Sermon Notes • March 6

Father, Forgive Them Luke 23:34

This Lenten season we are going to look at the 7 statements Jesus made from the Cross on the day He died. We will follow an outline found in a book by Herbert Lockyer entitled “Seven Words of Love. Read John 3:16 and Romans 5:8. Because God loves us, He desires to have fellowship with us. Fellowship with God was built into our creation in His image, but fellowship lost when man entered into sin. So, God sent His Son Jesus to be our Redeemer. Every word from the Cross speaks of His love and of the degree that He was willing to go to pay the penalty of our sin and thus restore the fellowship He created us to have. 

Read from Luke 23:34 the first words from Jesus on the Cross that day. 

The Greek word Luke used to record “Jesus said” is in the imperfect tense, which is a tense used to describe something that happened in past and continues into the future. That has led many to believe that Luke was telling us that Jesus kept on saying that over and over. 

Notice that His first word was addressed to God as “Father.” That was the way Jesus addressed God often in prayer and was the way He instructed us to address Him. The next time Jesus addressed Him, He did so as “My God, My God.” His final address from the Cross will once again be to His Father. 

Jesus clearly practiced what He preached. He taught His disciples that they were to forgive those who despitefully persecute them or abuse them in any way. One day Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness and how many times one was to forgive. Jesus told him there was to be no limit to it either in terms of what was forgiven or how often. On the Cross, Jesus practiced what He told us we too should be willing to do. 

I wonder how God felt about forgiving them. He forgave because that is who God is but consider the love displayed in granting that request. God had observed men totally mistreating His Son to the point that, as Isaiah described it, Jesus was unrecognizable. The Father saw the soldiers drive spikes into His Son’s hands and felt the pain Jesus felt. Think about how God the Father had to have felt when Jesus asked Him to forgive them.

Jesus asked His Father to forgive them. On other occasions Jesus Himself had forgiven sins. In Mark 2 a paralyzed man was lowered to Jesus through the roof of a house. In verse 5 Jesus told the man that because of his faith his sins were forgiven. That seriously upset the religious leaders who said only God could forgive sin. Jesus then announced in Mark 2:10 that He had the authority to do just that. But on the Cross, He completely identified with us, setting aside His prerogatives as deity so He deferred forgiveness to the Father.

Those words themselves were a fulfillment of prophecy. Read Isaiah 53:12. In fulfilling prophecy Jesus reminds us that the events of that day were not history spinning out of control but part of a plan that originated before the foundation of the world. It was God’s plan whereby salvation would be provided if man chose to sin. The very moment Adam and Eve sinned that plan was put into effect and was fully played out on the Cross. 

In expressing His willingness for the Father to forgive, He was also telling us that He was accepting the events of that day. Read John 10:17-18. Jesus knew why He had come and knew the agony that He would face on the Cross. 

Jesus said, “Father forgive them.” It is always good to consider who the “them” really were. Of course, it was the Roman soldiers who so cruelly drove the spikes into His hands. It included the Scribes and Pharisees who had plotted for nearly 3 years for that moment and instigated His arrest and insisted on His death. In some way it included the crowd who had, hours earlier, cried “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Pilate belongs on that list for, even though he found no fault in Him, he none-the-less ordered His crucifixion. The list should include the disciples who had fled that night in fear and were a part of His loving plea for forgiveness. We must include our names on that list. Was He not there for the sins of the whole world, and does that not include us? While not physically present that day we certainly were responsible, because of our sins, so that plea to the Father was for us also.

It’s too easy to read that Jesus asked God to forgive those who put Him there and think of the major sinners of our day. The men who planned the 9/11 attack or the group of ISIS soldiers who beheaded Christians and then sent out a video bragging about it need forgiveness for sure. But all of us need forgiveness for our sins. even if our sins seem small compared to others. 

In the opening chapter of Leviticus Moses, the author, detailed the sacrifices God required of the nation in general. As the book goes on, the list of sacrifices moves from the overall need of the nation to the need of individuals. Read Leviticus 4:1-2 and verse 13. Note that even unintentional sins need forgiveness. After each sin is covered by a sacrifice we read that they were forgiven. “The word “forgiven” occurs 10 times in that chapter.” We know big sinners need forgiveness but sometimes we forget the smallest of sins need forgiveness also.  

Note that no one asked Jesus for forgiveness. He offered it while we were yet sinners, while we were even unaware that we had sinned against Him. Never lose sight of the reality that God sought us out. We did not seek Him and in coming to Him we were not being somehow more spiritual or more deserving but simply responding to His offer to forgive.

Notice also that nothing is asked of those who are forgiven. Forgiveness has never come with a price tag on it to the one being forgiven, only to the one forgiving. Jesus simply asks God to forgive us and all we need to do is accept that forgiveness. 

And He asked for forgiveness. Contemplate some of the things Jesus might have asked for. He might have asked that they would understand the folly of their decision and the ignorance by which they were acting. He might have asked that they would have wisdom, or that they might be changed so they would not act that way again. But no, He asked for forgiveness because that is man’s most urgent need. It was so He could provide forgiveness that He went to the Cross in the first place. Our greatest need is forgiveness and on the Cross, that was the first thing that Jesus had on His mind.

Finally note that while Jesus acknowledged that they did not know what they are doing, He did not excuse them on that basis. Ignorance of the law has never been a legitimate defense. Paul shared his personal testimony and wrote that before his experience on the road to Damascus he acted in ignorance as indeed all sinful men do. But ignorance is no excuse. Had ignorance been a legitimate excuse then the Cross would not have been necessary. Ignorant, yes, guiltless, never! The Cross was God’s way of making it legitimate for Him to forgive, for Him to show His love for us even though we had rebelled against Him and did not deserve it.

“Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” The Cross is all about forgiveness or as it is pictured in the Old Testament, atonement. Read Romans 6:23. Forgiveness is a gift but a gift that had to be purchased by God. All sin requires atonement. Major sins, minor sins, unintentional sins, they all require forgiveness. On the Cross Jesus lovingly paid for all sins. As we move through Lent, let’s take the time to contemplate the love of God that took Jesus to the Cross and the forgiveness He provided for us when He paid the penalty of our sins. We have been loved by God beyond measure and offered free forgiveness to all who ask. Our response to that love and what it offers is to love Him in return and seek to live as those who have been forgiven.

Sermon Notes • February 27

Elijah on Mt. Carmel I Kings 18:26-39

Elijah boldly proclaimed his faith in God. One event in his life that we are all familiar with was his victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. It is recorded for us in I Kings 18. Read I Kings 18:26-39. 

To appreciate the challenge made to the prophets of Baal to meet on Mt. Carmel we should review the events that led up to it beginning in I Kings 17.

