We see time and again how God has called and calls both ordinary men and women throughout history to do extraordinary things for His Kingdom purposes. Last week Jim Hatmeyer introduced a new series we are beginning titled “Ordinary Rebels”. The purpose of the series is to show that God has and always will call normal ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him. We see this in Jesus’ ministry as he called the twelve ordinary and sinful men to be his disciples for his master plan of ushering in the Kingdom of God.
I am and we all should be encouraged by how God uses these ordinary men/rebels to forever impact and change the world for his Kingdom and glory. Their lives are truly evidenced that when Jesus becomes the Lord and Savior of your life that life and living will never ever be the same again. Pastor John MacArthur writes in his book, Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants to Do with You, “The twelve were personally selected and called by Christ… He knew all their faults long before he chose them.”
As we read through the accounts of each one of these ordinary rebels, we see one common denominator… When Jesus calls someone to follow Him, they drop everything to follow him. The tax collector gives up his life of luxury and leaves his career behind to follow the savior. The blue-collar fishermen drop everything (this would have been their livelihood) to walk with the savior to see his grand scheme to save the world. The skeptic encounters Jesus and is challenged to “come and see for himself” this savior who does not fit the conventional description of what everyone thought the Messiah should look like. We see Philip and Andrew who are so struck with the Savior they just must go out and introduce their friends to the Lamb of God who is going to take away the sins of the world.
But, before we meet all these rebels it is important for us to look at the one who paved the way for these 12 men whom Jesus would eventually call. He maybe not so much an ordinary person, as he had some unique qualitied about him, but he is “ordinary” in the fact that he was not a person from an influential family, nor did he ever rise to a level of fame that would set him apart from others. He is John the Baptist. Today we will look at the person of John the Baptist and the role he plays in the both in the Gospel accounts and in the society he lived namely the religious rulers.
I am going to establish somethings before we get too deep into the message.
I will conclude with some personal applications, but I would like to extend an invitation for you to expand on the Word in your personal time with the Lord.
John The Baptist – We don’t know a lot about John the Baptist but what we do know we can find it in the Scriptures.
The Jews – Most often when this term is used in the Gospel account of John it refers to the religious leaders. The hierarchy of the religious order is a little complex and it is tied in with government. There was no separation of Church and state.
The Temple Order – There are many ranks and levels to the priesthood, and they are as follows…
The Religious Leaders
John 1:19 – 34
John the Evangelist (not the Baptist, but author of the Gospel of John) introduces a new topic and expands a little about this unique individual he briefly mentions in vs 15. It is believed John did not personally witness this account, so he is probably telling a well-known secondhand story of what happened.
Verse 19 – The religious leaders (probably the Sanhedrin) sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist about who he was. They did not send in the big guns yet. They were only inquiring as to who he was… However, this was not just a casual “Who are you?” question. They were coming to find out specifically if John was the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet.
Israel was under Roman leadership, and they had lost their independence. So, there was a great sense of anticipation and hope for the Messiah to come and deliver the nation from the shackles of Roman rule. So it seemed the time was ripe for his first advent. The Jews believed the Messiah was coming to set Israel free from captivity and establish his Kingdom through the nation of Israel.
Verses 20 - 21 – John strongly denies he is the Messiah. He also says that He is neither Elijah nor the Prophet (which was believed to be one like Moses). They inquired about Elijah because Malachi 4:5 reads, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” They wondered if he was the fulfillment of this prophecy in Malachi. They thought the prophet was like Moses because Deuteronomy 18:15 says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
Verse 23 – John says who he is and why he has come. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He was the one who is laying the foundation for the One who all of Israel has been anticipating… The Messiah.
Verse 25 - 28 – By what authority was he baptizing? According to D.A. Carson in his commentary on John, “There interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices. It is not that baptism is unknown. Some Jewish groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism’, i.e., proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves. One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he administered it.” He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing. Looking around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end times) figure.”
Verse 29 – The day after John’s encounter with the religious leaders John sees Jesus coming towards him and proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” To the modern Christian (or even to anyone post death and resurrection of Jesus) this statement is an understandable statement and think little of its meaning and how radical of a statement it was coming from John the Baptist. Some have debated even if John the Baptist understood to a degree the significance of what he was saying.
The Messiah the Jews were anticipating was considered a man who was strong, charismatic, a leader, and one who was going to usher in the Kingdom of God and establish Israel as God’s nation once again. To the Jews the Messiah was not going to be one who would be humiliated, hated and eventually murdered as a common thief. A sacrificed lamb was probably the last thing on their minds. They had high hopes for the Chosen One.
D.A. Carson writes in his commentary on the Gospel of John, “Modern Christians are so familiar with the entire clause that it takes effort of imagination to recognize that, before the coming and death of Jesus, it (the Lamb of God) was not an obvious messianic designation.” In other words, the title “lamb of God” was not a common reference to the coming Messiah.
However, John knows (from when Jesus was baptized, and the Spirit descended on Him like a dove) that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He proclaims publicly Jesus as the Messiah.
Verses 30 – 34 – In verse 30 John affirms Jesus as Messiah. He states that Jesus was before him (even though John was older than Jesus). Jesus was confirmed for John the Baptist as the chosen one previously when Jesus was baptized by John (probably a week before this encounter) and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove and remained on Him. In Isaiah 42:1 the prophet writes that God will put his Spirit on His servant (the Chosen One) and he will bring forth justice to the nations.
John admits that before this encounter at the baptism he didn’t know Jesus was the Messiah. John knew Jesus since they were cousins, and they most likely had some sort of relationship before this. However, at the baptism Jesus was confirmed to John to be the Chosen Messiah.
As I was studying this passage, I thought about not only are we introduced to two new characters in this story but also to two opposing attitudes when it comes to our relationship with God. These two groups are characterized as heart changers and rule followers.
John the Baptist’s ministry (and life for that matter) was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He was a heart changer. He knew his place in life. He had a humble (and strong) spirit about him. He was not about self-promotion, he was about Jesus promotion. He had no agenda of his own. His concern was God’s agenda. He was more concerned with people being right with God through preaching a message of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. His purpose was to show people a new way of life and a real relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
The Jews (or religious leaders) on the other hand, were all about the rules, conformity, and power. Their whole lives and ministry were bound to keeping the law and being pious. Their “religion” was more about doing than being. They were very much into self-promotion and power simply by imposing rules and regulations on people based on their interpretations and beliefs. Their clothes were lavish, their concern was with status, and their attitudes were conceit. They had no concern for God’s agenda; they were more concerned with their agenda and promoting their will. There was no talk of repentance and forgiveness and submitting to God. Their message was about the rules and regulations. Their righteousness was based in outwardly keeping the rules.
When we look at these groups, we are reminded of how these attitudes are still among us today.
Unfortunately, there are still people and attitudes among us today of the rule changers. These are individuals who depend on “doing” more than “being”. In their minds their fulfillment of duties and “being a good person” are all they need to be a Christian. They attend church on a semi regular basis, they try to be moral (but like all of us fail every so often). Maybe they will put some (in some cases a lot of) money in the plate when it comes around. There is little to no change in heart; they are the same person they have always been and maybe there is a little compartment in their life for God (on Sunday or when they are in a difficult situation. You get the picture.
There are still heart changers in this world today. There are believers who are committed to Christ promotion and preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. They understand their spirituality or faith is not a result of keeping rules and pointing out the sins of others in judgmental and self-righteous ways. They are who they are because they are submitted, committed and obedient to the one (Jesus) who has shown us the way to the Kingdom. A heart changer receives a new heart when Jesus becomes their Lord and Savior. 2 Cor, 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This means that they don’t just become better versions of themselves, they become new creations in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come.
The question I leave with you today is… Are you a heart changer or are you a rule follower in your relationship with Jesus? Are you putting all your chips in the false beliefs that you are a good moral person and follow the rules as insurance or assurance of eternal life? Or have you repented of your sins, sought forgiveness, and given your heart completely over to Jesus to completely transform your life?
