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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Old Look, New Features

All of a sudden, Hot Orthodoxy has a classic, throw-back look!

I went back to my old template when I upgraded to the new Blogger features (I know--it's about time).

One thing I've promised myself is to update the links and features in my side-bar.  They haven't been touched in over a year.

So, this is the first step.

Many of you probably read this through an RSS feed, so it doesn't matter to you.

But I want the information on the blog itself to at least be current, if not fresh.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "Jesus - A Very Special Child"

“Jesus - A Very Special Child”
Certain of Jesus: The Gospel of Luke
September 27, 2009
Luke 2:22-52

Last week, in our study of Dr. Luke’s orderly account, we surveyed some of the most familiar words in the whole Bible–the Christmas Story of the Birth of Jesus.

This week, we’re going to study His entire childhood.

Don’t worry; it won’t take long. Luke records in just 30 verses almost everything we know (though Matthew’s gospel does includes a few things that Luke’s doesn’t), but almost everything we know about Jesus’ babyhood and boyhood are found here in these 30 verses–half of a chapter.

Often, at Christmastime, we end at verse 21 of Luke 2, and we almost never hear about the second half of this chapter. We’re normally off and thinking about the New Year the next Sunday after Christmas.

But today, we pick up where Luke left off. And we learn nearly everything we need to know about Jesus as a child.

Have you ever wondered what Jesus must have been like as a baby and as a young boy?

I have.

People have speculated about this for all of church history. In the second, third, and fourth centuries after Jesus, some people wrote fantastical stories about Jesus’ boyhood that are among what is called the “gnostic gospels.” These aren’t real gospel, not written by apostles or eyewitnesses or first century Christians, but much later.

These are some of the documents that skeptics try to bring up each year to discredit Christianity–“The Gospel of Thomas,” “The Gospel of Judas” etc, etc.

But not only are they proven to be written much later and not be recognized by the church, but there is something very different about the gnostic gospels than the biblical ones. Something that doesn’t ring true.

The young Jesus that you find in those documents isn’t anything like the Jesus you find in Matthew and Luke. He’s all bug-eyed and doing stupid, pointless miracles, and/or full of confusion and fear and frustration. Not at all like what we’re going to see here.

I don’t know why the Lord didn’t preserve more for us about Jesus’ babyhood and boyhood–but I know that He preserved for us exactly what we need to know for our faith in Him to be solid and growing. For us to be certain of Jesus.

So, as we study this passage, we’ll get almost everything God wants us know about Jesus as a baby and a boy.

And, I think I could summarize it all like this: JESUS WAS A VERY SPECIAL CHILD.

Now, you and I both believe that. We know that. But I think that we need to see it again with fresh eyes and hear it again with open ears and believe it again with open hearts.

In Luke 2:22, we find out what kind of parents Joseph and Mary were. They were faithful, obedient, pious and poor Jews. V.22

“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’), 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.’”
Forty days have passed since Jesus was born.

Joseph and Mary are following the Mosaic Law to a Tee.

Mary was to have 7 days from giving birth as a week of purification according to Leviticus 12.

And then 33 days of seclusion. And then, according to Exodus 13, Mary’s firstborn was to be presented and dedicated at the temple and to offer a sacrifice of consecration–normally a lamb. Remember this from when we studied Exodus and Numbers?

But Jesus’ parents, however pious, are also poor. So they offer the poor man’s sacrifice–“a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” As we’ve seen, they are humble people of humble means.

But this is no normal child born of poverty. And there are two people who meet Jesus that day who proclaim how special the child Jesus really is. They can see it with eyes of faith.

The first is a man named Simeon. V.25

“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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.”

Ohh. This is interesting.

For 400 years, God has been silent. But now, he’s been talking to some prophets.

He told this man Simeon, of whom we know almost nothing except that he was godly, righteous and devout. He was a godly man who was waiting, waiting, waiting for the consolation (the comfort) the blessing to come on Israel.

Simeon appears to be an old man. It doesn’t say that directly, but most people have inferred from the few details here that Simeon was old and had waited a long time for God’s promises to Israel to be fulfilled.

The language here is that of the last third of the book of Isaiah. Chapter 40-66. Where God calls for comfort for His people and promises comfort and salvation to come through the LORD’s Servant–a Messianic figure.

Simeon has been waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. And he’s been given a special message by the Holy Spirit, that he would see it with his own eyes!

And he does! V.27

“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. 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.’”

Wow!

Can you imagine?

This man comes up to Mary and Joseph and asks to hold the baby and then says this?

“‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss [Nunc Dimittis in Latin] 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.’”

V.33 “The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”

Joseph and Mary probably have a lot to get to used in raising Jesus!

Jesus is a very special child.

He is a child of [#1.] PROMISE AND SALVATION.

Simeon can see with the eyes of faith that this child was the child of promise.

We talked about that last week.

Simeon could see it.

This child was everything God had promised.

Which is bigger? The Old Testament or the New?

The Old. 39 books in the Old Testament–chock full of promises.

27 books in the New Testament–with this message–the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus.

Imagine that (probably) old man cradling this little baby and saying, “Here it is. Here is salvation. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and now I can die.”

He calls this child of promise and salvation a “light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

That brings in Isaiah’s language again.

Jesus was the glory of Israel. Everything promised to Israel–including salvation from all of their enemies–including Satan and Sin!

And a light to the Gentiles. That’s us!

Simeon could see, however dimly, that we would be included in the salvation promised and fulfilled in this special child!

Wow.

Mary and Joseph didn’t know what to think. But Simeon had more to say. V.34

“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.’”

Jesus was a very special child.

A child, not only of promise and salvation, but [#2] DIVISION AND PAIN.

This child would divide people into two categories.

You will be either for this child or against this child.

And there will be no middle ground.

This child will divide people and change everything! V.34

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.”

Some will fall. Some will rise.

“And to be a sign that will be spoken against...” Ouch. How would you like to hear that on the day that you dedicate your child? “This one will be spoken against...so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

Jesus will reveal hearts. Hearts will have to choose.

Are you for Jesus or against Jesus?

Are you on the side of salvation or damnation?

Are you rising or falling?

There is no neutral ground.

After this child is born, nothing will stay the same.

And it will hurt. It will even hurt his mother. V.35, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Division and Pain.

It’s going to hurt to be Jesus’ mother.

You’d think if you had borne this miraculous baby, that your life would be easy–but the opposite is true.

A sword in the soul. Pain and distress will come with being connected to Jesus.

He is a very special child, indeed.

In fact, all who belong to Jesus will suffer in this life.

And don’t believe anyone who tells you different.

Jesus was a child of promise and salvation, yes.

But also division and pain.

Where do you stand with Jesus today?

You’re hear in church, that’s good.

But I can’t tell by looking at you if you’re hear at church with Jesus or without Jesus.

Whether you are falling or rising.

Which side of the divide you are on. You can’t straddle the middle.

“...the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

Where do you stand?

