Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: A Baby and A King

Intro: I want to let you in on a little secret.
  1. Six weeks ago, I had no idea what was going into my Advent sermons.
  2. I already can tell you what I am considering preaching on through the beginning of summer – or exactly what passages, but I can tell you that we will have two snippets, if you will, of our walk through Romans. And, during Lent, we will find time to finish our look at the life of Christ in the book of Mark that we started last Fall.
  3. But I really had no idea what I would during the four or five weeks of advent. I was stuck and I had to preach.
  4. Thanksgiving was coming and I was at a lost as to what to preach on.
  5. I really do not remember where the idea came from. It may have been something I read, it may have been something one of you said, or it may have been just thought that past through my head. But it certainly was not something I had planned.
  6. I went to the Internet – and began to look at the Lectionary. The Lectionary is a three year rotating set of readings that many churches use to guide their worship planning. And there it was, five of the most beautiful passages of scripture available from the OT describing the coming or Jesus Christ. All form the book of Isaiah. I had a set of sermons.
  7. For me, it has been fun journey through these five passages of Isaiah – a journey that I could not plan but that I needed to leave in the hands of God.
  8. We have one more passage to look at. We actually read it last Friday night at our Christmas Eve Service – but there it only set the foundation for what followed.
  9. Today it becomes the focal point of the morning message.
Read Isaiah 9:1-7
T.S. The passage begins with a baby, but ends with a king.

I. Our story starts with a Baby.

  1. “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a son is given.”
  2. Six months ago a baby joined our congregation. Have you taken time to look at Colin Ratcliff recently. He is growing and smiling and observing.
  3. Have you ever stopped to think – Jesus was this small and weak at one time. Dependent on His parents.
  4. (Appl.) The next time you see a baby – in a restaurant, in the line at the store, in the doctor's office – that baby, any baby, is a model of what how Jesus came 2000 years ago. Marvel that God sent his son as a baby – he did not merely drop him here. He did have to grow up. We spend a good deal of time each Easter discussing the suffering and sacrifice that Christ went through in the days and hours leading up to his death. But that baby that was born on Christmas day so long ago would experience hunger, he would stub his toes, he would fall and skin His knees.

  5. We all feel that is unfair when a child gets hurt – it seems particularly unfair that should the same happen to the Son of God. Yet we have absolutely no reason to think otherwise.
  6. But there is something else here. The verse uses two verbs to describe Jesus' coming. We understand what being born means.
  7. But there is another word used in the second phrase of the verse - “A son is given.” The Hebrew work used is natan – the underlying meaning is “to give.” But it has another underlying meaning – natan also means to place into the care of of someone or something. Jesus was placed into the care of Joseph and Mary
  8. (Appl.) Not much different from any of us – God gives us children for us to care. It is a responsibility given to each of us who is a parent. We have a responsibility to God for our children.

II. Our story starts with a baby, but it ends with a king.

(Ill.) The Jews had lots of kings. Most we have never heard of – Pekah, Shallum, Amon. There are others, that we may have heard of, but know little about – Zerubbabel, Josiah, Hezekiah. And then there are three that most of us will know – Saul, David, and Solomon.

  1. If you were to ask a person from the Jewish tradition who was the greatest King, there would be no doubt. It would be David
    1. Humble beginnings– trained to be a shephard
    2. Lots of oppositionon the way to the thrown and after getting there
    3. Seemed like he never finished his self appointed task of building the temple – left to his son to accomplish
  2. Lots of parallels to Christ's life
    1. Humble beginnings– born in a manger, raised as a carpenter's son
    2. Lots of opposition– Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees -
    3. Seemed like his life was a failureas He found himself hanging upon a cross.
  3. Look at the terms Isaiah uses to describe the child mentioned in verse 7: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    1. “Wonderful Counselor” - This child will guide those who choose to trust him.
    2. Why – because He is the “Mighty God” - God Almighty. There is no end to what he can accomplish.
    3. And whatever he does do, he does it as a “Everlasting Father” -tender and caring. Unlike earthly fathers that can be abusive or may abandon us, God will serve as a loving father that will never abandon or desert us.
    4. In fact He is called the “Prince of Peace”.

    (Ill.) This past week a comic crossed my desk – another of the rather insightful “Frazz.” It was written as a short poem – it ends “This year my wish is peace, but what if it already showed? And came in parts and we're too dumb to get it on the road?”

    5. Yes the Prince of Peace has come and we're, including me, often too dumb to get it for ourselves.

(Appl.) In 1999 Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, wrote what has become a rather well known book called Fresh Faith. One of the points that he makes is that God is not looking as much at our works, as our willingness to put our faith in Him. More often than not, when scripture talks about how a person is doing spiritually, the question of personal faith becomes more predominate than the size of the church, the works that a person is doing, or the amount of last Sunday's offering. Rather, the question becomes “where is their faith?” Is it growing? Has it been demonstrated in their lives? I don't know what you need for your faith to grow today – but Christ is there to provide it. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is the King of Kings.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: Hope

Intro: Hope has long been symbolized by the picture of an anchor.

  1. Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (NIV)

  2. The anchor was used as a tool to kill early Christian martyrs. The best known example was Clement of Rome. Converted under the ministry of Peter and Paul, the earliest known Christian writing following the completion of the NT was a letter Clement wrote to the church in Corinth. Clement was a martyr – after being arrested he continued to preach in prison and won many to Christ. For his efforts the authorities decided to tie an iron anchor around his neck and throw him into the Mediterranean Sea. And yet, the anchor remained a symbol of the hope for believing Christians.

  3. Yet, as I read about the life and death of Christ, I sometimes find it difficult to find a message of hope.

  4. Let me suggest that Isaiah 7:10-16 can help us to understand the message of hope that Christ brings to the church.

Read Isaiah 7:10-16


Tran. As we will see, the roots of hope for the Christian are found in history, in the promise of a messiah, and in the person of Jesus Christ.