In the February 2021 issue of Sarasota magazine, I read an article titled “What’s Better Than the Super Bowl Halftime Show? A Peek Inside Tom Brady’s Tampa Mansion”
“Tom Brady’s mansion is the most famous home in Florida. Located on Davis Island in downtown Tampa, it was built by another sports legend—Derek Jeter—who is renting it to Tom and his wife Gisele Bundchen and their two kids...for a reported $75,000 a month.
It has been the setting of Tom Brady’s amazing year in Tampa during which he conquered the town as the GOAT—Greatest of All Time.
It’s a big house: 22,000 square feet under air, with another 9,000 feet of terraces, set on 1.25 acres. It has seven bedrooms and nine baths, plus every imaginable luxury feature: a theater, a dock with two boat lifts, a club room with a full-service bar, an au pair suite, a professional gym (naturally), an 80-foot lap pool, etc, etc. As for the kitchen, well, it has four dishwashers.
The exterior of the home is rather traditional, looking like a country mansion in Connecticut or perhaps a dorm at Yale. Lots of stone. There’s even stone inside, warmed up by a lot of dark wood.
Jeter is living in Miami now, thanks to his new job as CEO of the Marlins, and he has put the house on the market for $29 million.
58 Bahama Circle, Tampa, is priced at $29 million. For more info, call Smith and Associates Real Estate.”
After reading this article one can ask these questions, “How much is too much?” Regarding possessions, can we have too much and if so, at what point does having excess go from being blessed to being wasteful and sinful? Lastly, is it just the wealthy who are most prone to excess or can someone who has little still have too much? I am not going to answer these questions directly, but I will talk about the heart and attitude behind our desire to have more.
James 5:1 – 6: A Warning to the Rich
Today’s text deals primarily with the issues of those who put their trust in riches, wealth, and excess. It is often read or preached with a theme that generally comes across as a rebuke to wealthy people because they have much. As a result, many people who are wealthy often feel guilty or beaten up for being rich and having too much. This is a common mistake made by many. The theme of this passage is not so much about wealth as being sinful but more specifically the sinful heart and attitude behind hoarding, excess, and trusting solely in wealth for security and happiness.
Verse 1: James proclaims a warning to the unrighteous rich about the coming judgment that is upon them because of their selfish and oppressive use and views of wealth. He tells them of the misery that is coming upon them. James is not talking about a physical judgment or misery that is going to occur immediately but most likely is referring to the judgment they will receive after they have lived their lives in selfish and oppressive ways.
Verse 2: This certainly is a reflection or reminder of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19 - 21
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus tells his listeners to not store up or hoard their wealth where moth and rust can destroy but rather lay up your treasure in heaven. This passage in Matthew is a way of saying that material wealth and earthly treasures are unreliable and of little value regarding the eternal Kingdom.
Verse 3: James reminds his reader that not only are treasures useless, but they will also be used against them in the last day as evidence of corruption. The wealth they were so dependent on for their security and happiness in the last days will be of no use whatsoever and their unrelenting greed and selfish accumulation will in fact be the one thing that has assured them a place in an eternal separation from God.
Verse 4: Apparently the workers (maybe some of the people in the church) were not paid for or were cheated for the work they had done. These workers most likely appealed to the earthly courts but to no avail, so they made their cry to heaven. The cries of injustice and oppression by those who have been defrauded by the wealthy unrighteous have captured the ears of God the Father and James ultimately says this injustice will not go unpunished.
Verse 5: The word indulgent also means a life of luxury, delicate or soft living… a pampered life. It’s not that the wealthy couldn’t afford to pay their workers they just flat out refused to pay. As their workers were living in destitution or going without food the rich were living lives of luxury. They spent ridiculous amounts of money on themselves and on things they did not need all the while refusing to pay their workers. This neglect and fraudulent actions of the wealthy were just preparing them all the more for judgment.
Verse 6: The wealthy persecuted and took advantage of the poor so they could gain more for their selfish lifestyle. “The righteous person” refers to believers. Although the rich may have defrauded them and even had them killed their cries are still brought before God and God is going to deal with the unrighteous wealthy in due time.
Does This Apply to Me?
In the United States of America God has certainly blessed each one of us with an abundance when it comes to having the necessary means to live our lives in relative prosperity. Now, you may not think you are rich, in fact you may think you are poor but the fact that we can live at the standard of living that we do indicates that we have wealth. When we look at the extreme poverty around the world, we can attest that we are indeed blessed. If you are a believer, you are doubly rich because you have earthily possession and you have eternal treasure that you can share as well.
The reality we should consider is by asking ourselves what we are doing with the resources God has so generously blessed us with? I have often heard people say, “Money is a curse.” I would agree with this only if what you mean is “I need to make money so I can have more and hoard it to myself all the while neglecting the needy” then yes, it is a curse. If you and I are in bondage to accumulating wealth, then it most certainly is a curse. However, as Christians we are called to view and use our money differently than the world. We are continually bombarded daily with the idea that to be completely happy and content we need more. We need bigger homes that we cannot afford, more cars than we need, the most up to date technological device to keep us connected to the world, more clothes, and more luxury items. more…more…more. You cannot be happy if you do not have.
I Timothy 6:17 – 19 is a good reminder, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
R. Kent Hughes, retired pastor of College Church in Wheaton writes in his commentary on 1 Timothy, “Arrogance is accompanied by dark, telltale shadows. Wealth deludes people into imagining they are of superior value. The delusion goes like this: ‘I have more than other people—therefore I am superior. And certainly, God sees my superiority—otherwise I would not be so blessed.’ Of course, a Mafia don could use the same reasoning. Nevertheless, that is the way our culture thinks, with its pathetic elevation of the rich—so that a vacuous millionaire prominent in the media or the entertainment industry or whatever is held in awe by the masses. Moral superiority is believed to be a matter of homes and cars and yachts and designer labels”
James has accused and warned those in this church who have this mindset. He warns the rich of hoarding, cheating, and devoting their lives to living in luxury all the while neglecting to use our resources for the Kingdom of God. This is a warning we should all take heed. You see the Bible doesn’t necessarily condemn people of wealth because of their wealth. God condemns and judges the wealthy who allow their riches to become their god and devote their lives to hoarding, accumulating, and squandering it all. No matter where you or I may be individually today; as in all things we need to check our hearts when it comes to the resources God has entrusted to us. We also need to check our hearts and attitudes regarding how we treat those less fortunate or in difficult financial positions. Most of all we need to understand and come to terms with the vast wealth we have spiritually. We possess the greatest treasure of all; the Holy Spirit which is Jesus Christ in us, and we must be willing to share him with others. As his children and servants, we must allow him to have complete control in all aspects of our lives (for everything we have is given to us by Him) so we can in turn live as righteous men and women before God Almighty.
 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 160). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
In 1976 I was a young boy at the tender age of six and I remember on October 29th my world was literally rocked! I was watching the Paul Lynde Halloween Special on ABC and I saw a performance from a rock band named Kiss. The song was a ballad called “Beth”. I immediately fell in love with the song and the band. The next day I pleaded with my mom to take me to the local department store (It was Big N, later called Ames) to buy the record. I recall walking to the back of the store where the record section was located, and I finding the record from Kiss called Destroyer. Surprisingly my mother bought me the record and I took it home and listened to it over and over again. This introduction to Kiss began my lifelong obsession with not only the band Kiss, but with rock music in general… more on that in a bit.
