Follow by Email

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Examining Ourselves

Examining Ourselves
(Improve the New through looking at the Old.)

Psa 26:2  Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.

2Co 13:5a  Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.

Just last night... the planet earth celebrated another orbit around the sun. Down in the basement, we had a “New Year's Eve” party where we gathered together in order to fellowship with each other, play games, eat snacks... and in my case... try to stay awake long enough to actually see the New Year come in.

You know... I really can't remember the last time I actually did that. It seems like after getting married and having kids... parties and celebrations like last night have lost some of their value to me and I became more concerned with sleep than anything else. And you know... it seems like the older I get... the more important that becomes!

But as I was thinking about today's sermon... and the fact that this is the first sermon I'll preach in the year of our Lord, 2017... I thought it might be a good thing to take an honest look at where we've been... in order to think about and make whatever changes are necessary that will get us to where we want to go.

Atheist philosopher, George Santayana said... 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' And though this isn't a biblical truth... it is true, nonetheless. Because if we never take an honest look at where we've been... and how we got to where we are... we won't be able to plan for where we want to go.

Think of it this way... “Ships without sails (propulsion) are at the mercy of the current” - (Terry Lee Hovey) So if we want to make positive changes for our future... it's helpful to take a look at our past and present. Otherwise... we may very well get caught up in Einstein's definition of insanity... 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results'.

And folks... when it comes to my spiritual life... to my Christianity... I don't want to be a ship without propulsion... helplessly adrift and at the mercy of the currents... Because you cannot rely on the currents of life to get you to where you want to go. More times than not they'll take you to exactly where you don't want to be.

You can also look at it like this... Another year gone by also means we're just that much closer to seeing the Lord... Either He'll return to this world and establish His earthly kingdom... or, we'll go to be with Him.

So... submitting to God's examination of our hearts... or, examining ourselves, as our opening verses said... is not only a scriptural... but it's the wise thing to do. 1Co 11:31  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.

None of us want to be “caught out in the cold”, as the saying goes... when it comes to our faith. When the Lord does return... or when we go to Him... which would you rather hear Him say?

Mat 25:34   ...Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world

Or... Mat 25:41   ...Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels

Now... I think I know your answer to that question. I'm confident that it's a sure bet that all of us would want to hear the Lord tell us to “come”... not to “depart”.

So... to get this self-examination started... I have one question I want to focus on... Because I believe that the subject matter of this question... and our honest response to it... touches on every aspect of our lives.

And this question is based upon the response that our Lord gave to a question that was asked of Him... concerning the “greatest commandment”...

Mar 12:29-31  And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:   [30]   And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.   [31]   And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

So of all the commandments we see in the Bible... these are the two most important. They boil down to... “Love God” and “Love Your Neighbor”. And since your view of God... and relationship with Him affects everything else in life... my question is...

I. How is Your Relationship With the Lord?

You know, as much as I would like to say that my relationship with the Lord is great... I know in my heart that it's really not where I would like it to be. And I think that's probably the answer that most of us could give.

We know God... and we love Him... but at the same time... we know we can and should be closer. You know what I mean? And sometimes I think that the closer I get to Him... the more I understand just how far away I truly am.

God wants us to love Him with all of our heart... all of our soul... all of our mind... and all of our strength. But yet I know that I'm no where near any of those. That level of perfection eludes me.

My heart is divided because I love my wife, my family, and my church... my new truck. My mind is imperfect because even as I try to focus on Him only... I'm bombarded with other thoughts that demand my attention and clouds my focus. And my strength is weak because sometimes my actions, or my responses to situations may reflect a level of carnality that I didn't know was there.

So... my “honest” answer to the question about my relationship with the Lord... after my “honest” examination of myself... is that “it could be better”!

And you know... I think that's probably the answer that most people would give. “It could be...” or “It should be”... better. So... how do we make it better?

Well, the first thing we need to understand about any relationship is that its depth is directly related to the level of communication within it. And that communication implies the exchange of information between parties.

For example... I've come to know my wife pretty well through talking with her and observing her actions and reactions to her surroundings... or to the stupid things I've done... I've grown close to her through spending time with her.

Well... in a similar fashion... the only way we can improve our relationship with the Lord is by spending time with Him. First of all... through...

A. Bible Study

Joh 5:39   Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

So the first step we need to take, then... if we truly want to improve our relationship with God... is read the Bible! God speaks to us... and reveals Himself to us... through His written Word... 2Ti 3:16-17  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  [17]  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

In other words... everything we need to know concerning our faith and daily life... everything we need to know about how we are to act... or what we are to believe... how we are to treat others... how we are to live in this world... is revealed to us through God's written Word.

It's all in black, white and red. The circumstances may have changed through the centuries... but the plots and motives remain the same because people remain the same.

And don't just read the Bible... study it... memorize it... meditate on it. Set aside a specific portion of the day that will be dedicated to the Word of God... and guard that portion of the day jealously. Don't let anything come between you and your time in the Word.

Deu 6:6-9  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  [7]  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  [8]  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  [9]  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Now doesn't this speak a level of devotion to the Word of God that few of us have truly attained? But yet this is the level that God desires for us to have... so it should become a priority to us in the coming year.

