“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The glory of Israel. Jesus brought the glory of God to His people Israel.

He was the promised glorious King. Anna could see that. She was one godly lady! She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

And she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem–the glory of God’s people Israel.

The question for us tonight is, “How do we respond to the Lord’s Christ?”

Simeon recognized Him as Salvation, Light and Glory.

But Simeon also recognized that Jesus would divide people. That Jesus would bring controversy. That Jesus would demand a decision. There would be no neutrality about Who He is.

Simeon said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against (there will be opposition), so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” And a sword will pierce your soul, too, Mary. When her grown son would be crucified before her eyes.

One man has said, “No one will be able to take up a neutral attitude towards [Jesus]. He will serve as a clear sign by which God makes known to man that everyone in himself is doomed and guilty and that there is salvation for the penitent only in Christ. But many will refuse to accept the sign and to seek salvation through Him; they will contradict the sign and resist Him. This will bring about their everlasting fall.” (Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT, pg 120).

But others will put their trust in this Jesus. And He will be for them salvation, light, and glory. They will put their faith in the Lord’s Christ. And this will bring about their everlasting rise!

What is our response to the Lord’s Christ?

What is your response to the Lord’s Christ?

Is it one of faith and joy and thanksgiving like Anna?
Is it one of trust and joy and love like Simeon?

Or is it one of distrust and unbelief?
You don’t believe that Jesus is salvation, light, and glory.

Everyone must decide. Jesus is the “Inescapable One” (Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT, pg 122).

Everyone must respond to Him.

I pray that our response would be like Simeon’s and Anna’s, rejoicing that the Lord’s Christ has come.

Advent means coming. Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

Let us give thanks to God!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Prayer Class

I’ve recently registered for a class on the theology and ministry of prayer with Dr. Bingham Hunter at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

He writes in our course summary, “Evidently, much that passes for prayer and spirituality in our day is mindless, manipulative, and unbiblical. Consequently, the course presupposes that an orthodox Christian theology of prayer must be grounded on Scripture, specifically in theology proper, the Doctrine of God. We will consider various contemporary approaches to the ministry of prayer in the local church. We will also reflect on the challenges to a biblical worldview and distinctively-Christian spirituality posed by life in a post-modern society.

We will require each student to: (1) Develop a distinctively biblically-grounded theology of prayer; (2) Reflect on its implications for his or her philosophy of ministry; and (3) Produce a ministry action plan intended to produce specific outcomes related to prayer in his or her ministry context.”

Sounds good to me! Hot Orthodoxy in action!

I have to read several books for this class, some I’ve read before, others are new to me:

Arnold, Clinton E. Three Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997.

Foster, Richard J. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Chapter 16: God’s Providence; Chapter 17: Miracles; and Chapter 18B: Prayer; in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. Pages 315-354; 355-375; and 376-96.

Hunter, W. Bingham. The God Who Hears. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986.

Kamstra, Douglas A. The Praying Church Handbook. Grand Rapids: Faith Alive/CRC Publications, 2001.

Piper, John. A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997. [This one is available to read online for free!]

Tozer, Aiden. W. The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1998.

I’m going to start with Tozer. When I get some good quotes, I’ll post them up here on the blog.

I’d appreciate prayer as I undertake this new class. I think it’s going to be really good for me.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Matt's Messages - Who Can Forgive Sins?

“Who Can Forgive Sins?”
December 18, 2005
Mark 2:1-12

For the last two weeks, we have begun working our way through the Gospel of Mark. Two weeks ago, we were introduced to Jesus, as it were, for the first time. Mark is introducing the Roman world to this amazing, unique person in human history. Introducing Jesus. Last week, we were introduced–we were confronted–with Jesus’ authority. Authority to call followers, to teach His own message, to order around demons, to heal the sick, and to cleanse the unclean. That’s who this Jesus is! He has come with authority.

Now today, we go further into understanding Jesus’ identity.

And that’s an important thing for us to do during this season. This is the Christmas Season. Christmas fever is in full swing. Shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, etc, etc, etc.

And Ostensibly, at least for Christians, this season is about Jesus. And it’s important for us to think together about Who He is.

And that’s what the Gospel of Mark is all about. Lots of people in the Gospel of Mark are busy trying to figure out Who Jesus is. Who Jesus thinks He is, and Who Jesus really is. And that forces some big decisions.

We who are Christians can forget how important it is to think about and to decide Who we believe Jesus is. We take certain things for granted.