So, if you would indulge me for a moment, let’s get in our Delorian and go back in time to the mid 1970’s where hair was feathered, the pants were belled, corvettes were cool, Jesus was just alright with me, and Kiss was one of the hottest bands in the world… Yes, Kiss were an anomaly to the music scene of their day because they were four grown men who painted their faces in makeup (one as a cat, one as a spaceman, one as a demon, and one as a starchily), wore platform shoes, outrageous costumes, blew fire out of their mouths, spit blood, and guitars that would smoke. And if this wasn’t outrageous enough, they had a stage show that literally blew every band off the stage… they had fire, platforms, a spectacular lightshow, and a band logo that was larger life.
In the 70s Kiss was the hottest band in the world. Just about every person knew them. They were on the cover of ever teen magazine, the radio waves, and television. I watched a documentary about the band a while back and at the peak of their fame it was estimated that each member made $12,000 per concert they played, and they sold out auditoriums around the world.
They had a marketing team that flooded stores with Kiss lunch boxes, action figures, puzzles, games, radios, Halloween costumes, posters, t-shirts, pinball machines, and belt buckles. It seemed a at the time that literally everything had Kiss on it. The problem with Kiss though was that they were weren’t a spectacular musicians. Their fame was, unfortunately based on gimmicks, not raw talent. People loved them because of all the things I have mentioned before. When you sit down and really listen to the music, I admit there was nothing spectacular about the songs. They were ok songs. Sure, some songs were catchy, but they were not stellar musicians at all. Stellar performers yes… musicians eh.
This eventually came back and bit them because they gained fans and a following based on gimmicks and to keep their fans they needed to always come up with new gimmicks. Unfortunately, with gimmicks they get old-, and over-time people lose interest after a while. This was the case for Kiss. By 1981 they were pretty much forgotten by the masses. Inevitable they canceled tours due to lack of ticket sales and created albums that flopped in the charts. After some time, they decided to take off their makeup and this gimmick put them back in the spotlight for a time and eventually they fell off the radar again. So, they put the makeup back on in the late 90s with much fanfare and success and now in 2021 they are currently on their third farewell tour playing mid-sized venues.
So, why have I spent so much time talking to you about a rock band named Kiss (a name some people thought meant Knights In Satan’s Service)? Because I believe the church and Christianity has in many ways become like them. Let me explain. With Kiss when you take the makeup off, take away the extravagant stage show, the outrageous costumes and gimmicks you have a band of four musicians who make ok music. When all of this is stripped away only the hard-core fans stick with the band no matter what. They have bought in to the band Kiss and not the gimmick.
Is this what has happened with the Church and Christianity? Think about your own worship experience. Some of your church services are like rock concerts, complete with smoke, lights, great music, cheering, and a message that makes you feel good about yourself, and may help you see Jesus in a different light, kind of like a buddy Jesus. Christians come to these large and sometimes small churches by the droves to get their Sunday Jesus fix. In other cases, people depend on liturgy, tradition, and their church building. In both cases people NEED their Sunday Jesus fix in order to make it through the week.
Now, am I being hard on these churches? Yes, but my intention is not to harp on them and call them evil, heretical, or shallow. That is not my intent. My purpose for today is to help us strip down our inflated ideas on what church and Christianity is and reflect on the words of the Apostle Paul… “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1 – 5)
I know I spent a lot of time telling you about a gimmick and I guess that could be a gimmick. My hope in using the example I did would show you that gimmicks don’t work long term. I really don’t care if you like Kiss or not. My guess is most of you do not. My goal for today is to share the importance of Jesus.
Let me ask you this question… “When you strip away all the lights, smoke, auditoriums, praise bands, traditions, liturgy and eloquent speakers; is Jesus enough?” Is Jesus enough for you? Can you worship him without all the bells and whistles? Can you serve Him and be obedient to Him without the “feel good” sermons?
In the passage I just read the Apostle Paul is telling his readers Kiss is the only way. (Keep it Simple Stupid) His message is a simple message it is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is, it. There is nothing more. It is not Jesus AND… The effectiveness in preaching the Gospel is not based on Paul’s eloquent words, his intellect, nor his personality. He has a simple message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and your sins. His death is an atonement for your sins. His resurrection is for your justification. His ascension is in the establishment of His Kingdom.
Is Jesus enough for you or do you think you need more? I know many of you have gone to church and to a Christian school for most of your lives. You are inundated with Jesus. In school you have bible classes, chapel, and are expected to conduct yourselves in a Christian manner. Your parents may bring you to church where you are told about Jesus weekly (if it’s a good church). You may go to youth group where you have praise and worship, bible teaching, food, games, and friends. Maybe you do more or maybe you do less. But I want to make it extremely clear right now. This school does not give you salvation. Your church won’t save you. Your youth group won’t save you. Your parent’s faith won’t save you. Only Jesus Christ and Him crucified can save you.
When I think of what Jesus did on the cross of Calvary, and I try to wrap my brain around what he did it humbles me. Why does it humble me? Why would the message of the cross humble anyone? What is the purpose of the cross of Christ? Why did Jesus have to face such an agonizing and humiliating death? Simply because the cross points me to my sin, my life here on earth, and my eternal destiny.
The Bible records that all are sinners and that no one is righteous before our holy God. Sin has separated us from God. If this is true, then we are worthy of one thing… death… eternal separation from God. The truth is we are ALL sinners and the sin nature we inherit makes worthy of death. No good deeds are enough to declare us righteous before our holy God.
There is good news though; the Bible says, “God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus as a sacrifice and atonement for our sins) that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the core of the Good News of the Gospel! We don’t deserve forgiveness, eternal life, or even to be declared righteous, yet He gives them all to those who respond to the Holy Spirit drawing us to the Father and repent of the sins and are called by God to become his children.
Pastor Craig Groeschel writes in his book CHRISTIAN ATHEIST about something horrible that had been happened to his younger sister throughout the years… He writes, “You can imagine how I felt when I learned of the tragedy. I found out that my little sister had been (abused) for years by a close family friend. Max had been Lisa’s sixth grade teacher. He taught me how to play racquetball, shopped at my dad’s retail store, and often cheered for my sister at her school drill-team performances. At the time, this single man in his mid-thirties seemed like a nice person looking for friends. Our family really accepted him, unaware that behind the supportive teacher façade was a very sick man who repeatedly abused numerous girls over many years.
To say I wanted Max to die and burn in hell doesn’t even begin to convey how much I wanted him to suffer. Although the words rage, hate, and revenge come to mind when I think about Max, the English language simply doesn’t have a word for how I felt.
We all know Christians are supposed to forgive. But many of us think that there are exceptions to this rule. Sure, we should forgive most of the time – maybe even almost all the time. But to forgive a guy like Max? Forget about it.”
Anger and forgiveness are two words that go together like water and oil. It is extremely hard to show forgiveness to someone who you are angry with.. To say it is easier to stay angry at someone rather than forgiving them would be an understatement. But controlling our anger and extending forgiveness is something the Bible tells us we must do. I think about Groeschel’s story, and I can’t even imagine how I would respond or even consider the painstaking difficulty I would have in even entertaining the idea of forgiveness. Yet, as a Christian I know that this is what I would need to do.
In Genesis we read the story of Joseph and his story is one that is entrenched with anger and forgiveness. Joseph’s life was ridden betrayal as his brothers took him and sold him as a slave. Abuse when his brothers threw him in a pit and when Potiphers wife tried to seduce him. False allegations when Potipher’s wife accused him of trying to abuse her. And injustice as he was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. We see from our vantage point it was all for the glory of God. However, at the time I am sure he did not know how the outcomes would be for God’s glory, so I am also sure that he had difficulty working through his anger and ultimately forgiveness. Today we are going to look at the events of Genesis 42 – 45. I am going to give a quick overview of these chapters (I would encourage you to read these chapters on your own) and we will see how Joseph worked through his difficulties and look at the amazing act of forgiveness he shows to those who did him wrong.