Elijah had been told by God to tell King Ahab that because of his sins and those of the nation He was going to withhold rain from the land. I Kings 17 details Elijah’s life following that and the attempts of Ahab to find and punish him because of his prediction. God protected Elijah so Ahab was unable to find him. 

Read I Kings 18:1. The prolonged drought of almost 3 years had brought famine to the land and instead of repentance on the part of Ahab he had become more and more angry with both God and God’s servant Elijah. God’s intention, as with all His chastening  was to bring sinner to repentance. That was not the case with Ahab. He was furious and wants Elijah’s head. See the response of Ahab’s servant to the prospect of telling Ahab that Elijah wanted to see him. Witnessing for Jesus or calling sin, “sin” in our society can be dangerous. Like Elijah, our obedience is expected by God.

Read I Kings 18:16. I’d love to know what the emotions of that meeting involved. I wonder what Ahab thought. Remember that the prophet is the one seeking Ahab. I suspect that Ahab was the one who feared and maybe rightfully so.

Read I Kings 18:17. What a picture of the human heart! Ahab was the sinner, but he tried to blame Elijah. Genesis 3 records the same response of Adam when he sinned. We need to accept responsibility for our sins and honestly confess them to God. We cannot make excuses and Elijah would not accept them from Ahab either.

Note the accusation. You are the one who troubles. Is anyone ever troubled by your righteous presence? Amos was accused of this according to Amos 7:10. In Luke 23:5 we read that Jesus was accused of the same thing. In Acts 16:6 we read that Paul and Silas were accused of disrupting things in Thessalonica and in Acts 17:6 we read that Christians in general were accused of turning the whole world upside down. The church needs to be so active for justice and righteousness that we literally turn our community upside down for Jesus.

Read I Kings 18:18. Elijah called sin “sin” and puts the blame where it belonged. Our society blames sin on everything but the sinner. There is always an excuse and seldom personal responsibility for sin.

We read in verses 19-20 that Elijah demanded that Ahab call the people together. The very fact that Ahab agreed is an indication of how serious the drought was and perhaps the realization that he could not ignore Elijah. So, we read that Ahab did as he was told.

Read I Kings 18:21-22.  Elijah issues two challenges. First, he challenges the people to decide between Jehovah and Baal. He said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” If ever there was a message that needs to be proclaimed in America it is just that. If Elijah were here today, I believe he would say to America, “How long are you going to play church? If God is God, then live for Him each day. If you think you can make it without God, go ahead and try but stop trying to be both a Christian and a full-fledged, card-carrying person of the world.”

Elijah then issued a challenge to the false prophets. Read I Kings 18:23-24. It was a legitimate challenge since Baal was the god of fire as far as the people are concerned and if anyone can send down fire from the sky it should have been Baal. 

I Kings 18:26-29 records that Elijah watched the uselessness of false gods, who, according to various places like Psalm 135:15-18, can neither hear and speak and certainly cannot respond to prayer requests. So, we read in verse 26, “There was no response; no one answered.” 

Read I Kings 18:27 on Elijah mocking them. One of Elijah’s taunts literally says, “Maybe he is sitting on the toilet.” The world is always making an excuse for sin and the failure of false gods to do as it claims they can. Just a little more or whatever will turn the tide.

I Kings 18:28 is a picture of “works” at its wildest that do no good. Read that verse. Few Christians are that committed. We hear people say it does not matter what you believe as long as you seriously believe it. This proves that is not true. They fully believed Baal could answer but he didn’t because he couldn’t. 

I Kings 18:30-39 records what happened when Elijah took his turn. In verses 30-33 we read that Elijah carefully prepared the sacrifice exactly as God had told His people to prepare for worship. The we read that Elijah asked that 4 large jugs of water be poured over the sacrifice. This was repeated twice more so a total of 12 jugs were poured on the wood. If you have ever tried to light wet firewood you know what adding 12 large jugs of water to that sacrifice meant. The water made it impossible to ignite apart from God.

Read I Kings 18:36-37. 

The time of his prayer is important to note. It was the very hour that worship should have been taking place in the Temple.

Likewise, the reason for his prayer is important. His concern was the glory of God, not his. Too often we do things for their own glory and God does not honor that. Elisha’s call for fire to come down from heaven would be answered because its purpose was God’s glory. Read Luke 9:51-56. 

Read I Kings 18:38. What a powerful answer. Nothing was left. We worship and serve a powerful God.

Sinners assume they control their own destiny and not even God can touch them. The encounter on Mt. Carmel, however, is a testimony to both the total helplessness of idols whether they be made of wood or stone or if they are well thought out philosophical gods versus the real power of God. Only the true and living God can answer our prayers and vanquish our enemies.

I assume you know the rest of the story. Seeing God’s power led to belief. People seeing God’s power in our transformed lives will know He is truly God. 

Elijah believed God even though Ahab didn’t, so without a sign that it was going to rain after 3 years of drought, he told Ahab that it was going to rain. How did he know that? Because God promised it and that was all he needed. And it rained!

Wish you could be an Elijah? Listen to what James wrote in James 5:17, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.” The story of Mt. Carmel is not a story about Elijah but about Elijah’s God. And He is our God and can work through us in the same way if we want and allow Him to do so.

Sermon Notes • February 20

Psalm 37 God Will Have the Final Say

Introduction: For 2000 years the church has taught that if we follow Jesus and seek to do His will and to live the way we should, we will be blessed. The church has taught that the one who walks in the ways of the Lord will be blessed. We believe that righteousness counts with God. But when we look around, that doesn’t seem to be reality. We ask if it’s really worth it. 

All around us we see the obvious contradiction to the notion that the righteous are blessed and the ungodly are blown away like the chaff. It is clear that the guys on the top are often not the ones with the least scruples. They are often the ones who have walked all over others to get there. Having nothing to do with God does not seem to have hurt them. 

That very same issue was on the mind of King David when he wrote the 37th Psalm. He saw among his own people, and in the nations around him, those who were seemingly well off yet were in no way trusting God. So, David asked God, “Is it really worth it? Is it really fair? 

As God worked in the mind of David, he sensed God saying, “Don’t look about and see evil and desire it. Don’t envy those who have pushed their way to the top without regard for others. Don’t envy the seeming success of the wicked because in the end they will have nothing you and the man or woman of God will have everything.”

Overview: Three themes run throughout this Psalm:

  1. God cares for the righteous.
  2. While the wicked appear to succeed for the moment, their long-term success is doomed. (8, 22, 28, 34, 38)
  3. While the righteous might fall from time to time, God still holds onto them. Their ultimate destiny is secure. The faithful will inherit the land (9, 22, 28, 34).