But the people in the Gospel of Mark didn’t have it all figured out. Mark told us in the first verse of His gospel that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of God.” We know that, but His first readers needed to be convinced. And the people in the book are in the process of figuring it all out.

They definitely know that Jesus is an authority. And that Jesus is a healer. And that makes Him popular. Remember, last week, Jesus had become so popular that he couldn’t enter a town openly but had to stay outside in “lonely places.”

Well, in our story for today, He come back “home” (so to speak) to Capernaum by the sea of Galilee.

Let’s pray together and then work our way through Mark 2, verses 1 through 12.

[prayer]

This is probably a familiar story. Try to read it with me this morning like all that you know about Jesus so far is Mark chapter 1.

Mark chapter 2, verse 1.

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. [It was on Channel 10.] So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.”

Remember last week, the healing meeting that happened after sundown on the Sabbath at the door to Simon and Andrew’s house? “The whole town gathered at the door.” Well, this time, there is no room left even outside the door!

And Jesus is preaching. Probably the same thing He was preaching in chapter 1, verses 14 and 15: “...the good news [the gospel] of God. ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news [the gospel]!’” And then more fully explaining what that meant.

So, there’s this huge crowd at the door of someone’s house, probably Simon and Andrew’s house again.

Are crowds good?

Maybe and maybe not. Followers come out of crowds, but the crowds themselves aren’t really followers. They are excited by the miracles and intrigued by the teaching, but they are not (as a crowd) committed to our Lord. And they are fickle.

And, today, they are in the way.

There is someone who needs Jesus’ help. And he can’t get to him. V.3

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. [This man can’t move, but he has some friends.] Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.”

This is quite a scene! You might already know that Palestinian roofs were constructed of wooden beams “laid parallel to each other about two or three feet apart. Then crosswise over the beams, sticks were laid close to each other, thus forming the basic roof. Upon this was laid reeds, branches of trees, and thistles. The whole thing was overlaid with about a foot of earth, which was then packed down [with a roller] to resist water. All told, the roof was about two feet thick. During the spring, grass [grew] on these primitive roofs.” [Kent Hughes, Mark Volume One, pg 62]

These men somehow carried their paralyzed friend up on top of the roof of this house, and then dug a hole in the roof, probably dropping dirt on everybody inside (which includes Jesus, and, we’ll see, some religious leaders), and then lowered the man on his mat, bit by bit into the house!

That is creative! That is gutsy! That is friendship! That is vandalism! I wonder what Simon’s mother-in-law thought of that one! We’re not told. What we are told, is that Jesus saw in their actions, faith. V.5

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

Jesus saw in their actions that they had faith in Him.

Notice, that genuine faith always leads to action. Living faith always leads to works.

Jesus could see their faith because He saw that they acted on it. They trust Him to heal their friend. And they acted like people who trusted Jesus. Desperately!

Now, catch what He said to the paralytic. “Son [authoritative yet affectionate], your sins are forgiven.”

Now, why did He say that?

Is that why his friends brought this guy to Jesus?

Maybe. Maybe they knew. Maybe everybody knew that this man was paralyzed as a consequence of his sins. That might be.

Or maybe it was a surprise to everyone. The Bible is clear that not all suffering is directly caused by sin. To the contrary.

Regardless, Jesus first spoke to this man’s deepest need–forgiveness.

Do you realize that forgiveness is your deepest need?

We Americans think that our deepest needs is to feel good about ourselves.
Our deepest need is to be loved and “made much of.”
Our deepest need is self-esteem.

But the Bible says and Jesus’ knew that our deepest need is to be forgiven of our sins against God. We have offended a holy God and earned His just wrath.

And Jesus tells this young man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Just like that.

Now, that raises some big questions, does it not?

There were some folks present who were shocked at this word. They knew that Jesus healed, but this was something completely different. V.6

“Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”

They get it! They get just how shocking this pronouncement of forgiveness is.

“Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

They are saying, “Who does this guy think he is?”


And they are asking a good question (albeit with a wrong attitude).

Jesus picks up on their attitude. In fact, He can read their minds. V.8

“Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'?”

Think carefully before you answer!

Jesus has a little riddle going on here.

Which is easier to say?

Not, which is easier to do, but which is easier to say?

It’s certainly harder to forgive sins, at least, sins against God. More on that in a minute. It’s easier to actually heal someone.

But it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because it seems impossible to verify.

“Oh sure, you say my sins are forgiven, but I can’t see it. But I could see it if you made these legs walk again!”

