Sunday, January 28, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Following Jesus"

“Following Jesus”
The Gospel of Matthew
January 28, 2018 :: Matthew 4:12-25 

Today is our Annual Reports and Vision meeting right after the worship service this morning, and I hope you stick around to eat and fellowship and participate.

But I know that not everyone will stay, so I’m going to “cheat” this morning and cast my vision for 2018 now, before the meeting. I have two main things to emphasize for 2018 for our church, and both of them are in our passage for today. In fact, both of them are in our first Hide the Word verse of the year, which is also in our passage in Matthew for this morning. So it’s all coming together.

This is our sixth message in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew has shared the genealogy of Jesus so that we know Who He is and where He comes from. Matthew has told us about Jesus’ miraculous birth and the meaning of His names. Matthew has informed us about the people searching for the newborn king, some searching to worship Him, some searching to try to kill Him. Matthew has described the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist, who was calling people to repent and then was asked to baptize Jesus Himself. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove and God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I loved; with him I am well pleased.”

And then Jesus was put to the test. That same Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.

And Jesus passed the test!

Where Adam had failed.
Where Israel had failed.
Where everybody had failed.

Jesus succeeded.

Using the word of God and believing the promises of God, Jesus said “No” to every temptation, and the devil had to leave Him, and angels came and attended Him.

Jesus passed the test!

And now, Jesus will begin His public ministry.

There are a number of things happened between verse 11 and verse 12 that Matthew doesn’t tell us about. Read the first few chapters of the Gospel of John and you find out that Jesus did a number of significant things before the beginning of His ministry in Galilee starting in verse 12.

All of the Gospel writers are selective. They choose which historical things they want to share with us and place them in a particular order so that we understand the theological picture that they are drawing for us in their authorized biographies of Jesus.

You can tell that some time has passed because of what Matthew says in verse 12.

“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.”

I don’t think that happened the second after Jesus was baptized or the second after Jesus was tempted. This is a little bit later in time. Perhaps up to a year. We’ll find out more about John being put in prison when we get to chapter 14.

So after spending some time in the South, Jesus now moves North. Let’s read the next few verses.

“Leaving Nazareth [His hometown], he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–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.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

The title of this message is “Following Jesus” which is what it’s all about.

Jesus calls His first full time followers, and by the end of the chapter, He has crowds and crowds of followers.

Following Jesus is what it’s all about.

And that’s what our church is all about. We are all about bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, otherwise known as “discipleship,” being a follower of Jesus Christ by faith.

And that’s what Jesus calls us to in this passage today.

Matthew begins by telling us that Jesus took up residence in Capernaum which is the northern region of Galilee.

Now, is that where the Messiah was supposed to be? Is that where the Messiah would show up and do His thing?

In chapter 2, King Herod asked the Bible scholars where the Messiah to be born. Where was that? Bethlehem. Like David.

So if He’s the Messiah, why isn’t Jesus bursting forth from Bethlehem?

Well, because that’s not the only prophecy about the Messiah that needs to be fulfilled!

Remember, “fulfilled” is one of Matthew’s favorite words! Look at verse 14.

“Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah [chapter 9, verses 1 and 2]: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–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.’”

The Messiah is here!

The King has arrived.

The fulfillment of Isaiah 9 has arrived on the scene.

I love the imagery here. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.”

The darkness of sin, the darkness of evil, the darkness of oppression. The darkness of despondency.

A now...light!

“On those living in the land of the shadow of death...a light has dawned!”


From sadness to joy. Why?

Because Isaiah 9 is being fulfilled.

Matthew quotes verses 1 and 2 of Isaiah 9. Do you know what Isaiah goes on to say just a few verses later as the reason for this joy?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

And He will reign for ever and ever!

That’s what Matthew is saying.

Matthew is seeing that Isaiah 9 is being fulfilled in Jesus.

And not just for the Jews. Did you catch that?

He’s ministering in “Galilee of the Gentiles.”

I love that. Matthew is the most “Jewish” of the gospels, but he’s always reminding the Jews that Jesus is also for the Gentiles!

The Magi to the Great Commission. Matthew reminds his readers that Jesus is for both Jew and Gentile.

For both insiders and outsiders.
For both native born and foreigners.

And that’s good news for us. Because that’s what we are.

We are transplants. We are immigrants into the promises of God.

But the light has dawned, even for us.

And Jesus begins to preach. Verse 17.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

Hmmm. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

Where have we heard that before?

John the Baptist, right?

To repent means to make a U-turn. To turn around in your thinking and your direction. To change your mind.

It’s a change of heart that leads to a change of life.

You’re going down the road in one direction and you realize that you’re going in the wrong direction, so you do a 180 and head in a new direction.

That repentance.

And it’s the first step of truly following Jesus.

Point Number One for today is simply:


And the way to begin is to repent.

You can’t go Jesus’ direction if you are just going in your own.

“Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

So near it’s here!

The kingdom is near because the King is near.

The light has dawned. The Messiah has arrived.

The kingdom is upon us.

So, repent.

Have you repented?

Have you turned from sin and turned to Jesus?

Are you repenting?

Four weeks ago, I asked you, “Of what sins do you need to repent these days? Where is the Lord working on you? What sins is He putting His finger on and asking you to confess and turn away from? ... What needs to change in your life?”

Do you remember what you said then?

Do you remember how you answered?

Have you changed?

Are you repenting?

Are you producing (like John the Baptist said, producing) fruit in keeping with repentance?

Because it’s not just John the Baptist who says that we need to do it!

It’s Jesus.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Turn your life over to the Lord and start going in His direction.

Follow Jesus.

That’s exactly what Jesus asks Peter and Andrew to do. V.18

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Two brothers, Peter and Andrew. They probably had another brother named Isaac and a sister named Robin. But Matthew left that out of the story.

They are fishermen. They are fishing. Not with poles but nets. Great big circle nets that they throw out in the water, trap a bunch of fish and pull back up into the boat.

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus had a prior relationship with these men. They had followed him before as, perhaps, part-time disciples. But they had returned to their thriving business in Fishtown, Galilee.

Yet on this fateful day, Jesus approached them and called them to give up their nets and their businesses, and come follow Him.

I think it’s great these are just “regular Joes.” They are just hard working blue collar guys, and Jesus thinks they’d make great disciples.

Notice that they don’t pick Him. He picks them.

That’s different from most Rabbi/Disciple relationships of that time period.

Normally, the disciple picked a rabbi, and hoped that the rabbi would allow them to follow him.

Here the Rabbi has picked His disciples.

“You, there. Come follow me.”

Think about what that means.

It’s a lot more than just physically following Him.

For Simon and Andrew, it meant dropping their nets, and leaving their businesses.

That’s a big deal, isn’t it?

For their friends James and John, it even meant leaving their family. Their dad. Verse 21.

“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

“And their father!”

That’s a big deal!

Following Jesus meant that (in priority at least), Jesus became their number one allegiance.

Following Jesus meant making Jesus their first commitment.

They made a break with everything to follow Jesus.

Are you a follower of Jesus?

Are you following Jesus?

One way to know is to see if you’re hanging on to your nets.

Or if there are relationships that come ahead of Jesus for you.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

The King is here.

Follow Jesus.

We use that word “follow” very lightly today.

