Ministry Matters: A Prayer for Fruitful Ministry // Ephesians 3:14-21

Ministry Matters 4

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

Introduction:

This title of this morning’s sermon is “A Prayer for Fruitful Ministry” because really this is what a pastor wants for his church. This is what an evangelist wants for the people that he witnesses to. This is what a Bible teacher wants for his Bible students. It doesn’t matter how much people give, it doesn’t matter how many people show up in the pews, it doesn’t matter how much your church cares about the community, if Christ isn’t dwelling richly in your heart by the Holy Spirit then none of it matters.

Another thing that I want to note just by way of introduction is that anytime Paul writes a letter to a church and he uses the pronoun, “you.” It’s always a corporate “you.” When he’s addressing a church, he’s addressing them corporately, he doesn’t address them individually unless he mentions people by name, but he talks about them as being one body, one unit.

So, when Paul prays for them to know the love of God in this manner, he’s wanting them to know that in the context of life together.

“Where is that love to be experienced? We experience it with all God’s consecrated people. That is to say, we find it in the fellowship of the Church. John Wesley’s saying was true, “God knows nothing of solitary religion.” “No man,” he said, “ever went to heaven alone.” The Church may have its faults; church members may be very far from what they ought to be; but in the fellowship of the Church we find the love of God.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible

So, as we look at the text, I want us to ask three questions:

  1. Who Is Included In This Prayer For?
  2. What is This Prayer For?
  3. What is The Result of This Prayer Being Answered?

Who Is Included in This Prayer? (v. 14-15)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” – Ephesians 3:14-15, NRSV

First of all, Paul mentions that every family in heaven and on earth takes it’s name from the very God that he is praying to.

  • When you’re born, you’re born with a family name. It’s your last name. It indicates your family and your lineage. And it’s the same when you become a Christian. You take Christ’s name on yourself by being identified as a Christian and you identify with His dead and resurrection in the waters of baptism. Colossians 3 says that your life is hidden in Christ.

And Paul says that this truth applies to people in heaven and on earth. So, I want us to think about this idea: our Christian family isn’t just made up of those with us on earth, it’s also made up of those who are in heaven, and we’re still a family. Death doesn’t separate Christians forever.

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The saints in heaven are just as alive as you and I are. Who knows? They’re probably more alive than you and I are. In Heaven, they live to die no more, and we are identified with them as a family. So, in this prayer, Paul mentions the saints of the past as those that we are identified with.

Then, he prays for his people in the present.

  • My wife and I started reading 1st Thessalonians a chapter at a time together out of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament and we were talking about how most of the time Paul would let whatever church he was writing to know that he was praying for them and he was thankful for their service.

And in Ephesians, Paul has already done that in chapter 1:15-23, but he’s praying a slightly different prayer. This isn’t an “atta-boy, keep up the good work” prayer, this is deeper. Paul wants them to comprehend the love of God.

  • You might think, “Yeah, I know all that love of God stuff, I learned that in Sunday School.” If that’s your attitude, then you no nothing of the love of God, but we’ll get to that in a few minutes.

How do you wrap your finite minds around something as infinite as the love of God? You don’t. And I think that’s the point. You are supposed to live your life dwelling on the love of God. I think that’s what Jude means when he writes at the end of his letter in Jude 21, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

That’s the thing you should keep in forefront of your mind as you live the Christian life. Why do we need to always keep that at the forefront? Because God is the standard by which we should love, and He loves perfectly.

  • By the showing of your hand, how many of you love perfectly? None of us. That’s why we need this prayer.

In verse 18, Paul says that he wants this for “all the saints.” Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, but I think this is something that Paul isn’t just praying for in Ephesus at that time, but maybe it’s something that Paul is praying for for all saints in all of time. This is something that he wants for future saints to come.

In John 17:20, Jesus specifically prays for those who will believe later through the message of the disciples. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Paul had in mind future saints to come as a result of the churches that were being planted in that time.

So, we see that Paul mentions the saints of the past in heaven, and he prays for the present saints in Ephesus, and it’s possible that he’s including the future saints in his prayer.

What is This Prayer For? (v. 16-19)

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19, NRSV

Notice, first of all, the Trinitarian nature of the prayer.