It’s easier to say that sins are forgiven. But it’s harder to do. Jesus says with a knowing look: V.10

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”

Jesus did the hard thing and the easy thing. The easy thing to say and the hard thing to do.

The fact of His healing proved the fact of His forgiveness. And it amazed everyone. “We have never, and I mean never, seen anything like this!”

Now, what just happened?

Remember, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus shows us Who He is by what He does.

What has Jesus done?

He has healed, yes, but more fundamentally, He has forgiven someone’s sin.

Question (with the teachers of the law in v.7): “Who Can Forgive Sins?”

Now, I don’t mean who can forgive a certain kind of sin, like if you sin against me, who am I to forgive you that sin?

For example, if Brian Lockwood goes out after the service and with malice intent takes an ice-pick to each of the tires on my Dodge Caravan, I should be the one to forgive him. (If he repents. I should be ready to forgive him if he doesn’t. What a mean guy!)

But who can forgive sins against someone else?

For example, if Brian goes out to the parking lot and slashes the tires of Keith Folmar’s Jeep, and then I come up to Brian and say, “Brian, I forgive you for doing that.” Who do I think I am?

Where do I get the authority to forgive sins against someone else?

As if I were the most offended party?

Now, you do know, don’t you, that God is the most offended party every time there is a sin committed?

Yes, people are offended when sinned against. But it wouldn’t be sin if it wasn’t an offense against our Holy Creator God.

Remember when David sinned with Bathsheba? He sinned against Bathsheba. He sinned against Uriah the Hittite, her husband. He sinned against his nation when he failed in his example of godly kingly leadership.

But Who did He offend most? Psalm 51:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”

David saw that he had offended God most.

So, the teachers of the law are right about this:

#1. ONLY GOD CAN FORGIVE SINS.

No one else is qualified. No one else is holy enough. No one else is so offended as God is.

But what has Jesus done in the Gospel of Mark?

Jesus has forgiven sins! V.10

“That you may know that the Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for Himself) has authority [same word as last week: exousia] to forgive sins” “He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And he did. And it proved that He was authorized to forgive people’s sins.

#2. JESUS HAS AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS.

I remember the first time that this sunk in for me. It was in a church history class with Gregg Quiggle at Moody Bible Institute.

Jesus forgives sins.

That means that He is either a lunatic or what?

God Himself.

#3. JESUS IS GOD HIMSELF.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus shows us Who He is by what He does.

And by forgiving sins, Jesus is showing us that He is God Himself.

He shares in deity.

He is God in the flesh.

“Veiled in Flesh, the Godhead See, Hail the Incarnate Deity!”

Jesus is God Himself.

Sometimes, in this story, we get caught up in the faith of these four desperate and creative men who bring their friends to Jesus. And, I think, they are an inspiration for us.

But the main thing this story is trying to show us (and not everyone gets it!) is that Jesus is God Himself, able to forgive sins.

That truth forces some decisions.

We have to decide if we believe what Jesus says.

Maybe you haven’t gotten there yet.

Do you believe that Jesus is God Himself?

That the baby born in the manger isn’t just a baby, isn’t just a king, but God to be worshiped?

This is Who He grew up to be. The miracle worker in Capernaum Who told this man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Some people decide that he is blaspheming (v.7).
Some people try not to decide and that is deciding by default that Jesus is lying or mistaken.

But Mark believed and I believe that Jesus is Who He claimed to be: very God Himself.

That’s the miracle of Christmas.

Not family, not memories, not presents, not good feelings, not even angels or shepherds or wisemen. Those things all point to this:

Jesus is God Himself!

And there are implications for that. Today, I have three.

#1. BE AMAZED! WORSHIP JESUS.

I don’t know how to say this in a way that expresses how big this is!

Worship Jesus! He is God.

Don’t just be a “churchian” or a “godlian.” Be a Christian. Worship Jesus.

And don’t worship anyone or anything else. Worship Jesus. He is God Himself.

Worshiping Him means more than just singing songs to Him. It means following Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means loving Him and bowing before Him and His Word.

Be amazed at Who He is! Worship Jesus.

#2. BE FORGIVEN! TRUST IN JESUS.

Only Jesus can forgive your sins.

It doesn’t seem big in chapter 2. But the rest of the Gospel of Mark will show what Jesus had to do to forgive these sins.

He had to die.

He died (according to chapter 10) as a “ransom for many.”

“The many” are those who put their trust in Jesus as their Savior and their Lord.