  1. Hope is rooted in history

(Ill.) I never liked history. I remember once in seminary even going to a church history professor and asking for permission to write a paper rather than taking the final exam. Though he gave some serious thought to the matter, he could not let me take that option. History was tough.

      1. Yet, one of the reasons we can put our faith in Jesus Christ is because it is grounded in history.

      2. As we take these few Sundays to look at Isaiah and his prophesies related to the coming of Christ, one of the people that we need to be aware of is Ahaz.

      3. Actually our story starts 200 years earlier – after the death of Solomon Israel was spent into separate countries. The country to the north took the name of Israel. During the 200 years leading up to the time of Isaiah, this northern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, did not have one Godly king. The southern kingdom came to be known as Judah – and they had a series of kings, some good, some bad. But Ahaz was the worst!

(Ill.)To give you an idea of how bad Ahaz really was, II Kings 16 tells that Ahaz required his son to “pass through the fire”. The best scholars suggest that this is an euphemism for human sacrifice.

      1. Now this ungodly man is king of Judah. But God still gives him a chance.

        1. There are two countries that might be considered the super powers of the time – Syria and Assyria.

        2. Israel, the northern kingdom, has allied itself with Syria. Ahaz and the southern kingdom were invited to join this alliance. Ahaz refuses.

        3. That is when Isaiah comes onto the scene – through Isaiah, God challenges Ahaz to trust Him.

      2. Ahaz refuses – and instead decides to align himself with Assyria. History tells us that decision resulted in a century of bondage for Judah – that only ended with the return of Ezra and Nehemiah.

(Appl.) God reached out to this evil man – God also reaches out to each of us. Though we may not be as evil as Ahaz, we do resemble him in one respect – Too often when God reaches out to us, we decide to trust in other resources – events, money, people.

(Appl.) Assuming that God is reaching out to you today – and in some small way he is – who will you trust today? Will you trust God or will you follow Ahaz's example and put your faith in someone or something other than God?

  1. Hope is rooted in the promise

    1. Isaiah offers Ahaz the proof that he might need to show who is in charge. “Ask a sign – from heaven or hell – ask a sign.”

(Appl.) I expect that there are time when we all want a sign. Some proof that God is really there, that he really cares. And then when we mention it out loud, someone is sure to say, “Where's your faith?” It is as if we are not allowed to ask the hard questions. Yet God offers a answer to Ahaz and he refuses it. God can handle the hard questions. Sometimes he is ready to answer before we ask – but we can also give him the hard questions.

    1. Ahaz refuses God's offer – but Isaiah offers him a sign: A virgin will give birth to a son and His name shall be Immanuel – “God with us.”

(Ill.) Martin Luther said, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope. No husbandman would sow a grain of corn if he hoped not it would grow up and become seed …Or no tradesman would set himself to work if he did not hope to reap benefit thereby.”

(Appl.) Hope for the OT Jew was rooted in the promises – in the word of God. And there lies our hope as well – in all of God's word – both the OT and the NT, in all that he has given us.

  1. Hope is rooted in Jesus Christ

    1. Isaiah's promise would take 700 years to be fullfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

    2. That stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago serves as both the answer to hope for the Jew and as the basis for hope for the Christian.

(Ill.) A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Sam's Club on Ridge Road. There was a good-size hour glass on the shelf. It sort of represents what was happening in that baby Jesus Christ. In Jesus all the hope of the OT found its fulfillment. But in this same baby was all the hope of the world.

(Ill.) Robert Treat Paine, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence once said, “I am constrained to express my adoration of the Author of my existence for His forgiving mercy revealed to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future state.”

    1. I don't know what the future holds for me. Much less do I know what it holds for you. I do know this – if I place my faith in Jesus I can have hope. And I will have a future that allows me to spend eternity with Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: Let me conclude my thoughts by reminding you of the connection between “hope” and “faith”. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

As men and women of faith our hope is rooted history. Our faith is rooted in the promises. And our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ.

I trust that this Christmas season will be a season of hope for you. That whatever the stresses that might come your way, you will find the time to turn to the baby in that manger and acknowledge that He is the hope for the world – He is your only hope.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: Refreshment

Intro: Story of judge who had “The Holy City” sung rather than fining or imprisoning prisoners one day in court.

Read Isaiah 35:1-10


Tran. Hebrew poetry is different than the western poetry we have come to expect.

  1. Not based on rhythm

  2. Not based on rhyme

  3. Rather, it is based on the parallelism of ideas or thoughts

  4. Verse 1 is a good example of this – ABAB

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

  1. or the end of verse 2 AABB

    The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

  2. We will see more of Hebrew poetry in the future, but realize that we are looking at Hebrew poetry as we read this section of the prophet Isaiah.
  3. We will see more of Hebrew poetry in the future, but realize that we are looking at Hebrew poetry as we read this section of the prophet Isaiah.

T.S. Isaiah 35:1-10 contains three contrasts that help us to understand the importance of the Messiah to the Jewish people.

  1. Contrast #1 - The desert will blossom Isaiah 35:1

      1. I have never spent much time in a desert – but I am not sure that I would want to either.

      2. Yet the Israelites, as a people, had spent their lives living in the desert of Palestine.

(Ill.) In a typical December, there will 11 days of 10 inches or more of rain – the average high temperature will be 53°. That is twice as much precipitation and 20° warmer than Rochester NY. But the summer had three months with no rain and an average temperature of 83°.

      1. But the Israelites knew of areas that were full of flowers – there was Lebanon – an area north east of the Sea of Galilee that had forests famous for their cedar. There was Carmel – a mountain due west of the sea of Galilee. From its top you could see the Jordan River to the south west and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. “No mountain in or around Palestine retains its ancient beauty so much as Carmel. Two or three villages and some scattered cottages are found on it; its groves are few but luxuriant; it is no place for crags and precipices or rocks of wild goats; but its surface is covered with a rich and constant verdure. The whole mountain-side is dressed with blossom, and flowering shrubs, and fragrant herbs.” [Easton, M. Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897.] And there was Sharon – a eight mile wide plain west of the Jordan River. Today it is among the richest agricultural land in Palestine – but such was not true in the time of Isaiah. The “Rose of Sharon” refers to a group of four red flowers that flower one after the other in the area.