Like, you can "follow" someone on social media.

How many “followers” to do you have?

How many people to do you “follow?”

I think it’s a fine way to use the word, but truly following Jesus is a lot more than just “liking” Him and agreeing with Him. Nodding your head at what He says.

Following Jesus means obeying Jesus as your Lord and Master.

And it means becoming like Jesus and following His example.

Following Jesus means total commitment and total attachment to His cause. To His Kingdom.

Are you following Jesus?

He’s inviting you.

“Come, follow me.” He says.

“Come get behind me. Follow in my trail. I’ll show you the path to walk.”

Notice that He doesn’t say, “Come follow my teaching.”

He could! But He doesn’t. He makes it more personal than that. “Come, follow me.”

We aren’t called to follow Christianity.  We are called to follow Christ.

Are you following Jesus?

That’s point number one of the vision I want cast for Lanse Free Church in 2018.

That we would truly be disciples.

That we would follow Jesus.

Wherever He goes. Whatever He says. Whatever He wants.

He’s the Rabbi. He’s our Leader. He’s our King.

Now, that’s going to mean personal change.

You don’t sign up to follow Jesus and then stay the way you are.

Some people think that grace means that we don’t have to change.

If you are saved by grace, they reason, it’s all free, so you are free to stay the same.

But that’s not the way it works. Abe is going to talk about that next week in his sermon. I’m going to be here listening to it. I can’t wait.

Grace changes us.

You come to Jesus as you are. You don’t have to get cleaned up first. Salvation is a free gift to sinners.

But grace changes you. When you come to Jesus, you repent. You make a U-turn, and then you follow Jesus and He changes you.

Lots of course corrections along the way. Some of them small and some of them big.

But you don’t stay the same following Jesus.

Are you following Jesus?

That’s the goal for 2018, to grow as followers of Jesus. And we’ll have to help each other get there.

You don’t follow Jesus on your own. You follow Jesus with other Jesus followers. That’s why we have a church.

Simon and Andrew and James and John now had each other. And they were going to follow Jesus in community for the rest of their lives.

Following Jesus is a team sport, and this is the team. We help each other to do it.

Let me ask you some pointed questions about following Jesus:

1. Are you repenting of sin?
2. Are you meeting with the Lord regularly?
3. Are you connecting with other believers?
4. Are you using your gifts to the serve the Lord?

Those aren’t the only questions to determine if you are following Jesus, but they are good ones.

We’re talked about repentance already. How about meeting with the Lord?

I mean reading your Bible and praying.

Not to go through the motions, but to follow Jesus.

How about connecting with other believers. Somebody knows you and how you are doing as a disciple. Are you doing that?

A link group, a class, a Bible study, a one-on-one get-together, a prayer-partner, that sort of thing?

And are you doing something with your gifts? Are you serving the Lord and His church?

Following Jesus means doing what Jesus wants you to do.

Not what I want you to do. But what Jesus calls you to do.

“‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said.”

We’re going to learn how to do that in 2018. The Gospel of Matthew will light the way.

It’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be good!

You can guess what the other main point is going to be.


Follow Jesus and fish for people to follow Jesus. V.19

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

They were fishermen. Now they are fishers of men.

They are no longer going after salmon but after souls. No longer going after minnows but after men.

Part of being a disciple is making more disciples.

Let me say that again.

Part of truly being a disciple means actively making new disciples.

And it’s not optional.

You don’t get to say, “I don’t have the gift for that. I don’t have the gift of evangelism. I’m not a people person. I’m not a talker. So count me out.”

Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I WILL MAKE YOU fishers of men.”

He’ll do it!

I would imagine that Andrew, James, and John might tried to get out of this. They were fishermen, not salesmen!  Of course, old Peter thought he could do whatever he wanted to do! He had a big mouth.

But Jesus says, “No. It’s not optional. This is what my disciples do. They fish for new disciples.”

Now, that’s going to look different for different people.

But if we aren’t fishing in some way, shape, or form, we are not being disciples!

We are not following Jesus.

Thankfully, Jesus says that He will do the work of making us fishers of men.

At least, He said it to Peter and Andrew, and I think it’s here in the gospels to give us the same idea.

He will make us people-fishers if we allow Him to.

And that’s exactly what we need to do.

And it’s what I want us to focus on in 2018. Fishing for people.

Anybody remember this fishbowl?

Ten years ago, we set out this fishbowl in the foyer and we encouraged everybody to think about whom they are praying for and hoping to talk to about Jesus.

And we put their names in this fishbowl and we committed to praying for them.

And I still carry around in my Bible the names of the people we prayed for back then.

And praise God, a number of these people have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord since we began praying for them ten years ago.

Some of them are in this room right now.

Some of them have trusted Jesus and have died already.

And some of them, we’re still praying for.

I want do it again.

Abe is our prayer coordinator for the Wild Game Dinner.

He and I are going to put this fishbowl out in the foyer with little blue cards that say, “Please pray for...” and then you put a name down. Put your name on there, too, if you would. So we know who we are praying with.

And Abe is going to get those names to prayer warriors. Our prayer meeting, our Harvest Prayer Time, myself, and other folks that are going to commit to praying for these precious people.

And we’re going to do it beyond the Wild Game Dinner.

It’s not just for the Wild Game Dinner.

It’s for anyone that you are praying for...that you want to fish for!

We’re not going just going to pray fro them. We’re going to pray for you. We’re going to pray for opportunities. And for boldness!

Following Jesus means fishing for people.

It’s God’s work, but He wants to do it through us.

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

What are we fishing with?

What is the bait?

It’s Jesus Himself.

We aren’t trying to get people to buy into the church or some philosophy or even some movement.

We are trying to get people to consider the claims of Christ and give their lives to Him and His kingdom.

Look how precious He is. V.23

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. [What a ministry!] News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”

Now, we’ll see that many y of those turned out to not be true followers.

But see how attracted they all are to Jesus.

What an amazing Person!

That’s Whom we want to introduce people to.

Jesus is the Good News.

We’ll talk about His teaching. And we’ll talk about His healing. Those will come up again and again. But look at the middle one in verse 23 again.

“Preaching the good news of the kingdom.”

The kingdom is near. The light has dawned.

And the kingdom is good.

The kingdom is good news.

Because of the good news of the King.


Previous Messages in This Series:

Saturday, January 27, 2018

My 2018 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2017

Dear Church Family,

Believe it or not, this is my twentieth annual pastoral report! What an awesome privilege it has been to be your shepherd for these last two decades. In 1998, I could hardly have imagined what the Lord would do in us and through us together. It is a great joy to be your pastor!

If I had to sum up 2017 in one word, it would be “historical.” All year long, we celebrated our 125th anniversary as a church family. Not only did we share birthday cake in February (festooned with the anniversary logo created by Ben and Jeff Schiefer!), we had a special weekend event in October where we gathered to rejoice and give thanks for God’s faithfulness to us for one hundred and twenty-five years.

At that event, our Celebration Choir sang a song about God’s love for us in Swedish, the original language of our church. We ate Swedish foods and reminisced with old friends. Then we had a wonderful program of “Memories and Milestones” where numerous people gave testimony to God’s work through the successive decades of our church’s story. Lita Houston, our church historian, presented an updated written history of the church, adding in a chronicle of the twenty five years since our centennial celebration. I’m very thankful for Lita and her team, for their good work of preserving and celebrating our rich history. That Sunday, we also were challenged and encouraged by a biblical message from EFCA President Kevin Kompelien. I am so glad that he and Becky were able to visit with us.