Read Psalm 37:1-2. It is natural to envy those who seem to be getting ahead and appear to have it all. One of the sins of most of us is covertness and when we see all the wicked have it is easy to want it ourselves. Satan then quickly tells us we can have it, but at a small price. God has a different message. Read Proverbs 24:19. 

David wrote, “Do not fret” 3 times in this Psalm, in verses 1, 7, and 8. Literally “Don’t get all worked up.” The verb David used is very strong and is sometimes translated “don’t burn with anger.” David was saying, “Take your eyes off the wicked and put them on God.” The wicked are, “like the grass they will soon wither.” The wicked have shallow roots and shrivel up when difficulties come. Their success is very temporary.

In Psalm 37 we have 1 negative instruction, “Do not fret” and 4 positive instructions, “trust, delight, commit and rest.” If we follow the positive, we won’t be tempted to fret.

Read Psalm 37:3.Instead of envy, the believer’s life is to be characterized by trust. Trust or faith is always the starting place for any relationship with God. The wicked have put their trust in themselves and what they have. How different it is for believers. An individual trusts in God when he takes God at His word and is willing to walk by faith the road that he cannot always see. He knows that God has promised to be with him at every turn in the road and in the end the road leads home.

The difference between a religious man and a true Christian is the issue of faith, of trust. A religious man goes through all the practices and exercises of faith but has never personally committed himself to the Lord. He has never placed his trust in the one who has promised eternal life to all who believe. 

There is a difference between religion and Christianity, between knowledge about and possession of a truth, between going our own way and trusting in God and the provisions of the Cross. David wrote that the one whom God can and will bless is the one who has examined the facts, considered not only what appears to be reality in the world around but has seriously considered the truths of God’s Word.  

David added to trust, the phrase, “and do good.” Faith is not passive. It is active. So, David added “do good.” John Calvin said, “Faith alone saves but the faith that saves is never alone.” Real trust is seen in one’s actions. Real trust is going to make a difference in the way we act, the way we live. The very nature of real trust is that it impacts life. It impacts the way we act before Him. Read James 2:18 and then James 2:22. 

That command is followed with the promise that those who truly trust and do good will, “dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” For David, that imagery was the Land of Promise and carried two ideas. First, the Promised Land, and in particular the Temple, was where God dwelt, and he wanted to be with God and know His presence with him. 

Second,in David’s mindthe land was the place that flowed with milk and honey. It was a land where God’s blessing was evident. In a much deeper sense, it was a picture of dwelling in a place prepared by God for each of His children. It was the place of His presence where His provision is sufficient. 

Read Psalm 37:4. Before one makes a commitment to the Lord, he really wants little to do with God. Before one makes a personal commitment to God, one often sees God as harsh and legalistic. When one makes that commitment, however, his whole attitude changes and he discovers a God who loves him beyond imagination and gives a peace that passes understanding. He discovers God desires only his best and asks him to do only that which leads to real joy and blessing. And with that discovery he delights in his relationship with God.

The root word “delight” originally came from a word that carries the idea of pampering or living in luxury. It reminds us that if we allow Him to, God wants to pamper us. The word challenges us to live in the luxury of what God provides. The key is not necessarily more of the things which the world seeks and will do anything to achieve, but wanting more of God in our lives, wanting the richness of fellowship with Him. When we delight in God, we seek our happiness in Him. And that comes with a promise as follows, He will give you the desires of your heart.” The promise that we will get the desires of our hearts is given because when we delight in Him, we will only desire what He desires for us. That He will provide. 

Read Psalm 37:5-6.  “Commit your ways” is not a repeat of the trust in verse 3. Most commentators translated this phrase as “roll one’s way or burden onto God.” Read I Peter 5:7. When we look at those around us we see many who ignore God and God’s commands seem so successful. Difficult times will come and then they will not have what is often called “an invisible means of support.” It may seem at times like following God is holding us back but when difficult times come, we can cast our concerns onto Him. Read Matthew 11:28-30. 

Read Psalm 37:4. Being still can be seen as “be silent” and carries the idea of being patient as one waits for God to work. 

That is followed do not fret when people succeed in their ways.” We are not to fret over the wrong that doers seem to be getting away with it. We need to relax and give God time because in the end, when the big picture is done, we win. 

What a beautiful picture these verses portray of the individual who, instead of glorying in evil, chooses to yield Himself to God knowing that this is wisest. Think about the key words here, “trust, delight, be committed, and be still.” They are the phrases that characterize the life of one who refuses to sell himself out for momentary pleasure and success. They picture one who looks instead beyond the moment into eternity and chooses to sell himself out to the creator, preserver, judge, ruler of the universe. In doing that we discover we truly have what the world seeks and believes is important. 

Sermon Notes • February 13

I John 4:7-21

No short passage in the Bible says more about God as being a God of love, what that love means to us, and the importance of our loving one another than I John 4:7-21. 

Read I John 4:7. Note that John introduced this section on love by referring to those whom he is addressing as “Dear friends” or literally as “Beloved.” John was practicing what he was preaching. 

John then wrote was that as Christians “let us love one another.”  In the Greek that is an imperative or command and not a suggestion. That command occurs directly 3 times in this paragraph, (verses 7, 11, and 21) and indirectly in several other verses. Here it is a command to love one another. In verse 11 John used a similar phrase to express a duty or obligation we have as Christians to love. In verse 12 John used that expression to declare that loving others is proof that God lives in us.

John added “for love comes from God.” The love John was writing about here comes from God and therefore, is not an innate or natural quality of man. John used the Greek word “agape.” It was a Greek word for love that had very little use or meaning in everyday Greek until the church took it over and poured into it the idea of God’s love, of unselfish love. 

The emphasis is not on our developing an attitude of love but of receiving the love that comes only from God. Once we receive God’s love, we must express it to others in the same ways that God expresses it us. 

One who loves with an “agape love” demonstrates he is a genuine Christian and serves as a testimony to the world that he knows and God of love.

The phrase “born of God” was clearly explained in John’s Gospel when he recorded in John 3 the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. The new birth is a supernatural experience brought about through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in response to our faith in Jesus.

Read verse 8. The opposite of knowing God and loving is not to love and thereby demonstrate that one does not know God. Since God is love and His love nature indwells all who belong to Him, a failure to love is proof that one does not know Him.

The reason not loving is proof that one is not a genuine Christian is that “because God is love” all He indwells via the Holy Spirit have His love. Love is not just a characteristic of God but part of His essence. He does not just love; He is love. 

Read verse 9. The statement that God is love is displayed in God giving His Son to us. Love requires giving, which God did. His love in us requires that we too give. The emphasis is both what and why God’s love provided salvation. God sent His Son as a by-product of or consequence of His love.