      2. And Isaiah says that a time is coming when the deserts of Palestine will have “The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon.” The land will be blessed. And there are those who argue that these prophesies are being fulfilled today – as citrus groves line the Plains of Sharon.

      3. But it is not only land that becomes dry – there are times in our lives that life seems dry. It will seem that there is little nourishment, little encouragement. Yet, like that desert, God offers us refreshment in the midst of our broken days. He wants to offer a fresh rain in the midst of the dryness in which we find ourselves.

      4. Reach out and take it – it may seem hard, it may seem impossible; but if we will continue, as best we are able at the time, to listen to God, he will respond.

  1. Contrast #2 – The blind shall see and the lame shall walk Isaiah 35:3-6

    1. Look at the specifics here - The blind shall see The deaf shall hear The lame shall leap like deer

    2. Now remember what Jesus did – he gave sight to the blind, he allowed the deaf to hear, he made the lame to walk.

    3. As I age, I become more and more aware of the physical ailments that are part of life. My back hurts, my feet cramp, I am more tired. I suspect that if we were to sit down and chat for any length of time, you could add to this list.

    4. Yet Isaiah offers each believer a promise. A day will come when we too shall see without glasses, we shall shall run and leap with joy. Those ailments we all have will be done with -

    5. At the same time there are limitations that we may not be aware of. You see, we cannot understand God, we cannot see the world as He sees it. We do not hear him as clearly as he speaks. And we can only partially and incompletely do all that he expects of us

    6. And a day is coming when we will see our world like God sees it, a day is coming we will hear God and understand everything he has for us. And with all of our gusto, we will be willing and able to obey him. That day is coming for

      The blind shall see The deaf shall hear The lame shall leap like deer

  1. Contrast #3 – A Highway for the clean

(Ill.) Roads often are used divide political realms. Out in our neck of the county Westside Drive lies almost East-West. On the North side of the road is Ogden township, on the South side of the road is Chili township. Now, I am not sure, but I think that I figured out on a map that West Avenue serves the same purpose between Sweden and Clarkson townships. But Isaiah's highway is different – it is not so much to divide, but to provide a way to God.

    1. But we have a problem. No one who is unclean will be allowed on this highway.

    2. But that is why Christ came – to take our brokenness and make us into holy people set aside for His use.

    3. This road is so straight that even the fool can find his or her way – There is nothing to be afraid of on this highway.

(Ill) Though there are no lions in Palestine today, they did exist at the time of Isaiah's writing. They were not the large mained variety that we are used to describing. But when hungary and thirsty, these Asian lions were as ferocious as the African variety.

    1. And as we follow that highway, we shall find a new life. A new joy will begin to define who we are.

    2. ...“and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

(Appl.) Are you missing the joy? Have you missed the road?


There are those who have never experienced that joy. God calls you to say “Yes” to Jesus.

But there are also those here who have said “Yes” to Jesus who have forgotten the joy. They want what they had – there is a need to say “Yes” again, to renew the fire that began when they first came to Jesus.

Finally, there are those are saying “yes” to Jesus – not just in the past, but with the beginning of each new day.

Are you missing the joy? Say “Yes” to Jesus.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: A Changed World