In my last report I said, “The best way to honor those on whose shoulders we stand is to recommit to the fundamental values that have formed and shaped us as a church for a century and a quarter. I call those values our ‘Gospel Roots.’” Each month, I preached a sermon in a recurring series that revisited our spiritual DNA.

Here’s a list of those special messages:

01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (The Gospel in the Person and Work of Christ)
02. Sing!  (Worship in Song)
03. Lost and Found (Evangelism)
04. The Church That Prays Together (Corporate Prayer)
05. Where Stands It Written? (The Authority of God’s Word)
06. The People On Your Fridge (Global Missions)
07. I'm So Glad I'm A Part (Loving Each Other in Biblical Community)
08. Not In Vain (Faithful Service)
09. It’s Our (Other) Middle Name! (Congregational Government)
10. Here We Stand (Reformation Sunday)
11. Steadfast (Trusting God Through Hard Times)
12. Ready and Waiting (Hoping in the Return of Christ)

I’m sure that we have not always lived out these values perfectly, but I believe that they accurately describe the church we have aspired to be since 1892.

The other major historical milestone of 2017 was the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. To mark that momentous occasion, I preached another major sermon series, this time, on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, a work about the truth of the gospel that had inspired Martin Luther and the other Reformers in the 16th century. We know that on the basis of the Scriptures alone we take our stand on a wonderful gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. We have a wonderful gospel inheritance.

Of course, not everything in 2017 was “historical.” We were busy living out our aspirational values, not just celebrating them! You can read the other reports in these pages to get a bit of the story of the major happenings this year in worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. I’m especially pleased that we began supporting two new missionary units–Tobi and Abe & Jordyn. It’s wonderful to witness young people embrace the Great Commission, and I look forward to seeing what God will do through our partnerships with them.

Speaking of young adults, it was great to have Nathan Kristofits serve as our summer Ministry Intern working with the youth ministry, helping at Family Bible Week, and cataloging our entire church library online. Matt Modzel and Nathan also started a young adults Link Group that continues into 2018. Abe & Jordyn Skacel and Matt Modzel were received into membership this year. I’m encouraged to see what the Lord is doing among the younger people in our church family!

God is not just at work among the young people, however! I am so thankful for all of the hardworking volunteers, leaders, church officers, and ministry staff we have at LEFC. I’m particularly thankful for Marilynn Kristofits’ ministry of keeping us all connected and pointed in the same direction and for the 2017 Elder Team–Bob Gisewhite, Cody Crumrine, Keith Folmar, Curtis Quick, and Jeff Schiefer. A lot goes into being a church elder, and it’s often very difficult. I’m thankful for their wisdom, unity, and love for the Lord and for our church family.

I’m also thankful for all of the prayer warriors at Lanse Free Church. Some gather on Wednesday nights, some meet monthly at the Harvest Prayer Time, and many more keep up and stay involved through prayer emails. I’m especially grateful for the Pastoral Prayer Team who regularly intercede for me, my family, and my ministry. The Lord loves to answer the prayers of His people!

Despite having several new families begin worshiping with us in 2017, our average attendance at Sunday worship dropped to 135 people (down from 139 the previous year). The highest attended service was Resurrection Sunday with 237 people gathered to worship our Risen Lord. The lowest attended Sunday was a bitterly cold January 1st with only 88 folks present.

Pastoral Ministry

I like to sum up my ministry in three main areas–preaching, equipping, and shepherding. Here are some of the highlights from 2017:

Preach the Word

In addition to the “Gospel Roots” and Galatians sermons I mentioned above, I also completed our 30 message series on “The King of Kings in the Books of Kings,” preached a short series on Psalm 22 during the Easter season, spoke on the Kingdom of God to put a cap on Family Bible Week, and finished the year by jumping into the Gospel of Matthew.

Aside from Sundays at LEFC, I also got to speak to the West Branch Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a West Branch Ministerium Lenten Service, the West Branch Lenten Luncheon group, the residents at Windy Hill Village, the students at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, our MOPS group, and to the Deep & Wide Conference at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Deep Creek, Maryland.

I love that when I’m out of the pulpit we have good men to fill it, especially our own guys. In 2017, our own Dave Catanzaro, Cody Crumrine, and Joel Michaels brought the Word to us. We also heard strong messages from visiting pastors and missionaries including Zeke Pipher, Darko Vika, Daniel Stanley, Kevin Kompelien, and Rich Hoyt.

Equip the Saints

A less visible but just as important job I have is meeting with church leaders to help them accomplish their ministries. I go to meetings, send lots of emails, and try to make sure that all of our people and programs are fully resourced and equipped.

In 2017, I completed a spiritual leadership training with my third cohort of church leaders, learning together about sound doctrine and biblical counseling principles. Over the summer, I met with our ministry intern and another young man for weekly discipleship. I also helped Dave, Cody, and Joel prepare for their sermons.

I continue to have an equipping ministry beyond our local church, as well. In 2017, I remained the chairman of the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, directed the district Stay Sharp theology conference, and served nationally on the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee. I continued as the book review coordinator for EFCA Now and also got to publish an interview with Jared Alcántara, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who spoke at EFCA One.

I even get to equip people in languages I don’t speak! In 2017, my book, Resisting Gossip, was released in its sixth international version. It is now available in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Korean, and Romanian.

Shepherd the Flock

I love that a big part of my job is simply spending quality time with people whether it’s in homes, in my office, at your workplaces, or at the hospital or nursing home.

In 2017, I was able to spend quality time with nearly every family in the church. I especially enjoyed getting to visit newborns!

In May, I also had the privilege of baptizing Jamie Johnston as she went public with her faith in Jesus Christ. In June, I got to officiate the wedding of Shawn & Skyler Quick. This year, it was also my solemn privilege to lead the funerals of Alexandria Kent, Jerry Smith, Andrew Belko, and David Dobash. It is a special honor be present with you during times both of rejoicing and of mourning (Romans 12:15).

Vision for 2018

Last year, we spent a lot of time looking backward, remembering what God has done and recommitting to our Gospel Roots. In 2018, we need to focus on looking forward, trusting God and fulfilling the mission that He has given us.

I’m glad that we’re in the Gospel of Matthew this year because Matthew is all about  what our church is about–bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. In chapter 4, Jesus told his earliest disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (v.19). I think that gives us two big areas to focus our attention on for ministry in 2018:


Our mission is to make disciples (followers) of Jesus Christ. We exist to help each other grow as disciples, to help each other follow Jesus through faith and obedience. All of our ministries have this as our primary goal. We do it through special events such as taking a group to Stay Sharp (February 15-16) or the Challenge Conference (July 1-7). And we do it through our regular day-to-day and week-to-week ministries.

Are you growing as a follower of Christ? Are you helping others to follow Him? In what ways will you be involved in discipleship in 2018?


Our mission is also to make new disciples, to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. Our Moody Bible Institute Chorale Concert (March 4), Wild Game Dinner (March 17), and Good News Cruise (August 18) are all aimed at evangelism. Who are you going to invite to those events? Who are you trying to reach for Christ in your own sphere of influence? What part will you play in angling for new believers in 2018?