Paul prays for us to be strengthened in our inner being by the Holy Spirit, then he prays for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, and in knowing the love of Christ, we are filled with the fullness of God the Father.

I’ve heard a lot of Jesus-lovin’ good ol’ boys tell me, “Preacher, servin’ the Lord just keeps gettin’ gooder and gooder.” And this is why! It’s Paul’s prayer being answered.

So, there’s three things that ultimately Paul prays for: power from the Spirit, love from the Son, and fullness from the Father.

And really when you look at this in the context of Ephesians as a whole, then Paul is praying for them to experience what he’s talked about up to this point. He wants them to personally experience the fact that they have been predestined to a salvation that is a result of grace alone through faith alone. He wants to them to personally experience the fact that they’ve been adopted into a family of people that’s made up of people not like them (we’re dealing with Jews and Gentiles here), and not physically with them (they are connected to all believers in Jesus across time and space.)

Paul wants us to be strengthened with power from the Holy Spirit. We need more power. We need more strength. Both of those things come from the Holy Spirit dwelling on the inside of us as believers.

Paul also wants Christ to dwell in our hearts. Dwelling doesn’t simply mean inhabiting, it’s means ‘to settle down.’ To make an abode somewhere.

In his book, Praying with Paul, D.A. Carson says, when Christ takes up residence in a believer, it is like a couple who purchases a home that needs a lot of work. Over time they clean it up, repair it, and eventually say, “This house has been shaped to our needs and taste and I really feel comfortable.”

Then Carson says, “When Christ by his Spirit takes up residence within us, He finds a moral equivalent to trash, black and silver wallpaper, and a leaking roof. He sets about turning this residence into a place appropriate for Him[self], a home for which He is comfortable. . . . When a person takes up long-term residence somewhere, their presence eventually characterizes that dwelling. . . . When Christ first moves into our lives, he finds us in bad repair. It takes a great deal of power to change us; and that is why Paul prays for power. . . . [God is] transforming us into a house that pervasively reflects his own character.” [1]
This isn’t just true individually either, this is true corporately. You remember last week we talked about how God is building us a church into His house.

And why does Paul want all of this for us? Ultimately, it’s so that we can be filled with the fullness of God.

The idea of spiritual fullness is a common theme among Paul’s writings. John Stott points our that, “In Colossians Paul tells us not only that God’s fullness dwells in Christ, but also that in Christ we ourselves have come to fullness. At the same time, he makes it plain in Ephesians that we still have room for growth. As individuals we are to go on being filled with the Spirit, and the church, although already the fullness of Christ, is still to ‘grow up into him’ till it reaches his fullness.” [2]

So, there’s a lot of paradoxical ideas about fullness in Paul’s writings, but the it all comes down to this: are you filled up now? Is there more room for God in your life?

I remember a few years ago my grandpa preached at a revival about being filled up with the Holy Spirit, and he might have even used this text. But as an illustration he got a water bottle and he filled it up with pebbles that he got out of the church driveway, and he asked the congregation, “Is this bottle full?” No one quite knew how to answer so he started his message, and then in a little bit, he put sand in it and asked again, “Is full now?” We all thought, “Yeah, that’s got to be full now.”

He said, “Nope.” So, he put water in there, and you could see the water filling up the bottle between the grains of sand, and he made the point that that was Christian life – getting more and more filled up with God. And that’s what Paul wants. He wants us to be filled with the fullness of God.

Finally, I want us to see the result of this prayer being answered.

What is The Result of This Prayer Being Answered?

Now, to look at this, we’ll have to go to the next chapter in Ephesians 4.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSV

Notice verse 2 – There’s three things we all need more of: humility, gentleness, and patience. And we need those things if we’re going to bear with one another in love.

We need humility because we could easily be in someone else’s shoes and doing a lot worse than they’re doing.

We need gentleness because we’re all fragile really. We like to think that we have thick skin, but we get just as offended as everyone else does, our buttons are just in different places.

So, we need humility because we could easily be in someone else’s shoes, we need gentleness because we’re all fragile, and we need patience because we’re all still growing in Christ, and if we’re growing together, then we’re all going to experience growing pains.

And the only opportunity you have to express patience in when you’re annoyed.

As general rule, people make life more complicated. However, dealing with people is a necessity in life. So, it’s a double edge.

  • Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Well, loving your neighbor would be a lot easier if you didn’t have neighbors, but at the same time you wouldn’t have anyone in your life to connect with.

So, I think Paul foresees all of this because let’s face it, people have changed that much over the last couple thousand years so he starts chapter 4 by giving us advice how to live with one another in love and unity. And then all of chapter is just him expounding on the idea of living the Christian life within the context of Christian community.

And then he ends chapter 4 with these words in verses 31-32.

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
– Ephesians 4:31-32, NRSV

See, this is where the rubber meets the road.

It’s easy to be bitter, it’s easy to have malice, it’s easy to be hurtful, and the reason those things are easy is because we don’t naturally drift towards holiness. Sanctification is a fight. A lot of us believe in progressive sanctification, but some days you’re going to feel like your sanctification is more regressive than progressive. And the reason you’re going to feel that way is because you’ve been hurt, and you’re angry.

But in the middle of your hurt, God is kind to you. God is loving to you, and God is faithful.

And because He has been kind and faithful to us, we should be kind and faithful to one another.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and we’re just going to use our voices.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, I thank You for being kind to us by sending Your Son to die on the cross for our sins. I thank You for raising Him back to life to declare victory over all of our sins including our bitterness, anger, and hostility. Lord, I thank You that Your Word is stronger than the walls we try to build around ourselves. This morning, I ask that You strengthen and renew our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, and that You would release us from every hindrance that stands in the way of us loving each other as You have loved us. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

A Good Grounding // Romans 5:1-11

A Good Grounding

[This sermon was inspired by another sermon entitled, “Anchors During Adversity” by Dr. Timothy Beougher found in the 2005 Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook. I preached this sermon Sunday evening, July 22nd, 2018 at Newton Springs Full Gospel Church.]

Text: Romans 5:1-11

Introduction:

Dr. Thomas Lambie was a missionary to Ethiopia. He had to ford a lot of streams and rivers while he was over there, and there was a lot of danger in doing that because you could get swept off of your feet in the current and get carried down the river and possibly drown because you can’t get back up or even get thrown into some sharp rocks.

Well, Dr. Lambie learned from the locals that the best way to make such a dangerous crossing was carry a large stone on your shoulders while you were crossing. The larger, the better. Because if you were carrying something heavy across the river, it would act as a “ballast.” The extra weight of the stone would kept your feet solid on the bed of the stream allowing you to safely cross without being swept away.

In Romans 5:1-11, I think we need to see the love of God as a ballast that keeps us grounded in times of trial. Everything in your life can be going downhill, but knowing that God loves you in spite of your failures can make all the difference in the world.

The first thing we need to do is realize our present position.

We Need to Realize Our Present Position (v. 1-2a)

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand…”
– Romans 5:1-2a, KJV

Verse 1 starts with a therefore. Whenever you see a “therefore” in Scripture, the author is making a logical connection. He’s saying that because what we just said was true, what we’re about to say is also true.

When I taught the young adults Sunday School class at another church, I always to used to tell my class that when you see a therefore in the Bible, you’ve got to go back and see what it’s there for. And that’s what we’re because this points us back to the first four chapters of Romans.

  • Chapter 1 – In Romans 1:16, Paul points out that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it’s the power of God unto salvation, and then verse 17, Paul says that because of the Gospel, because of the good news of Jesus we who are just shall live by faith, and then in the rest of chapter 1, Paul talks about how God pours His wrath out on those who blinded to the glory of God by their own sin even though the evidence is all around them. They would rather worship the creation rather than the creator.
  • Chapter 2 – In chapter 2, just to make sure that all of his audience is getting the message Paul says, “You’re just as inexcusable as they are, and every time you judge them for their sin, you condemn yourself.” But in Romans 2, Paul talks about the righteous judgement of God, and the Jews relationship to the law.
  • Chapter 3 – In Romans 3, Paul uses Psalm 14 as a proof text to say that no one is righteous. It doesn’t matter: Jew or Gentile. You’re all law breakers, you’re all unrighteous, none of you seek after God. However, Paul goes on to say that the righteousness of God is available in Christ, and you receive it by faith alone, apart from works.

    • That’s why the cry of the Christian faith for the last 500 years has been that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

  • Chapter 4 – In chapter 4, Paul uses the illustration of the faith of Abraham, and he said that he received the sign of circumcision by faith. He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. All you have to do is believe what God says about Himself, and what His Word says that Jesus has done on your behalf, and your belief is counted to you for righteousness.