Intro: It is hard to wait.
  1. I mean, if I have to wait even ten minutes at the doctors office, I begin to wonder if they have forgotten me.
  2. Or have you ever had to wait for train. My son takes the train from Michigan during his school breaks. The train is scheduled to come in at 8:08 – in the two dozen or so times that he has taken that train, it has been on time only once. The worst case was when he was four hours late – and the Rochester train depot is not a fun place to wait.
  3. I used to make bread. It is kind of fun – kneading the dough is somewhat entertaining as you prepare it for the long wait. I have heard that a watched pot never boils. But you know something, bread is similar – if you sit and watch the bread, it will never rise. Waiting is tough ...
  4. And yet that is what the Israelites were doing. The best research suggests that the earliest prophesy about the promised Messiah was written down about 1500 years before Christ. Isaiah was written about 700 years before Christ.
  5. Oh, there were some who had lost their faith – there would be no Messiah. And there were some who just did not care. They were Jews and they would do what Jews do, Messiah or not. But there were some who, for all those years, continued to believer the promises God gave about a coming Messiah. And there were those who believed that they had found Him, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Read Isaiah 11:1-10
Tran. From the earliest times God’s people anticipated the coming of One who would be Savior, Prophet, Priest and King. Isaiah stressed four points concerning this Coming One. First, Messiah would be of humble origins. At the time of his appearing the royal family of Judah—the house of David son of Jesse—would be reduced to stump-like stature in the world. Out of that stump, however, would come forth a fragile shoot which ultimately would bear much fruit (11:1).
T.S. Who was this promised Messiah? Let's look at three characteristics suggested by Isaiah.
I. The Messiah's Person
      1. The Messiah would have the characteristics associated with God
      2. This is important – because one of the ways in which we support the claim that Jesus is God is to look at His life – does His life demonstrate the attributes of God?
      3. Look at the attributes associated with the Messiah -
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (2-3a)
      1. Isaiah is describing not some future, unknown person. He is describing the Messiah –which the 10th edition of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines as “the king and deliverer of the Jews”. Come forward about 700 years as the NT is being written. The word Messiah is not found in Greek – the Greek, indeed the whole NT, used the word Christ to refer to the Messiah. In fact, The same dictionary that gave us our definition of Messiah has as its first definition of “Christ” - “Messiah”.
(Ill.) I generally don't like red letter editions of the Bible. These are the editions of the Bible that put the words of Christ in red. The problem is that it tends to make the readers of scripture think that the words of Christ are more important that other parts of scripture. Since all of scripture is God's word, we ought not to over emphasize one part over another. Yet the red letter bible do serve one purpose, they help us to better understand the person of Jesus. It helps us to answer the question – was Jesus Christ who he and others claimed He is or was he a lunatic or a liar. Was Jesus Christ the long awaited Messiah or was he just another of the host of men who wander the world claiming to have the answer to the world's problems.
  1. The Messiah's Task
    1. I don't like to think of God as a Judge. I mean a judge has to make hard decisions. He has to decide whether someone is guilty or not. He has to look at the evidence and to the best of his ability make a decision. And as you always know, judges are perfect – they never make a mistake. They always get it right.
    2. Yeah, right.
    3. There is just one catch – the Messiah will not judge like those judges we know. It will not be what He sees or what He hears that will guide His decisions.
(Ill.) On too many occasions I have heard about parents that have eyes in the back of their heads. On more than one occasion I felt like maybe I did. But I want to let you in on a secret – I don't, never did, but don't tell my kids. It's worth them thinking I do for a few more years.
    1. God does not rely on eyes on the back of his head either – There are three words that describe the Messiah's judgment:
        1. righteousness– no errors
        2. justice– he will insure that when the time comes, those who have no voice have a voice.
        3. faithfulness– God is unchanging – and he will apply the same principles to every one of us
(Ill.) J I Packer has said that “There are few things stressed more strongly in the Bible than the reality of God’s work as Judge.”
    1. Listen to Isaiah's description of the Messiah as judge -
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. Isaiah 11:3b-5 (NIV)
    1. This is the God we serve. This is the God that loves us.
  1. The Messiah's Purpose
    1. We live in a crazy world. I pick up the newspaper and I see crisis after crisis. In the middle east there is Israel, Iraq and Iran. A little further east is Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the craziness is not just around the world – it is also here in our own back yard – murders, drugs, fires. I don't get it.
    2. But I do know this - God has sent someone, God has sent the Messiah, God has sent His Son to transform this world.
    3. We have become so use to the craziness of our world, that we have learned to accept it as normal. It is truly a sad state of affairs when we accept that which God never intended to be – as normal.
    4. And God sent His son, His Messiah, to transform that world. It will transform nature, cultures, societies, and individuals.
    5. And that is where it begins. With transformed individuals.
(Ill.) The story of Corrie Ten Boom was well known 20 years ago, but I am afraid that many have forgotten the remarkable transformation that had occurred in this woman's life....This woman had learned to live with the “lions” and “bears” that could have left her an emotional cripple. God had transformed her -
(Appl.) And God can transform you. Many of you have “lions” and “bears” in your lives. Areas where you have so much stress that there seems to be no relief. And that is where God wants to meet you. He will begin with those areas seem so disjointed and stressed that there is no relief – that is where he will begin to meet you. But that is only the beginning. But as Christians we believe that every area of our lives is need of transformation – and once we let him into one area, he will begin to change other areas as well.
Conclusion: Are you willing to let God transform you?
This morning as you come forward communion, let the transformation begin. Let God begin to take you and transform you on the inside so you can face the “lions” and “bears” that may come your way this week.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: Changed Lives

Intro: I would have a difficult time providing leadership to a church with a great deal of liturgy.
  1. But as I approached this advent season, I decided to try something a bit different.
  2. I took time to find out what the liturgical readings were for the advent season.
  3. I was surprised to find that this years selection included a series of readings from the book of Isaiah.
  4. The Old Testament has always fascinated me - it is part of the reason that I am where I am today. The oldest book of the Old Testament was written 400 years before Christ was born, but yet it makes some very clear references to the coming of Christ including the place and manner of His birth.
  5. And it was partly my memory of that truth that got me through some very dark times in my faith. If God was able to reveal facts about Christ's birth 400 years before Christ was born, then there must be some truth to it. I was able to cling to my faith during some very dark days as I clung to that truth.
  6. And so, as I saw the possibility of focusing my preaching on the book of Isaiah for a few weeks, I took the opportunity.
Read Isaiah 2:1-5
Tran. Isaiah lived in Jerusalem about 700 years before Christ.
  1. His name means “The Lord is Salvation”.
  2. He is quoted more than any other OT prophet in the NT – 65 times. He is mentioned by name over 20 times.
  3. John MacArthur says that he “has no rival in his versatility of expression, brilliance of imagery, and richness of vocabulary.
  4. Isaiah uses 2,186 different words – which means little unless you realize that the Psalms have only 2,170 different words.
T.S. Like a journalist, Isaiah begins to lay out the basic truth of Christ's coming in Isaiah 2:1-5
  1. When – The Latter Days (Isaiah 2:2)
      1. The word prophet has changed over the years. To us it is someone who is able to tell the future – sometimes in accurately, but close enough that we can recognize some kind of fit.
      2. But to the people of the OT, the prophet had a different job. That job was to be a “forthteller” - giving forth the word of God accurately and without error. These messages did sometimes look to the future – but not always. But when they did look to the future, they had to get it right 100% of the time. Deuteronomy 18:22 says “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” Isaiah proved himself a prophet.
      3. But there is a bigger issue – and that is when are the “latter days”. Three answers present themselves.
        1. Some scholars suggest that it refers to the end of time – when Christ returns for his church.
        2. But there are fair a number of scholars who suggest it refers to today – we are living in the time in those latter times.
(Ill.) Biblical prophesy is much like looking at a mountain range. As you look at those mountains, at one point they all look the same distance. And in some ways they are – I am as overwhelmed by the distance whether the mountain is ten miles or fifteen miles away.
        1. So as the prophets wrote, they were sometimes referring to our time and at times to a time when he will return for His church and at times to both. It it is not so much “Either-Or” but “Both-And”.
      1. So as we look at Isaiah in the next few weeks – we are looking at a man who has proved himself as God's spokesman and who is speaking to the people of his time and to us. We need to be willing to listen.
  1. What – Changed Lives (Isaiah 2:2-4)
    1. There going to be changes – God caused changes. Changes that only God could do.
    2. First, there would be a new focal point for worship – we have the advantage of knowing the focal point, the person of Jesus Christ.
    3. AndHe will teach us His ways, And we will walk in His paths.
        1. I wonder if sometimes we fall into the trap of expecting the church to teach us all we know about God
        2. Yet as God's people the Holy Spirit it part of our lives. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth
(Ill.) Some has said, “The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.” It is just as true in our desire for spiritual truth as for any other kind of truth.
    1. Then God will serve as judge. It starts when God begins to reshape our conscience. We begin to experience that little twinge that tells us we are off track. Then we listen and respond. And God continues the process of shaping every part of us.
    2. And he takes our anger and reshapes it – look at the end of Isaiah 2:4: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
(Appl.) But it occurs not only for nations, but for individuals as well. God take the anger we bring, the hurt we feel, the frustrations that are part of life and reshapes them. Taking our anger and changing it into forgiveness is no different than having people take swords and beating them into pruning hooks. God wants to change us, he wants to take the old man or woman and remake us into a new person that can serve Him.
  1. How (Isaiah 2:5)
    1. These five verses contain only one command.
    2. Isaiah has laid out the promise – it is a future promise, but it is a promise none the less. And then he gives a command: “Come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord.
(Appl.) That word “come” is a translation of an interesting Hebrew word. It can be translated in any number of different ways – for example: to go, to depart, to come, or to follow – that is just the start. But it does mean “to follow”. Perhaps you remember what Jesus' first command was to his disciples - “follow me”. Isaiah did not have the whole picture, Isaiah did not understand everything he taught. I don't either. But He did know that faith began with following the Lord,Come ... let us walk in the light of the Lord.
    1. Following the Lord, following Jesus, will never be easy – whether it is Isaiah calling those living in the 5th century BC or Christ calling his disciples in the first century or our making a commitment today.
    2. And the command does not change. As I have reminded you before, the first command that Jesus gave to his disciples was also the last command he gave to Peter - “Follow me."
Conclusion: As we enter the advent season, take time to consider what it means to follow Jesus. Whether the idea of following Jesus is new to you, as I know it is, or whether you have been following Him for sometime, it seems an appropriate question – what does it mean for you, what does it mean for me, to follow Him?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Thanksgiving: An Ancient View