Anna stood on Jesus’ side. She was the second prophet to approach Jesus’ family that day. V.36

“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old [she was old!]; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four [the Greek is difficult, perhaps it means that she had been widowed for 84 years–either way she’s old!]. 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.”

Jesus was a very special child.

And Anna could see it with eyes of faith.

Notice that she doesn’t just talk to the family.

She talks (v.38) to “all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

She’s prophesying!

She’s calling out, “Here He is! Here is redemption! Here is promise! Here is fulfillment! Here is salvation! Here is judgment! Here is revelation! Here is redemption!”

Can you imagine?

She could see it. She could see how special Jesus was.

And she was following Him even then.

Are you following Jesus?

If you were on trial today for being a Christ-follower, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

V.39 doesn’t tell us what Mary and Joseph thought about this. They were probably overwhelmed by it all.

But it does tell us that they (at some point) headed back to Nazareth.

Matthew’ gospel fills in details about the “wise-men” and the escape to Egypt. But Luke moves on from here back up to Nazareth. V.39

“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.”

Jesus was a special child.

A Child [#3] OF WISDOM AND GRACE.

V.40 tells us that Jesus was a special child.

It doesn’t answer all of our questions about what it must have been like to live with Jesus.

How His personality developed.
How His education developed.
How He played, what He liked to do.
Who His friends were.

Jesus was fully human and grew in the same way we do.

And yet, He was different. He was special.

We still have all of those questions about what it was like.

But, we know what we need to know. v.40, “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

You know, that’s a great verse to pray for our children.

That one and verse 52, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

I pray that one for my kids several times a week.

“Lord, grow up my kids in wisdom and stature and in favor with you and others.”

But, these verses aren’t here primarily to tell us what to pray for our kids.

They are here to tell us that Jesus was a very special kid Himself!

He grew up in wisdom and grace like no one else ever did!

He grew up like we do–He had to grow up.

But He grew up like no one else ever did!

“He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

This became crystal clear one day when Jesus was twelve.

When Jesus was twelve, he went with his family to the Passover feast. V.41

“Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. [Very pious, obedient Jews.] When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.”

Now, this may sound strange, but it probably wasn’t all that strange. These families traveled in great big groups–caravan style.

And Mary and Joseph just assumed that Jesus was with some other part of the family–he probably had been on the way down–riding in the mini-van with his cousins (or whatever the mode of travel was). V.44

“Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.”

Imagine their shock! “What, he’s not with you? You mean he’s not with you? Where could he be?”

Luke says that it took three days to find him. I think that’s day one traveling without realizing he’s gone. Day two traveling back in haste hoping to find him among the estimated 200,000 festival attenders. And day three finding him. Where? V.46

“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

A special child. A child full of wisdom and grace.

Jesus is sitting among the theological experts of His day, and He’s holding His own.

He’s asking insightful questions. And He’s following the discussion. And He’s maybe asking a few stumpers. And He’s able to give thoughtful, meaningful, significant answers to questions put to Him.

Full of wisdom and grace.

And He only got wiser as His days went on!

Do you go to Jesus for your wisdom? The Book of Colossians says that ALL of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus! All of them.

He is the place to go for wisdom! Even as a child.

V.47, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Everyone, that is, except his parents!

They had something else on their mind.

Have you ever lost a child at a mall or a ballpark?

I lost Drew once at an outdoor wedding on a big estate. I couldn’t think of anything else. My heart was pounding. And I don’t know if I was more scared or angry.

You’re scared until you find them, and then you’re angry! V.48

“When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’”

You’ve got to sympathize with them. They’re not used to having trouble with this boy!

Why?!

This, I think, is some of the first “sword in the soul” fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy from verse 35.

This hurt. And Jesus, for all His perfect sympathy at other times, isn’t sympathetic here. And that probably hurt some more. V.49

“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?’”

Now, I never noticed this before until this week, but these are the earliest recorded words of Jesus Christ.

This is the first thing that He ever said that was preserved for us through the ages.

“‘Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?’”

Or if you have the King James Version, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?”

Jesus knew something, in His wisdom, that his parents hadn’t gotten yet, but obviously should have.

And that’s how special a child He really was.

He was a child [#4] OF GOD–IN A UNIQUE WAY.

Jesus was a child of God in a unique way.

He called God, “My Father.”

And no one else in the Bible had ever done before.

Jesus at age twelve understood Who He really was in a profound way.

He understood Himself to be the Son of God.

Not just A Son of God but THE Son of God.

God was to Him, “My Father.”

And that’s actually the most amazing thing in these 30 verses.

Not Simeon. Not his prophecy of salvation and division and pain.
Not Anna. Not her proclamation of redemption in Jesus.
Not even Jesus’ wisdom and grace exhibited among the teachers of Israel.

But Jesus’ own understanding of His identity–The Son of God in a unique way.

“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s House?”

This is where I belong.

I have to be about My Father’s business.

I am the Son of God.

Wow!

What do you do with that?

Mary and Joseph didn’t know what to do with it. V.50

“But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Did you notice all of the responses to Jesus throughout this chapter?

Most of them are “marveling” (v.33), being “amazed” (v.47), being “astonished” (v.48).

Jesus is astonishing.

But there is also Mary’s “treasur[ing] all these things in her heart” (v.51).

Mary didn’t get it all, but she was trying. She was pondering. She was meditating and chewing on this.

Who is this child I have given birth to?

What did that angel mean when he came to me in Nazareth?

This is one special child!

A child of promise and salvation. For all who trust in Him.

But also a child of division and pain. He parts all people into 2 groups: for or against. And it hurts sometimes to be belong to Him.

A child of wisdom and grace. Growing like no one ever did.

A child of God?! He calls God, “My father.” And He obeys us, but He really obeys Him!

Who is this very special child?

Do you know this Jesus?

Are you astonished by this Jesus?

Are you following this Jesus?

Do you love this Jesus?

I think it’s amazing that this last story took place at the Passover.

You know what the Passover feast symbolized don’t you?

When the angel of death passed-over those Israelites whose doors were bloody with the blood of a blameless lamb.

Twelve year old Jesus would have been there in Jerusalem when Joseph slit the throat of a little lamb and they all celebrated the bloody salvation that God had provided for His people.

And it was then that Jesus stayed back and talked theology with the teachers in the temple.

He knew. I wouldn’t be surprised if He knew then what was coming in just a few decades.

The cross.

“Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”

I am glad He was.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Talking About the Weather

...is a great idea.

Good insights--I've definitely experienced it, but never put words to it before.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Audio for Luke

I'm going to try to remember to post links to the audio for Matt's Messages.

Here is Luke, so far:

1. Certain of Jesus

2. The 'Back-Story' of Jesus

3. The Birth of Jesus

To listen, click on "Launch Jukebox." (You can also subscribe to the feed to get them automatically or download them to listen to them later.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

All in a Day's Work

Thanks to some great friends who loaned us a log splitter, some other great friends who serviced the splitter, some great kids who helped on Monday, and a great day who worked all day long helping to cut, split, and stack wood--we got a lot of wood ready for the winter.