Genesis 42:1 - 10
At this point of the story Joseph had overcome his hardships and was promoted to a place of honor in the land of Egypt. He was Pharoah’s right hand man. However, there was a famine in the land where Joseph’s father, Jacob and his brothers lived, and they heard that there was grain for sale in Egypt. Apparently, his sons were a little mystified as to how they should deal with this famine. He says, “Why do you look at one another?” This is another way of saying, “Why are standing around doing nothing when there is a lot of work that needs to be done?” He sends his sons to Egypt but leaves his youngest Benjamin behind. Jacob did not trust his sons with Benjamin since he was Joseph’s brother. He was afraid they would allow something bad happen to him like they did Joseph. The pain of losing his son Joseph was still raw, and real after 17 years. Jacob had not forgotten what happened to Joseph. There is a lack of trust on his part and rightfully so.
Nevertheless, the brothers make the journey to Egypt and unbeknownst to them their brother Joseph is still alive and thriving in Egypt; in fact, he is now the governor of the land, and the one person people would see when they came to buy grain from the storehouses. When his brothers approached Joseph, they did not recognize him, but Joseph knew them. They bowed before him, and Joseph remembered his dream of many years ago (Genesis 37: 5 – 8).
Joseph does not want to reveal his identity to them just yet. He treats them like strangers and speaks harshly to them. He accuses the brothers of being spies. After grilling them for some time the brothers mention they have another brother… They say unfortunately, one is dead and the other, Benjamin, is back home with their father. Joseph demands they bring Benjamin to back to him and one should stay back until they return. The brothers talked among themselves, and Joseph went to a private place and wept.
Joseph filled their bags with grain and put their money back and sent them back home; Simeon stayed behind. When they returned home, they were afraid because their money was still in the bags and they were even more afraid when they saw their father. They told him the governor wants Benjamin to come back with them and Jacob refuses. Interestingly he would rather lose his son Simeon than entrust Benjamin with his sons.
Some time passes and the famine gets worse (just as the dream stated) the grain runs out in Jacob’s household, and he tells them to go back to Egypt to buy more. They convince Jacob to send Benjamin along with them. Judah swears that he will protect him and if anything, bad happens to Benjamin then his father could hold him responsible.
As they return to Egypt, they are afraid because they think they will be accused of stealing since the money was still in their bags from before. This ends up not being an issue. Joseph tells them he received their wages so God must have blessed them.
As they stand before Joseph, this time with Benjamin, he is overcome with emotion once again. He goes into his chamber and weeps. Once he regains his composure, he invites the brothers to dinner and portions from Joseph’s table were given to them, but Benjamin received five times the portion.
Joseph plants his cup in Benjamin’s sack. He accuses Benjamin of stealing and the brothers pleaded for mercy for their brother. Judah insists on taking the blame instead of Benjamin.
Joseph can no longer contain himself. He begins crying and commands everyone to leave him except his brothers. He then reveals his identity to his brothers. The brothers were troubled at this revelation. They were literally speechless. They were afraid because they knew what they had done. Never in a million years would they have ever thought this would have happened, but it did. They didn’t know how Joseph would respond. He was now second in command in all of Egypt and he could have easily sought revenge. But he doesn’t. This is where we see the true heart of Joseph. He demonstrates compassion, he extends grace, and he shows them forgiveness. He responds in 45:5, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God has sent me before you to preserve life.” Did you hear that? Do not blame yourselves for anything because I am here by divine appointment. In verse 7 he declares his purpose for going through all he went through and then caps it off in verse 8 by saying, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” In so many words he is saying, “All is forgiven.”
Not only does Joseph show compassion and forgiveness but he invites his brothers, their families, and his father to come move to Egypt so he can take care of them. What an amazing spectacle of grace. They are so undeserving of this treatment, yet Joseph shows them kindness.
As he sends his brothers back home, he says, “Do not quarrel on the way.” He knows his brothers well. They could very easily play the blame game on the way home… “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to put him in a pit!” “I never wanted to sell him, I was going to rescue him, and so you are to blame!” and so on…. Joseph says “don’t quarrel. All is forgiven so let’s put this behind us now and continue as a family.”
When the brothers returned home, they told their father what happened, and he is ecstatic! He is willing to go to Egypt so he can go see his son Joseph before he dies.
All Is Forgiven
This is one of the most beautiful stories of compassion, grace, and forgiveness in the Bible. Joseph’s response could only happen through the power of God and the Holy Spirit. Joseph chooses forgiveness over anger and bitterness. Why? Because he knew it was the right thing to do and he also knew it was pointless to harbor anger and bitterness in his heart because then he would become an angry and bitter person. He could have easily justified revenge or gave his brothers a taste of their own medicine. But he doesn’t. He forgives. I/we can certainly learn a lot from Joseph when it comes to forgiveness. There is great difficulty in letting go of anger and extending forgiveness. Personally, I am still working through something that happened to me in recent years and I will admit I am having difficulty not being angry with someone who caused great harm too my family and me. In my heart I have forgiven this person, but the root of anger and bitterness lingers. I think therefore the story of Joseph speaks to my heart. I can honestly say that I have never withheld forgiveness from anyone, but I do struggle with allowing the spirit of anger and bitterness to remain in my heart towards this individual. Maybe some of you in this room have had similar experiences and have difficulty either showing forgiveness or allowing bitterness to take root; so, I am not going to stand up here and tell you how easy it is to forgive… but I will tell you by the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit you can forgive… even if you think you can’t.
How we can show forgiveness
I remember, with much embarrassment, when I was a young child, I would dress up and pretend I was one of the members in the rock group ‘Kiss’. I used to paint my face (like the members of the band did), set up a miniature stage in the family dining room, get out my guitar (a Wilson tennis racket) and spend hours in front of the record player and speakers pretending I playing to thousands of screaming fans in my house.
I didn’t realize it at the time that I was playing a hypocrite at such a young age. The Greek word for Hypocrite, in ancient Grecian times, meant an interpreter from underneath and referred to actors or stage players. Hypocrites weremen in plays who acted a part or pretended to be someone they were not. They were counterfeit, and men who assumed and spoke and acted under a feigned character, usually by disguising themselves by wearing a mask. Over the centuries this word has been used to describe people who acted morally upright, pious, and good on the outside but were just the opposite.
I’m sure many, if not all of you, have heard someone say, “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!” Maybe you havebeen called one yourself. I remember vividly in Junior College hearing that all the time. As a Christian in a secular college, I would hear this phrase from students with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and belching out secondhand smoke into the while wearing a Take Care of Mother Earth...Stop Pollution T-shirt (talk about hypocrisy) .
In the many conversations I had with people I would never deny that Christianity was full of hypocrites and hypocrisy. I would respond, “Yes, there are a bunch of hypocrites in Christianity, but many of us acknowledge it and try to do something to make this change.” I would also hear some Christians become defensive by responding, “Well the whole world is also full of hypocrites, not just Christians.” This is true, but this truth does not justify or give us the license to be hypocrites as well. The Christian attitude should never be since the world is full of hypocrites so I can be one as well. No, our attitude should be one of genuiness, authenticity, and uprightness. We should strive to live as people who breaks the cycle of hypocrisy in Christianity and live by the power of the Spirit an authentic Christian life.
Matthew 23:13 – 36
Jesus uses the word hypocrite seven times in this passage and not once does he use the word in a positive manner, nor does He anywhere else in the Gospels. Jesus used the word “hypocrite” to describe the inconsistent and sinful lifestyles of the religious leaders of His time. In this passage Jesus says, “Do not listen to these leaders and whatever you do, do not do as they do.” This is a harsh and bold statement made against the leaders of his time and as you can guess was not received so well by the leaders. In verses 25 - 28 Jesus compares the Pharisee’s to a cup and a bowl that are clean on the outside and filthy on the inside. These leaders acted religious, pious, and said the right words in public but inside they were sinful, decrepit, and dead. They had no relationship with God, and they didn’t intend on having one. Pharisee was their “job” it was not their calling.