If we truly desire to grow closer to the Lord... then we need to learn how to listen to Him through His Word. And though it's true that God speaks to us through other means... such as our circumstances... other people... the “urging” of the Spirit with in us... all of these are to be measured by the Word of God.

If any of them go contrary to His written Word... then it isn't from God, but from the flesh. So... the bottom line here is... we can't measure anything by God's Word... if we don't know it.

Now... another thing we should do in order to improve our relationship with the Lord... is to become fervent in...

B. Prayer

Psa 63:6  When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.

When it comes to improving our relationship with the Lord through our prayer life... I have to ask first... Do we even have one? Have we been stedfast in communicating with the Lord through prayer?

Do we spend time each and every day... focusing on God and His attributes, such as His holiness... His sovereignty... His righteousness... His love?

Do we regularly offer the sacrifice of praise in the beauty of holiness? Do we lift up our thanks for His bountiful blessings. Do we meditate on Him and bow in humble adoration of His majesty?

1Ch 29:11  Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.

Or instead... do we toss out a couple lines of prayer as an afterthought... because we just didn't have time? You know... I can think of many times in my own life when I “hit the ground running” in the morning and didn't think of the Lord until I was driving down the street. And so... I'd pray (with my eyes open, of course) while I was driving.

And though I can understand how that happens now and then... I don't think it should ever become a habit.

Psa 10:17  LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:

You see... if the Creator of the universe can make time for me... I think it's only proper that I make time for Him. He is God... after all. And even though we know He's our friend... He's not our friend in the sense that we're “best buds” and we'll “toss back a couple of brews” one day.

No... absolutely not! He is holy! He is the Majesty on High! The Supreme Being that created all things and sits outside of time and space. And when we think of Him as an afterthought... or as our “buddy”... or “the Man upstairs”... we're actually belittling Him and making Him less than He truly is.

And folks... that's called blasphemy. Any time we take away from Him... we add to ourselves. In other words... when we belittle the Lord in our hearts and minds... we are at the same time elevating ourselves, in our hearts and minds... We're making ourselves more than we really are... and bringing ourselves up to His level... by bringing Him down to ours.

If we don't devote time to God's Word and communicating with Him through prayer... we can never get an accurate understanding of who He really is.

Jer 29:12-13  Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.  [13]  And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

So... just as we should have an established time for God's Word... we should also have an established time for prayer... and both should be jealously guarded. Don't let anything come between you and your time in prayer.

Dan 6:10  Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

After Darius had been tricked into signing a law against prayer to any being other than himself for 30 days... Daniel determined that even if it meant the threat of death... he would continue seeking the Lord, 3 times a day, just as he always had.

And so should we... If we truly desire to improve our relationship with the Lord... then we should determine within ourselves... just as Daniel did... to remain faithful to Him in prayer.

Establish definite times... but be ready to pray for whatever reason at the drop of a hat. Choose a certain place in your home... but be willing to pray wherever you are as the need arises.

Pray alone in your closet... but also pray with your spouse and family... at the restaurant... or in church. Pray with few words, but focused entirely upon God... but also be prepared for those times when you're led to spend the whole night on your face before God.

1Th 5:17-18  Pray without ceasing.  [18]  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Now... the 3rd thing we need to think about, in our desire to honestly examine our relationship with the Lord... has to deal with...

C. Worship

Luk 4:8  ...for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Joh 4:24   God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

The natural result of drawing closer to the Lord through Bible study... and improving our communication with Him through prayer... is an increased desire to worship.

Now one definition of worship is... “the act of religious devotion directed towards God.” And that's a good definition... but I prefer God's definition that we read earlier... as quoted by Christ...

Mar 12:30   ...thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength

That... is worship. And though I may be far from loving Him perfectly like this... I press on. I haven't given up. And you know what? I'm enjoying the trip because I know that He's given me everything I'll need to eventually get there.

2Pe 1:3  According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

Jesus also told us that those of us who desire to worship God, must worship Him in “spirit”... and that doesn't mean the Holy Spirit... it means the human spirit... that is within us, it's in our heart.

And then He went on to say that we'd worship in “truth” which means that... it's informed... It requires an adequate knowledge of who God is. Because, if the object of worship is false... then the worship is also false. We simply cannot worship “in truth” if we don't know the truth...

And folks... Jesus is the truth. He told us in... Joh 14:6  ...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

So, as we've seen... the way to improve our relationship with the Lord is through faithfully seeking Him through Bible study, prayer and worship... which in turn, will lead us to the truth... which is Jesus Christ.

But understand... if you've determined that you will earnestly seek God this next year... And if you're resolved to remain faithful in Bible study, prayer and worship... You will draw closer to Him than you've ever been. But understand this... just because you've drawn closer... doesn't mean that your life will become “hunky dory”.

In fact... the closer you get to Him... the further you get from the world. And the world doesn't like that. It will begin to come against you like never before. (Like a liberal/progressive against President Trump) So be prepared... not only for the evil that the world will throw against you... but also for the grace that God will give you in return.

And for those who have not yet trusted in Christ... For those who aren't yet Christians... Let me tell you this... Christ died on the cross for you. In the eyes of God... you stand guilty of breaking His law.