I look forward to completing my twentieth year as your pastor in June. But I don’t plan to stop or slow down. I intend to face forward and stay faithful in following Jesus and fishing for new disciples for Jesus together with you.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: "Learning from a Legend" by Jared Alcántara

Learning from a LegendLearning from a Legend by Jared E Alcántara

I had been impoverished and didn’t even know it. Until I got to interview Jared Alcántara last summer, I knew next to nothing about the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, a celebrated preacher of preachers who ministered with prodigious and prestigious influence for a great deal of the 20th century. Alcántara, a professor of preaching, has focused his academic attention on Dr. Taylor and has committed to passing on Taylor’s pastoral wisdom to an even wider audience and another generation.

I’m glad I read Learning from a Legend because I felt like I was getting two professors for the price of one. I don’t read enough books about my own craft. I write at least one sermon each week, so I should probably try to read at least one book on homiletics each year to hone my skills. In this book, Alcántara introduces readers to six key lessons on preaching that Taylor both taught and lived out himself–Pain, Redemption, Eloquence, Apprenticeship, Context, and Holiness (conveniently comprising the acrostic P.R.E.A.C.H.). In each chapter, Alcántara quotes Taylor on the topic and then shows how Taylor’s own example bore the positive fruit of each lesson taught.

The book is clear and easy to read. It’s well sourced and heavily footnoted. Alcántara has done his homework, and it shows. He does a nice job of not making the book just about Taylor by bringing in a host of supporting evidence from other voices, many from other traditions and eras. When you read it, you feel like you are being taught by the whole church, not just one wing of it.

Alcántara’s book is not just about Taylor in another significant way–it continually points to Jesus. While Taylor’s rich ministry and exemplary life may be the curriculum, the subject is clearly Christ. Concord Baptist Church, where Gardner Taylor pastored in Brooklyn for forty-two years, once had to rebuild after a devastating fire. In the rebuilding process, Reverend Taylor asked the workers to put an inscription on the floor behind the pulpit that read “We Would See Jesus” (from John 12:21, KJV). Taylor explained it this way:

The preacher needed to see that! Never mind your skill at oratory: "We would see Jesus." Do not dazzle us with your knowledge. We have come here to see Jesus. We are not hungry for your theories of life. "We would see Jesus." Never mind your positions and suppositions about what is or ought to be. "We would see Jesus" (Quoted on pgs. 30-31 of Learning from a Legend).
Amen! And Alcántara develops this further, “Taylor understood what every preacher must also understand. The awesome burden and privilege of Christian preaching is not that we will run out of things to say about the goodness and preciousness of God. It’s that we won’t! The more we preach about a God who redeems and reconciles, the more we’ll want to preach. The more we say, the more we’ll realize that there’s so much left to say” (pg. 47).

Having read Learning from a Legend, I now feel enriched, sharpened, and more ready to write a better next sermon about the best subject in the world.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Review: "Why We Can't Wait" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why We Can't WaitWhy We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.


I’m glad to read Dr. King’s thoughts in his own words. I’ve settled too long for secondary sources.

This book tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement, especially the events of the year 1963. It centers on the events in Birmingham and includes King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King explains what their aims were, what philosophy guided them, what tactics of direct action through nonviolence they employed, and what the results were. He does a masterful job of carrying the reader along, reasonably dealing with the objections that naturally arise, and persuading, always persuading.

I struggled as I read it to know what I would have done if I had lived in those days and in those places. My best guess (and maybe I still give myself too much credit) is that I would have been a passive bystander, sympathetic but too hesitant to be of much good. King speaks directly to folks like that, and I found myself looking at my shoes, shuffling around, trying not to be ashamed.

The book ends with King’s evaluation of what still needed to change and what it might cost in the days to come. His talk of assassinations seems almost prophetic given the events of 1968.

I found the book inspiring, challenging, insightful, and helpful. It doesn’t present a plan for racial harmony for the particular problems of 2018, but it shows what can be done if people rise up for freedom and justice for all.

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[Matt's Messages] "Imago Dei"

“Imago Dei”
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
January 21, 2018 :: Genesis 1:26-31

We’re going to take a one-week break from our study of the Gospel of Matthew because today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and I’ve felt called for the last couple of weeks to focus specifically on that with today’s message.

Thank you, Karen, for being with us today and sharing with us about the important work of the State College Pregnancy Resource Clinic. We are glad that we’ve been partnering with you for many many years.

The PRC has a motto that they go by: “YOU MATTER.”

And by that, they mean that people matter to them. They care about people both born and pre-born people. People matter to the PRC.

But it’s more than that.

They don’t just mean that people matter to them.

They mean that people matter to God.
That people have intrinsic value.
That people have God-given value and worth.

That there is a sanctity, a sacredness to human life.

Where does that come from?

And what does it mean?

That’s what I want us to think about a little this morning. It’s a big important thing!

And, like most big important things, it starts in the first book of the Bible.

Genesis chapter 1 introduces us to God and to His creation. In highly stylized a wonderful language, Genesis 1 reveals an awesome God Who is indisputably sovereign over His creation. I wish I had time to read the whole thing.

Genesis 1 tells a beautiful story of God’s seven days of designing and implementing His world: Time, Space, Environment, Agriculture, and Animals.

And there’s a pattern to the story:

God spoke, what He wanted happened, He saw that it was good, and a day was over.
God spoke, what He wanted happened, He saw that it was good, and a day was over.
God spoke, what He wanted happened, He saw that it was good, and a day was over.

6 Days of Creation like that and then 1 day of Sovereign Rest.

Today, I just want us to go into the Sixth Day of Creation (vv.26-31) and ponder together (at length) one major concept introduced there.

On this sixth day, God didn’t just say, “Let there be...” and it happened. The pattern breaks. God says, “Let us make...” and then He created.

There is a break in the cycle of repetition as God puts the masterful finishing touch on His masterpiece. This stroke of the Artist’s brush was what all the other 5 days of creating had been leading up to. It’s as if God now gets personal in His creating.

And what He makes

It’s been a while since we learned any fancy Latin terms.

So, I’ve got one for you today!

I don’t know very much Latin, but this is an important one that theologians use all of the time. Ready?

“Imago Dei.”

Imago Dei means the Image of God.

And Genesis 1:26 and 27 says that you and I were made in the image of God.

We were we made in Imago Dei.

Turn to the person next to you and say, “You have the Imago Dei.”

It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Like some kind of funky perfume!

It sounds funny, but you are really saying something amazing when you say it!

Genesis 1:27. “God created man in his own image [Hebrew: zelem], in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

I want us to ponder today [looking at this passage and at other passages throughout the Scriptures] the meaning of this phrase, “created in the image of God.”

What is the Imago Dei? And what does it mean for our lives?

Well, to understand what something is, it is often helpful to understand what it is not.

So let’s start there.


When v.26 says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” He is not saying that God had a body with certain physical features that we now have, too.  Arms and legs, and noses and ears and so on...

My favorite theologian, Calvin (and his friend Hobbes), made this mistake in this cartoon.