And all of that brings us to where we are in chapter 5 where Paul says that because all of this is true, we are justified by faith, and we have peace with God. That’s our present position, and Paul says, if all of that is true, then “we glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”

So, we need to realize our present position, but we also need reflect on our future hope.

We Need to Reflect on Our Future Hope (v. 3-4)

“…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope:” – Romans 5:3-4, KJV

I think it’s good to think about Romans 5:3-4 in these terms: every time we go through trials in life, God always uses those trials to produce in us patience for the present, experience to look back on, and hope for the future.

  • Have you ever had those times in life where it just looked like it was one bad thing after another. You come through one trial just to go through another one.

You get over one sickness just to get sick again. One of your cars breaks down, you get it fixed, and then your other car breaks down. You’re always having to spend money that you really don’t have on something that you need, and then there’s a big bill that comes out of nowhere.

Every time you go through something like that God is working patience in you. You don’t always feel patient, but that’s what it is.

A man in Los Angeles, California was arrested for negligent discharge of a weapon after shooting his toilet bowl five times with a 38 caliber handgun. He claims that he just got upset. He couldn’t take it any longer. His daughter had flushed a hairbrush earlier in the day and clogged the pipes. So he shot the offending toilet. I have no word on the toilet’s condition, but the man’s patience was long gone.

  • Now. the problem is that expressing patience always requires you to be annoyed first, but when you’re patient, it pays off because patience is a form of sacrifice. You’re sacrifice what you want now for something better later. You’re sacrificing your time for a reward later. And it seems like people with the most contentment are people that have learned to sacrifice well over the years whether that’s time, energy, or money.

Not only does God use trials to develop patience in us for the present, but also experience to look back on.

For my Pastor and Public Worship class I have to read “From Memory to Imagination” by C. Randall Bradley, and in that book Bradley notes that a lot of our faith is based on memory.

 

  • “Memory is an important spiritual exercise because so much of our faith is informed by memory. Memory is reliving our experiences. Memory can be active storytelling, individual reflection, or shared silence surrounding mutual encounters… God’s plan for humankind was to create a memory for us on which we can hang everything. From the beginning, God designed a covenant with his creation through which we were able to remember God’s love and actions on our behalf. This covenant of assurance was designed to launch us on our journey to fulfill God’s plan. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually called his followers to remember, to allow their memory of God to inform all that they did.”[1] – C. Randall Bradley

 

So, every time God brings you through a trial that’s another testimony that you have to God’s faithfulness. That’s a memory you can look back on and see God at work. 

So, this is what Paul means when he says, that tribulation worketh experience, patience, and hope.

If we have patience in the present, if we have past experiences we can look back on, then we can have hope for the future.

This is isn’t an uncertain kind of hope. The way we talk about hope isn’t the same way the Bible talks about hope. We say, “Well, I hope it all works out.” But Paul says that the hope of our salvation is an anchor for the soul in Hebrews 6:19.

Paul says that hope doesn’t make us ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost so there’s no chance that our hope in God can fail. Failure is not an option when hope is involved.

Once we realize our present position, and reflect on our future hope, then we need to recall the love of God.

Recalling the Love of God (v. 6-8)

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8, KJV

We might be willing to die for a friend or a family member, but for an enemy?

I know we’ve heard this all of our lives that we should love our enemies, but do we really do it? I mean, think about it. When you think about your enemies, you know there’s some people in your life that if they were on fire and you have a glass of water, you would drink it, but did you know you were an enemy of God?

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul tells us to remember that at one time we were apart from Christ without hope and without God in the world.

God’s love is revolutionary because He doesn’t just smite His enemies, He dies in their place. God the Son accepted the wrath of God the Father on our behalf. Jesus died on our behalf. We didn’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, but it was freely given to us.

Christ’s death on the cross was an actual event in the past. He went to the cross knowing all of your sin, your faults, your failures, your hangups, and habits, and He took that punishment that you deserve for those things. He went to the cross knowing that the Apostle Paul was going to not do the things he wanted to do, and do the things he didn’t want to do. Jesus went to the cross knowing that you life would be hard, and that you would struggle.