And the penalty for that is death. But by believing in Jesus Christ... and becoming His disciple... giving your life to Him and following Him... your sins will be forgiven... your guilt will be wiped away... and He will give you eternal life.

And it can begin today... by taking that first step of faith...

Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Responses to Christmas

Three Responses to Christmas
Matthew 2:1-12

One of the things that I love about this time of year... in fact... what most of us love about this time of year... is that for a short period of time at least... there's an emphasis placed on good things. People all around the world tend to have an elevated sense of happiness... joy... and a desire to show or do good to someone else.

Now, some might call this the “spirit of Christmas”... and you know, I really don't have a problem with that because I know that that “spirit” is not just some impersonal, seasonal euphoria... but is in fact the movement of the Holy Spirit... exalting Christ in our hearts and our minds.

And whether they recognize this truth, or not... even unbelievers are effected by this “overflow” of the Spirit, and most are at least willing to “tolerate” the child in the manger for a time. As long as He stays there... as a defenseless infant... a helpless newborn...

But no one stays an infant forever. We all grow up into men and women... and so did Christ. That infant in the manger grew up and became the Savior of all who believe. His life can't be divided in such a fashion where you can accept this part... but not that part.

He is the Lord... whether He's lying in a makeshift crib... or hanging, nailed to the cross. And how you respond to Him... even in His infancy... will set the course for your eternity.

Nothing in this life or in this entire universe is more important than how you response to Christ. And as we'll see from reading Matthew 2:1-12... there are only three responses available to us...

* * * * *

Mat 2:1-12  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  2  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.  3  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.  5  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,  6  And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.  7  Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.  8  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.  9  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  11  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  12  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

The first of the three responses to Christmas is demonstrated to us through Herod... but we see it mirrored in our society today... and that's...

I. Antagonism

At the time that Jesus was born... Herod the Great was the ruling king over Israel. And though he had the title “king”... he was only a “vassal king”... and he had been put in place by Rome because of his friendship with Mark Anthony.

He was the king over Israel... but he wasn't a Jew. He was an Idumean... which were the descendants of the Edomites... whose ancestor was Esau. He was clever and capable... a good warrior and orator... and he was a skilled diplomat. But he was one scary individual.

Because he was cruel and merciless... and incredibly jealous and suspicious. His paranoia knew no bounds and he lived in constant fear of threats to his position and power. Now, because he was an outsider, and hated by the Jews... he attempted to gain a measure of legitimacy among them by marrying Mariamne... the sister of the high priest, Aristobulus...

But after that... his paranoia kicked in and he had Aristobulus killed through a phony drowning accident... and then he provided a magnificent funeral for him where he pretended to cry. (Today we'd call them 'alligator tears'.)

He had Mariamne killed... then her mother... and then two of his own sons. And these are only the well known deaths that his maniacal paranoia brought about. There's no telling how many other people... or groups of people... lost their lives because of his desperate need to maintain his authority and put down any imagined threat to his reign.

His murderous heart was so well known... that in Rome, Caesar is quoted as saying that it would be better to be Herod's “dog”... than “a member of his family”.

So... when the Magi came into Jerusalem and began asking around town... Mat 2:2  ...Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Knowing the kind of person he was... you can imagine what would have been going through his head... can't you? And we can begin to see those wheels of intrigue start to spin in his head when he takes his first step, and... Mat 2:4  ...gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

Though he wasn't a Jew... he was well versed in Jewish beliefs and customs. He immediately associated this “King of the Jews” that the Magi asked about, with the Messiah.

So... after getting information from those who would know the most about the coming Messiah... and then secretly finding out when these Magi first saw the star... you can almost hear those calculations going on in his head.

All he needs now is to find this child... so he tells the Magi to keep looking... but come back this way after you find him... Mat 2:8c  ...that I may come and worship him also.

And of course... you know the rest of this story. They were warned by God in a dream... and didn't return to Herod as he expected. So he then sent his soldiers to murder every child in Bethlehem that was under two years old.

You know... reading this story... you might think, “Man...I'm glad we live in a more civilized world today.” But let's not forget that though the murder of children like this IS extremely cruel... we live in a society today that kills 21% of its unborn every year!

We live in a world that's appalled at all the violence that the Syrian government throws at terrorist rebels... yet won't say a word about all the atrocities that those same rebels commit against Christians... or Jews.

In much of the muslim world... believing in Christ is a death sentence. At the very least... Christians will lose jobs... homes... or family. Those are the lucky ones. All others will have their heads cut off with not much more than a pocket knife... or be burned to death by a flamethrower... or murdered in just about any sadistic manner that can be imagined.

We like to fool ourselves that we're civilized now... when we're actually further away from it in many respects. Hostility against God and His people is growing all around the world... and it's rapidly advancing even in countries that “claim” to believe in religious freedom.

Satan knows that judgment is near. He knows that his time is short. And he's aggressively advancing his world of hate before it arrives. It could be said that what we see in the world today is his “hail Mary” play, so-to-speak.

So... remember that while many in the unrepentant world may pay lip service to Christ's birth... they're only copying Herod's deception. Ultimately... they want nothing to do with worshipping Christ... or acknowledging Him as Lord. They may not be displaying an open antagonism against Him as Herod eventually does... but it's antagonism... or hatred... non the less.