That’s not what Genesis 1 is saying. Jesus said in John chapter 4 that God is fundamentally Spirit, and therefore the resemblance here in the image of God in humanity is not physical.


It doesn’t say that God made “little gods.” It doesn’t say that we are exact replicas of God, gods in our own right. We are “in the image of God, in His likeness.” We are not exact copies, but we are like Him. It is God-likeness not God-hood itself.

Do you see the difference? It is God-likeness not God-hood. And along with that, it doesn’t mean that we are on our way to becoming gods. God-likeness but not God-hood.

Both of the words used in verse 26–“image” and “likeness”–“refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents” (Grudem, p. 442).

God didn’t make gods. He made God-reflectors.

Anyone who tells you that you are a god is not a Christian and is not thinking biblically.

In Genesis 5:3 it says that Adam had a son in these same two words, “In his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”

And that doesn’t mean that Seth was Adam. Right? It means that Seth was like Adam in some fundamental ways. In the same way, we are not god because we have the imago dei. We are like God. And we were made to reflect God’s glory.

And the third thing it is not, is completely lost.


In the Fall.

In Genesis chapter 3, sin enters the world, and in its wake, the image of God goes through a traumatic transformation.

It becomes deformed, debased, distorted, and defaced.

But, not erased.

Defaced but not erased.  (I get that language from Robert Pyne in his helpful book Humanity and Sin, pg.67.)

The image of God is defaced in fallen humanity, sinners like you and me, but not erased. It is still there. Still active. Still present in humanity. Defaced but not erased.

How do I know this?

- Genesis 9, verse 6 says that we are still in the image of God.
- 1 Corinthians 11:7 says that we are still in the image of God.
- James 3:9 says that we are still made in the likeness of God.

Though “marred, hampered, and reduced” in sinners, the image of God is not completely lost. It is present in each and every human.

From the little baby crying in the pew to the oldest person here today.

The Imago Dei is present.  Defaced but not erased.

Now, from what it is not, we begin to get an idea of exactly what the Image of God actually is. Let me try to put it in positive terms:

Being made in the image of God describes our unique, God-given ability (more than any other of God’s creations) to be like God and to represent God. It describes our many inherent capacities to be like Him and to act like Him.


It is our God-given capacity to be God-like. [Not to be God! But to be LIKE God.]

The Image of God is our capacity to be like God and to represent God.

Now, we are like God in a whole lot of ways:

(The following list is adapted from Grudem's Systematic Theology, pgs. 445-447 and an unpublished sermon by Russell Muilenburg.)

Theologians have noted moral similarities. We have an inner sense of right and wrong that sets us apart from animals. We have a sense of fairness and justice (something like God’s). We don’t always do what is fair and just (or even want it!), but we are able to sense it. No one likes it when their things are stolen. “It’s not right,” we say.

And we are spiritual beings.  One writer says, “There is an ‘invisibility’ about us. We know that when we look in the mirror we are only looking at the surface, we know that the real ‘us’ is inside. Just as God is Spirit, so are we.  This means that we have a spiritual life that enables us to relate to God as persons, to pray and [to] praise Him, and to hear Him speaking His words to us.” (Muilenburg)

The rest of creation doesn’t. It does not matter how intelligent your dog is. You will never see him spend an hour in intercessory prayer for the health or salvation of a friend!

There are also mental likenesses in us with God. “We have an ability to reason and think logically and [to] learn. We can weigh options and wrestle with our conscience. We can think through abstract problems and make plans for the future. We can develop technology and use tools.  Obviously, our knowledge and wisdom will never match the omniscience of God [not even close!], but our ability to think reflects the intelligence of the Creator who made us.” (Muilenburg)

Of course, even as we say these things, we have to acknowledge that sin has tarnished the image of God in us. “We have become very adept at twisting morality and ignoring the spiritual dimension of our lives. We have turned our mental abilities to shameful pursuits. But God's image in us is not erased completely. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses of His likeness. If you look around, every once in a while, you will see the Creator reflected in His people.” (Muilenburg)

We are like God in all these ways and many more. And we are called to represent God.

1 Corinthians 11:7 says that Man is “the image and glory of God.” That means we are supposed to reflect His glory like a little mirror. That’s why I put up all of these mirrors here in the background.

When God painted Adam into the Masterpiece of Genesis 1, He was placing a representative ruler on Earth of the Ruler in Heaven. An Ambassador of Glory!

Think just a little about the God of Genesis 1, and you will be amazed at the humans of Genesis 1:26&27!

Ambassadors of the Almighty God! Miniature Royal Images of the King of Glory.  The small self-portraits of the Sovereign dotted on the landscape of history.

That’s what we were supposed to be! Like God and Representing God on Earth.

However, Genesis 3 happened. We fell into sin. And an ugly black stain streaked across the self-portrait of God.

The little mirrors of God continued to reflect a little of His glory, but they were shattered by the heaved rock of sin.  V.31 says that everything was made “very good.”  But now it wasn’t “very good” any longer. It was depraved.

And everyone here in this room, not only has the Imago Dei, but has a deformed version of it, a defaced version of it. Everyone here is a sinner. Fallen short of reflecting the glory of God like we should.

We were created to be much more than we are!

And that’s some of the saddest news in the world.

But God! But God immediately went on a rescue mission to restore His image in us. It’s called “Redemption.” In Genesis chapter 3, God promised a Redeemer.

And that Redeemer is Jesus Christ.

The Person we’re learning about in the Gospel of Matthew.

Some of the best news in the world is that Jesus Christ is the Image of God that we were supposed to be.

What we (in Adam and every day) messed up, Christ does perfectly.

Just like what we saw last week when Jesus passed the test in the wilderness.

Listen Colossians chapter 1, verse 15, “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”

2 Corinthians 4:4, “ the image of God.”

And if we are in Christ, then we have the image of God again!

That’s the Gospel! That’s the best news in all the world.

Let me give you five points of application this morning.

I know this is a very different kind of a sermon. We don’t normally focus on just one phrase, like “created in the image of God.”

But it’s a really important concept, isn’t it?

Let’s tease out 5 implications of this concept for us today.:


The Bible says, “If anyone is IN CHRIST, they are a NEW CREATION, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

If you are in Christ, then you have the perfect image of God again. His righteousness, His obedience, His glory is credited to your account before God. He is what you were supposed to be. And if you are in Him, God sees you as you should be!

And that is reason to rejoice! That is a reason to sing. Every day!

You know we have a church in our district called, “ikon church.” And that’s because the Greek word for image is “ikon.” They are bringing this out. Whenever they explain the name of their church, they share the gospel.

We were made in the image of God.
That image has become defaced.
But Jesus is the perfect image of God, and if we are in Him, the image is restored.

If that isn’t a reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is.

We Should Rejoice That Christ Is the Perfect Image of God.

Second implication of the Imago Dei.


As we become like Christ.

If you are a Christian, every day of your life, God is working on redeeming you.  He redeemed you at the Cross, and He is redeeming you each day.

Listen to what Paul says is going on in our lives in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“We [that is, believers]...are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord...”

Theologians call this “Progressive Sanctification.”  God is at work transforming us back into His likeness.

And because Christ is the image of God, He is transforming us into Christ-like-ness.

Romans 8:29. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”

If you are a Christian, God wants to restore God-likeness in you. And He does it bit by bit each day.