That’s how you get forgiven. Not by earning it, but by receiving it as a free gift purchased by the Cross of Christ.

Be forgiven, put your trust in Jesus.

You have to believe He is Who He said He was and that He did what He said He would do. But if you do, and put yourself in His hands, you can have your deepest need met: forgiveness.

I invite you to trust in Jesus.

And #3. BE A FRIEND. BRING OTHERS TO JESUS.

Follow the example of these four brave, desperate, and faith-filled friends and do what it takes to get others introduced to Jesus.

This Christmas Season is an ideal time to talk about Jesus with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers.

Ask them, “Do you know what Christmas is all about? It turns out that Jesus is actually God Himself. And He forgives sins. Do you believe that? Do you want to know more about Him?”

Be a friend. Bring others to Jesus.

Who Can Forgive Sins? Jesus, God Himself.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Capernaum

Capernaum was the center of Jesus' ministry in the first part of the Gospel of Mark.

This picture comes courtesy of the good folks at BiblePlaces.com.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Heather's Health Update

Thank you to all who have been asking after Heather's health.

We now have an appointment with a cardiologist (Jan 10). She has not been experiencing distress like she did back in early November, but we do want to see if they can track down any arrhythmias that may exist (or whatever they can discover).

Thanks again for praying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fuddy-Duddies and Fuss-Budgets

My wife recently told some girlfriends that she was born a "fuddy-duddy." She likes to do many things "the old-fashioned way."

When she told me that, I realized that I was born a "fuss-budget." I get too worked up about the wrong things.

This Psalm has recently been a good word for my soul:

My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131, NIV)

David Powlison, in his rich and insightful article Learning Psalm 131 by Heart from the Journal of Biblical Counseling (reprinted in his book Seeing with New Eyes) turns this psalm inside-out:

Self, my heart is proud (I’m absorbed in myself),
and my eyes are haughty (I look down on other people),
and I chase after things too great and too difficult for me.
So of course I’m noisy and restless inside, it comes naturally,
like a hungry infant fussing on his mother’s lap,
like a hungry infant, I’m restless with my demands and worries.
I scatter my hopes onto anything and everybody all the time.


This fuss-budget can relate to that. And I am trying to learn intelligent repentance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dan's Messages - Narnia #2

Dan Ledford's newest sermon drawing from the book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is out: Narnia: Deep Magic & Deeper Magic.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Matt's Messages - With Authority

“With Authority”
December 11, 2005
Mark 1:14-45


Just last week, we began working our way together through the Gospel of Mark. Last week, in just 13 short verses, we were introduced to Jesus by John Mark the Evangelist, Isaiah the Prophet, John the Baptizer, and God the Father! Mark says that this is: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

We saw that Jesus is the culmination of history.
Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus is the baptizer with the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus is God’s beloved and well-pleasing Son.

And Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God.

We’ve been “introduced to Jesus.”

Now, this week, we are given a fuller picture of Who Jesus is by what Jesus does.

The Gospel of Mark, more than any other gospel, shows us Who Jesus is by what Jesus does.

And, how He does it.

And the major thing that I want to point out today is that what Jesus does, He does “With Authority.”

A major theme in the Gospel of Mark (that we are going to see again and again and again) is the authority of Jesus. The unique authority of Jesus.

And it appears right here in the first chapter.

Let’s pray, and then we’ll begin in verse 14.
[prayer]

Last week, we ended with verses 14 and 15.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news [the gospel] of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news [the gospel]!’”

Jesus takes off where John left off: repentance. Turning from sin and turning to God.

And He adds a distinctive message. “The kingdom of God is near.”

The King Himself has arrived, and He is bringing His gracious reign with Him.

We just sang, “The Birthday of a King.”

Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ announcement: “The kingdom of God is near.”

And the King has come with authority.

And the first thing that Mark records that this unique King does is to choose some followers.

#1. Jesus came with authority TO CALL HIS FOLLOWERS. V.16

“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ [Deliberate play on words!] At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

Notice the authority of Jesus to call His followers.

The Gospels of Luke and John tell us that these four men (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) already had some history with Jesus.

But Mark doesn’t! Notice how Mark emphasizes their immediate response to His call to follower-ship (discipleship).

‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” At once!

They drop their nets and began following Jesus.

This is remarkable. Notice, Jesus isn’t calling them to follow God’s law or to follow God in some vague sense. He is calling them to follow Him. This is a call to personal followership/discipleship of Jesus Himself.