Now... the second response to Christmas that we see here... is demonstrated to us by the religious leaders... and most of Jerusalem. And that response is...

II. Apathy

Something that really stands out to me from this whole story... is the complete lack of excitement that we see from any of the religious people in Jerusalem. Now... verse 3 does say that all of Jerusalem was “troubled”... but that was because Herod was troubled. And from what we know of him... when he's “troubled”... people tend to die... So it's only natural for everyone around him to be troubled when he's troubled.

But for a people who claimed to believe that Messiah was coming... it doesn't appear that they lived in eager anticipation of His arrival, at all! After Herod calls for the religious leaders to ask about this Messiah... and they tell him that He'd be born... Mat 2:5-6  ...In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

One would think that with the arrival of the Magi... and the questions they were asking about the “King of the Jews”... and telling everyone that they had “seen His star”... well, one might think that the religious leaders should show some kind of interest... or at the very least... send someone along with the Magi to find this “King”... and to be a part of what was going on.

But you don't see any of this. Not from the leaders... Not from the people... It's as if they knew He was coming... but they really didn't care.

Some commentators say that their indifference grew out of a misconception of what kind of leader the Messiah would be. They looked for someone to get rid of Roman rule and to establish His kingdom. They anticipated a military/political figure... not a humble Savior.

And while all of this is true... at the time of His birth... they had no idea what kind of Messiah Jesus would be. He was a baby. He wasn't anything yet... other than cold, hungry and crying.

Nor can they use the excuse that modern Jews today use... that Messiah is only a godly attitude... or the perfection of the Jewish nation. No... these unbelieving... politicized... self-serving Jewish leaders knew that the Bible clearly spoke of a literal, personal, historical figure... who'd be born in Bethlehem.

These religious leaders had enough light to recognize Him and to know that they should bow in humble worship, like the Magi... but they simply refused to believe.

They didn't accept Him at His birth... They scoffed at Him when He preached during His ministry... They tormented Him when He healed the sick... And they mocked Him as He died on the cross.

The apathy that they had toward Him in the beginning... in the end had grown into the same antagonism that Herod had toward Him. And this is the inevitable outcome of apathy.

Indifference toward God is simply hatred that's concealed... and rejection that's delayed. And all who continue on this path... will in the end... find themselves being cast into the lake of fire with all the other unbelievers who refused to repent.

Because you can't come to Christ on your terms... or according to your timetable. You can't balance the scales of God's justice with your own righteousness. Only through repentance of sin and appropriating the righteousness of Christ by faith... can anyone avoid, the otherwise, inevitable outcome of unbelief.

Herod showed His antagonism... His hatred. The religious leaders showed their apathy... their indifference. But the wise men show us their...

III. Adoration

Mat 2:10-11  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  11  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Now... the truth is... we know next to nothing about these Magi. The vast majority of what we supposedly know is based entirely on tradition and speculation... not biblical facts. We can draw some conclusions based upon what we know of magi... or the advisors from the Persian and Babylonian empires... but we still can't be sure that these “wise men” came from that background.

We don't actually know any of their names. How many there were. What means of transportation they used... or what their country of origin was. We know very little specifics about these particular Magi.

But what we do know... is what God wants us to know. They travelled from only God knows where... And from Herod's actions they've been involved in this search for this “King” for at least a couple years. And their arrival in Jerusalem, and the questions they asked caused everyone to be “troubled”.

But the most important bit of information we have about these wise men, is that once they found Christ... they worshipped Him.

Their enthusiastic search for the King... and their humble worship once they found Him... is a condemning contrast to the antagonism of Herod and the apathy of Israel.

They were probably Gentiles... but most definitely foreigners... and they spent a long time searching for the King of the Jews so that they might worship and adore Him.

If they were similar to the wise men of Persia and Babylon, as many people think... then they would have been steeped in false religion and astrology. But when the light of the knowledge of God shone on them through that special star... they recognized the movement of the one true God... and they sought Him out.

Just as we should today. Because this child that was born in Bethlehem... so long ago... was literally, God's gift to man. And just as you all received and then opened your gifts from each other just this morning... if you haven't already... you need to receive this greatest of gifts too.

Joh 1:11-12  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  12  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

And as I said at the beginning of this sermon... how you respond to Him... will set the course for your eternity. There is absolutely nothing in this life or in this entire universe... that is more important than how you response to Christ.

Repent... and believe in Him today. Because the time is getting short.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Truth About Christmas

The Truth About Christmas
Luke 2:1-7

You know... I can't recall how many Christmas sermons I've had the privilege of hearing over the years. Being the son of a Baptist pastor... I grew up in the church... hearing my dad preach countless sermons. And even though I have a lot of them in notebooks in my office... and I can look through them any time I want... I really wish I would have paid a lot more attention way back when...

And every year at this time... just like everyone else... we'd get excited and filled with anticipation of that coming Christmas morning. You know... if mom and dad had any qualms at all about Santa Claus... elves... or reindeer... I don't remember them ever showing it to any of us kids.

We'd have a Christmas tree like everybody else...(and for several years it was on of those silver aluminum trees that had a color wheel to shine on it)... We would hang our stockings on the mantle... if the parsonage we lived in had one. There would be presents under and all around that silver tree... We'd have hot chocolate... and all the sweet goodies that everyone else had. The console stereo we had would be playing records of Christmas music... Tennessee Ernie Ford... Nat King Cole... Bing Crosby...