Pile to Cut - BEFORE



The Pile Left to Cut - AFTER


The Pile to Split - BEFORE



The Pile to Split - AFTER


The Burnable Pile - BEFORE


The Burnable Pile - AFTER


Hooray!

Thank you to everyone who helped.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "The Birth of Jesus"

“The Birth of Jesus”
Certain of Jesus - The Gospel of Luke
September 20, 2009
Luke 2:1-21

These are some of the most famous verses in the whole Bible–ranking up there with John 3:16 and Genesis 1:1!

In my mind, I can hear Linus with his little blue security blanket reciting these words on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Can you?

We read them every December, multiple times, especially on Christmas Eve. This is one of those passages that we love to hear read in the King James Version, because it is so beautiful and familiar.

I’m going to read it today in the NIV, not because it’s a better translation, but I don’t want us to be familiar with it today. I want us to experience it anew.

There is no way that most of us can truly pretend that we’ve never read this one before. It’s just ingrained in us.

But let’s, at least, ask God to help us to hear it with fresh ears and open hearts.

Because this is the story of the “The Birth of Jesus.” Dr. Luke, in writing in his gospel, has the purpose of assuring us of the certainty of the things we have been taught about Jesus.

Luke has done his homework, as a good historian, and has compiled an orderly account of Jesus’ life and ministry and shared it with us.

Last week, we got a bit of the amazing “back-story” of Jesus. How his relative John’s, birth was pre-announced to his father Zechariah. How His birth was similarly pre-announced by an angel [!] to His mother–Mary. And how the two babies met in-utero and John jumped for joy! And how Mary and Zechariah felt and what they thought when these two babies were announced.

John has been born and named, as predicted.

Now, it’s time for Jesus.

As we go through verses 1 through 21, we’re going to stop along the way, and pick up 3 major themes that I want to apply to our lives today.

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Now, this little paragraph or so is pretty amazing just by itself, but it doesn’t seem that way at first blush.

When you first read it, it sounds kind of blase, like just a fragment of news or history.

Caesar Augustus, yada, yada, yada, Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethelehem, yada, yada, yada, pledged to be married, expecting a child.

{Not to mention what we learned in the last chapter, that this child was conceived supernaturally! Mary not just pledged to be married but was still a virgin and was expecting a child!}

But when you read these verses just by themselves, it sounds kind of like just a fragment of history.

And that’s the first theme I want to emphasize this morning: HISTORY.

This IS history.

This happened.

This is not a fairy tale. Not a myth. Not a made-up story. Not a movie.

This IS history.

There WAS a Roman Ruler called Caesar Augustus. His other named was Octavious. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Ceasar. And he was a fierce fighter who won the Roman rule away from Mark Antony (the man who was mixed up with Cleopatra) and was named by the Roman Senate: “Augustus,” meaning “Revered” or “Holy.” He was a considered something of a god by the Romans.

Caesar Augustus really existed, and Luke is careful to situate his account in history by using the reign of Caesar Augustus to date his story. More than that, there was a governor, under Augustus named Quirinius who was governor of Syria. This is history.

And, according to Luke, during these days, Caesar Augustus made a law that called for a census of the entire Roman world. Everyone was to be counted. Everyone was to be registered for tax purposes. This is history.

This really happened.

Many people think that Christianity is just a bunch of stories. It’s a bunch of fairy tales, like the Brother Grimms’ fairy tales to teach us morality–how to live.

Many people think that Christianity is not historical.

I had someone say that to me just a couple of weeks ago.

I post these sermons on my blog (my personal website), and a man named Cameron Reily left a comment on the first message in this series. In that message, if you remember, I said that Luke was a capable historian and was writing so that we can be certain of Jesus.

But Cameron was hostile to this message.

This is what Cameron said:
Sorry Matt, we can't be certain at all. Who was "Luke"? We don't even know. We don't know anything about him, including his name, and therefore we know nothing about his credibility or the veracity of his information. What we do know, however, is that much of what's contained in "Luke" is copied out of Mark and the Q Source, therefore the author's claims to being a historian are completely dubious.

The facts are that there is no evidence to verify whether or not the Jesus of the gospels existed or not. Not a single eyewitness or contemporary account. Just some myths passed down amongst uneducated peasants living in Palestine thousands of years ago. Hardly historical.
I really appreciate Cameron’s honesty and willingness to interact with these ideas.

But I thoroughly disagree. I believe that what we are talking about here is not myth but genuine history.

Here’s how I responded to Cameron. I wrote:

Cameron,

Welcome to Hot Orthodoxy! It's good to have you drop in and comment.

Are you open to other ways of looking at the evidence or are you stuck in just believing what folks have told you?

If you are open minded, I'd suggest reading this article by Craig Blomberg: Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters.

I think that Luke is very up-front that he isn't an eyewitness but that he's done his homework.

And he's up-front that he has used sources. All historians use sources. And in the ancient world, directly copying sources was a legitimate way of doing history. Plagiarism wasn't an issue.

I also think that Luke can be identified by the "we" sections of his second volume: Acts.

By your standards, I'm not sure we can know anything about Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. History in the ancient world was done differently than now. Not necessarily worse, just different.

I believe that in John's and Matthew's gospels, we have eyewitness accounts and in Mark's and Luke's we have well researched firsthand sources.

And these "uneducated peasants" were willing to die for what they were writing. That gives them lots of credibility in my book.

If you're willing to really do some hard thinking about these issues, I'd be willing to buy and ship to you a copy of either The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg or Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts.

Just tell me that you'll read them with an open mind and give me an address: [hotorthodoxy AT lansefree DOT org].

Christians have nothing to hide when it comes the historicity of the biblical Jesus.

And non-Christians have everything to gain.

Let’s be praying for an open mind for Cameron.

Because what we’re dealing with here is history.

And if this TRUE history, then these are some of the most important events that have ever occurred since the beginning of time!

History.

Now, before we move on, I want you to think about one other aspect of history.

And that is that God bends history to His plan.

Where should the Messiah of Israel be born? What do the prophecies say?

Bethlehem, right? Where do we find that in the Old Testament?

Micah 5:2. “...you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

Now, where do Mary and Joseph live? Nazareth. How far is that from Bethlehem?

It’s about 80 miles. In that region, that’s like half-way across the country.

Now, how is God going to get Jesus born in Bethlehem? What’s he going to do?

He’s going to use Caesar Augustus in Rome! And He’s going to use a tax census that affects the entire Roman World just to make sure that Jesus makes it to Bethlehem.

Now, who’s in control of history? Caesar or the LORD?

The Lord bends history to His plans.

Okay. Joseph and Mary make their way down to Bethlehem. Even though he is a poor man from Nowheresville, Joseph (and probably Mary, too) is a direct descendent of King David. And so, he has to go to “Davidstown” to register for the tax census.

80 miles. We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there is no donkey mentioned. Perhaps Mary had to walk those 80 miles, very pregnant, very uncomfortable.

And when they got there, there was no place to stay.