Unfortunately, in the past 2,000 years things have not changed much. Christians and the Church are still battling hypocrisy in their midst. This should not be the case. Jesus calls his followers to a different life. He calls us to a life of authenticity and not hypocrisy. I believe one of the ways we can start to live authentic lives is by identifying the areas where we are failing in our hypocrisy. I have identified Five ways the church practices hypocrisy, and by identifying these practices we can commit to reversing this downward trend and start being genuine followers of Jesus Christ.
5 Ways the Church Practices Hypocrisy
The NET Bible translates “But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does.” I love how it reads… “The one who peers… and fixes his attention… does not become a forgetful listener BUT one who lives it out.” I believe this is precisely what God desires from his followers. The one who hears the Word of God, applies it to his life and lives his life according to it will be blessed in all he does.
Christians all over the world today are sitting in their pews and standing behind the pulpits with a nice smile face and an “everything is alright” look to them. When on the inside they are festering with anger, jealousy, pride, lust etc. They have on, what I like to call, their Church face. What God wants from us is to come into His presence with our true faces on no matter what is going on in our lives. We must bring our problems and burdens in with us and leave them at the altar so we may leave the building free from our bondage or weakness.
Now is the time to check your own heart. Do you feel like a cup or bowl that is clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside? Do you feel as though you are living a life of hypocrisy? I know I do sometimes. I put my Church face on and act as though everything is just great! But in fact, it is not.
How can we live an authentic, genuine Christian life? We need to be honest with God and with ourselves. Nobody has his life completely together. This is the truth plain and simple. We all need help, and our help comes from God. Psalms 33:20 states, “Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.” It’s time to get real with God. Quit living the life of a hypocrite and start living out your faith as an authentic Christian.
According to Thom Rainer, Founder and CEO of Church answers, these are 25 Things Church Members Fight Over.
However, there are some appropriate reasons for church splits (i.e., heresy, unresolved sin issues of the pastor or leadership, a denomination is not holding to biblical truths, and so on). One thing for sure is, church splits or even inner church conflicts end in a healthy manner, they are almost like a divorce.
James 4:1 - 3
Quarrels and Fights
Verses 1- 3: There were struggles in this church community, there were people sowing discord among the congregations. They were starting fights and causing divisions for their selfish reasons without concern for how many congregants they hurt in the process. This was a problem, so James addresses the topic, and he asks the question, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Unhealthy disunity, conflict, or division, especially in a church, is almost always birthed out of selfish desire and disregard for others. Just look at some churches and ministries today, there are conflicts and division over all kinds of issues, but I find it ironic that one of the most common causes for strife in the church is due to the styles of music played for worship. Congregations argue, fight, and split over something that is designed to draw believers together and into the presence of God. Some churches divide over communion, placement of the pulpit, or even if there should be a pulpit at all?
Douglas Moo writes, “The seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher Spinoza observed: ‘I have often wondered that persons make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the readiest criteria of their faith.’ Some battles to be sure, need to be fought. But even they must be fought without sacrificing Christian principles and virtues.”
The source of these quarrels comes from one place… The selfish desires that war within us. Maybe the individuals James was writing to felt justified in their fights? Maybe they thought they were noble in their efforts or zeal for something to happen or for change but apparently, they were not honoring God.
Now, in the second verse James expands on the nature of these sinful desires and he uses some strong language to describe their actions like envy, kill, and covet. It is uncertain as to whether these people were killing one another out of selfish desire (which isn’t entirely improbable) but we can safely assume that he is using an analogy as he described a person as a murderer or as one who hates his/her brother or sister in Christ. A person who holds animosity in his heart towards another is just as guilty as the person who commits murder. This is most likely what James is suggesting.
All this arguing essentially is fruitless because as they are seeking God’s counsel in all of this they are asking with wrong motives. They were not seeking God’s will, instead they were seeking God to bless what they were doing. They were asking for God’s stamp of approval on their selfish motives.
The Problem: Frenemies
Verse 4 – 10: “You adulterous people!” Some versions say, “Adulteresses!” These are strong words, and they have deep implications for the body of Christ. If you recall up to this point James has referred to this group, he is writing with affection by calling them “brothers” and “my dear brothers”. Now he speaks harshly to them because in all their escapades of warring and fighting with each other they are acting like the rest of the Godless world around them.
Christians and especially the Church, are called to be unique from the world because of our love towards one another. Instead of loving one another they are embracing the world’s ways of doing things thus committing spiritual adultery with the world. Spiritual adultery always ends with those involved in an adulterous affair with the world becoming an enemy of God. Being an enemy of God not only shows God’s hostility toward someone but also shows hostility of someone towards God.
The recipients of this letter have been living worldly lives up to this point. They have been showing partiality to the rich, neglecting the poor, speaking negatively to others, and starting fights in the body to fulfill their selfish desires. When the church start living as the world lives we are showing where our allegiance truly lies and God will not take a backseat to anything.
In verse 5 James cites a portion of Scripture that is not known to be a verse in the Bible. According to theologian D.A. Carson, (James) must either be citing the general sense of Scripture, or else a book he knows about, but which is now lost. This is a particularly difficult passage to translate and understand because it could have two possible ways of reading it. In a nutshell, one reading (the NIV) may refer to the human spirit and its tendency to be envious, which is true. However, the second way of looking at it (the ESV) seems to refer to God’s jealousy for his people. God has given each of us a spirit and he jealously longs for our pure worship in return.
The Solution: Repentance
God is always willing to give grace to those who humble themselves before him, but He is opposes those who are prideful and self-dependent. God will pour out as much grace needed to those who humble themselves and submit to Him. This is called repentance, and repentance is what James calls his readers to do and it is what God desires from us.
When we follow the words of James, we see that fellowship or friendship can be restored between a person and God. We must note that this portion of scripture is not a method for salvation because some key components are missing (i.e., faith in Jesus and public confession of sins) this is intended for restoring fellowship with God.
Skipping down to verse 10 James returns to the act of humbling oneself before God. When we recognize our spiritual deficiency without God is when we truly can stand in humility before Him. When we can stand humbly before God in spiritual poverty then and only then will God lift us up and exalt us thus victorious Christian living.
There is a lot packed into these 10 verses and I have merely scratched the surface, but these are very practical applications to us in these modern (or post-modern) times. We know that church fights, splits, and disunity happen. It has happened since the beginning of the Church age. Unfortunately, it will continue throughout time. However, we have the key right in front of us in knowing how to avoid disunity happening in our midst. It is important for us as a church to seek unity in Christ together, to not be divisive in our words, slanderous in our talk, and not be hypocritical in our worship. We should not seek friendship with the world, instead we should be single-minded in our devotion to God. We must submit to Him and his will (not our selfish desires), be Spirit-driven so we can resist the devil in his attacks, draw near to God in our time of worship and in our private times with Him and then be humble before the Great and Mighty King knowing our place before him. In doing this He will lift us up and bless us both individually and as a congregation.
 Moo, p. 181
 Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.) (Jas 4:1–10). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
According to an old story, St. Francis of Assisi longed to see his brothers. They agreed to meet in a remote monastery in the Umbrian mountains of central Italy. After arriving and enjoying their reunion, each reported what he had experienced on the road.
One Franciscan brother who had traveled on muleback said: “God protected me in a miraculous way. When I was crossing a narrow bridge over a deep mountain gorge, the mule jumped. I fell and narrowly escaped falling over the wall of the bridge into the gorge. God by his love saved my life.”
A second brother said: “I had to cross a river and I slipped and fell. The waters carried me down the river. But God in his grace provided a tree which had fallen across the river. I could grasp a branch of that tree and pull myself ashore, thanks to God’s miraculous mercy.”
Then St. Francis said: “Let us thank God for his wonderful works. I did experience the greatest miracle of all on my way. I had the smoothest, most pleasant, completely uneventful trip.”