I remember that my sister, Cindy, and I had a tradition where we would turn a coffee table into a “Winter Wonderland” display by un-fluffing cotton balls to use as snow... The we would get these small mirrors and surround them with the cotton snow to make them look like ice covered ponds... There would be little toy houses and trees and people that we'd spread all around like a small country village... And there would be a church in a central location in our village... and we also had a sleigh with reindeer and Santa...

You know... I still have that sleigh and Santa. (Show the sleigh...) It's not in the same condition it was when I was a child... but then... what is? Some pieces are broken... some are missing... but in my mind I can still see it all... like it was, when it was new.

I can also remember that we would watch all the Christmas shows on TV. As a child, I especially loved the “Norelco” cartoons... Anyone else remember those?

People and television had no problem with saying the name of Jesus back then. Everyone knew that Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Christ... and everyone seemed to be just fine with that knowledge.

But some things have changed since I was a child. We still have Christmas shows on TV... or in the theaters. And the plots are usually very similar. Some bad or evil or selfish person wants something... or goes on some magical mystery tour... and comes out on the other side a better person... all warm and fuzzy... after learning their lesson about the true meaning of Christmas.

That it's better to give than to receive. That Christmas is about doing good things and being nice to other people... That Christmas is about family... or being with the people that you love. That Christmas is about generosity... giving of yourself... your time... your money.

The list could go on and on... all of them being positive... moral messages that are good and right things for us to learn. They all sound nice... and look great on paper or on celluloid...

But they couldn't be further from the truth. Many of the messages we get today around Christmastime are sound biblical messages... don't get me wrong in this. These are all things that are good for us to know and practice... but they are not the true meaning of Christmas.

And the more we emphasize these moral messages as being the truth of Christmas... the further we get away from Jesus. It's as if we prefer the “good”... over the “best”... which is Christ, Himself.

Jesus Christ simply cannot be separated from Christmas. If we do that... it's no longer Christmas... (it's like taking the coffee out of the hot water... it's no longer coffee...) but something else entirely. The truth about Christmas begins with the birth of Christ in a stable... but its goal is a cross on Calvary.

So to accomplish His purpose for man... in the fullness of time... we can see where God moved men and nations around on the world stage... like pieces on a chess board... in order to bring His Son into the world.

Pro 21:1  The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.

So we begin this morning by looking at the...

I. Malleable Majesty (Luk 2:1-3) Malleable: easily influenced; pliable

Luk 2:1-3  And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  2  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Caesar Augustus... both of these names are actually titles. Caesar means “emperor”... while Augustus means “revered”. He was born Gaius Octavius... and he was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar.

After the assassination of Julius Caesar by the Roman Senate, which included a couple of generals named Brutus and Cassius... Octavius discovered that Caesar had adopted him and made him his heir, and he used this status as the adopted son in order to build his own power base.

So he formed an alliance (called a Triumvirate), with Mark Anthony and another general named Lepidus... in order to bring Caesar's murderers to justice. They defeated the armies of Brutus and Cassius at the battle of Philippi... after which, Brutus and Cassius committed suicide.

Then just a few years later, Octavius and Mark Anthony forced Lepidus from power... and then after that... Octavius went to war against the combined forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra... decisively defeating them at the battle of Actium in 31 BC. And as I'm sure you know from your history... Mark Anthony and Cleopatra both committed suicide too.

Though none of these people knew, or had faith in God... He used them in order to bring about the conditions necessary for the arrival of His Son. He arranged for the “fullness of time” to come about.

Because now that Octavius was in absolute control of the Roman world... God was able to use him in ushering in what's called the Pax Romana... or the Peace of Rome. You see... prior to Octavian (Caesar Augustus)... the Roman world was filled with war. One general, or commander against another... all of them vying for power.

But now... the Roman world was at peace... and under one Caesar... And it was through the leadership of Caesar Augustus, and Roman law... that an era of prosperity began which was marked by wise administration and a commitment to public works...

Those public works not only included building projects such as water and sewer systems and bigger and greater cities... but it also included the expansion of the road system... far beyond what it had ever been. And because of the better “Roman Roads”... an era of safe travel had been ushered in than had ever been known before...

Those very roads that Caesar Augustus extensively built... roads that linked the world together and made nations a little closer... were the same roads that carried the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the known world.

But before that could occur... Jesus had to be born... and He had to be born according to the Scripture... in the line of David... in a little village called Bethlehem.

And so we see Roman majesty once again become malleable clay in the hands of the Lord... so that just a little while before he died... the Roman Emperor would issue an edict, or a decree... that would cause a young couple to leave their home in Nazareth of Galilee... and journey back to their ancestral home of Bethlehem of Judah.

The trouble and annoyance of being made to register was pressed upon the entire world... so that Joseph and Mary would have to return home.

What the Roman Emperor intended for the future collection of taxes... God superintended... “that the Scripture might be fulfilled”...

Mic 5:2  "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."