And you know what? When Jesus died, your sin died with Him, and when He rose, your sin didn’t rise with Him. If you’re saved, then your sin is a dead issue, and you are clothed with His righteousness.

You’re gonna suffer. Jesus said you would, but He said that we should take heart because He has overcome the world.

So, far, Romans 5 has taught us to realize our present position, reflect on our future hope, recall God’s love, and now finally we need to rejoice in God’s Work in Christ.

Rejoice in God’s Work in Christ (v. 9-11)

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” – Romans 5:9-11, KJV

You have to think about who Paul’s audience is. He’s writing to the church in Rome that’s made up Jews who became believers, but there’s also Gentiles there who were Pagans.

These people who used to be Pagans heard a lot of stories of the Roman and Greek gods of the pantheon, and all of this talk about God reconciling the world to Himself through the death of His Son was completely new to them.

“Greeks spoke about reconciliation between persons in conflict, but did not think of deities initiating reconciliation with mortals who had offended them. The idea that God would do so at the cost of his own Son would be shocking.”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

This is the revolutionary love of God at work on our behalf.

And not only was His death for us, but so was His life. That’s what Paul says at the end of verse 10, “much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

For a long time I didn’t understand that. I always knew that His death was for me, but what does it mean that His life was for me? I think the author of Hebrews explains it well in Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16, NRSV

Jesus lived a perfect life that we couldn’t live. He had no sin, and we’re born into a world of sin with a sinful nature.

Jesus endured all the same temptations that we’ve been tempted with and He succeeded. He didn’t just go through those temptations and endure for us, but all the saints of the Old Testament too.

Where Adam failed to obey God, Jesus obeyed God perfectly. That’s why the Apostle Paul calls him the second Adam in 1 Corinthians 15.

And it’s by Jesus Christ, the second Adam, that we’ve received atonement.

All atonement really means is at-one-ment. We are at one with God because of Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf.

So, tonight, trust Jesus. I know you’ve probably all at one time trusted Jesus, but do you need to renew your trust? Do you need to be called back to a place of repentance?

When Martin Luther first started getting a congregation together after he’d been booted from the Catholic Church, he would serve communion every week, and he would explain the death and resurrection of Jesus every week. And one of his congregants asked him, “Brother Martin, why do you preach the Gospel every week?” And he said, “Because you forget it every week.” And we’re not better.

A lot of you had to pour out blood, sweat, and tears for everything you earned, and your work ethic is commendable, but sometimes we translate that over into our faith.

We think we have to make up for all the bad stuff we’ve done, so we better pray extra hard, we better read more this week. We better really show God we’re sorry. Listen, Jesus already paid your debt on the cross. All you have to trust Him.

In the book of Acts, the call of the Gospel was simple. Repent, and believe the Gospel.

So, tonight, I’m going to pray for us, and these altars are opened. If you want to come and pray, that’s fine. If you want to pray in your seat, that’s fine too, but I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to have one more song.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, You sent Your Son to be a sacrifice for our sin, and we thank you. We thank you that you’ve placed all the sins of those who believe upon Him. We thank you that by His stripes we are healed, and our sins are forgiven. Lord, we ask that if there’s anyone here who doesn’t know You that You would draw them to Yourself with irresistible grace. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[1]  Bradley, C. Randall. From Memory to Imagination: Reforming the Church’s Music. Eerdmans, 2012.

Ministry Matters: Ministry That Unites // Ephesians 2:11-22

Ministry Matters 3

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Introduction:

The most significant wall of modern times was the Berlin Wall, which was tangible evidence of an “Iron Curtain” separating communist East Germany from democratic West Germany after World War II. The 97-mile wall was constructed of stone and concrete. It stood for more than 25 years and hundreds of people lost their lives trying to cross it.

In 1988, a Lutheran pastor started holding weekly “Prayers for Peace” services at his church of St. Nicholas. Rev Christian Führer (führer is the German word for “leader”) was significantly influenced by the teachings of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He advocated non-violent change.

Numbers increased every week till tens of thousands gathered in his church courtyard for weekly prayer vigils. The movement culminated with the “Peaceful Revolution” on November 9th, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The oppressive government was experiencing a time of great weakness and the strength of the Christian witness and desire for the God given gift of freedom contributed to lasting change. [1]

There’s not a greater physical illustration of separation than that of a wall. A wall is a barrier that separates two areas or parties.