John went on to explain the purpose for which God gave us Jesus. It was so “that we might live through him.” God gave His Son that we might be blessed, that we might have what we did not deserve, could not earn, but desperately needed. John developed the idea of life because of and in the Son in chapter 5 of this letter where we he wrote that life is found in Jesus because, according to 5:20, He Himself is life

Read verse 10. “Agape” love or the love of God, loves even when it is not deserved and gives irrespective of the cost. God loved us and in an historical setting demonstrated that love.

A key theological term is introduced here with the words “atoning sacrifice.” It means that we have the guilt of our sin removed so the anger of God against sin is removed. The emphasis of the word used here to describe what God did is how it places the emphasis on God and not what we do to achieve life. Read how Paul expressed that in Ephesians 2:13.

The picture of God’s love which is to be the pattern for our love shows it is expressed and offered regardless of the merit one might feel another has for it. God loved us while we were yet sinners. For the world, love is often offered to those who seem to deserve it, but agape love is offered to all. God’s love is also steadfast. It not only comes to us without merit, but it goes on forever. There will never be a time in all eternity when we are not loved by God. Read Romans 8:31-29. Agape love is not withheld if the recipient fails in some way but is always steadfast and sure. God’s love does not have a limit of how far it will go. God does not distance Himself from us when the price gets to a certain point, or the connivance level reaches a given point but rather He is always there for us.

John got to a key lesson in verse 11. Read that verse. God’s love for us places upon us an obligation to love in return, and not just to love God but to love those whom God loves. John pointed to the love God has shown as an example of the way we are to love. The argument is simple. Because God is love and therefore loves, so too we must love, not because He compels us to love but because of an inward compulsion that comes from His presence within us. Read Romans 5:5. 

In the Bible love is a verb. While we generally define love as a noun that describes something we have, the Bible most often uses it as a verb to show how we act. For us love is something we feel, whereas in the Bible it is how we live. 

One of the truths of Scripture is that as Christians we are to reflect God in our actions. In Scripture, when we are given a characteristic of God, we are told to imitate that characteristic in our daily living. For example, we are told in Leviticus 6:36 that because God is holy, we are to act in a holy way. In Luke 6:36 we are told that because God is merciful, we are to act in a merciful manner. Here we are challenged to love because God is love. Once we belong to God by faith, we are to reflect His character in all we are and do. 

Before we were born of God, we did not have His loving nature within and therefore could not love in the way He loves. When we are born again the Godlike nature is given back so we have the capacity to be what we could not ever be with our sinful nature. God is not only love, but He is also the source of all true love so that wherever that true love exists it comes from Him. 

Notice that John wrote “God so loved us.” The little word “so” is an emphatic word in the Greek and is designed to stress the fullness of it as Jesus did in John 3:16. God’s love for us is an incredible love and we are to love others in the same way.

Read verse 12. While we have never seen God as such, still He lives in us and therefore we really can know Him. Proof that God really lives in us is seen in how we love others.

We see God in those who reflect His character, and in particular His love. The adage that many who will never read the Bible will read the lives of Christians must be seen here. The strongest argument God has for who He is and what He can do is the life of a transformed individual whose life is so attractive that the world wants to have. The only explanation for such a life is Jesus in Him. Nothing shouts “God loves you” louder than His love flowing through us to others.

The message of John is that we are to love because God is love (8, 9). He has loved us (10, 11) and in our loving, God is able to bring His love to completion in and through us (12).

Sermon Notes • February 6

Isaiah 6: 1-8

Isaiah 6 is a text that has gripped the hearts of men and women since Isaiah first wrote it. 

The text can be nicely divided into three points:

1. We begin by seeing God for who he is.

2. Seeing God for who He is forces us to see ourselves for who we are.

3. And recognizing who we are and what He has done for us forces us to say, “Here am I. What do you want me to do for you Lord?”

Isaiah began this chapter telling us that it was the year that King Uzziah died. The significance of that is that Uzziah had been king for 50 years and at least until the end they had been extremely good years. But then he was gone, and all kinds of uncertainty faced the nation. The big question was, “Where do we go from here?”

The reign of Uzziah had been marked by ups and downs spiritually but he is generally viewed as a good king and Israel certainly prospered under his reign. He was the most important king since Solomon and Israel had enjoyed a lot of blessing under his leadership. For the majority of people, Uzziah was the only king they had ever known. Now he was dead. The future was truly as uncertain as ours often appears to be. 

Isaiah went into the temple and there God spoke to his heart. Isaiah went into the house of the Lord because, like probably everyone else he wanted to know where to go next. Isaiah went to God’s house undoubtedly looking for encouragement and guidance and there he discovered something we all need to be reminded off. The earthly king on whom they had depended was dead but the Heavenly King from whom all blessing come was alive and on His throne. He reigns forever and of His rule there will be no end. One’s security lies not in men but in God. 

First, Isaiah saw God. And what a picture he saw; 

a) He saw His Permanence: He was on the throne; an earthly king had died but God was still alive and on His throne.

b) He saw Him Exalted: high and lifted up.

c) He saw a little of His glory: The description of the covered Seraphim in verse 2 and the phrase “full of glory” in verse 3 express this important truth.

d) He saw His Holiness: The angels declared not one, not twice, but three times that He was holy. It is critical that we recognize the holiness of God.

e) Isaiah saw a little of His Power: The Lord of Hosts was a military term that spoke of strength. As a name for God, it denotes incredible power.

f)  He saw His Authority: Isaiah tells us that the door post shook when He talked.

g) And Isaiah saw something of the potential wrath of God against sin. He tells us that the temple was filled with smoke, a symbol used in the Old Testament to speak of judgment.

Isaiah described what he saw when he came into the presence of the almighty God who was on the throne. That was what Isaiah needed. 

I encourage you to read and reread this passage often to see again and again the glory of God. God is great, powerful and majestic. One of the unique characteristics of God is that He is both transcendent or distant and imminent or close at the same time. At one and the same time He is a Holy God whose face we cannot see and live and yet He is “Our Father who is heaven.” He is all-powerful yet close enough to be felt at all times. 

Isaiah saw a God full of Glory. Nothing will impact our confidence in God or our commitment to Him more than regularly coming into the house of God and focusing not upon our needs, or our problems, but upon Him as He really is. Look anew at Him and see how marvelous He is. 

Notice Isaiah’s response to the vision he had of God on the throne. In view of the holiness of God he cried out, “Woe is me, I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips (literally a sinful being) and I live among a people of unclean lips (that is sinners).” One of the inevitable results of coming into the presence of God is the realization of how sinful we really are and how much we need to be forgiven and cleansed. If, as we usually do, we compare ourselves to others around us we always seem to come out looking pretty good. When we come before the holy God, we realize just how sinful we are and how unworthy we are of His love and His blessing. 