So now... the fullness of time has come... and all things are in place to bring about the determined counsel and purpose of God... This young couple must now comply with the law of the land and make a painful... or at the very least... for a extremely pregnant woman... a highly uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem, where we will see the...

II. Numinous Nativity (Luk 2:4-7) (Numinous: having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity)

Luk 2:4-7  Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  5  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  6  So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  7  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

One of the things that we learn from the genealogy in Matthew... is that if there were a true son of David... sitting on the throne in Israel, at the time of the birth of Christ... it would have been Joseph, son of Jacob... the betrothed husband of Mary.

Being the first born son of his father, Jacob... Joseph is not only in the “line” of David... but he is also in that long line of first born sons of the line of David, through Solomon. He was therefore the rightful heir to the throne of Israel.

But this presents a problem... because his ancestor, Jeconiah... who was the king when Babylon took him into captivity... had a curse placed against him by God that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne again.

Jer 22:30  Thus says the LORD: 'Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.' "

But see how God moves things around in order to fulfill His purpose? Joseph isn't Jesus' natural father... but his adoptive father. So that curse against Jeconiah can remain in force... but since Mary is also in the line of David, but through his other son, Nathan... this child of theirs... born in Bethlehem... is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel.

A triple whammy... if you would. Jesus has the “right” to the throne through his adoptive father, Joseph... He's the “seed” of David through his mother, Mary... And He's the King Eternal... the King of kings and Lord of lords through His heavenly Father!

And furthermore... we can see the Sovereign work of God in forever establishing this child born in Bethlehem... as the only heir, forever... through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple... in 70 AD by Titus...

Because once that occurred... and the Jews were sent away into captivity... and then spread throughout the world for a couple thousand years... there no longer exists any truthful, or verifiable records of any Jew's lineage.

There can never be any other son of David to sit on the throne... other than the Son who was born... that night... in that manger. All of those who now, falsely claim to know their lineage... wherever they are in the world today... are actually in the same situation as those who came back from Babylon... after that captivity... and had no proof.

Neh 7:61-64  And these were the ones who ...could not identify their father's house nor their lineage, whether they were of Israel... 64  These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but it was not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled.

There is no a Jew today that can truthfully say they are of the tribe of Judah... let alone, of the line of David. So God has once again... moved people and nations about... in order to accomplish His will and establish forever His Messiah as the only rightful heir.

If only that innkeeper had known who it was who not only knocked on his door that night... but also who it was that was about to be born in his stable... I think he would have kicked some folks out in order to make room for them. He might have even put them up in the master bedroom and slept in the stable himself... if he had only known.

I'd like to think this. I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I also have to wonder what kind of a man... or woman... after seeing a young lady, such as this... who is so obviously pregnant... so apparently uncomfortable... and so close to giving birth... it makes me wonder why anyone would turn her away anyway... regardless of who she is?

You know... in their ignorance... they may have turned the young couple away from decent lodging... but at least, they gave them a stable to stay in... When people today kick Him to the curb... all the while knowing who He is... or at least... who He claims to be... and who we declare Him to be! Many today find it easier to believe in a mythical elf... that slides down chimneys... than the historic Christ! And that's so sad.

And the truth is that it makes no difference if Jesus was born in a stable... like the ones we see in the yard displays. Nor does it matter if that stable was a cave, as many people say... or if it was the ground floor of someones house which many people back then had as a stable for their animals. It really doesn't matter. What matters is that the eternal Word of God condescended Himself... (lowered Himself)... not only to be born into this world... but to be born is such a lowly manner.

He who had the riches and glory of eternity at His beck and call... gave it all up... Php 2:6-8  who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  7  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  8  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

The very One who declares that... Isa 66:1  ..."Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Had no place to lay His head... No warm bed to be tucked into... No home or room to protect Him from the elements and provide comfort and warmth. And besides His parents... His roommates were the beasts of the field.

That... Joh 2:7b ...there was no room for them in the inn. Is the same thing that gets played out every day in the lives of men and women... down through the centuries... and throughout the world. In the hearts and lives of many... there is still no room for Him.

The Truth About Christmas that I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon.. is that the God of Eternity... condescended Himself... not only to be born in a lowly manger... but also to die on a cross.

The Truth About Christmas is that He did this so that His justice would be upheld... our sins could be forgiven... and our pardon could be purchased.

The Truth About Christmas is that... Joh 3:16  ...God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

But the Truth About Christmas is also that... Joh 1:11-12  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  12  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:

The Truth About Christmas is that the Child who was born in that manger... was the Savior of the world!

And that by His grace... you too, can be saved by faith... in Him.

That's The Truth About Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Women of Jesus' Family Tree

The Women of Jesus' Family Tree
Matthew 1:1-16

A few weeks ago... as the Christmas season began to draw near... I began to think about what to do this year. You see... I have been in churches where the pastor would preach only one “Christmas” sermon in December... and it was usually on the Sunday of... or right before Christmas Day.

Now last year... I thought I would bring a Christmas themed sermon every Sunday in December. And I did...and I thought it went pretty well. But you see... it's not easy to always come up with something new, or fresh... when your topic has been preached on for centuries by thousands upon thousands of other preachers... most of whom are a lot better at it than you are.