No rentals. No hotels, no motels, no inn with a room.

There isn’t anything here about a stable, either. There might not have even been a stable, a shelter of any kind. And Mary had to deliver her baby. It was time. V.6 puts it very plainly.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Here’s our second theme for today: HUMILITY.

This is another “Yikes” passage when you really think about it.

Mary had been told by no less than the Angel Gabriel that she would be carrying the Son of the Most High God.

She might have been forgiven for thinking that her life was going to be easy from here on out!

It’s time for ivory palaces and refined living! God’s son is coming! Build me a mansion!

But instead of she walks 80 miles and then gives birth out back somewhere.

And there is no cradle.

She wipes off the birth stuff with some linen cloths and wraps him up and puts him in the feeding trough for the animals!

You don’t get any lower than this!

Humility.

How low can you go?

Last week, we heard Mary sing about humility and we were encouraged to humble ourselves to receive mercy from God.

Well, God Himself is not afraid to be humble!

God’s Son didn’t consider equality with God something to be held onto but emptied Himself and became a servant.

He became a man.

He descended from Highest Heaven and came down to be a humble baby.

Born in the humblest of circumstances.

Isn’t this amazing?

God in flesh. That’s amazing.

God in flesh in a feeding trough is truly unbelievable!

Humility.

If God, who has everything going for Himself, can be humble, how much more can you and I be humble?

Are you and I cultivating humility?

There was another group of people had much to be humble about. They were shepherds.

Shepherds were just a rung higher than lepers on the social ladder of Israel at this time. They were often shifty and untrustworthy, rough and tumble, and they smelled like sheep. Peee-uuuu.

They were living nearby at this point out in the fields with their flocks.

We don’t know what time of year this was. There is nothing in the text to indicate that was December. We don’t know the date. December 25th was just a date that Christians chose along the way (4th century) to have a celebration of Jesus’ birth.

So, it could be today just as likely as it would be December 25th. We don’t know.

So, we don’t know if it was cold and wintery out there, but we do know that it was dark. And that the shepherds weren’t expecting what was about to happen to them! V.8

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

Yeah! I like the King James here, “They were sore afraid.” They were so scared that it hurt!

Notice that almost every time an angel shows up in the Bible, the first thing they have to say is “Do not be afraid!”

These are scarey beings!

It’s night time and it dark and black and then all of a sudden the glory of the Lord shone around these...shepherds?!!

These aren’t cute little kids in bathrobes.

These are the real deal. Real shepherds. And real ANGELS! V.10

“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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ [of all places!] Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

Yikes! Wow!

There’s a whole army of angels. When it says, “heavenly host” that’s what it means. An army of angels.

How many people can Beaver Stadium hold? Is it over 100,000?

Imagine if all of those people were angels, bright shining burning beings?

And they all of a sudden appeared and spoke together (it says “said” in verse 13, not sang, though I don’t doubt that it was beautiful as music).

Together this angelic army said, “Glory to God in the highest, and onearth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Glory to God and peace to men because of this baby born in Bethlehem.

Wow!

One pastor said that this was probably the greatest manifestation of God’s glory on earth since the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. I think he’s right!

Can you imagine?

I think that just highlights the humility.

The angels can’t even help showing up and showing some glory when the Son of God becomes a humble baby in Bethlehem.

Now, the third and last key theme that I want to emphasize here is IDENTITY.

History.
Humility.
And IDENTITY.

Who is this baby?

Who is this humble that He’s laid to rest in a manger?

And yet...

Who gets this kind of a demonstration when He gets born?

Who is this baby?

The angel said it in verse 11.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news [gospel] of great joy [mega 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.”

There are three identity markers there in verse 11.

#1. A Savior.
#2. The Messiah.
#3. The Lord.


First, a savior. This baby has come for a purpose. He hasn’t come for himself–just to see what it’s like to be a human.

He hasn’t come just to be a teacher, though He will teach the most important things.

He hasn’t come just to be an example, though He will give us the best example imaginable.

He has come to SAVE.

And not just salvation from Roman or salvation from Israel’s earthly enemies.

This baby has come to bring full salvation. Salvation from Sin!

And He’s going to do it through His sacrificial death on the Cross.

You want to see humility?

I was wrong when I said that you can’t get lower than this.

This was the not the lowest day of this baby’s life.

He was born in humble circumstances.

But He died in the lowest of low. Crucified between two bad guys.

But in doing that, He purchased our salvation.

Good news of great joy!

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior?

I invite you to trust Him today.

Savior. Christ or “Messiah” is the Hebrew way of saying it. That’s His identity.

This means that this baby boy was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises of a Messiah who would rescue God’s people.

Everything God had promised was bound up in this baby boy.

Everything that Mary and Zechariah had sung about was bound up in this baby boy.

Can you imagine? This little guy, smaller than any baby here, was the fulfillment of all of those promises.

Again, do you know the promises of God? This book is full of them. And they are what we live on! Promises are like fuel.

Yesterday, I was running a log-splitter. Drew and I are trying to get some wood ready for the winter. And in the middle of splitting a good sized log, the thing just up and quit on me.

And you know what I thought–I’m out of fuel.

And guess what? I was right! I got that one right.

All it needed was some gas in the tank, and it was back at it.

Are you sputtering and spitting and stopping?

God’s promises are fuel in our tank. They keep us going. And they are all bound up in Jesus.

Messiah–Christ. That’s His identity. And one more: Lord.
That means Boss. That means King. That means the one in charge.

Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to offer suggestions.

He comes in to take over.

And it’s grand. It’s good news of great joy that He’s the King.

But He is the King.

Are you following the King?

Here’s His identity: A Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Do you know that this is the only place in the whole Bible where these three titles all come together in one verse? It is.

This is who He is: A Savior who is Christ the Lord. V.15

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger [of all places!]. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 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.”

That’s His identity: Jesus.

Now, what should we do about this passage this week?

What is our last word of application?

Let’s remind ourselves of the themes we’ve talked about this morning.

First, History. This stuff is real. Caesar August is real. Quirinius is real. Joseph and Mary are real. The angels were real! The shepherds were real!

They were eyewitnesses! And they told people all of what they had heard and seen.

This stuff is history.

You have to take that into account.

If you are not yet certain of Jesus, I challenge you to look deeper into these accounts. And then act accordingly!

Second, Humility.

We should marvel at our Lord’s humility. V.18 says that everyone who heard about the child in the feeding trough who was the Messiah to come was amazed. The King James says that they “wondered” at it.

But v.19 says that Mary (humble Mary) “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Mary will have a lot of pondering to do. We’ll see that again next week.

Have you pondered on these things, yourself?

Have you meditated on the humility of our Lord?

I think that when we see His humility, there is call for us to put on humility, as well.

And thirdly, Identity. His name is now Jesus (just like the angel said) and He is a Savior, the Messiah (the Christ), the Lord!

Have you received Him as Savior?
Trusted in Him as Messiah?
And follow Him as Lord?

His identity makes all of the difference, doesn’t it?