As soon as Isaiah acknowledged his sinfulness, God acted to cleanse him of it. Isaiah 6:5 is a marvelous picture of the cleansing that God offers to all who acknowledge their sinfulness. Read I John 1:8-10.

In the Old Testament the cleansing was tied into the altar and the sacrifices made there. When we come to the New Testament the cleansing is tied not to the temple sacrifices but to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. The sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for all men in all times. But it must be accepted.

Having been cleansed, Isaiah discovered that he now had a responsibility to God to serve Him. It is important to note the order. We must first be right with God and then we are given the privilege as well as the responsibility of serving. We are not made right before God by our willingness to serve or by the things we do as we serve. Being made right is always a work of grace as Paul declared when he said we are saved by faith through grace not of works. But once we have experienced the forgiveness of God, we will want to serve Him,

The call of God and Isaiah’s response is recorded in v.6. Notice that God did not force Isaiah to serve. God did not even demand it of him although in the New Testament we are commanded to take the gospel into all the world. God will not force us to love Him, to accept Him, to worship Him, to serve Him but He does extend the invitation. The decision is ours. “Who will go for me?” And Isaiah, in light of the vision he had seen of God and of the cleansing that he had received responded, “I will go for you. I will do as you would have me do.” 

If you read the rest of the chapter, you discover that God explained a little more fully what was implied in Isaiah’s acceptance. His ministry would be anything but easy. He would see little, or no success and he would suffer greatly as a part of his service. Serving God is not necessarily convenient and certainly seldom without a cost. In light of who God is and all He has done for us can we refuse to accept or even begin to suggest that the price is too much? He asks us to be faithful, not successful the way many define success. 

What a beautiful chapter! It gives us insight into Isaiah as a man whom God would use in Israel and gives us a challenge for today and the days that are ahead. God wants 3 three things of us.

1. He wants us to see Him as He is.

2. He wants us to then see ourselves as we are and to acknowledge our sinfulness so He can forgive us.

3. He wants us to serve Him in some way out of love and thankfulness for so great a salvation so He can reach at least a remnant with the salvation that was provided for on the Cross. 

Sermon Notes • January 30

I Samuel 16:7 What God Sees

Read I Samuel 16:7, note “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

Background: The Israelites had demanded a king. God consented and Samuel, under God’s direction and at the request of the people, anointed the young Saul. We are never told Saul was God’s choice, only that the people wanted him because of his size and some of the things he had done. Saul seemed to have so much potential. Things, however, went from good to bad. Finally, God said it was enough. 

This story is introduced in I Samuel 16:1 with the words, “The Lord.”  Nothing that happened in this chapter or in the life of David can be understood apart from the fact that God is in it. The story began with the initiative of God and not of either Samuel or David. David received his legitimacy not on the basis of anything he did but by the authority of God. 

God rejected Saul as king.  In I Samuel 10:19 Samuel said to Saul, “You have rejected your God.” In I Samuel 15:26 we read, “You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!” It was over for Saul, and it was Saul’s own fault.

According to I Samuel 16:1, God sent Samuel to anoint a son of Jesse as the new king. Samuel was told to take some oil, the symbol of spiritual anointing, and invite Jesse to the sacrifice. 

Normally in the Old Testament genealogies were given. There is none for Jesse. It is likely it was omitted as a way of showing that David came from a very ordinary background with no genealogical pedigree that made him special. Only the call of God made a difference. 

God said, “I have chosen.”  The Hebrew clearly shows that the choice was God’s. Literally the Hebrew reads, “I have chosen or seen for myself a king.” God always chooses us both for redemption and for ministry, regardless of what that ministry is. 

Verse 2 gives the human dimension of what Samuel was being asked to do and God’s way of ensuring that Samuel would not fail. Samuel said, “Saul will find out and will kill me.” Samuel’s eyes were on Saul, not on God. Leave God out of the equation and he was absolutely right to be afraid. This was a legitimate fear. Saul has turned his back on God and, therefore, on God’s servant. Saul was desperate to save his kingship and somehow reverse the decision of God. He was capable of just about anything. Saul could not get at God but could get at His servant. In addition, Samuel had to travel through Saul’s hometown to get to Bethlehem. It was not an easy assignment.

So, in 16:2 we read that God said, “take a heifer and offer a sacrifice.” This provided Samuel with a legitimate reason to go. God is realistic. He will go with us and will enable us to accomplish all He wants us to do. 

Verses 3 and 4 describe Samuel’s arrival in Bethlehem. The people legitimately wanted to know why Samuel had come to them. It was not normal for Samuel to visit Bethlehem. He had a regular circuit he used for leading in sacrifices and Bethlehem was not on that circuit. When Samuel’s approach to Bethlehem was made known there had to have been at least curiosity if not concern. Samuel was God’s spokesman and often came to a community with a message of judgment but certainly not always. Samuel assured them he had come in peace. 

Verses 5-10 tell us that the sons of Jesse passed before Samuel one by one. We can only imagine what Jesse knew or felt at this point. Scripture does not say but certainly to have the Billy Graham of his day visit his home was an honor. At this point Samuel did not know what he was looking for. Samuel viewed the process as we might. He saw the first born, who culturally would be selected, and noted how good he looked, a great specimen of a man, and decided this is the one. Verse 6 says, “Samuel saw.” God had already indicated that He has seen the one who would be king, but Samuel did not see the way God does. 

Read I Samuel 16:7 Verse 7. 

God looks at the heart. It is interesting to see what commentators do with this passage in relationship to David. There is a temptation to immediately jump to a study of what that heart might have looked like. We are not told. David was still a boy with a lot of spiritual growth still needed. I suspect God saw what is recorded in Acts 13:22 where we read that David was a man after God’s heart. He desired God even if at his age the full impact of that could not be known to him.

One of the key lessons of this story is that God is always gracious in choosing whom He will and then equipping them for His ministry, be that ministry one of being a king like David or witnessing to a friend. Read I Corinthians 1:27-29 

To give an idea of how lowly David was when God chose him to be a king, look at verse 11.  David’s father said in essence, “Well, there is another, but he doesn’t count for much. He’s really just a shepherd.” Note how David fit into the family. He was the servant/slave. All the menial or lousy jobs fell on him. He was not even considered a man by his father. It could not have been the happiest situation of this young man who seems to have been rejected or at least ignored by everyone. The neat thing is that God is always with us and He is not swayed by the opinions of others. It is always better to be acknowledged by God and ignored by the world than the other way around.

Samuel was open to God doing things differently from the way the world does so Samuel says in verse 11, “We will not sit down until he arrives.” In other words, we will not make a decision until he arrives.When David arrived from the field, he was anything but ceremonially clean for participating in the sacrifice and feast but, as always, God was far more interested in the heart than in ceremony and David was His choice for king. We learn in verses 12, 13 that Samuel knew this was the one and anointed him immediately, although we are not told how he knew. 