And He desires your co-operation. He wants you to give in to His designs for you and your character. For you and heart. For you and your behavior.

He wants to make you like Jesus.  He wants to conform you to Christ.

Are you cooperating?

Listen to Colossians chapter 3, verse 10. As it describes the process of changing from the old you to the new you.

“ have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

More like Jesus every day. The image of God restored in us in Christ-like-ness.

We should allow God to restore His image in us as we become like Christ.

What is the Lord trying to do in your life? Is it painful? God has a purpose for that pain. He is conforming you to Christ. Let Him!

Because one day soon, His redeeming work will be done. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that on Resurrection Day, “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”  Perfectly.  Without blemish, spot, or wrinkle. 1 John 3:2 says, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

The “very good” of Genesis 1:31 will be perfectly restored once more. And therefore John goes on to say... “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as [Christ] is pure.”

We should allow God to restore His image in us as we become like Christ.


God is after our hearts. To make our hearts like His. But that is going to change the way we act. We should more and more act like God, right?

Doing the kinds of things that God does. Imaging Him. Representing Him in the world. Fulfilling, in many ways, our original marching orders.

For Adam and Eve it was Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

For us it is Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of dearly loved children and live a life of love...”

Imitate God. Do the kinds of things He would do if He were in your situation. In your skin.

What would God do in the situation you are facing right now?

Do that. It might not be fun at first, but it would be right and will yield good fruit.

The Image of God Means That (Right Now) We Should Do What God Does. What we see God doing.


That’s why Karen is with us today from the PRC.

This is why people matter.

Because of the Image of God.

The Image of God in every single person gives them dignity and value.

Each life is precious because God’s image is stamped on each person.

We are inherently valuable because we are made in God’s likeness.

Humans (unborn or born, aged or young, disabled or completely healthy) are valuable.

We are not disposable. We are not just pieces of matter conveniently or inconveniently assembled together into bodies. We are wonderful CREATIONS of a wondrous Creator with His own image indelibly engraved on each of us.

In the Ancient Near Eastern culture in which Genesis was written, other people groups also believed in men being made in “the image of the gods...”

...but only the kings!

The King was seen as a representation (an image) of the God of that people. But only the King!

In Genesis, however, every person has the image of God. Every person is a likeness of the Creator. No matter how tiny. All humans were made to be “royal.”

That’s a reason to value and to protect human life. When a woman has an abortion, she is damaging the “Mona Lisa” of God.

The Image of God in every person means that we should value and protect human life.

And that goes for more than just the littlest humans.

It goes for everybody.

This last week, our nation recognized Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s been 50 years since he was killed.

And our nation has made some major strides in racial harmony over the last 50 years.

But we’re not there yet.

Dr. King’s dream has not yet become a reality.

And it’s easy to point fingers and lay blame to say whose fault that is. There is plenty of fault to go around.

But it’s harder to look inside of ourselves and ask what we’ve been doing to improve things.

Personally, I’ve been doing a lot more reading on racial reconciliation and on compassion and justice. [I recommend Benjamin Watson's recent book Under Our Skin for a readable introduction to the current state of things.] I’m thankful that our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference  is on that subject, and I’m looking forward to learning more and growing in this area.

And doing my part to see true healing between the races. And not just black and white. But also red and brown and yellow.

“Because all are precious in His sight.”

Because all have the image of God.

This is why “people matter.”

We should value and protect and RESPECT other people.

James chapter 3 verse 9 says, “With [our words] we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

Do you see how that disrespects the image of God?

Do you see how seriously God takes this?

What have you said about others this week?

How have you treated them?

What have you said on Facebook? What kind of words have you used about other human beings also made in the image of God?

The Image of God in every person means that we should value and respect and protect others.


Here is a coin.

One day, a group of Pharisees tried to lay a trap for Jesus. They came to Him with a trick question, hoping to either get His popularity to drain with those who hated the Romans or to get Him in trouble with the Romans.

They asked Him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

And Jesus loves to answer trick questions with trick questions.

So He said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? [Greek Word: EIKON, IMAGE, LIKENESS.]”

They said, “Caesar’s,”

Then he said to them, “Okay. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

What is Caesar’s? Well, the money with Caesar’s image on it.

But what is God’s? The people with God’s image on them.

Give yourself to God.

So often, we say, “It’s My Life, I’ll Do With It What I Want!”

But that’s wrong.

It’s His life. And we should give it to Him.

If you have been holding back from God, stop today. Give yourself fully over to Him.

Because He wants to not just own you in creation, but to own you in redemption!

He wants to return you to His image, conforming you to Christ.

Give in today. Turn yourself in to God.

Because you belong to Him!

Know how I know?

You are stamped with His image.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: "Deep Work" by Cal Newport

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldDeep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Explains what so much of what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it.

Newport only briefly chronicles the problems that knowledge-workers experience in our distracted world, but I related to all of them. He spends half the book talking about the benefits that come from real concentration that push our cognitive abilities to achieve. Then he lays out in four “rules” how to manage ourselves to make the time to achieve what he calls, “deep work.”

Nearly everything he said rang true from my experience–including what things I had done in 2011 to write both my doctoral project and my popular level book while pastoring full time and being the dad of four homeschooled elementary kids. In fact, I used the techniques he was talking about to read his entire book in one day!

I’m grateful that I read it. I’ve already made a short list of what I need to change. Now, all I have to do is follow through to get more productive on the things that matter most.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: "Under Our Skin" by Benjamin Watson

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race–And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations That Divide UsUnder Our Skin: Getting Real about Race–And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us by Benjamin Watson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply excellent.

Benjamin Watson goes to the heart of our problems with race, and that is the problem of the heart. What he says is simple while not being simplistic. I found myself nodding and agreeing on just about every page. This book is an expansion of this professional football player’s thoughts from his widely-read, widely-shared, and widely-appreciated article following the Ferguson grand-jury verdict in 2014.

Watson writes, “What is under our skin, and under the skin problem in America, is a spiritual problem. Every time we point at someone else or at an entire race–reducing them to a single story, diminishing them by stereotypes and assumptions–we overlook our own failure. When we point outside ourselves and say, ‘You should have done this...’ or ‘You were wrong to...’ we miss the point. When we focus on another person’s skin, we miss the reality of our own sin” (pg. 188-189). And he does an excellent job of pointing us toward the answer to our sin problem, too–the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But in playing the “spiritual problem” card, don’t think that Watson lets anyone off the hook. As a Christian, I was encouraged to see him address all kinds of people coming from all kinds of directions. He has a knack for seeing things from other people’s widely different perspectives and then saying what each one needs (not necessarily wants!) to hear.

Watson also has a knack for seeing solutions that are “both/and.” He knows that the answers to our ongoing racial strife will not be singletary or simplistic. He is not only able to see how the problems come from multiple competing directions but also to envision how the solutions might require holding two or more seemingly exclusive things in faithful tension.

For me, this was a perfect read for this 2018 Martin Luther King Day because in many ways Benjamin Watson is articulating “the dream” for a new generation. May we be both convicted by our failures and encouraged and empowered to press on to see the dream come fully true.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

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

“The Temptation of Jesus”
The Gospel of Matthew
January 14, 2018 :: Matthew 4:1-11 

For today’s message, I’m going to ask you to pretend something with me.