We know what Child Is This!

And, like the shepherds, we need to get the word out.

The shepherds couldn’t hold it in. V.17 says that they “spread the word.”

Who are you going to talk to about Jesus this week?

Who are you going to invite to the concert on the 2nd?

How are you going to spread the word about Jesus?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Math

The latest issue of EFCA Today has hit the stands. It's on church & ministry in the struggling economy. Many good thoughts here.

When I found out that EFCA-T was doing this issue, it was one of the impetuses for preaching the In God We Trust series this last Summer.

In this issue, I have a short book review of Groundswell: Winning In a World Transformed by Social Technologies. The book review is on pg. 22 of the .pdf.

High Signs

I just discovered a great new EFCA-related blog by communications expert Donna Jump.

It's called High Signs and it's all about EFCA happenings--especially news stories.

So much "news" out there is negative. High Signs is clearly positive and encouraging!

Check it out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

He Was Robbed...

...but he wasn't robbing.

And 3 other things Byron "Dash" Harvey is praising God for after experiencing a burglary.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "The 'Back-Story' of Jesus"

“The ‘Back-Story’ of Jesus”
The Gospel of Luke
September 13, 2009
Luke 1:5-80

Last week, we looked at just 4 verses. Luke 1:1-4. Today, we’re going to look at 76 verses! Luke 1:5-80, to the end of the chapter.

There is a lot here, and we could slow down and spend a month or so, relishing each paragraph–but I think that we’ll get the story better here if we take some big chunks together.

Last week, we learned Dr. Luke’s purpose for writing his gospel–that we would be CERTAIN of Jesus. Verse 4, “[I write] so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

And then he gets started right away in verse 5 telling the story.

We started our worship this morning with “Tell Me the Story of Jesus...Write on my heart every word.”

And that’s my prayer for us as we dive into this chapter.

Actually, this is kind of the story before the story, isn’t it? The story of Jesus doesn’t begin with Caesar Augustus and his census decree, does it?

Well, that’s not where Luke begins.

Fiction writers have a category that they call the “back-story” which is “the history behind the situation at the start of the main story."

Luke 1 is Luke’s version of Jesus’ “back-story.”

What I want us to do this morning is to simply read down through the chapter and try to capture in our minds and hearts what was going on.

These are very familiar words. And familiarity can breed not just contempt but blindness.

We can be so familiar that we can’t see what is really there.

So, let’s (to the best of our ability) try to read these words like it was the first time we have ever read them. I’ll stop along the way and try to help us feel and understand what Luke is trying to get across.

And then, when we’ve read the whole chapter, I have 3 quick lessons about God that I want to apply to our lives.

Luke 1, verse 5. Luke begins with the historical setting.

“In the time of Herod king of Judea [note: King Herod reigned from 37BC to 4BC. This story takes place then...] there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.”

We’re introduced first to a couple who was blameless but barren. Godly but no offspring. Priestly folks who lived out their faith but had no progeny.

And immediately, those who have read their Old Testaments are supposed to get excited!

Ooh! Ooh! Who does this remind you of?

Abraham and Sarah? Yeah. The parents of Isaac?
Manoah and his wife? Yeah. The parents of Samson?
Hannah? Yeah. The mother of Samuel?

God’s up to something again.

But that’s not how it seems to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are faithful believers in YHWH and try to live out their faith.

But life has been pretty disappointing for them. And they are not young.

Life has been disappointing for Israel for more than 400 years. There have been no prophets in Israel that have declared the word of the Lord.

God has been silent.

But the biggest day of Zechariah’s life has come. He has been randomly chosen to offer the daily incense at the temple. It’s a once in a life-time occurrence for a Hebrew priest.

And I’m sure that Zechariah was excited. This was the biggest day of his life.

But he didn’t know just how big it was going to be! V.8

“Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord [into the Holy Place] and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”

This incense was a symbol of intercessory prayers wafting up from God’s people to God’s presence.

I used to think that Zechariah was in the Holy of Holies, but that was something that only the High Priest did and that only once a year. This was the daily incense offering offered both morning and evening. But there were so many priests (at least 8,000 upwards to 18,000) in those days that they took turns serving and only a few got randomly chosen to offer this incense.

Do you think that God is sovereign over little things like random choices? V.11

Right “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.”

Yeah! Can you imagine?

When I’m studying for sermons, I print out the passage that we’re studying and mark it all up. And I don’t know how many times I wrote the words, “Yikes!” in the margins of my notes in this chapter!

I almost titled this message, “Yikes!”

It’s amazing that Zechariah didn’t have a heart attack.

“[A]n angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”

Wow! Yikes! What a message!

Zechariah’s prayers have been heard. Now, I think that includes prayers for a child.

But I think it’s more than that. I think that Zechariah has been praying for Israel. That’s what this incense he’s burning stands for.

God has heard his prayers and is giving him the answer. A son. And more than a son. A son who will be “great in the sight of the Lord...filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth[!]”

And he’s going to have a ministry of repentance and reconciliation. People are going to turn from their sins and turn towards each other.

And they’ll be getting ready for something even greater–for the Lord Himself.

How do you respond to a message like that? V.18

“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’”

Wrong answer. V.19

“The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. [When God’s angel gives you a message–you believe him!] And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.’ [Zechariah will be silent like God has been silent for 400 years.] Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home.”

God is up to something. Something BIG! V.24

“After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’”

God is keeping His promise.

But that’s not all He’s doing.

This angel, Gabriel, mentioned only here and in Daniel chapters 8 and 9, has one other mission.

Gabriel has one other baby to announce. V.26

“In the sixth month [the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy], God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, [in the middle of nowhere! More nowhere than Pinchatoulie!] to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. [A young lady, maybe as young as twelve. Betrothed but not yet married. More than engaged not yet living together. Gabriel comes to visit HER???!!!] The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’

Yikes!

I mean, you might expect to meet God in the temple, but what is an angel doing in “the sticks?” And talking to this young lady?

What’s going on? V.29

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. [Yeah!] But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. [Not, you’re full of grace to dispense to others, but that God wants to give you grace. Wants to pour out his special favor on you. Listen...” You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’”

Yikes! What? What’s going to happen?

Me? Here?

All of the promises of God in the Old Testament are going to be fulfilled in a baby boy that I’m going to carry? ... How?

“How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ [I can’t have a baby. I’m not even married yet.] The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’

Yikes! Can you imagine?

We’ve heard these words so many times. But it’s almost unbelievable, when you think about it.

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. ...

Mary asked, “how can this be?” but she must have had more faith than Zechariah. She just wanted the details.

And she didn’t really get an explanation. Just that God would do it. And that nothing was impossible with God.

Do you need to be reminded of that today? “Nothing is impossible with God?”

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. How would you respond? V.38

“‘I am the Lord's servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”

Good answer! Mary has faith.

A lot of people make too much of Mary. They want to make her into all kinds of things that she’s not.

But she is this–she is one of God’s servants who truly believed.

She’s a beautiful example of the faith that we should have.