Read Psalm 100

Intro: Bible Study can take on many forms.

  1. For most of this fall, we have spent time looking at the broad strokes of truth found in Paul's epistle to the Romans

  2. Bible Study can also take us closer to scripture – allowing us to examine every word and it meaning and use in scripture.

  3. But it is also possible stand back and take a look at the big picture.

  4. That is what I did this week – I took the English work “thanksgiving” and looked to see what other words were used with in the OT

  5. Four words stood out – four words that will help us that will help us to understand the meaning of Thanksgiving.


The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is Tow-dah

  1. Used in many different ways

  2. The Thanksgiving offering sacrifice

  3. Used to refer to songs of thanksgiving

  4. Used to refer to a worship service whose focus was thanksgiving

  5. And it is used with four words that help us to better understand what it means to be thankful.


  1. Peace Leviticus 7:13

      1. I don' know about your house, but around the Johnson

      2. And yet to the Jew of the OT, these two terms were connected

      3. But peace comes in two forms

        1. First it is the gentle, restful times when we can find ourselves away from the craziness of this world live in. And for those times we can be thankful – though they don't seem to come as frequently as we might want. The Bible calls this the “Peace of God”.

        2. But there is another kind of peace. The kind that Paul mentions in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.“ We have just finished our study of Romans where we looked at the impact of sin on our lives. As unsaved men and women, we stand as enemies of God. But as people of God, we have “Peace with God.”

(Ill.) In failing health, Patrick Henry wrote in 1799 to President John Adams, to express regrets that he would not be able to serve as the U.S. Minister to France, nor the term he had been elected to in Virginia’s legislature. Knowing his time was short he told his family: “Oh, how wretched should I be at this moment, if I had not made my peace with God!”

      1. I trust that this Thanksgiving that you, too, can be thankful that you have “Peace with God” regardless of how much peace you may have in your lives right now.

  1. Praise Psalm 100:4

(Ill.) If you had been attending our Wednesday evening Bible Study, you would know the relationship between Praise and Thanksgiving. In fact if you would wander downstairs later this morning, you will find over in the corner of the fellowship hall a white board with the definitions that help us understand the difference between Praise and Thanksgiving.

    1. Praise puts the focus on God and who He is – the all powerful, all knowing, blessed creator, and Redeemer of our souls.

    2. Thanksgiving places the focus on what God is doing in our lives.

    3. Praise and Thanksgiving invite two errors.

        1. First there is the tendency to forget who God is

        2. Second is the tendency to forget what God has done

    4. Our Thanksgiving holiday gives us the opportunity to quiet both of these errors -

    5. Take time to Praise God by remembering who he is.

    6. Take time to be thankful for what God has done for you this year.

  1. Prayer Isaiah 6:10

    1. Prayer – is having a conversation with God and, as such, certainly is connected to Thanksgiving

(Ill.) Chuck Swindoll, President of Dallas Theological Seminary, reminds us that we never learned to pray at school. In fact, he says, we never learned to pray at church. Most people did not learn to pray in PJ's at their bed. No, most people learned to pray at the dinner table – starting from the very first solid food. Blessing was part of every meal – and we learned to pray.

    1. And when we sit down at this year's Thanksgiving feast, for many of us prayer will again be a part of our meal.

(Appl.) Look at your table. Look at the mashed potatoes, the jello salad, the green bean casserole, the turkey. And then remember that 13% of the world's population will go to bed hungry that night, earning less than $1 per day. Remember that 11 million children die each year from malnutrition. American food banks serve 23 million people – that is 10% of our population. Now look again at those mashed potatoes, the jello salad, the green bean casserole, and that turkey. And then, as a family, remember to pray and give thanks for all that God has given you and yours this year.