Let’s all pretend that we don’t know how this story turns out. Okay?

We’re looking at the story in Matthew chapter 4, verses 1 through 11, which we can call, “The Temptation of Jesus.”

Not that this is the only time that Jesus was ever tempted, but this is the big test right before He begins His public ministry.

It’s like the final exam before you graduate into real life.

It’s like the clinical trials you need before you become a nurse.

It’s like the decisive test to determine if you are ready to go.

That’s what Jesus is heading into.

And we all know this story. At least most of us do, I think.

But pretend with me that you don’t. Okay?

Try to imagine what it would be like to be there and watch the drama unfold.

Try to imagine what it would be like to read this or hear this story for the very first time. And you don’t know what the ending is.

Now, I’ve known this story for very long time.

And it has a very dear place in my heart because exactly twenty years ago, I preached on this passage, Matthew chapter 4, and the sermon was recorded on audiotape (remember those?), and I sent a copy of that sermon to the search committee of an Evangelical Free Church in Lanse, Pennsylvania. Twenty years ago.

I don’t know that there are any copies of that message still in existence.

But I remember it well. Think about this: I had probably preached less than a dozen times when I sent Wally Kephart that tape!

And now, I’ve preached over 800 times, and I’m still excited about sharing this story!

I’ve preached Mark’s version, and I’ve preached Luke’s version here. But I don’t think I’ve ever got to preach Matthew’s version from this pulpit. So here we go.

We’ve reached chapter four in The Gospel of Matthew, but Jesus has not yet begun His public ministry.

We’ve learned about His genealogy and what it says about Him.
We’ve learned about the unique circumstances that surrounded His birth. His miraculous conception. The meaning of His name.
We’ve learned about the search for Him after He was born. A search by Gentile wisemen to worship Him and a search by an evil king to attempt to assassinate Him.

And last week, we learned about His baptism. How His forerunner announced His coming and then “to fulfill all righteousness,” He identified with us going down in to the water and then coming back up out of the Jordan River.

And remember what happened then? It was very important. Look at the last verse of chapter 3. It’s very important.

“At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Now pretend you don’t know what is going to happen next.

What would you guess will happen next?

I would guess that the people around Him would begin worshiping Him and the Kingdom of God would come rushing in.

But that’s not what happens.

No, with the voice of God the Father Himself ringing in His ears, Jesus was sent into the wilderness to take a great test.

Matthew chapter 4, verse 1.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

That’s what’s next.

Boy, there’s a lot in that sentence, isn’t there?

Who sent Jesus into the desert? It was God’s Spirit. The same Spirit that rested on Him like a dove.

Marks tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. He pushed Him out there to take this test.

That’s important to notice. God is sovereign over this testing. He doesn’t tempt. He doesn’t try to trip up His children. But He does allow their testing. And even ordain their testing.

Which is important to remember if you are being tested. Just because you’re being tested doesn’t mean that you aren’t loved.

Was Jesus loved? “This is my Son whom I love.”

And yet He’s tested. For His good and for God’s glory. And for our salvation. As we shall soon see.

And where does this test take place?

In “the desert” or in “the wilderness.”

What does that remind you of? Who else was tested in the wilderness?

The nation of Israel was. Right?

And how did they do? Listen to Deuteronomy chapter 8, verse 2.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

How did Israel do with that test?

Not so good.

And now Jesus comes to take a similar test. How do you think He’ll do?

Pretend you don’t know! V.2

“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

You think? That sounds like an award-winning understatement to me.

What does that forty days and forty nights remind you of.

Well, Moses and Elijah had famous forty days and forty nights. So it’s a pattern that reappears.

But I think it’s supposed to remind you of those forty years that Israel was tested in the desert.

And Jesus is hungry.

Have you ever been hungry? I mean really hungry?

How are your defense against temptation when you are really hungry?

That’s one of my worst times for temptation.

And Jesus was fully human. Do you see that? “He was hungry.” It doesn’t say that Jesus acted hungry. Or that Jesus pretended to be hungry.

No the incarnation meant that Jesus was (and is!) fully human. The miracle of Christmas worked. And the baby was real. And now the man is real.

And He’s really hungry, and He’s going to be really the tempter himself. V.3

“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’”

Do you think that was tempting to Jesus?

You bet it was.

He was hungry.

And He was the Son of God.

He had all of the power and all of the authority to turn those rocks into bread. To turn the desert into a bakery.

Is your mouth watering at the idea of the smell of bread? All I’m doing is saying, “the smell of bread,” and you mouth is watering?

Imagine having had nothing to eat for forty days and somebody saying, “The smell of bread.”

Now, notice that the tempter (We have no idea what form he took. It doesn’t matter. The tempter...) says that Jesus is the Son of God.

That “if” in verse 3 can translated, “since.”

“Since you are the Son of God...” prove it! Use it. Act on it. Show it!

Remember what just happened at the end of chapter 3.

God the Father has claimed Jesus as His own beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased.

“Well, what good is that if you can’t even use it to fill your belly?”

You know, this is only tempting if He can really do it.

There’s no temptation here if He isn’t the Son of God and doesn’t have the power of God at His command.

The temptation is very real. It’s excruciatingly real.

But Jesus says, “No.”

Verse 4. “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'’”

You know where that’s from? Deuteronomy chapter 8. The very next verse from the one I read to you a minute ago. Deuteronomy 8:3.

It is written! The LORD will provide. When He wants to.

And it would be wrong to disobey and to use divine power to short-circuit the Lord’s plan and serve Yourself.

There are more important things than food!

Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness.

Jesus had food that other people knew nothing of.

His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him and to finish His work (John 4:34).

And that was enough.

Notice that Jesus said, “It is written.” That’s important.

Jesus knew His Bible and He relied on it. He believed it and He entrusted Himself to what it says. We’re going to come back to that, because He does again and again.

Of course, the devil knows his Bible, too. And he’s not done yet. V.5

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'’”

The devil says, “Two can play at that game. I can quote Scripture, as well.”

He takes Jesus up to Jerusalem and has him stand on the highest point of the temple. We don’t know if this a visionary experience or diabolical miracle or what. Whichever it is, it’s real, and it was a real temptation to Jesus.

It’s possible that this was on the corner of the temple that overlooked the Kidron Valley and was about a 300 foot drop the rocks below.

Now the rocks aren’t potential bread. They are potential knives to tear His body to pieces.

And the devil says, “Jump! Since you’re the Son of God, you don’t have anything to worry about. I mean it is written in Psalm 91 that the godly one won’t be hurt. God Himself will “command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so you will not strike [even] your foot against a stone.”

I don’t think that’s how Psalm 91 is supposed to be interpreted and applied. Do you?

But it was tempting to Jesus.

Maybe because it would show the world that Jesus is God’s Son in a spectacular way.

It definitely meant that He would not have to suffer.

This would an easy way of getting followers.

But it’s all wrong.

This is the prosperity gospel of so many television preachers.

“God doesn’t want you to suffer. God doesn’t want you to be poor or unhealthy or even to die. Just name it and claim it!”

“Claim God’s word!”

But Jesus says, “No.” v.7

“Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'’”

That’s Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 16.

You don’t manipulate God. You don’t twist God’s arm by quoting and claiming Scripture out of context.