But as I began contemplating on what to do this Sunday... I thought... “Why not start at the beginning?” And when I say that... I'm not talking about the beginning... as in way back in Genesis. No, I'm thinking more along the lines of Jesus' history... his background... his family tree. Where did He come from? Who's in His lineage?

Now, I know that genealogies can be boring. And I'm willing to bet... that I'm not the first person... nor would I be the only person in this room... who's either skimmed, or just flat out skipped over the genealogies we see in the Bible.

When I'm reading a list of names that I can't pronounce... and of people whose only real significance is that their name is in the Bible... but you have no idea who they are or what they did... or if they even did anything... then it's tempting to just zip right on through and not pay much attention to them.

And it's sad... because genealogies are important. They give us an idea of who we are... and where we came from. They tell us something of our roots. I can remember a few years ago... I attempted to trace out my own family tree. But I couldn't get much further than my great-grandmother. So all I really know of my own background is that I'm Swedish from my Dad's side... and English from my mother's side. More than that... I just can't say.

But anyway... genealogies are important. And they were extremely important to the Jews... and especially so after the giving of the law. Because after the law was given... a person's inheritance was determined by their genealogy.

For example... a person who was of the tribe of Judah... would receive their portion of their family land which was within the land of Judah. That family could never sell their property... but could only lease it for a period of time... after which (year of Jubilee) it would return to the original family, or tribe.

A person's genealogy not only determined their inheritance of the land... but in some cases... it would even determine their position within Israel. Only those who were of the tribe of Levi, could have an official position within the temple... and even then... only those who were of Aaron's lineage could be priests.

And genealogy also determined the line of heirship to the throne. Not only did the rightful heir to the throne of Israel have to be from the tribe of Judah... but they also had to be of David's line... through Solomon.

This was so important, that even through their Babylonian captivity... the Jews continued to keep records of who “begat” who, so that when they returned to Judah... as we read the genealogies in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7... the individual families could re-establish themselves and their positions.

This was so important to them... that those who had lost track of their genealogy... as some did... also lost their position in life, and their family inheritance.

The importance of genealogies also applies directly to the Christmas Story, doesn't it? I mean... we can see the importance that Rome placed on it when we read... Luk 2:1-3  And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  2  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

So... because Joseph was of the tribe of Judah and of the line of David... he had to go back to Bethlehem in order to be counted in this census... and because he was espoused to Mary... she went with him.

And at this point... that I could go right on into that traditional Christmas Story... but I won't. I'll save that for later.

In stead... I want to take a quick look at the forgotten Christmas chapter... Matthew 1:1-16

Mat 1:1-16  The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:  2  Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers.  3  Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram.  4  Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon.  5  Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse,  6  and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.  7  Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa.  8  Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah.  9  Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah.  10  Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah.  11  Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.  12  And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel.  13  Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor.  14  Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud.  15  Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob.  16  And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

Now... as you know... there's another genealogy for Jesus. This other one is found in Luke 3:23-38. When you examine these two genealogies closely... you'll notice that the names from David to Jesus, are different. The genealogy we just read in Matthew... traces the line from David's son, Solomon to Jesus. The genealogy in Luke traces the line from David's son, Nathan (who is Solomon's brother from the same mother... Bathsheba) to Jesus.

The explanation for this is that Matthew follows Joseph's family line... while Luke follows Mary's. But another difference we see, between the two genealogies... is that Matthew includes the names of some people who wouldn't normally be included in any Jewish genealogy.

Because you see... the Jews would normally only mention the males of a family line... or in the case of royal lines... only the 1st born sons. Women would normally be excluded. But we see in Matthew... the names of 5 women who are recorded for posterity as being in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

And they are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. Two of the 5... Ruth and Mary... were of exceptional character. But of the 3 that remain... one of them prostituted herself in order to get a child. Another was a prostitute by profession. And the last one was an adulteress.

But all of them... by the grace of God... are specifically noted as being a part of the line that leads to Messiah...

And today... I want to point out some things about the first 4 of these ladies... and I'll leave the 5th one, Mary, for another time.

I. Tamar (Genesis 38:6-24)

Now... Tamar... dates back to the patriarchs... and her story starts in Genesis 38:6. She was a Gentile... actually a Canaanite who married one of the sons of Judah, named Er. He died without an heir... so Judah... following the levirate marriage custom... sent his next son, Onan, to marry her in order to raise a son to his dead brother.

Well Onan... didn't want to have a son that wouldn't be his... so he... to put it nicely... didn't follow through. Then he died.

Judah has another son... but in his mind... he's already lost two to this woman... and he doesn't want to lose another. So... he puts her off by telling her to stay home till the 3rd son becomes of age... all the while thinking that maybe she'll just forget about it.

Well... she doesn't forget... because being childless and a widow was considered as a twin curse in those days. And when she realizes that Judah isn't going to keep up his end of the bargain... she hatches her own plan.

And that plan is that she dressed herself up as a shrine prostitute... and then when Judah passed by and saw her... not recognizing who she was... he made a deal with her... and then left his signet ring and staff as his promise to pay.

Well, she disappeared afterwards... became pregnant from the encounter... and three months later... when he discovered that his daughter-in-law was pregnant... sent his men to arrest and kill her. But... she presented his staff and signet ring... telling him that he was the father. Well... he knew that all of this came about because he failed to live up to his duties as the head of his family... so he took her back into the family... but never knew her in that way again.