Verse 13 records that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. The Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” are the words “breath” and “wind” presenting us with the picture of that invisible force that moves things. God’s “invisible” presence in us is the power to move things. In the New Testament it is a description of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church. We must not miss the combination of verses 12 and 13. In verse 12 God called and in verse 13 God equipped via His Spirit. The two always go hand in hand. God never calls but what he does not give all the tools necessary to accomplish the task.

What does this incident in Jewish historysay to us? 

1. It should remind us that we must never assume we are a “no one.” We may be a no one until God calls us to follow Him and serve Him and then we are His someone.

2. We must avoid the tendency to view individuals externally. The heart is what God looks at. We tend to evaluate by position, wealth, or education but God looks at the heart.

3. We must remember that we can do nothing by ourselves so we must learn to rest in and make use of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. He can use us the way He has equipped us. 

It would be 15-18 years from David’s anointing until he became king. God is never in a hurry when it comes to developing our inner character. It takes time. Alan Redpath wrote, “The conversion of a soul is a miracle of a moment, the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime. It is the matchless marvel of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to take a life from the dunghill and set it among princes, to replace bias of degeneration with the bias of regeneration, and to cause a man who has sunk to the depths to cry to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (P.5 The Makin g of a Man of God.)

Sermon Notes • January 23

Gideon Judges 6-8

There is a pattern in the book of Judges. It began with Israel forgetting God. They then did their own thing and worshiped false gods. God judged them for their sins by allowing some foreign power to dominate them. The people repented and God raised up a judge who led them back to God and to independence. This was the setting of Gideon’s story. Israel sinned and God allowed, among others, the Midianites to dominate them. 

Read Judges 6:1-6: The Midianites and others would wait until the harvest was ready and then swoop down and steal it all, thus leaving the Israelites with no food. Judges 6:11 tells us that Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. One did not normally thresh in a winepress but Gideon was hoping to escape detection and hold onto some of his harvest. This makes the greeting of the angel a little humorous as he calls Gideon a “mighty warrior.”

Read Judges 6:13, 14: Question 1: “If God is with us why is this happening?” Gideon had many of the same reactions that all of us have, especially in times of difficulty. He knew the theology and he knew the accounts of how God had worked in the past but he found it difficult to see where God was today in the midst of so much suffering. How many times did we hear people ask “Where was God on 9/11?” When things are not going the way we think they should we often ask, “Where is God now when I need Him?” 

God said, “I am still here and it is time to move and I am going to move through you.” Verse 14 is a powerful verse if we stop to think of it. The writer has told us how powerful the enemies are but God said to Gideon that He would use him to set His people free. Read verse 14. That tells us two very important things about doing the work that God has set before us, whether it is  teaching Sunday school, witnessing to a neighbor, raising children etc. 1. Gideon was to go in the strength he had. We must never minimize the gifts and abilities that God has given us nor can we ever be satisfied with the way we develop and perfect those gifts. 2. And God said, “Am I not sending you?” Our gifts, talents, abilities, strengths etc are of little value if He is not in it. When He is in it we don’t need anything more.

Read Joshua 6: 15-24 Question 2: “What makes you think I can do what you are asking? I am a nobody in a small tribe and insignificant even as far as my family is concerned.”

And to this the Lord again reminded him (v. 16), “I will be with you.” I am not sure how seriously most of us take the promise of Jesus that He will never leave or forsake us. In the Old Testament it was the exception but in the New Testament it is the rule. Every believer has God with him 24/7/365 because of the presence of the Holy Spirit 

Those doubts were followed by a literal “prove it” as far as Gideon was concerned. He said (v. 17), “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” God said OK. God never puts us off for honest doubts and questions. He is more than able and willing to prove himself. At every step God met Gideon where he was and helped him move forward in his faith. God is always willing to do that if we are honest and really want to move forward.

Gideon got a sacrifice (v. 19), placed it on the rock and the angel of the Lord touches it and it is consumed. Gideon believed but had a new problem (v. 22, 23). One cannot see God and live so he fears for his life. God said “You will live.”

Gideon’s first assignment was to destroy an altar set up to Baal. Read Judges 6:25-32: God asked Gideon to destroy this altar and in its place put up an altar to the true God. Gideon did that at night with the help of 10 servants. The next morning the people of the town discovered what had happened and soon learned who did it. They wanted to kill Gideon for this act of vandalism against the god they were worshipping and depending on so asked that he be brought to them for judgment.  Gideon’s father asked why they needed to judge him. “Was not that the job of Baal whom Gideon supposedly offended?” In the end they saw that a false God couldn’t defend himself and, by way of implication, couldn’t defend those who follow him. Satan and the world promise so much but in the end they cannot produce what they say they can. There is a hopelessness about false gods that ultimately shows up in their inability to produce.

Read Judges 6:34: Literally God “clothed himself in Gideon” 

Gideon was still in doubt and asked God for 2 more signs or proof that He would do what He said. (v. 36-40). Gideon placed a fleece on the ground. The first night he asked God to make it wet when all else around it is dry. The next night he reversed it. “Putting out the fleece” is fine on some occasions but needs to be used carefully. God does not generally work this way but on occasion it seems to be acceptable to lay out a test to confirm what otherwise seems right. No fleece can ever confirm what is wrong morally nor can we use a fleece if we are not willing to follow His leading should He give us a sign.

Read Judges 7:2: God told Gideon that if he went to battle with that many some would think they accomplished it themselves and would fail to give Him the glory. Remember, God will share anything with His children except His glory. That is His and His alone. 

Read Judges 7:3-6: First God released all who were afraid. Only those who truly believed God could do it were permitted to go. Then God selected the men who lapped the water, not because it was the right way to do it but because the number was so small that any victory would have to have come from God. And Gideon goes into battle with 300 men. 

Read Judges 7:15: Gideon first of all worshiped God, something we too seldom take the time to do, and then went back and told his men to get ready and they move out. He stationed the men on the hilltop and at a signal the 300 sounded trumpets and broke jars and shouted, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” 

Read Judges 7:19-21. The Israelites did those things that left the impression there were many more of them than there actually were but at the same time they did nothing that would legitimately cause the Midianites to panic. The only explanation for that is God. The Midianites killed each other.

Read Judges 7:22-25: God gave Gideon and his small army complete victory over the Midianites.

Judges 8 is largely a discussion of the victories that they won because God was with them.

Read Judges 8:22-28. The Israelites ask Gideon to rule over them. Gideon refused but instead made for himself a replica of the garment worn by the priests. Soon they forgot that only God should be worshiped and only as He instructs us to worship Him. Read Judges 8:33, 34. The people returned to their old ways.