You obey God even if it means that you suffer and you die.

It’s lie that says that God is only faithful when He rescues you from trouble.

No, God is faithful all the time. Even if you die trusting Him!

“It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Did you see how He did that?

There He goes again with Bible.

But the devil isn’t done yet. Verse 8.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”

Now, pretend you don’t know what happens next.

Was this tempting to Jesus?

I’m sure it was.

Not that He gave in. Not even for a millisecond.

And not that He wanted to worship Satan. As if.

But imagine being offered all of the kingdoms of the world that are rightfully yours and not having to go to the Cross.

Skip the Cross. Go right to the Crown.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I’m sure it sounded good to Jesus, too.

But He also saw right through it.

He saw that even though Satan is called the “prince of this world,” these kingdoms were not his to give away.

And He saw that to bow down and worship the devil would be to go against every single thing that He knows is true about the world. V.10

“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'’”

Jesus said, “No way.”

And He quoted Scripture yet again. This time again from Deuteronomy 6. Verse 14.

“It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

There is Only one Who is worthy of all of our worship.

And that is the LORD Himself.

And the LORD Himself will give Jesus all of the nations.

He promised them to Him in Psalm 2, and we are winning them for Him right now as we fulfill the Great Commission from Matthew 28.

Jesus just had to go to the Cross to get them.

And with that third “it is written,” the devil had to run away with his tail between his legs. V.11

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

And my guess is that they brought Him a big picnic lunch.

Now, what does this story mean for us today?

Why is it in our Bibles? Why do Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about how the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness where He had to be tempted by Satan?

Let me make three points.


You can’t miss that.

Every time Satan threw his temptations at Jesus, Jesus pulled out the Scripture like a big shield of faith and the fiery darts just bounced off.

Bwing, bwing, bwing.

Jesus knew His Bible. He knew what God’s word said.

What God had promised and what God had commanded.

And He believed it.

And that’s how He survived the temptations.

I think that we can learn something from that for ourselves today.

If you are being tempted (and we all are) God’s Word is the way to go.

“It is written.”
“It is written.”
“It is written.”

Do you know what is written?

Imagine getting shot and having no shield.

You’re exposed.

You’re out there in the devil’s crosshairs if you don’t know God’s Word.

That’s why we memorize it.

That’s why we read it.

That’s why we build all of our ministries around it.

Because God’s Word is where it’s at!

“It is written.”
“It is written.”
“It is written.”

Jesus trusted God’s Word. He thought of God’s word as life itself.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus knew that that’s where life is.

What do you need to do to get into God’s Word and to have God’s Word get into you?

Do you see the spiritual power that Jesus has? The devil has to flee! The devil gets resisted, and he’s the one who backs down.

Because of God’s Word.

I want to know God’s Word like that. And believe God’s Word like that.

Jesus trusted God’s Word.

And when He did that, He proved that He is God’s Son.


Which is an even deeper point of this story.

Remember what had just happened right before He was led out into the desert?

The Spirit had rested on Him. And the Father had said, “That’s my boy!”

And the devil keeps playing on it. Did you see that in verse 3 and verse 6?

“Prove it! Show it!”

And Jesus proves it and shows it, not by some flashy miracle done in His own power but in loyal obedience to the Father in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus proved that He is God’s Son.

That the Father was justified in saying, “With Him I am well pleased!”

In saying, “No” to Satan’s temptations, Jesus showed that He truly is God’s obedient Son.

And that makes Him worthy of all of our worship.

Yes, He’s a model for us in resisting temptation.

But even more, He is the Son of God and God the Son!

And He’s shown it by defeating the devil at his own game.

We should worship Jesus.

You know I know a lot of people who worship God but don’t worship Jesus.

I call them, “Godlians.”

But that’s not enough. We need to be Christians. We need to give Jesus His proper place.

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”

But that’s Jesus! He is the Son of God and God the Son.

Worthy of all of our worship forever.

Here’s why.


Jesus beat the devil.

Did you see that coming?

This is why I asked you to pretend you didn’t know what was going to happen.

So often in the Bible, when the testing came, they failed, right?

Adam in the garden? He didn’t pass the test.

How many are reading their Bible through this year? I’m in Genesis chapter 30 right now. And I can’t believe how many failures there are so far.

Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. You name it. They crashed and failed so often.

The whole Old Testament is a story of repeated failure.

Israel in the wilderness. They didn’t pass the test.

Even great leaders like King David. When Satan came knocking? Down they went.

So many thumbs down, right?

And now Jesus comes along and he goes out in the desert, and what happens?

He wins!

Jesus beats the devil!

When I preached this on that audiotape, I think I set it up like a boxing match. “In this corner, we have Satan, the undefeated and reigning champion. You can win against this guy sometimes, but he’s always getting in his shots.

Ever since Genesis 3, he’s been taking down humans.

‘He will strike your heel!’

But in this corner stands...the Son of God.

Fully human. Fully temptable. Fully hungry.

And victorious!

Sorry, Satan. ‘He will crush your head!’”

Jesus beat the devil.

Jesus succeeded where Adam and Israel had failed.

Jesus fulfilled all righteousness.

Jesus passed the test.

And you know what that means?

That means that He could go to the Cross.

And win our salvation for us.

If He had given in, for just a millisecond to any of these temptations (or any of the ones still to come), then we would not have a sinless Savior to rescue us.

But Jesus passed the test!

And that gives all who trust in Him, the victory.

He didn’t bypass the Cross to get the Crown.

The Son of God went to the Cross to win the Crown and to save us from our sins.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: "The Problem of God" by Mark Clark

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to ChristianityThe Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity by Mark Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new "go-to" book to share with skeptics of Christianity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this new apologetics book by Pastor Mark Clark. Clark tackles some of the toughest challenges thrown at Christianity with reasonable, thoughtful, and readable(!) answers. It's definitely written for skeptics, not for the already-convinced (though we can profit from reading it, too). And there is a good dose of self-deprecating humor.

The thing I liked the best about "The Problem of God" was how up-to-date and relevant it is. Some of the skeptical arguments were ones that I've never seen addressed in a book-length treatment before. (ex. theories about the "Christ myth"). But I hear young people asking these very questions. It doesn't feel like "your father's apologetics book."

I also appreciated that Clark didn't just deal with evidential or philosophical objections--but also personal roadblocks to belief like hypocrisy among Christians. One of the longest and best chapters is the one on Christianity and sex.

Highly recommended. Give it to a skeptic you love.

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Book Review: "A Theology of Matthew" by Charles Quarles

A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate CreatorA Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator by Charles L. Quarles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The discipline of biblical theology at its best.

Quarles does a masterful job of showing you what you already know but couldn't articulate about the Who Jesus is in the Gospel of Matthew. In successive chapters he shows how Jesus is revealed as the New Moses (deliverer), New David (king), New Abraham (founder and promise-fulfiller), and New Creator (God incarnate) as well as how His amazing identity applies to us today.

Quarles has a knack for bringing out the subtleties that lie on top of the text--things that are demonstrable (not made up or merely speculative) yet not obvious to the casual reader. He turns Matthew from SD to HD for a careful reader.

Useful! I am going to use the scripture index in the back as I study for every single sermon in my current series on the Gospel of Matthew. Highly recommended.

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