How often do we take for granted the small blessings that God bestows upon us and neglect to give him proper credit, praise, and thanksgiving for these blessings? When was the last time that you thanked God for the air you breathe, the ability to talk, or showing his grace by giving you another day on this earth? I am guilty of this neglect. God has blessed us abundantly and I believe it is important to choose to live our lives with an attitude of gratitude.
We are continuing in our series titled Respectable Sins. The sermon topics are based around sins that many would not consider the “BIG” sins or even the ones that even though we may feel as though yes, they are sins but not really ones that are all that bad. God certainly will turn a blind eye to these sins… right? Two weeks ago, Cooper Wyatt spoke about Anxiety, last week Harry talked about loyalty and disloyalty, and today I want to talk about unthankfulness. However, I am approaching today’s topic a little differently, instead of looking at what the sin of unthankfulness looks like, I desire to talk more about what true thankfulness looks like.
A few years ago, when we lived in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, we had a wall in our house that was painted with black chalkboard paint and often each family member would write something they thankful for every day. This was a great way to reflect on the big and small blessings God gave to us regularly. It helped me keep in perspective that my family and I have so much to be thankful for. I loved reading what my wife and kids were thankful for (sometimes it was silly like “I am thankful for pickles” or other times it was thanking God for providing for us during a particularly difficult time in life. I also I loved taking the time to reflect on the things that I am thankful for as well. Giving thanks is something that Christians should do often because we have a God who has blessed us abundantly.
Psalm 138 (original intent)
The Psalms are filled with poems and prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God. Our text for today is Psalm 138 and it is a Psalm of David that it gives us a glimpse of the heart of a man who had dedicated his life to living in continual praise and thanksgiving to God. Psalm 138 is broken down into three divisions:
Vs 1a: “I will give you thanks with my whole heart” – David publicly and unreservedly proclaims that he gives God thanks with his whole heart.
Whole heart – inner part, inner man, mind, will soul… his whole being. David is not only giving ordinary or mundane gratitude; he is not just giving lip service (empty or vain words) to God. According to John Calvin, David’s heart is, “one that is sincere and not double.” It is a genuine heartfelt thankfulness.
Vs 1b: “before the gods” – These gods refer to mythological “lesser gods” in a pantheon. However, In the OT, this designation either refers to heavenly servant beings (Angels) or judges and governors appointed by God as political leaders. This is not an acknowledgment that other gods exist, it is a declaration that David makes saying he will praise His God amid those who claim other gods. David’s God is the one true God, and He will be worshiped above all things.
Vs. 2b: “I give thanks for…” – Three things David gives thanks to God for.
Above all God “exalts” or lifts on high his name (who He is) and his word (His promises). It is important for God to put above all else His reputation and His promises since the two go hand in hand. The meaning seems to be that He has not only done what He said He would do but He has done much more. More than we can ever imagine.
Vs. 3: “On the day I called you answered…” – David praises God for answered prayer. The result of answered prayer is his faith and spirit were strengthened in God. Aren’t we all encouraged or strengthened in faith when we experience an answer to prayer? When what we have prayed for comes to pass it certainly builds our faith and encourages us.
Vs 4 – 5: One day the kings of the earth and all the nations will join in singing David’s song of thanksgiving. (Psalm 22:27 – 28)
Vs 6: “For the Lord is high, he regards the low…” These are words of comfort and encouragement to David and should be for us as well. As great, magnificent, awesome, amazing, and awe-inspiring God still cares for the common person. He is a God who is for the broken, humiliated, lowly, and repentant.
We see this in Psalm 51 where David writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broke and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Those who are humble and know their place before the Almighty God; He will remain close to and give regard to.
Vs 7 – 8: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble…” David speaks of God’s protective hand in preserving him in times of tribulation, danger, and trouble. Even though his life is endangered by his enemies God has remained faithful in providing protection for him with his “right hand of power” – God’s almighty and divine power in physical and spiritual salvation. It is only God who saves.
Psalm 138 (For us today)
When I reflect on my life and the blessings, protection and promises God has given me I can do nothing but respond with the same amount of gratitude and praise towards God as David did. When I think back to when the Holy Spirit called me from the self-centered sin infested life I was living, and He invited to become an adopted son of the Almighty God how can I not thank God with my whole being? A casual “thanks” is not enough to express my heartfelt gratitude towards the God who reached down and calls me his child. It is not enough for me to give him lip service. I respond to God by giving him my whole being. I devote my life to serving Him as an act of thanksgiving and gratitude.
So, if God has been faithful even when we have not what should our response to Him be? Here are three ways we can show our gratitude and thankfulness for His faithfulness that are taken from this Psalm
God is faithful. He has not failed me in any way in my life. Sure, there were times when things did not go the way I had planned or hoped; but He has been faithful in fulfilling His purpose in my life. As followers of Christ, I believe we have the responsibility and pleasure of living lives of gratitude and humility. We can never say, “Thank you” to God enough and we can never be too dependent on Him. The things God has done for us are amazing and what He has in store for you and this church is just as astonishing; so, give him thanks for what He has done AND for what He is going to do. We serve a mighty God who can and will do more than we can ever imagine.
 Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed., p. 738). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Vs 22: We continue with the vision of the city of the New Jerusalem. John notes that there is no temple in this new city. There is no temple because the symbol of God’s dwelling place (the temple) has now become the reality (God dwells among his people). There is no need for a temple because it has replaced by “the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb.” The reason John tells us there is no temple is not so much to describe the manner or design of heaven but to speak significantly to a people for whom the temple equated as the supreme dwelling place of God’s presence.
Vs 23: The New Jerusalem does not have a sun or moon to shine because it is everything is illuminated by the glory of God. John is not supplying his readers with information about future astrological changes but setting forth the splendor that will emit from the presence of God and the Lamb.
Vs 24 – 26: John does not envision salvation for a small handful of people and the destruction or annihilation of most of the humanity. This hope for the nations differs from Jewish sources that expected the Gentile nations to be annihilated at the end of the age or to be defeated and to bring tribute to Jerusalem as subject peoples.
The gates of the New Jerusalem are open because with the destruction of evil there is no need for security. Day continues forever without interruption because darkness never comes. Thus, there is no need of closing gates.
Vs 27: Everyone who enter the city are not evil or wicked, only those whose names are written in the book of life. Only those who dwell in the new city have access to it.
Vs 1: The central statement of this verse is that in the eternal state the faithful will live at the source of the life-giving stream that proceeds from the very presence of God. The river is described as “clear as crystal” and this describes the river as a sparkling rush of pure water. It comes from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In 7:15 and 12:5 we read only of the throne of God.
Vs 2: In the New Jerusalem the river in the street is pure and gives life. It is a sign of blessing. On each side of the river grew a tree of life and in the early chapters of Genesis we read that if Adam had eaten of the tree of life, he would have lived forever. Thus, the tree of life was a regular feature in Jewish portrayals of Paradise. To eat of its fruit would give eternal life. The tree bore twelve kinds of fruit and there was both an abundance and the variety of fruit that are emphasized. This is seen as God’s provision is new and plentiful.
The tree also has leaves that bring about healing. Is there need for healing in this New Jerusalem? This is intended to show that in the restored Eden everything has been reversed: originally eating of one tree brought the curse—now eating of this tree brings eternal life. The healing leaves signify the complete and total absence of physical and spiritual want. The life to come will be a life of abundance and perfection.
Vs 3 - 4: There will be no more curse. The curse that humanity brought upon itself in the Garden of Eden will be removed for all eternity. In return the greatest of all eternity’s blessings is reflected in the one phrase, “They will see his face.” Remember that Moses, the great lawgiver was not permitted to see the face of God because God had declared, “No one may see me and live”. To see God’s face means direct communion with him.
On the foreheads of God’s servants will be stamped the name of God. His name stands for his character. The followers of the beast bore the mark of the beast upon their foreheads, contrarily the faithful will bear the name of God upon theirs. This metaphor emphasizes ownership and likeness.