Lessons: God understands and accepts our honest doubts and questions and if we are willing to seek answers He will give us all of the answers we need. He may not tell us all we want to know but will give us all we need to know to trust Him more fully.

Little is much when God is in it. If He asks us to do anything He provides for it as He equips us to serve.

Faith needs encouragement. Gideon needed to be encouraged several times but God was more than patient and more than willing to assist him. God encourages us through one another, asking us to be His instruments of that encouragement.

Sermon Notes • January 9

Selling a birthright: Genesis 25:19-34

We often hear of dumb things thieves do that result in their being caught. One really dumb act is recorded in Genesis 25.

Genesis 25 gives Abraham’s descendents through Isaac which is the line God ordained to be the one of blessing and promise. Isaac married Rebekah but for 20 years they are without children. In verse 21 we read that Isaac took his problem to God and God answered his prayer. Rebekah became pregnant. Remember Isaac was the product of a prayer by his father Abraham and was born at a time his mother was well beyond the age of giving birth. God wanted it fully understood that this was the family through which He would bless the whole world.

Verse 22 records that Rebekah senses something unusual was taking place in her body and she inquired of God as to what the meaning was. Here we have a couple who had problems but knew where to go for answers. They had questions in the home but knew the God of all wisdom and went to Him in prayer. One wonders why so few Christians come boldly to the throne or so seldom seek God’s help or His answer to problems.

Verse 23 records that the Lord told her she was not going to have one child but two sons. In addition, she was told each would be the head of a great nation. One would be stronger than the other and, very strangely, the younger would rule over the older.

In our western culture each child is free to become whatever he can. In the Eastern world, however, age rules. The eldest is automatically above his brothers and sisters and assumes both the privilege and responsibility of heading the family upon the death of the father. Never would a younger brother be put in a position of ruling over the older, even if he were more capable or better able. But the Lord speaking to Rebekah declared that she would give birth to two sons and the elder will be ruled by the younger.

Verses 24-26 record the birth. The first was named Esau and the second, Jacob. Then in verses 27-34 we have the account of how it came to be that Esau submitted to his younger brother after selling his birthright. Prophecy was fulfilled.  

In verse 27 we have the setting. Jacob was home after his day of work and had a bowl of pottage that Rebekah had made for him. Pottage was something like cornmeal. It is a boiled dish made with grains and was the staple food of many desert people.

Esau returned home. He was a hunter. I suspect his life was more exciting, roaming about the countryside looking for some animal to kill for fresh meat. On that occasion he was returning very tired, hungry and empty handed. Esau found his brother enjoying a bowl of pottage and said, “Give me something to eat.”

Jacob said, according to verse 31, “Sell me your birthright.” What was the birthright?

1) It was authority over the family upon the death of the father. His mother and any unmarried sisters were a special concern, but it carried the overall leadership of the family.

2) It provided a double portion of all property as an inheritance so that he could properly support his mother and sisters.

3) Until the time of Moses and Aaron the eldest was also the priest of the family.

So, Jacob said to Esau, “Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll sell you a bowl of pottage for your birthright.” Archaeology shows that such sales were valid and binding.

Esau thought for a moment, probably a very short moment, and said, “I’m at the point of death and frankly a birthright is no good if you are dead. If I don’t get some food, I’ll die.” How easy it is to justify stupidity. If Esau was right, it would be understandable, but nothing was further from the truth. 

Esau would never have been permitted to starve to death in his own home. Besides, all he was going to get was one bowl of pottage. That would not have been adequate to meet his needs if he really was as hungry as he claimed to be. But Esau had just one thought on his mind, the lust of his flesh. He was hungry and wanted food. Esau wanted to have his appetite satisfied and he wanted it immediately. It really did not matter what it cost him to get it. So, in verse 33 we read he swore unto Jacob and sold his birthright to him.

Of course, Esau was not the only one in history to give up a precious gift for a moment of pleasure. He was not the only one to give up a valuable gift to get that which could not last or satisfy.

Moses gave up the right to enter the land of promise because of a moment of doubt when he struck a rock instead of speaking to it as God had directed.

Achan, in Joshua 7, sold his life and that of his family for a few pieces of gold taken from the city of Jericho.

Samson, for the love of a woman, sold his place among God’s servants. 

In the New Testament Jesus spoke of the rich young ruler who loved his wealth and chose it rather than following Jesus. Judas for 30 pieces of silver sold his Lord and lost his reason to live. Ananias and Sapphira withheld on a promise to God and pretended to be what they were not and thereby sold themselves unto death. The Apostle Paul wrote of others who sold themselves to the devil, to lusts and desires, to false prophets.

Esau made a grave mistake, a foolish trade, giving away his spiritual and material future for a bowl of pottage just to satisfy a momentary desire. Many others have sold equally great and sometimes even greater treasures for even less. Daily Satan tempts us to sell what is really valuable for little or nothing. The missionary Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Unfortunately, too many give what they should not lose for that which they cannot in the end keep.

Non-Christians sell their opportunity to eternal life by rejecting God’s love and offer of salvation for the pleasures of this world, the satisfaction of the moment, the pride of life.

Christians often give up so much for so little. Too many Christians are giving up family by being so busy with other things, all of which they argue are important, that they are not home when their children need them. 

Too many Christian parents are giving up the spiritual growth of their children because life is just too busy for devotions and study. They give up what they should never lose for what they cannot hold onto anyway.

How many Christians give up the blessings of being in God’s house with God’s people because they want a little extra sleep or think that Sunday is the only day they can do other things? 

Too many Christians are giving up spiritual growth because they have chosen TV over Bible study or the internet over prayer.

Were Esau alive today his case would probably make the Internet of foolish exchanges or ridiculous decisions. I wonder if God keeps a record of the foolish trades we make, of the things we give up that are important for those things that are unimportant in the long haul. The account of Esau’s foolish trade should challenge each of us to evaluate our lives to be sure we are not giving up what is truly important for things that, while they may be good, are not the best.

Sermon Notes • January 2

New Covenant-New Opportunities

New Year’s Resolutions

Hebrews 10:19-25

1. Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Which of us would not benefit from a closer walk with the Lord?  Which of us would not look back on the year 2010 and rejoice if it becomes a year in which we took more seriously this provision of the New Covenant, that of being able to drawer nearer to God? 

2. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Wouldn’t a New Year’s resolution to work a little harder at living each day in the faith we have on Sundays be exciting? The New Covenant provides the possibility of that if we allow Him who provided that New Covenant to strengthen our lives from within. But remember, a more consistent daily faith flows out of drawing closer to God.

3. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

We gather together as a church to celebrate the New Covenant provided by the broken body and shed blood of Jesus because it is in coming together that we strengthen one another. We have a loving church in many ways and yet there are those in our community and maybe in your circle of acquaintances that you find hard to love. Let’s make 2010 a year to see our love for one another grow and to see how many more we can draw into our love fellowship

4. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. 

Obviously we are here because we believe in coming together to worship and encourage one another. I guess it would be easy to make a resolution for others to attend but that is hardly realistic but how about a New Year’s resolution to make a determined effort to get at least one other person to attend regularly with us and in that way see this New Covenant blessing extended to others.

5. Let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

One of the great responsibilities as well as privileges of being a Christian is that of encouraging one another. May I suggest that as a New Year’s resolution provided for in the New Covenant be that each of us select someone special in our church to encourage in some way as often as possible in the New Year. If we all found someone special to encourage to grow and held each other accountable what an exciting year of growth this could be.

Sermon Notes • December 26

Christmas and Fear

Undoubtedly one of the most heard word these days is “fear.” Most Americans live with fear. In the Christmas story we are told on 4 separate occasions that when God confronted those who were afraid, He said they should not fear. The reasons they did not need fear are the same reasons God would say to us today, “Don’t fear.” Put them all together:

  1. We have a God who hears our prayers. 
  2. We have an all-powerful God who works miracles to accomplish His will for us.
  3. We have a God who has a perfect plan for us and knows our concerns about that plan. 
  4. We have a God who knows when we are uncertain about God’s love for us and His commitment to keep the promise found in Jeremiah 29:11.  

The firstdo not be afraid” was spoken to Zechariah. Read Luke 1:13. Note the connection between the prayer of Zechariah and the assurance that he did not need to fear. Fear comes when we feel we are alone or cannot do anything about our situation. Prayer is not a magic wand that automatically or immediately solves all our problems. Zechariah and Elisabeth had been praying for years for a child. God assured them He is a prayer hearing and prayer answering God who is in complete control. They did not have to be afraid or concerned. 

Instead of fear, we have prayer. Prayer reminds us that not only are we not alone but the one who has promised to watch over us is never off duty. Read Psalm 121. We have access to the heavenly throne where there is no uncertainty. Prayer reminds us that our God holds today in His hand and knows all about tomorrow.

We can look ahead to the new year knowing that nothing will come our way that will take our God by surprise. We can be confident that in 2022 His throne room will be open to us 24/7. Via prayer the resources of the God who spoke creation into being and owns the cattle on a thousand hills are available to us.

The second “do not be afraid” was spoken to Mary. Read  Luke 1:30. That call to not be afraid was tied to the promise that God was going to perform a miracle, a miracle that Mary could not understand.  Fear comes when we forget that we serve a miracle working God. 

The angel literally said to Mary, “Don’t be afraid because you have found favor with the all-powerful God who delights in doing for you what you not only cannot do for yourself, but what cannot even imagine being possible.” God would speak to each of us by name and say, “Because you are my child by faith you have found favor with me. I will be sufficient for everything that comes your way in 2022.”

The third “do not be afraid” was spoken to Joseph. Read Matthew 1:20 God literally said to Joseph, “I know nothing that is happening is what you planned for, but it is incredibly better than your plan because it’s my plan.” I can’t even begin to understand how Joseph must have felt when Mary told him she was expecting a baby. He had to have felt betrayed in the worse way. Then God said to him, Don’t be afraid, I am in total control. Because you are both committed to me, my plan is better.” 

One of the characteristics of life is that disappointments will come. They may be disappointments with ourselves, with those close to us, with society in general or whatever. Whenever that happens to us, we tend to worry, largely because there is often little or nothing we can do about it. But in that disappointment and concern, if you are seeking to live for God, He comes to us and says, “It’s OK, I’m in control. You don’t have to fear or be afraid. I’ve always had a perfect plan for you. Nothing takes me by surprise. I can take even your mistakes, if you give them back to me in repentance, and turn them around.”

The finalDo not be afraid” in the Christmas story was spoken to the shepherds in the fields. Read Luke 2:10. An angel delivered a message from God that said, “I love you and am bringing you good news of my care and provision for you.”

The “Do not be afraid” delivered to the shepherds is a powerful and important message for us as we look to 2022. To understand their fear and God’s message of love, we need to see their fear that God had come to judge them.

Remember the way shepherds lived and what they had been told all their lives. Keep in mind that sheep are among the most dependent animals God created. Left alone they will not survive long. Sheep desperately need a shepherd, and they need him 24/7. Because of the work involved, the rich hired others to care for their sheep. 

Because they were required to be with the sheep 24/7/365, they were never able to attend religious services, either in a synagogue or in the temple in Jerusalem. Being absent from expected or required worship meant they were viewed as irreligious.  It was easy for the rabbis to use them as examples of what one should not be. Self-fulfilling prophecy being what it is, encouraged them to think of themselves as worthless sinners awaiting the judgment God was going to bring. 

Then we have the birth of the Savior and God sent a whole host of His angels to announce that birth. The shepherds knew that angels came from God and one of the tasks of angels was to judge sin on behalf of God. All their lives they had been told, repeatedly by everyone, that they were no good sinners. Suddenly a host of angels, appeared to them. Simple conclusion, the judgment everyone said they deserved, had come.  

What a message those shepherds heard. The God who could easily have judged them for their failures, announced instead “Do not fear.” Yes, God is awesome and will judge Satan and sinners and they need to fear Him because of that. The rest of the story, however, is that He is also the God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to a manger and in time to a Cross so His Son could bear our guilt and thus our death sentence.

Satan will often whisper in your ear that God does not love you and wants to judge you. The two most common times that Satan will tell us that God does not love us and is going to judge us is after we have sinned and when God has chosen not to answer a prayer when we wanted Him to or in the way we wanted Him to answer.

We all sin often. Almost as soon as we become aware of our sin, Satan will whisper, “Blew it again. God is running out of patience with you.” When Satan suggests that, we need to immediately do 2 things. First, we need to confess it knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive confessed sin. Then we need to hear God say again, “Fear not, I bring you good news. A Savior came to pay for your sins.” That is not a license to go on sinning or to minimize the ugliness of sin, but it encourages us to live in the joy of our salvation. 

The second time Satan will seek to discourage us and try to get us to think we are all alone is when we go to God in prayer, and it appears that He is ignoring us because He doesn’t respond as quickly or in the way we want. When Satan tries to discourage us with the lie that God does not care enough about us, the answer is to declare that God loves me so much He sent His Son. We are to declare that God will withhold no good thing from us. Read Jeremiah 29:11. We can enter 2022 knowing that our God will hear our prayers, when necessary and best will work miracles for us, has a much better plan for us in 2022 than we could ever imagine and loves us so much that He desires to give us an unbelievable future, no matter what Satan says.