And it means sacrifice. They are leaving their jobs. They are leaving their nets. We would call them “their safety nets” (deliberate play on words). James and John leave their father and the lucrative fishing trade that was the staple of the Mediterranean world.

They have no pre-service training. They have never been apostles before.

But they have been hooked by Jesus (deliberate play on words).

And they leave their nets and follow Him.

That’s authority.

When Jesus calls us to followership (to discipleship), we need to leave our nets behind and follow Him. No turning back. No turning back.

And when we follow Him like that, He turns us into fishers of men. He then uses us to gather people to Himself.

With authority, He uses us to call out more followers of Him.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

And they did!

Have you answered the call to discipleship?

Have you left your “nets” (so to speak) whatever they may be and followed Him? No turning back, no turning back?

Jesus is going somewhere. Are you following Him?

#2. Jesus came with authority TO TEACH HIS MESSAGE. V.21

“They went to Capernaum [which is a town on the sea of Galilee], and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority [there’s our word], not as the teachers of the law.”

The synagogue was not a temple. It was more like a school. And the ruler of the synagogue was kind of like a librarian and somebody to keep the peace. The teaching in a synagogue was done by lay people who had demonstrated some ability to handle God’s Word (the Old Testament).

And often, if someone was visiting from out of town, they were asked to bring the lesson. [How would you like to be the visitor at church and asked to bring the message?]

Jesus sat down there (they sat down to teach) and began to teach. But this was like no teaching the people of Capernaum had ever heard before.

It had authority.

Jesus Himself had authority.

The teachers of the law, the scribes, taught with a kind of derived authority. As well they should. Just as I have no authority in and of myself as I stand here and preach; the authority of this message is to be derived from the text of holy Scripture.

But when Jesus taught, He taught as One Who had authority in and of Himself.

He was on the same level as Holy Scripture. And it was astonishing to His class!

Does Jesus’ teaching have that kind of authority in your life?

What Jesus says is what goes? What Jesus says is what it is?

Now, these people didn’t know what to do with it. They were amazed, and we don’t know if they believed it and followed it. But we know that we should.

Jesus has come with authority to teach HIS message. His!

And we need to believe it.

You know, being biblical, is not a popular thing nowadays. If you say that Jesus is the only way to God or that God punishes rebels in Hell or any number of things that the Bible teaches, you are labeled a narrow-minded bigot at best and a fundamentalist danger to society at worst.

But whatever the world says, we need to believe what Jesus says. Because He is our authority.

#3. Jesus came with authority TO COMMAND THE DEMONS. V.23

We’re still in the synagogue.

“Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!’ [Ready for some authority? V.25] ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’ News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.”

What is a man with a demon doing in a synagogue?

But there he is, challenging Jesus.

The demons knows that he is in the presence of the true King.

And Jesus dispatches him with a simple command. What that must have been like!

And the people knew what they were seeing–authority. V.27 again.

“The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’”

What is this? Who is this?

This is the Jesus that we worship in wonder and awe.

There is spiritual battle being fought behind the scenes where we cannot see.

But it is an battle that is decisively tilted in one direction.

Our King has authority to command even the demons.

Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. Praise God!

Of course, that is big news. And big news spreads fast. Maybe too fast.

That same day, after synagogue, they head to Simon and Andrew’s home which seems to be in Capernaum. V.29

“As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. [It’s probably lunch time. But, v.30] Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.”

We find out here that Simon has a wife. Well, at least he has a mother-in-law! And she wasn’t getting the meal together; she was incapacitated.

She had a raging fever. Probably life threatening and probably had come over her while the men were at synagogue. They tell Jesus about her and (watch the tenderness here), “He went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and [I love this!] she began to wait on them.”

Jesus came with authority (#4) TO HEAL THE SICK.

Jesus is the Great Physician. He has authority to heal.

Peter’s mother-in-law (I like to think of her as named Linda (after my mother-in-law)), felt so good that she got right up and fixed a meal to thank Jesus.

Jesus came with authority to heal the sick. And they started bringing him the sick! V.32 “That evening after sunset [on the Sabbath] the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door [I’ve never noticed this passage until this week. The whole town is at Jesus’ door looking for help], and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.”

You don’t want a demon doing your evangelism for you. It doesn’t quite build the right kind of confidence in the gospel.

Jesus came with authority to heal. And He used it.

He has that same authority today. That’s why we pray in His name for healing for people who are sick. He doesn’t always choose to give it because of the Father’s best plan for all of His children. But He has compassion on us in our weakness, and often uses our prayers to make the sick well.