  1. Psalms Psalm 100 - “A Psalm for giving thanks.”
    1. I was caught by surprise. I mean Christmas is about music, Christmas is about singing Christmas carols.

    2. But of all the word's I found connected to “Thanksgiving” the group of words associated with songs, singing, the Psalms, occurred more than any other.

    3. When I think of the music that has meant the most to me over the years, it is music that has touched my heart. It is music that has brought tears to my eyes. Songs that have made me thankful.

(Ill.) I have spoken before of the fact that I like country music. Though I spent most of my teen years but as I grew older, I lost interest and started to listen to golden oldies and Christian music. But seven years ago, the summer before we moved to New York, my kids, much to their consternation, introduced my wife an I to a song that relit my appreciation for country music. It was Shania Twain's song, “You're Still The One.” It is the story of how one couple survived, with a lot of hard work, the rigors of marriage. It is the story of my marriage. It is a song that still brings tears to my eyes. Those are tears of thankfulness.

    1. We don't usually think about music being about Thanksgiving – but many of us can think of a song or two that expresses our thankfulness for the things that God has provided to us.

(Appl.) Let me encourage you consider adding a song to your Thanksgiving feast.

Conclusion: There are lots of way to be thankful

  1. It may be finding a few minutes of peace to remember our what God has done

  2. It may be learning to praise God – in the midst of our hectic world

  3. It may be just remembering what we do have – and letting our prayers express our thankfulness

  4. Or it may be taking time to sing a song that will help you to remember that you do have things to be thankful for this year.

I truly hope that you this year you will find Thanksgiving a remarkable holiday – with a fresh view of God's gifts and God's love.

Read Psalm 100

Monday, November 15, 2004

Wrong Again?

Intro: Charles Wesley, studying Abraham’s faith as described in Romans 4:13, wrote a hymn of eleven stanzas about faith. The most popular stanza has provided a watchword for the Victorious Christian Life movement for a hundred years:

Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone; Laughs at life’s impossibilities, And cries, It shall be done!
  1. Learning about Faith is never easy.

  2. It challenges us to look at life differently, in new ways

  3. Yet, as children of God, we are called to be people of faith

  4. Today, as we finish our study of the book of Romans, we look at one of the great men of faith.

Read Romans 4:9-25


Tran. Paul is using Abraham's life to review the great truths that have been given in the first quarter of Paul's largest book.

Romans can be divided into three major sections: Romans 1-4 provide a foundation for all believers Romans 5-8 provide framework upon which the Christian life is built Romans 9-16 provide practical guidelines for living out the Christian life.

T.S. So today, as come to the end of the first part of Romans we are reminded of the great truths of Paul's introduction:

1. We can't get it right 2. God got it right

  1. We can't get it right

(Ill.) Stop for a minute – make a mental list all the requirements that you would make for getting into heaven. Now stop – for you see you don't get to make those rules. That is God's province.

      1. It is true today. It was true in Abraham's day.

      2. The Israelites had two claims that they thought would keep them safe before God.

      3. Circumcision was, to the Jew, a mark of their salvation. Except they got it wrong.

      4. Paul knows if the Jews are ever to believe in Jesus, he will need to convince them of this fact. You see, circumcision never saved Abraham – rather it served as a mark of what had already happened in Abraham's heart. It had been years before that Abraham had believed God and chose to follow Him.

(Ill.) Paul has already spoken of a circumcision of the heart. When we believe on Jesus, God changes us. That change starts inside – we begin to see the world differently, we begin to make decisions differently, we begin to live differently. There has been a change in our hearts. There has been a circumcision of the heart.

      1. But it was not only circumcision that got in the way. It was also the law. The Jews knew that if they obeyed the law, they would spend eternity in heaven.

      2. But Abraham presented a problem to their thinking. You see, the Law was given to Moses around 1400 BC – more than 600 years after the death of Abraham. Abraham never had the law; Abraham, without the law, still found favor with God.

(Ill.) There are 2,000,000 laws in the United States. If we could learn those laws at the rate of two a day, it would take almost 3000 years to become a law abiding citizen. But even then we would not be any closer to heaven. These are man made laws – not God's. And God makes it clear that only if we follow His laws will he let us into heaven. And Paul has made it very clear that we cannot fall God's laws.

      1. And that is the bottom line – we can't get it right.

  1. God got it right

    1. But God did what we cannot do.

    2. Salvation is not something we can do – it is something that God gives.

    3. Listen to Paul's description of Abraham's faith, Rom 4:18: Romans 4:18 (NIV) Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed ...

    4. Take a minute to reread Romans 4:22-25. Let me point to three key words in this brief passage.

        1. TRANSGRESSION – this is a new word for sin, that we have not discussed before. Its root meaning is make a false step, to stumble or trip, to cross the line.

(Ill.) I am reminded of the old childhood bully. He takes his foot and draws a line in the dirt and then looks you in the eye and says, “I dare you to cross the line.” Knowing full well that there will be consequences if we do, we do.

It comes back to the point that Paul made in the previous chapter - “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

        1. RIGHTEOUSNESS – In one sense, righteousness is not what we do, but what we are. As believers, God has taken our sins, laid them out and marked them “Paid in full.” Before God we stand righteous – not because we are good, but because of what Christ did on the cross. But Righteousness is also something we are becoming. Theologians call it “sanctification” - it God making us what he wants us to be. It is a process that will not be completed until we die and are finally stand before God, but it is a process that he starts the minute we come to Jesus Christ. Ten times in Romans 4, Paul speaks of God crediting us with righteousness.

        2. JUSTIFICATION – I have never had to be in court. Even better, I have never had to stand trial. But if I did, I know that the words I would most like to hear are “innocent”, I would be “acquitted.” I am no longer guilty of my sins. God has forgiven me.