“You said it, Lord? Okay. Count me in.”

She couldn’t begin to understand what she was getting into! But she knew and trust God. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Now, these two stories of very unexpected pregnancies begin to come together. V.39

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. [Have I got news for you!] When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. [Jesus is probably just a zygote right now. And John is at six months gestation. And he goes wild! And then Elizabeth calls out in a loud voice. Catch this. V.42] In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’”

Wow! I should have named this sermon, “Wow!”

Elizabeth gets it. She knows the score. Her son is going to be great in the sight of the Lord. And Mary’s son is going to be her Lord!

And how blessed is the she (or anyone) who believes what the Lord has said will be accomplished.

Do you believe?

Then this story gets lyrical. Mary breaks out in song.

I don’t think that this was some kind of a first century dramatic musical like “Les Mis.”

I think that this is kind of thing that Mary felt and said and then probably took time to write out in full for Luke’s records.

Mary’s song (verses 46-55) is like a New Testament psalm of praise to God and wonder at the amazing turnarounds that God is bringing about in Jesus. V.46

“And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior [notice that Mary needs a Savior, too. And she has one!], for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’”

Back in 2003, I preached on Mary’s Song. It’s often called “The Magnificat” from the first few words of the Latin version.

It’s beautiful, and I’d love to talk about it more. But for now, I just want you to notice how much she praises God for turning things upside down.

“[H]e has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

God is turning everything upside down. Mary ought to know!

She’s part of “the humble” that God is lifting up.

It’s time for John to be born. V.56

“Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ [I love this part!] They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ [Isn’t it going to be big Zech and little Zech Junior?] Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. [Apparently, Zechariah was dumb and deaf. He was totally silent and they had to use sign language to speak to him.] He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ [He did believe.] Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. [Wow!] The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord's hand was with him.”

Zechariah knows what this child was going to be. And so, he composed his song. The Latin name for it is the Benedictus, but I like just call it Zechariah’s song (v.67):

“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us– to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child [John!], will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”

Wow! Isn’t that beautiful language?

“The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

This is a song of salvation, isn’t it?

Salvation by the Davidic King.
Salvation promised from long ago.
Salvation from our enemies.
Salvation that issues into service.
Salvation that comes from the forgiveness of sins.
Salvation that comes from the tender mercy of God.
Salvation that is made known through the ministry of Jesus’ forerunner–John.

And here’s how Jesus’ back-story concludes in chapter 1.

“And the child [John] grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”

We’ll meet him again in chapter 3.

He does just what his daddy said he would do.

Now, let’s try to summarize some of this with three brief points.

#1. GOD RESISTS THE PROUD BUT GIVES MERCY TO THE HUMBLE.

I think that’s clear in this story, isn’t it? That’s a big part of what Mary’s Song is all about.

And it’s clear in her story and Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s.

These were humble people. Humble in circumstance and humble in faith.

And God was good to them. He gives them mercy.

I love that word “mercy.”

Do you need mercy?

Mercy is all over this chapter!

And it’s for the humble. Not the proud.

Herod is proud. We haven’t really met him yet, but he’s going to figure into the story pretty soon. He won’t get God’s mercy.

Mary’s song basically says that God opposes the proud (Peter and James do say it that way in their letters!).

God opposes the proud. Yikes!

I don’t want to be that!

But so often I am.

This last week, there was one night that I could hardly sleep because I realized that I had been very proud that day–and I was experiencing the opposition of God.

It was his discipline on me. Kind of like his discipline with Zechariah.

Are you proud or are you humble?

Mary said, “[God] has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts...but has lifted up the humble.”

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.

#2. GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS PROMISES.

That one shouldn’t surprise you, if you’ve been around here for awhile!

Remember all those promises that God gave to Abraham?

God does! God remembers them. Both Mary and Zechariah mention Abraham.

God may have been silent for 400 years, but He hasn’t been failing!

He has been sovereignly working His plan to keep His promises.

Down to who does the prayer of incense on a specific day!

God promised Zechariah a son.

Zechariah got a son.

God promised Mary a son.

Mary will get a son.

God promised that Zechariah’s son would be great and turn people back to God and to each other in harmony.

It’s going to happen.

God promised a Messiah that would rescue Israel and Kingdom that would never end.

It’s going to happen!

“Nothing is impossible with God!”

Believe it. Believe His promises.

Do you know His promises?

Do you know what He’s said He would do?

He’s got “great and precious promises” in this Bible for us. And they’re all true. And they’re all “Yes!” in Christ.

And nothing is impossible with God.

Do you need to hear that today? I do.

“Nothing is impossible with God.”

#3. GOD SENDS SALVATION IN JESUS.

That’s what this whole “back-story” is all about, isn’t it?

Jesus is coming. And Jesus is bringing salvation.

That’s the message of Zechariah’s song!

Once his tongue got loosed, he couldn’t stop singing about God’s salvation that’s on the way.

And his own son would run forward with the news. V.76 again.

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him...” [That’s right out of Isaiah 40!]

“...to give his people the knowledge of SALVATION [how?] through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God.”

Now, Zechariah didn’t know about the Cross. But that’s how this was fulfilled.

John is coming to say that Jesus is coming. And Jesus is coming to bring forgiveness of sins because of the tender mercy of God.

Do you know the tender mercy of God?
Do you have forgiveness of your sins?
Are you saved?

The “rising sun” has come to us “from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death”–that’s us!–“to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Turn from your sin and trust in the Savior.

May the rising Sun of Jesus shine salvation on you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Big Mo

T.J. Addington on Ministry Motivation.

I've been struggling recently with the "Big Mo," and this was helpful to me today.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Finishing Romans & the Trouble with Rubble

Byron "Dash" Harvey has just finished a year long trek through Romans.

Now, he's heading into Nehemiah. Good stuff!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What Are You Reading?

"What are you reading?" is one my favorite questions to ask growing Christians. It almost always gives me a picture of their inner world.

Here's my current and active reading list (not counting all of the books I've read the first chapter of but are languishing somewhere for a long time untouched):

Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller

I just wrote a book review of this for EFCA Today, and our church's link groups have been reading and discussing it together. I'm on my third time through. Awesome book!

Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns

The gracious and friendly Chris Brauns sent me a free copy of his great little book. I just dived in today and made it four chapters in one breath. Good stuff.

What Some Of You Were ed. by Christopher Keane

This is one I've had awhile, and I'm trying to catch up on it. It's stories of those who are growing out of unhealthy sexuality including homosexuality and lesbianism. It's from Matthias Media and all of the stories are from "down-under," but it's encouraging to read for people everywhere.

Come Back, Barbara by John C. Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani

I've wanted to read this one for some time. It's about a young woman who left the faith and her family and the family's missteps and faithsteps to see her return. I've been wanting to understand rebellion better and how to love families with wayward children. It's a good companion to a book I just finished: Get Outta My Face.