Vs 5: In the New Jerusalem God’s presence, and his glory makes all other sources of light unnecessary and pointless, thus there is no darkness or night. Revelation ends with the promise of the restoration of all things. In Romans Paul teaches creation is currently in bondage to deterioration, at it groans as it eagerly awaits the time when it will be freed from its captivity of death and decay. This takes place when the children of God are brought into the eternal glory that God has prepared for them. The Revelation of John is the final chapter in God’s eternal plan for his children. It brings us full circle to the original intent of God in his creation of all that is.
Verses 6–21 of chapter 22 form the Epilogue of the book of Revelation.
Vs 6: The angel verifies that this revelation is authentic throughout the whole vision. These words that relate the visions are trustworthy and true. The angel confirms that he was sent by God to show John all the things that must come to pass.
Vs 7: The speaker is now Jesus, and he informs the reader that he is coming soon. He announces a blessing to those who stand fast in the great persecution about to break upon the church. They are those who keep the prophetic commands of the book.
Vs 8 – 9: John now attests that he has heard and seen all the things that are recorded in the book. John once again falls to worship the angel but is prevented from carrying out his intention by the angel, who explains that he is a fellow servant with John, the other prophets, and those who keep the words of the book. The angel’s urging, “Worship God!” puts in the most concise form of the theme of the book of Revelation.
Vs 10: The angel now tells him that it is important is that the visions should not be sealed up and all that John has seen is prophetic and should be shared, heard and understood. Since “the time is near,” the message of judgment and hope is to be proclaimed among the churches.
Vs 11 – 22: Jesus announces again that he is coming soon and when he comes he will bring rewards to repay the deeds of the people.
The chapter closes out with another blessing to those who remained faithful to God during this time as they will have access to the eternal city. Those who denied him will be left and thrown outside the gates with the dogs.
The revelation comes to a conclusion with a stark warning against adding to or taking away from this message. This warning is not addressed to scribes who might be tempted to corrupt the text (but to “everyone who hears,” (the members of the seven churches of Asia) where the book was to be read aloud. The caution is against malicious alteration of the message.
The Apocalypse closes with Christ speaking again and informing everyone that he is coming soon to which John says, Yes Lord come soon.
The book of Revelation is complete. It is intended to inform the readers of that day (and for us) that God is sovereign, and his eternal plan will come to fruition. However, until that time there will be aggression and resistance, but this all must come to pass. People will be faced with the choice of pledging their allegiance to the beast or to the Lamb. Those who choose the mark of the beast will eventually share the same fate. The great city Babylon will fall. Those who choose to follow the Lamb, will be brought into eternal fellowship with God in the city of New Jerusalem. The end has been explained to the recipients of Revelation. Believers are encouraged to remain faithful and wait eagerly for the return of Christ, who will forever destroy evil and bring in the eternal state of blessedness.
There are times throughout the year when Pastor Sam and I have decided that we would take a week to preach whatever we like as we transition from one sermon series to the next. This is one of those weeks. If you recall I started this “open-ended” series back in December as I talked about 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 and what it means to be an imitator of Jesus Christ. Seven months later we are picking up where I left off as we will look at chapter 2 and what it means to boldly preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will continue to come back to this series at various times throughout the year.
Purpose of the Letter
The Epistle of 1 Thessalonians was a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Thessalonica. The church is believed to have been a mixed local congregation made up of a few converted Jews and many former pagans who have converted to Christianity. It is believed that the church was a predominantly Gentile congregation; so, it is assumed that the believers were young in faith and unfamiliar with Jewish traditions and more specifically Christianity. Almost immediately after its establishment this young congregation faced persecution from both unbelieving Jews and pagan Gentiles which was not uncommon at this time.
Paul’s reason for writing this epistle was to encourage this young congregation. Unfortunately, when the church was developed the apostle was unable to properly disciple this group of believers because he had to leave the city due to a riot (Acts 17) that ensued. It is likely he was concerned for the young church as he feared that they would not stick with the faith during their intense persecution. Initially, Paul had wanted to visit the believers of Thessalonica, but he was hindered. Because of his hindrance he sent his travel companion, the young pastor Timothy to Thessalonica, and upon his return to Paul, he gave him the great news that all was well at the Church of Thessalonica. Timothy not only reported about their faithfulness during persecution but also that the church was thriving amidst persecution.
1 Thessalonians 2:1 - 10
An Audience of One
Vs 1 – 3: We have seen through scripture that Paul was one who never shied away from preaching the Gospel nor did he ever try to hide it or act like it didn’t impact his life. He boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ no matter where he was or who he was with. His zeal and passion for the Gospel was so stirring that he has inspired so many to have this same zeal for proclaiming the Gospel.
But there have been times in my life when I lacked the zeal that was so inspiring. I would neglect my calling to boldly proclaim he gospel simply because it was inconvenient or I would tell myself that I don’t want to come across as pushy, I don’t want to be made fun of for my faith or I rarely I would think for some ridiculous reason that I may come across as “overly righteous”. Yet, we know that it is important to learn from Paul, in proclaiming the gospel that we have nothing to be ashamed of. Paul himself writes in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful and full of hope, joy, peace, love, and salvation.
The gospel is foundational to everything we hold on to and believe as followers of Jesus Christ. The word gospel is derived from a Greek word that means good tidings or good news. The gospel speaks of the good news of the kingdom of God which has come and is still to come through Jesus the Messiah. It is the good news about the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is the good news of the death of Jesus Christ and through his death He has reconciled (or made peace) with God and all those who believe will be saved. It is the good news of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ for our justification. It is the good news of his return in all majesty and His coming Kingdom. This good news needs to be proclaimed boldly both through words and in the lives we live.
Vs 4 - 7: Speaking the truth in love. Thus boldly proclaiming the gospel or speaking the truth in love can be difficult sometimes. For me speaking the truth of God’s Word from the pulpit is one of the joys and curses of being a pastor. I love that every week I have the honor and joy of teaching God’s Word from the pulpit. I love that I have the calling to preach the Gospel on a regular basis and share God’s grace, love, and mercy. However, there have been times when I come across a subject or passage from the Bible that I know might offend someone or it is sensitive subject matter and I have to determine in my heart... do I speak truth of what God wants me to speak or do I skirt the subject and go on to something else? When I face these situations, I am reminded of the words written by Paul to the Thessalonians, " For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our heart." (vs. 4)
I/we need to be reminded often that proclaiming the Gospel (in the pulpit or in everyday life) is not intended to please people or make people feel good about themselves. It is intended to bring people the throne of God and reveal their sinful nature and ultimate need for a savior in Jesus Christ. My prayer is that the words I do speak from the pulpit bring hope not because I spoke it with eloquence or creativity but because I proclaimed the truth in love.
The gospel message is offensive to many and if pastors and believers continually proclaim it, we will eventually offend someone. Since this is the case, we cannot let this affect the message we proclaim. We have the great privilege to proclaim God's Word because we are "approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News."
This does not, however, give us permission to be abusive, manipulative, or judgmental with our words. We are called to be "gentle" in our delivery and allow the Word of God to speak for itself and to penetrate the hearts of those to whom we proclaim it. Our job is to deliver the message of hope to and if/when it offends, we must understand that it's not because of us, they are offended by the Word of God and there is nothing we can or should do about that.
Vs 8: This is why it is important that we share the gospel with one another and in our community. There is a myth in Christianity that people believe the Christian faith is a private and individual matter. There is an attitude that some hold that faith is about Jesus and me. People think (and sometimes say), “I don’t need anyone as long as I just have a personal relationship with Jesus.” To which I respond, “There is no such thing as a ‘Lone Ranger’ Christian.” The church is called to community and fellowship.