(Appl.) It is where, for me I begin to understand “unconditional love.” If God can take me, one who sins, a transgressor, and call me innocent, then perhaps I can do it for those around me. God has forgiven me – I can learn to forgive those around me.

(Appl.) But there is another application here – if God has forgiven me of my sin, then I can forgive myself as well. Hey, I do fall short. Hey, I do sin. But if God has forgiven me and I can learn to forgive others, then I can learn to forgive myself.


We are going to leave Romans for a while – we will return after the start of the new year. It might be wise to remind ourselves of the two basic lessons from these first four chapters:

  1. We are all sinners and deserving of God's wrath.

  2. God has given his Son to take our punishment – so that we no longer need to fact that wrath.

Not only is that the basic message of Romans 1-4, it is also the basic message of Christianity.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Living By Faith

Intro:  Do you like getting something for nothing?

  1.  I do – Christmas and birthdays are important 
  2.  I occasionally get the pleasure of winning something – tee-shirts, phones, or books have all come my way as the result of winning some kind of prize.
  3.  I have never won anything really big – trips or cars, that kind of thing 
  4.  But I have won the biggest prize of all – the right to spend eternity in God's presence.  
  5.  I certainly do not deserve to be there.  Those who know me best know just how true that is.  
  6.  And that is, of course, what Paul has been teaching in his letter to the Romans.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And that does include me.
  7.  That God would allow us broken people into heaven is a bit easier for us to accept than it might have been to the first century Jew.  

Read  Romans 4:1-8

Tran.  Paul uses two examples to help the Jewish readers of his letter understand what it means to be saved by faith.
Paul is aware that the Roman church is made up of two very different audiences.  There are the Romans who are much like you am me – grateful that God is willing to love us.

But there is also a group of Jewish element who have spent their entire lives knowing that they must serve the law.  And now this strange new cult (as they would see Christianity) comes along and says that they don't get into God's presence through good behavior – but by faith.

T.S.  Paul uses the examples of Abraham and David to help them understand what this means.

  1. First Example of Living by Faith is Abraham
      1. I expect that Abraham is remembered more fondly than any other person in the history of the Jews.

(Ill.)        His name in Hebrew means “Father of Multitude”.  Though not everyone in the middle east has roots going back to Abraham, a great many of the people groups that we find there today have roots going back to Abraham.  But perhaps more importantly, each of the three major religions that have their roots in the middle east can trace their spiritual heritage to Abraham.

      1. The story of Abraham was one of the first I ever taught in Sunday School – even as a young college student.  It is the story of a young man who is asked by God to leave his own country, and eventually his own people, and move to a land he had never seen.  The journey would originally take him 400 miles to the Northwest and then, after a period of fifteen years, at the age of 75, he would travel with his immediate family to the the Southwest to what we know as the land of Palestine.  
      2. Abraham was the kind of person that others could look up to for an example of faith.  He obeyed, he prayed, he was blessed by God.
      3. He is the type of believer that might find themselves feeling pretty good about their spiritual life.  I mean, if any OT character deserves a pat on the back, it would be Abraham.
      4. It's not just me that feels this way.  Paul did too – look at verse 2:  Romans 4:2 (NIV) “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about.“ But Paul does not stop there.  Look at the whole quote - “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.”  

(Appl.)  It is an easy trap for any of us to fall into.  Things are going pretty well.  We have seen some prayers answered.  We have had our devotions for the past week.  I mean, I (or you) have done all that you might expect.  And I deserve some recognition.  And then I can hear the words of Paul echoing, “If, in fact, Floyd was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.  We have no more reason to boast than did Abraham.  

      1. Listen to what Paul says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness  .. to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

(Ill.)        It is a banking transaction.  We take a check into the bank and they credit our account just as if we it were cash.  

      1. Justificationis exactly that – when we place our faith in Christ, we are justified.  It is just as if we had never sinned.  

  1. Second Example of Living by Faith is David
    1. Paul gives a second example – David.(Ill.) 
    2. David had less reason to boast – you remember the story of David and Bathsheba.  Here was a man who sinned.  You might remember his words of confession found in Psalm 51:
1 Have mercy on me, O God, 
               according to your unfailing love; 
               according to your great compassion 
               blot out my transgressions. 
2 Wash away all my iniquity 
               and cleanse me from my sin. 
3 For I know my transgressions, 
               and my sin is always before me.        
(Appl.)  There is a problem with confession in modern American culture – if I have to confess, it means that I have done something wrong.  But that is exactly what we mean when we  talk about being broken people.  If David, “a man after God's own heart” finds it necessary to confess, I suspect the same is true of me and you.
(Ill.)  Under the Lights
In How To Be Born Again, Billy Graham wrote: Several years ago I was to be interviewed at my home for a well-known television show and, knowing that it would appear on nationwide television, my wife took great pains to see that everything looked nice. She had vacuumed and dusted and tidied up the whole house but had gone over the living room with a fine-tooth comb since that was where the interview would be filmed. When the film crew arrived with all the lights and cameras, she felt that everything in the living room was spic and span. We were in place along with the interviewer when suddenly the television lights were turned on and we saw cobwebs and dust where we had never seen them before. In the words of my wife, “I mean, that room was festooned with dust and cobwebs which simply did not show up under ordinary light.”
The point is, of course, that no matter how well we clean up our lives and think we have them all in order, when we see ourselves in the light of God’s Word, in the light of God’s holiness, all the cobwebs and all the dust do show up.* [Billy Graham, How To Be Born Again (Waco: Word Books, 1977), 118.]
    1. Where Abraham might have reason to boast, David did not.  And yet David knew he was called “blessed”.  
    2. “blessed” is an interesting word.  It means to be content, to be happy – even in the midst of difficult times.  David was blessed.  Not because of what he did – but because, in spite of his sin, he placed his faith in God.
    3. Whether it is Abraham, David, you, or me, our works will not get us into heaven.  
Conclusion:  Let me finish by reminding you of three key truths that form the core of the Christian message:

        1. We are broken people - YES
        2. We are believing people – YES
        3. We are forgiven people – YES

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Here is one site that can provide additional tools for your own Bible reading and study.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Salvation Is ...