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

In Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson

American Indian Prayer Guide by Danette Maloof & Dean Cozzens

These three are for our homeschool. We're studying America this year in history/culture. Johnny Tremain is a lot of fun. I remember Mom reading it to us in the car on family vacations when I was a kid. It's historical fiction about a boy in Boston around the time of the Boston Tea Party and the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Exciting!

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

I have to take a test on Reformed Theology for my D.Min studies at Westminster. They say that if you know the material in Berkhof, then you're good to go for the test. Whoof. That's big book with small type!

For the Love of God Vol 1, By D.A. Carson

The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Study Bible) (Most important of all!)

As I've written before, I'm on a year-long trek through these books, bit by bit. I'm pretty much up-to-date with my readings, even though it's been a busy Summer.

What are you reading?

*****************

Update: I was telling Heather about this post, and I remembered some books I'm reading that I'd forgotten:

I'm also reading A Fine and Pleasant Misery by outdoor humorist Patrick McManus, Pastoring Men by Patrick Morley, and commentaries on the Gospel of Luke by Darrel Bock, R. Kent Hughes, and Leon Morris.

There may be more, but those are the main ones right now.

[Matt's Messages] "Certain Of Jesus"

“Certain of Jesus”
The Gospel of Luke
September 6, 2009
Luke 1:1-4

It is a real pleasure to get to open the Word of God with you again this morning.

I enjoyed going away for the last two weeks in August and studying biblical counseling intensely with a top-notch faculty and a class of students with class, but an even greater pleasure is getting to be back with my family, my church family, and open the Word of God with you. This is my calling in life and one of my greatest joys.

If you are interested in hearing about what I’ve been learning in my classes, I invite you to come to Sunday School next Sunday morning at 9am in the Fellowship Hall. I’ll be sharing some of the things I’m picking up in my classes. I’d love for you to come and hear.

Today, we begin a new sermon series in the biggest book in the New Testament. Did you know that? The Gospel of Luke is the biggest, longest book in the New Testament. It’s the longest gospel, with about 50% more information in it than the other three gospels–50% of information that the other gospels do not include. So it’s the biggest of the gospels.

In my ministry here over the last decade or so, I’ve preached through both the gospels of Mark and John. And now, we’re going to tackle the big one–the Gospel of Luke.

I forsee this series running about a year in length–maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. We’ll take breaks from it around holidays and if the Spirit leads at other times, but I would recommend that you put a bookmark here in Luke and read it in your quiet times, because, as a church, we’re going to marinate in Luke for some time.

And then, my plan is for us to study Luke’s sequel.

Luke’s gospel is the only gospel in the Bible that has a sequel. “Luke, Vol 2.” “Luke 2: The Church Strikes Back!”

What is Luke’s sequel? The Book of Acts.

Dr. Luke wrote two books in our Bible, “The Gospel According to Luke” and “The Acts of the Apostles” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” (it’s both!).

And I’m planning for us to just go through one and then through the other.

So, this is a long term preaching plan. At least a year and half, perhaps two or more.

Why?

Why tackle these books together?

Why read Luke?

Let’s let Luke answer that question. Let’s read verses 1 through 4 of his gospel.

These four verses are actually one long run-on sentence in Greek. Luke was a physician, a very educated man in the Greco-Roman world, and he wrote some of the “best” Greek sentences in ancient history. He knows the language. He knows how to use it.

And he crafted this sentence as the purpose statement of his gospel. Let’s see why he wrote it and why we should read it and take it to heart. Luke 1, 1 through 4.

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Our message title this morning comes from verse 4 when Luke makes his purpose crystal clear.

He says that he wrote all of this, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Our title is “Certain of Jesus.”

The word translated “certainty” in the NIV is placed last in Luke’s first sentence.

In Greek, the word order is up for grabs. They don’t always place their words in the same order like we do. Subject then verb then object, etc. There are tags on the words to let you know which one is the subject, which one is the verb, which one is the object, and so on. And so, word order can often be used for other purposes.

One thing Greek does (and German is like this, too) is, sometimes, a writer will put a word out of order and at the end of the sentence to emphasize it. We would put it in 40 point font and underline and italicize it.

That’s what Luke has done here.

He wants his reader(s) to read his gospel so that they “may know the CERTAINTY of the things [they] have been taught.”

Luke’s goal is certainty. It is assurance. It is knowing the exact truth.

Luke wants his readers to know what they know and to know that they know it.

Certainty.

And I want that for you and for me.

Do you want certainty?

Let’s study Luke together.

Let’s see what kind of things Luke wants us know for certain.

#1. CERTAIN OF THE HISTORY OF JESUS.

Luke might have been a doctor by vocation, but his main contribution to Christianity was being a great historian.

Notice that Luke intends to write an “orderly account” in his gospel.

And even though he wasn’t there for Jesus’ life and ministry (it appears that Luke was a Gentile convert who came to Christ after Pentecost...even though he wasn’t there for Jesus’ life and ministry), he has done his homework!

He says that others have written down historical accounts. Luke has studied them all.

Perhaps that includes the Gospel of Mark which appears to have been written first of all of the gospels.

But it’s in the plural here. Luke, a great historian does, has gathered all of the accounts and studied them out for historical accuracy.

But it’s not just written accounts. Luke has gone (v.2) to the “eyewitnesses.”

Luke has talked with the apostles.

I believe Luke has interviewed Mary, the Mother of Jesus. How else would he know all about her song in verses 46-55? How else would he know about how she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” in chapter 2, verse 19?

Luke has done a masterful job of collecting the history of Jesus and presenting it to us.

Have you ever wondered about the historicity of Jesus? Do we know really know who He is and what He did?

Luke is a sure guide.

Let me recommend some books for you if you have questions about the historicity of Jesus.

This is an easy to read book that we just got into our brand new re-opened library: “Can We Trust the Gospels?” Mark D. Roberts. The answer is “Yes,” but read the book to be convinced.

This one is in my library, but you’re welcome to borrow it, “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” by Craig Blomberg. This book leaves no stone unturned in investigating how reliable Luke and his comprades are in presenting us with certainy of the history of Jesus. I have a short paper by Blomberg that I can give to you that summarizes the whole book in just 29 pages, too, if that would be helpful to you.

And one more, an older book, also in my library: “Luke: Historian and Theologian” by I. Howard Marshall. This is a book just on Luke and historical method.

Here’s the point: Luke has written an accurate history of Jesus that will help us to be certain of who He is and what He has done.

Luke wrote this orderly account for someone named “Theophilus.” We don’t know anything more about Theophilus except that Luke also wrote the book of Acts for him.

Luke calls him, “most excellent Theophilus” which may mean that he was an official of some kind. He has a Greek name. He was probably a Gentile. And he has been taught the history of Jesus in some form. Now, Luke is filling out his education and assuring him that the facts are true.

Jesus is true.
Jesus death is true.
Jesus resurrection is true.

And you be certain of it, Theophilus.

Perhaps Theophilus was funding the publishing of this gospel. I think that’s likely. That Theophilus wanted to get the gospel out and was paying for Luke’s time and the copying and distribution of Luke’s gospel.