The gospel of Jesus is the core of our faith. As Christians we are to share the “good news” of Jesus with others. The Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians that they were ready to share it with others. Then he says (and I am paraphrasing), “We not only want to share the gospel with you, but we want to share ourselves with you because you are like family to us.” You see as disciples of Jesus we are called to community and not seclusion. We are called to share ourselves with one another. What does this really mean? I believe Paul is telling his dearly beloved readers in Thessalonica that as Christians, they need one another. They need to share one another’s burdens, joys, trials, concerns and so on. They need to share themselves with one another so they may edify and build up the body of Christ. They need to share themselves so they can pray for one another, encourage those who were downtrodden and give hope to those who may feel hopeless.
The same goes for us today. We have trials, concerns, troubles, health issues etc. in our lives. We are human and difficulty and trials comes with the territory. We can weather the storms of life when we have loving brothers and sisters behind us and supporting us. In the same sense, when something fantastic happens and you see the hand of God in action in your life, don’t you want to share it with everyone?
As a Pastor I DEPEND on the prayers and support of this congregation, my friends and family all over the world. When I feel downtrodden and beaten up, I lean on the support of this congregation and on my fellow friends and colleagues who are there to support me. We need one another. The Christian faith is a journey that we walk, and we cannot, nor should we walk it alone.
Vs 10: I am in awe of the confidence and boldness Paul has in his conduct and faith. As a Pastor AND Christian, I have the great joy and burden of not only proclaiming the gospel but also in living a holy and godly life. It’s not the “job” of Pastors only to preach the gospel and live a holy and upright life; a holy and upright life is the call for every follower of Jesus. Jesus says, in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Our character and our conduct speak volumes about who we serve. For example, a selfish, unloving, and greedy person shows that he serves self. A selfless, loving and giving person points to the Jesus he/she serves. (*Note, I am not stating that all selfless, loving and giving people are Christians, just if you are a follower of Christ this should be the image you bear because Jesus is all of those).
Paul lived a life that was honorable among the people he ministered to and the God he served. I pray one day I will be able to stand before all the people I served over the years and say, “As you and God are my witnesses, I have tried by the power of the Holy Spirit to live a holy, righteous and blameless life by the grace of God.” Notice I did not, nor does Paul say “sinless”. To live a holy life means to live your life set apart for God. You aim to please the Father through your life, and you live with him as your God and King. To be righteous means you live a just life or aim to be in right standing with God. To live a blameless life means you have lived a life (or strived to live a life) where nobody can make accusations of you living contrary to what you believe. In other words, as Christians, we must live our lives to please God. However, we cannot live to please God in our own power. Each one of us (if you are a believer) must depend on the Holy Spirit to help us live holy, righteous, and blameless lives. Therefore, I make it a point to pray often “Lord help me to live the life that will bring honor and glory to your name. I can’t do it in my own power, so I depend on your Spirit to live it through me.”
So, what is our take home for today? I want to challenge you strive to be imitators of Jesus. In doing so there are three action steps from today’s passage that we can take with us.
The final two chapters of Revelation are the fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17 “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.” This final vision comprises the last major component of the Apocalypse. This chapter stresses on the renewed fellowship between God and his people and the vision encourages the reader to see in this final section a reconstitution of the garden of Eden.
Vs 1 – 2: In this vision the heaven and earth are renewed by a new heaven and a new earth. The renovation of the old order is a teaching of apocalyptic tradition (2 Peter 3:10 – 13). This vision also includes a New Jerusalem as well. The concept of a New Jerusalem that comes down from God, this, also is a common teaching in Jewish apocalyptic tradition. Some hold that the New Jerusalem is an actual city, but many suggest it is a symbol of the church in its perfected and eternal state. However, the point is that Jerusalem is the site of the temple, the place where the presence of God dwells. The New Jerusalem is adorned as a bride for her husband. In Chapter 19 the people of God are presented as a bride; but here the same figure is used of the place of their dwelling place, the heavenly Jerusalem. The difference between the earthly city who is described as a prostitute and the heavenly city as a bride is obvious.
Vs 3 – 4: The voice from heaven declares that the dwelling place or the home of God is with the people, and that he will live with them. When the John writes that God’s home or the tabernacle of God is with us, he is saying that God in his glory has come to dwell with us. This does not suggest a temporary dwelling, but from here on out God dwells with his people for all eternity. It is the presence of God, and the fellowship with him of ALL believers, that comprises the fundamental trait of the coming age.
Death, sadness, and pain are all part of the “old way” that has now passed away.
Vs 5 – 7: God’s silence is broken when he declares, “I am making everything new!” The throne upon which God sits represents his sovereignty and splendor. It is from this position of tremendous power that he announces his intention of creating the new order.
God proclaims, “It is finished!” He then declared that He is the Beginning which refers not only to the fact that he was first in point of time but also, he is the source and origin of all things. He is the end in the sense that he constitutes their goal or aim. He also allows those who are thirsty to drink from the spring of the water of life. Scripture often employs the figure of thirst to depict the desire of the soul for God.
It is the overcomers/victors who will receive these blessings. In the letters to the seven churches, we learned that the overcomers will eat from the tree of life, not be hurt by the second death, be given hidden manna and a white stone, receive authority over the nations, their names will not be blotted from the book of life, be a pillar in the temple of God, and sit with Christ on his throne. All this is the inheritance of those who remain faithful during the period of final testing.
God also declares that the victor will be his child and he will be God. Those who deny Christ and are seduced by the solicitations of the prostitute have no inheritance in the family of God.
Vs 8: On the contrary those who live contrary to the ways of God… cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars will receive their destiny… the second death… burning sulfur and hellfire. The same fate as the Beast, False Prophet, and Satan.
Vs 9: One of the angels who held one of the seven bowls of plagues tells John to come and see the bride of the lamb. As a bride the church is pure and lovely, and as wife she enjoys the intimacy of the Lamb.
Vs 10 – 14: John is taken in the Spirit to a great mountain to see the Holy City descending from heaven. As the holy city descends from heaven, it shines with a brightness that shows the presence and glory of God. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel that in the restoration the glory or presence of the Lord will rise upon them and he will be their everlasting light.
The city is surrounded by a great wall with twelve gates, which are guarded by twelve angels. On the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The wall is not needed for security reasons in the eternal state. The wall is simply part of the description of an ideal city as conceived by ancient peoples accustomed to the security of strong outer walls. There are twelve gates and they are named after the twelve tribes of Israel. It is believed that the twelve gates symbolize abundant entrance.
Vs 14: The mention of the “Twelve apostles” is a reference to the disciples without specific mention of Judas. In Ephesians 2:20 Paul teaches that the house of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Historically, the church rests upon the apostles and prophets, this means it is built upon the faith and efforts of those who first proclaimed the gospel message. The combination of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles shows the unity of ancient Israel and the NT church.
Vs 15 – 17: These verses describe the measuring of the heavenly city. If you recall in chapter 11 John who was told to measure the temple of God and the altar, and then count those that worship there. However, the holy city is to be measured by the angel who appropriately uses a reed or staff of gold. Traditionally it is believed the reed measures slightly more than ten feet in length. The measuring in chapter 11 was to ensure protection; in chapter 21 it serves to portray the colossal size and perfect symmetry of the eternal holy city.
The city that appears to John as a square, but more likely it refers to a three-dimensional form—a cube whose length, breadth, and height are all equal.
Vs 18: The jasper wall indicates that even the walls of the city declares the glory of God. The gold of the heavenly city is as pure as glass. This is normally taken to mean that it had a transparent quality, which meant that it had no impurity.
Vs 19 – 20: The twelve stones parallel the twelve gems that are in the breastplate of the high priest, this suggests that the privileges once reserved for the high priest alone under the old covenant are now available to all the people of God. These precious stones were/are desirable for their beauty and scarcity. The stones mentioned in the Bible are hard to identify with any precision because of the many different types and colors as well as the lack of a standard terminology. But the idea behind the description of this city is that the city is magnificent beyond description.
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.