He has authority to heal. And when He does heal, we (like Peter’s mother-in-law) should use our new found health to serve Him and His people.

Are you using your health to serve Jesus and His people?

I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this passage before. It seems like it was a late-night healing session. The whole town.

And you’d think that Jesus would sleep in after something like that. He’d have every right to. But instead, He gets up before everyone else. V.35.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. [We get a glimpse of where this authority comes from: His relationship, His unity, with God. But He gets interrupted. V.36] Simon and his companions went to look for him [literally: hunt for him], and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ [To do some more miracles, healings, exorcisms, I think.] Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else– to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ [Not miracles so much as messages. The miracles are to go with the messages.] So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

#5 (and last). Jesus came with authority TO CLEANSE THE UNCLEAN.

One more story. Verse 40.

“A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’”

Leprosy was a word that describes a whole host of awful skin diseases. The Old Testament laid out in detail what a leper could and could not do. They were outcasts in society. They had to wear distinctive clothes so that people wouldn’t come near them. And yell, “Unclean, unclean!” wherever they went so that people wouldn’t touch them and be ritually defiled.

And it was believed that only God could heal leprosy.

So, when this man fell to his knees before Jesus, he was risking a lot and believing a lot.

He was risking a lot because he came near to Jesus, threatening Jesus’ ritual cleanliness.

And he was believing a lot because he believed that Jesus had authority to cleanse him.

“If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

V.41. “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man [!]. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ [Instead of Jesus being defiled, the man was cleansed.] Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Jesus has authority to cleanse the unclean.

“Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’”

Do what the Law says and don’t broadcast this. It will hamper My ability to accomplish my mission. But the man disobeys. V.45

“Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

Interestingly, Jesus switched places with the leper (James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, pgs 68-72).

The leper could now enter into society, but Jesus was pushed to the outskirts.

Jesus took His place.

Which is a picture, in a way, of the Gospel itself.

Leprosy, in scripture, is a picture of sin and its disastrous effects.

Not everyone who had leprosy had it because of sin, but it was always a picture of the ugliness of sin and its disastrous effects.

It made a person unclean.

But Jesus didn’t leave us in our leprous condition.

He came and touched us.

He took on sin for us at the Cross.

Jesus took our place.

And because of His death and resurrection, He has the authority to cleanse the unclean. You and me.

Have you been cleansed?

Jesus Christ offers to cleanse you, not just from the picture of sin which is leprous, but from sin itself by the blood of His Cross.

I invite you to put your trust in the One Who has the authority to make you clean.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Kent Hughes on Hot Orthodoxy

"Their sermons are like thunder because their lives are like lightning."

[Referring to pastors who, he says, "truly and fully follow Jesus." From Preaching the Word: Mark (Vol 1), "Jesus, Savior and Servant" Page 39.]

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cold and Silly



Silly is one of our family's favorite words. Posted by Picasa

Frozen Smile



Peter likes to shrug his shoulders up when he smiles. Aint it cute?

Or is he just frozen in that position? Posted by Picasa

Where Are You Going With That Snow Rake?



And just what is a snow rake for? Posted by Picasa

All Toqued Up



Cultural moment: In Canada, where my wifey is from, these knit winter hats are called "toques" (pronounced "toook.") In this picture, I am particularly modeling a "cowichan" toque.

Photo by Heather Joy Posted by Picasa

Ready to Go In



Okay, we'll take you in and warm you up. Posted by Picasa

Birthday Cake



Drewby's Gingerbread House Birthday Cake. Complete with Mommy, Robin, Isaac, Peter, Cousin Anna, and Dancing Daddy & Drewby! Posted by Picasa

Winter Lovebirds



A "self portrait" of me and my love. Posted by Picasa

My Loves



Almost a miracle! They all stopped motion for enough seconds to capture this picture. Posted by Picasa

All Bundled Up



Isaac's not sure what to think of all this cold white stuff. Posted by Picasa

Ye Olde Tree



The 2005 Version. 8.5 Feet Tall. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In Print, Again

The Winter issue of EFCA Today came out today.

In it, I have a book review of Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp. (It's on the second page of the "Impressions" section).

My good friend, Eric Tober, lead pastor the State College EFC, has a very good side-bar in this issue (pg 17 of the magazine, 7 of this file) on how to do sound and helpful application. He more fully develops it on page 6 of the web-exclusive content page.

Good stuff. Check it out!