So that others might be certain of the history of Jesus.

Does that interest you?

I like to know the details.

I like to know what happened.

Now, Luke doesn’t necessarily present everything in a chronological order. Ancient historians didn’t value chronology in the same way that we Americans do.

But he is very orderly and organized in his account and there is a rhyme and a reason for every one of his editorial choices.

So, over the next year or so, we’re going to get intimately familiar with the details of the history of Jesus.

How familiar are you with the history of Jesus?

How many know the name of the donkey that Mary road from Nazareth to Bethlehem to have Jesus? Raise your hand.

That’s a trick question.

For all we know, there is no donkey!

I know that we’ve all seen pictures of a donkey carrying Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

But there is no donkey in Luke (or Matthew or Mark or John for that matter!).

What we’re going to study is what actually is in Luke.

And we’ll probably be surprised.

How well do you know the history of Jesus?

There are many people who don’t know the true history of Jesus Christ. And this is an opportunity for us to dwell on the details and soak in the story.

#2. CERTAIN OF THE PERSON OF JESUS.

The point of this history is not just to get details but to get a portrait of a person.

It’s not just to get information but to grow in relationship.

It’s not just to get information about Jesus but grow in our relationship with Jesus.

The Gospel of Luke is not just good history, it’s good theology.

It’s going to teach us who Jesus is and what He taught and how He feels about things so that we can relate to Him better.

Let me tell you some of the surprising things we will find out about Jesus.

Luke is the Gospel to the Poor and Downtrodden.

Jesus loves poor people–like we talked about last month. And you see that most clearly in this gospel.

And downtrodden people. Luke is the gospel for women. There are about a dozen women (who were often mistreated at that time) who are named in Luke that aren’t named anywhere else–and they have vital relationships with Jesus.

And Gentiles. People like us outside of the covenant God made with the Jews. Luke is the gospel for the Gentiles. We get included, too.

Jesus loves outcasts, losers, addicts, prodigals (if we didn’t have Luke, we wouldn’t have the story of the Prodigal Son that Super Jeff talked about last week).

Mary was a poor girl from a poor family in “Nowheresville!” And she is the one that will carry the Messiah to term?!

We’re going to learn that Jesus isn’t who we expect Him to be.

And it’s going to be good news to us.

Because it will shape the way that we relate to Him.

How well do you know the person of Jesus?

Come and study the gospel of Luke with us.

Be certain that you know Him!

Know what you know and know that you know HIM!

Because He’s the greatest thing in all the world.

And what He’s done is the greatest news in all the world.

#3. CERTAIN OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS.

The strangest thing about gospels is that they aren’t just biographies.

Right?

What do get when you read a biography? Most of the time.

You get a long book about the life of a person.

What do you get in the gospels?

You get a long book about the life of a person.

But what takes up about a half to a third of the gospels?

The last week.

The last few weeks.

The Passion of Jesus Christ.

The history of the person of Jesus in his last week going to the Cross and then coming back from the grave.

Most biographies don’t spend half the biography on the last week of the person.

There is something deeply important about that last week! The last 6 long chapters of Luke are dedicated to that last week.

And Jesus, in Luke, predicts that last week over and over again–and points to the meaning of that last week.

Luke is the Gospel that mentions salvation more than any other.

Are you CERTAIN of your salvation?

Do you know the Gospel?

Notice again how Luke describes his account in verse 1.

He says, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been [what?] fulfilled among us...”

“Fulfilled.”

Luke’s gospel is not just the story of nice things that happened to Jesus and nice things that Jesus said and taught.

It’s a bloody book about terrible things that happened to Jesus–for a reason–for a purpose–to fulfill something. To fulfill the promises of the Old Testament.

To fulfill the promises that Jesus makes about His own death and resurrection.

And those fulfillments are good news for sinners like you and me.

Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for our sins. So that we can be forgiven.

And He came back to life to give us new life.

Are you certain that you have that new life?

Come and study Luke with us.

Do you know the gospel?

Are you ready to share it?

Whether you are taking it up and down the Amazon like Ryan and Rachel or across the fence in your neighborhood or to the locker next to you.

Know what you know and that you know that you know it.

“So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Certain of Jesus.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Friday, September 04, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Best Resources for a Biblical/Practical Theology of Money

Here are the books, articles, and recordings that I profited the most from for our recent series of sermons on money: In God We Trust--What the Bible Says About Money.

Craig Blomberg

Book: Neither Poverty Nor Riches

The best biblical/theological treatment of the topic, running through the Scriptures with a keen eye from Genesis to Revelation.

Audio: Craig Blomberg Giving a Summary of the Book

Brian Rosner

Book: Beyond Greed

A study of the New Testament texts about greed. Very practical, helpful, insightful.

Wayne Grudem

Book: Business to the Glory of God

I never thought about this until I picked up this slender volume in a book store. Excellent beginning study of how business is GOOD and glorifies God (when done His way).

Audio: Recording of Grudem on Business

Jay Richards

Book: Money, Greed, and God

The subtitle: "How Capitalism is the Answer and Not the Problem." This one is controversial, but it is a good introduction into Christian Capitalism (not necessarily an oxymoron).

Audio: Jay Richards Summarizing Some of the "Myths" In His Book

Larry Burkett

Book: The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples

I got this one from my mother-in-law, and I'm so thankful for it! It's required reading for pre-marital counseling at our church.

Patrick Morley

Book: How to Survive the Economic Meltdown

We gave this to every Dad in our church on Father's Day. Morley (of The Man in the Mirror) is giving away free pdf's of it on his website.

Randy Alcorn

Alcorn has been cranking out great resources on money for years.

Book: The Treasure Principle

A Jabez sized book about giving.

Book: Money, Possessions, and Eternity

A longer book length study. Gets into things that I couldn't in the series. I don't always agree with Alcorn, but I love reading him.

Andreas Kostenberger and David Croteau

Article: To Tithe or Not to Tithe

Short article (condensed fruit of the other two).

Article: "Will a Man Rob God? A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments"

This article puts to rest the idea of NT tithing. Very helpful, easy to read, recommended.

Article: "Reconstructing a Biblical Model of Giving"

If we aren't to tithe, what do we do? This article suggests a theology of giving.

Mike Bullmore

Audio: "What We Should Do with Our Money?" (1 Corinthians 16)

Great sermon on giving from 1 Corinthians 16.

D.A. Carson

Article: "Are Christians Required to Tithe?"

Paul Mills

Fascinating person. Works for the IMF. Christian. Economist. Doesn't believe that the Lord wants us to lend at interest. Predicted the current financial meltdown. Very interesting.

Audio: "The Financial Meltdown: A Spiritual Diagnosis", (Q&A Session) (.pdf of slides)

Economic Papers by Dr. Mills and Others at the Jubilee Center

Interest in Interest - Fascinating Study of the History of "Interest" in Church History and an argument for non-interest loans. Ultimately, I was unpersuaded, but I also ask myself, "Who am I do disagree with this expert?"