Tamar's story is a story filled with human frailty and the weakness and sinfulness of the flesh. But the fact that she's included by name in the line of Messiah... is a testimony to the pure grace of God. Matter-of-fact... neither one of them deserved to be on that list... but both are.

II. Rahab (Joshua 2; 6:17-25)

Rahab is known to us for all ages as Rahab the harlot. That was her profession. She didn't just “play” the harlot like Tamar did. She lived the life. And yet... she's another Gentile who's in the line of the promised Messiah.

Her story is told in Joshua 2 and then in Joshua 6:17-25... and she's a part of the larger story of Joshua's conquest of Jericho. Because when he sent out spies to gather information... she took them in and hid them from the authorities... and then lied about them in order to get those authorities to look in a different direction so that the spies could escape.

And their promise to her was that if she put a scarlet thread in the window of her house... everyone inside that house would be spared. This part of the story reads very similar to the Jews escape from Egypt... doesn't it? With the blood on the door posts... where everyone inside was protected from the death angel.

But here we have a Gentile prostitute by trade... who's also a liar... but yet she's not only listed in the line of Messiah... she's also listed in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11... Heb 11:31  By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.

The fact is... Rahab was a believer! She's in the line of Messiah because she believed in the God of Israel... and acted accordingly toward His people and His purpose. Her declaration of faith is seen in... Jos 2:11  ...for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

And though we may know her now and for all time as Rahab the harlot... God knows her as one of His faithful beloved... who by His grace, would be included in the family history of His only Begotten Son.

III. Ruth (Ruth 1-4)

Ruth's story is a beautiful and inspiring story of faith, love and devotion. It is the ultimate “chick flick” of the Bible... It centers around a Gentile woman who married into a Jewish family which had moved into her home country of Moab.

Early in the story... her father-in-law, brother-in-law, and her husband dies. She is left with another Gentile who's her sister-in-law... and her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Naomi decides to move back to her home in Bethlehem of Judah. She tries to get both of her daughters-in-law to return to their homes so they can find new husbands... but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi... and she says to her... Rth 1:16  ..."Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.

The rest of her story tells of their return to Judah... and the beautiful romance that blossomed between Ruth, the Moabitess and Boaz the Israelite. And it's through her marriage to Boaz... and her faithful devotion to Naomi that she became another part of the lineage of Messiah.

IV. Bathsheba

Now... Bathsheba isn't even mentioned by name in this genealogy... but is instead called... Mat 1:6  ...her who had been the wife of Uriah.

She “might” have been a Jewish woman... but since her husband, Uriah was a Hittite... many think that she was also. So... so far... 4 out of the 5 women who are mentioned by name... are Gentiles!

The story of David and Bathsheba's adultery is so well known... I'm not even going to repeat it. But it is a story of adultery, lying, cover-up, betrayal and ultimately murder. The child that was conceived in adultery... died shortly after his birth... and David's family and empire began to crumble.

He did marry Bathsheba eventually, and they had other sons together. The most famous of which was Solomon... who not only became the wealthiest King ever known... but is also recognized as the wisest man who ever lived.

This story is filled with enough dirt to go around to all it's players... yet God used it for His glory and purpose... because it would be David's offspring through her that the line of the Messiah would be established.

Now... I want you to remember... before we go any further... just how unlikely these four women were. You might think that the family line of the Son of God would be filled with righteous people... doing godly things! But this isn't the case at all.

Messiah's line is filled with sinners... because it's filled with people! These women had several things going against them such as harlotry, adultery, incest, lying, immorality... and so on... Plus... all of them were Gentiles! But you know what? The men weren't all that pure either.

Abraham lied about his wife to save his own hide... twice! Isaac followed his example and did the same thing some years later. Jacob was a deceiver. David was a murderer and adulterer. Solomon had an insatiable sex drive. The vast majority of the kings that followed were evil idolators to say the very least. And yet, all of them are in the ancestral line of God's only begotten Son!

This truly puts me in mind of what Paul wrote in 1Corintians... 1Co 1:26-29  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  27  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;  28  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,  29  that no flesh should glory in His presence.

God takes the most unlikely of people to accomplish His purpose. He sees value where we don't. And He uses frail, sinful and foolish people like you and me to point to His Son.

So... maybe now... when you look at the genealogy of Christ... you'll begin to see beyond the unpronounceable names of people you know very little about, and you'll begin to recognize that no one... not even Jesus... had a “clean” family tree.

And this should be a great encouragement to all of us... because it goes to show that it doesn't matter what our past is... Jesus can and will, save. He came into this world as a child in Bethlehem... so that he might... Luk 19:10 and to save that which was lost."

And folks... that's you and me. He came to save us. There's not a single one of us that can claim to be any better than any one of these women in His background. They were saved by faith... and so are we.

Now... there may be some in here today that are thinking... “Well... that was them... but this is me. He can't, or won't forgive what I've done.”

Well... let me tell you something. You're wrong. His promise to us is that all who repent of their sins and turn to Him in faith... will be saved. None who are sincere in this will be cast out.

His word to us today... is the same word He gave millennia ago... Isa 55:6-7  Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.  7  Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.