Intro: I sort of feel that my preaching these last few weeks has been kind of negative.

  1. Much of the first few chapters of Romans draws our attention to the fact that we are sinners.
  2. Maybe you feel like my wife some thirty years ago. . We had just arrived in Chicago after being married five days earlier. We had to catch a bus that would take us north to Waukegan. But it was an overcast day in the Spring of 1974 – and she panicked. She look out of the bus window and said those words that we remember so well, “I've come to one of those God forsaken places where the sun never shines.” Let it be known, that it has shown over the past 30 years.
  3. But it is possible that my preaching has left us feeling like we have reached one of those places in our spiritual life “where the sun never shines.”
  4. But today we turn, along with Paul, the corner. We begin to see what really is the good news of the gospel and what distinguishes Christianity from all the other world's religions.
Read Romans 3:21-32


Tran. During the next few minutes, I want to discuss seven characteristics that will help us to better understand the nature of the salvation we are offered in Jesus Christ.

I. Salvation is apart from the Law Romans 3:21
  1. For centuries the Jews had tried to understand and obey all the laws of God.

  2. (Ill.) Their spiritual leaders had identified 613 laws- and from those they had developed corollaries that the faithful were expected to keep. Realize that most of these “laws” were merely their interpretations – not from God. But the faithful Jew tried to keep them.
  3. Righteousness came from behaving, but it could not happen.
  4. The Law did point to God and his expectation of a righteous people – but the OT also pointed to something beyond the law.
  5. The sacrifices, the prophecies, and great teachers all witnessed to the truth.
  6. The OT law, as well as the rest of the OT, could point to the way, but they could not take care of mans sin.
II. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ Romans 3:22a
  1. Being righteous is tough – no, it is impossible
  2. Yet that is what God demands if we are ever to live in his presence.

  3. (Ill.) As a child I loved to swim – I still do. More than one person called me a fish out of water. But I always was careful to swim where there were lifeguards. Now, I never had to use their services. Yet, if I had, I could never have done nothing to save myself – it was only because the lifeguard was on duty that I would still be alive.
  4. You see there is nothing we could do to make ourselves righteous.
  5. It is something that we must leave in the hands of God – and he chooses to do it through the person of Jesus Christ.
III. Salvation is for everyone Romans 3:22b-23
  1. “For God so loved the world ...” - the most famous scripture, translated into more languages than any other verse. That's the good news.
  2. But the need for God's love is described here – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

  3. (Ill.) This simple verse should be of special interest to those of you who are interested in sports. Twice Paul uses sports terms to describe our connection with sin – For all have sinned – we have already discussed this word. “harmatia” - the archer who has missed the mark. Paul then reminds us the we each “fall short” of the glory of God. The word is the one who is in a race, a marathon, and is coming in last. It refers to the one who is left behind at the end of the race. Sin is a universal ailment.
  4. Because of sin God had to respond. Because He loved us he did respond
IV. By grace Romans 3:24
  1. There is nothing in me, there is nothing in you, that warrants God providing salvation for us.
  2. It is only because He chose, because God chose, to provide salvation that we can be saved.
  3. We call that grace.

  4. (Ill.) Max Lucado, in his book In the Eye of the Storm, wrote: The supreme force in salvation is God’s grace. Not our works. Not our talents. Not our feelings. Not our strength. Salvation is God’s sudden, calming presence during the stormy seas of our lives. We hear his voice; we take the step. We, like Paul, are aware of two things: We are great sinners and we need a great savior. We, like Peter, are aware of two facts: We are going down and God is standing up. So we … leave behind the Titanic of self-righteousness and stand on the solid path of God’s grace. And, surprisingly, we are able to walk on water. Death is disarmed. Failures are forgivable. Life has real purpose. And God is not only within sight, he is within reach.
    In the Eye of the Storm
V. At great cost to God Romans 3:24-25
  1. Someplace I once heard that Salvation was free
  2. Though it was free to me, it cost a lot
  3. It was Jesus who paid the price.

  4. (Ill.) The year before I came to this church I was allowed to attend a conference in Covington, KY. Covington is lovely little town directly across the border from Cincinnati,OH. My colleague in the CS department at Roberts was my roommate. Microsoft, the computer people, was also in attendance – and they were passing out prizes. Both my roommate and I received prizes. They looked alike, there didn't seem to be any difference between what we received. Until we opened them up – and his was green and mine was orange. You see, his was the equivalent of 11 floppy disks and mine was the equivalent of 22 floppy disks. Why did mine hold twice as much as my colleagues? I have no idea. But it is a perfect illustration of Grace – getting something I do not deserve for no reason at all.
VI. In perfect Justice Romans 3:25-26
  1. God, when he began to put together a plan for salvation, had a problem. Here is the perfect God.

  2. (Ill.) I expect that most of you have experienced the same problem. You have spent the last three months looking for the perfect piece of furniture and you bring it home. For the next three months you keep it polished and dusted. You are careful to place every dish down so carefully. But then something happens and you see it. A ding. A mark and all of a sudden the piece of furniture is not the same as it was. Multiply that piece of furniture a thousand times, a million times, and you have a small picture of God.
  3. Warren Wiersbe wrote God must be perfectly consistent with Himself. He cannot break His own Law or violate His own nature. A God of love wants to forgive sinners, but a God of holiness must punish sin and uphold His righteous Law. How can God be both “just and the justifier”? The answer is in Jesus Christ. When Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross for the sins of the world, He fully met the demands of God’s Law, and also fully expressed the love of God’s heart. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament never took away sin; but when Jesus died, He reached all the way back to Adam and took care of those sins. No one could accuse God of being unjust or unfair because of His seeming passing over of sins in the Old Testament time.