When someone is closing themselves off or separating themselves, we often say that they’re building walls and they’re not letting anyone in.

Well, this is what’s going on. The Jews are building walls and saying that the Gentiles have to conform to their culture and be circumcised first, then they can be saved, and the Gentiles are saying, “No way! You Jews had your chance at the Gospel and you blew it, and now the Gospel is coming to us!” And Paul is saying, “Both of you are wrong! Jesus came to destroy the barriers that separate you both, and take you both into Himself, and out of Himself create one new man.”

And what I really want us to see today is that what Paul is saying is relevant to us. Paul may have initially wrote this concerning Jews and Gentiles, but you might as well have Caucasians on one side and minorities on the other, and the meaning is still the same. There’s no denying that we have racial tension in this country on both sides. Both sides need to tear down their walls. Both sides need to understand that Jesus died to create one new humanity within Himself, and when we hide behind the walls that we build with our own prejudices then we attempt to build up the very thing that Jesus came to destroy.

Jesus died and rose again primarily so that we could be in relationship with God the Father through Him, but also so we could be in relationship with one another.

So, this morning I want to pose that three things are necessary if we’re going to tear down the walls that we’ve built to keep others out.

We have to think of the past, we have to think of our present, and we have to think of our future.

 

Thinking of the Past (v. 12)

“Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” – Ephesians 2:12, NRSV

Paul tells us right off the bat that he wants us to think about where we were.

We were without Christ, aliens, strangers, no hope, and without God.

If you were here Wednesday night then you remember that a couple of you talked about how you felt before you were saved. You didn’t care about God, you didn’t care about the Church. If someone said, “I’m praying for you,” you were just like, “Okay, whatever, have fun with that,” but in reality you were in danger and if you had died in that condition and had never repented and came to faith in Christ then you would be burning in hell, still cut off from Christ.

You can also think about it this way: you were relationally cut off from God’s people. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and His people. Gentiles weren’t circumcised unless they converted to Judaism.

And you had Jews who had been circumcised and they were holding it over the heads of Gentile believers. And Gentile believers were getting puffed up because they didn’t have to be circumcised.

  • And now under this new covenant, none of that matters. Circumcised or not, your new sign of covenant community is now baptism.

I’m going to read Colossians 2:11-12, and I want you to keep in mind that this is all one sentence. This is all one cohesive thought that I believe ties into Ephesians 2.

“In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” –  Colossians 2:11-12, NRSV

So, what Paul is saying is that you who were once separated from one another are now raised up together through baptism. Circumcision is no longer the standard of acceptance, baptism is and baptism is available for everyone. Jew or Gentile.

If Judaizers had their way, then you would be allowed to be baptised because you’re not one of them. You would be cut off from the signs and seals of God’s promises to you unless you became a Jew first.

  • Naturally, we’re all Judaizers whether we realize it or not. We want to make people jump through hoops to see whether or not they’re really worthy of our love or our fellowship.

  • “Well, I just don’t know about so and so.” Did Jesus love them enough to die for them? Then you have no right to withhold love or fellowship. It’s really not that complicated.

“Remember that at one time you were without Christ… strangers to the covenants of promise.”

We were cut off from Christ, and as a result we were cut off from God’s people.

Thinking of the Present (v. 13)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13, NRSV

Whenever Paul wants to think about how we should treat one another he always appeals to what God has done for us in Christ.

If God treated you based on how you treat others whether it’s customers, your boss, those who are in authority over you, how would you fare?

What about people of other races, ethnicities, or even people on the other side of the political aisle? Or maybe you would never actually mistreat them, so what if God thought about you the same way you think about them?

Thankfully, He doesn’t. God always treats us better than we deserve. That’s grace, and that’s grace that we should show to others.

Now, like I said, Paul appeals to what God has done for us in Christ when he wants to think better of one another, and he does this at least twice, once in Ephesians and then in Romans.

 

  • “…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32, NLT

  • “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7, NRSV

 

Paul is saying that at one time you weren’t forgiven, at one time you weren’t welcomed, but now you are and you have a responsibility to one another.

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” – Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV

Jesus died and shed His blood to break down division and hostility. The Gospel, the good news, is about the creation of a new humanity. We see this idea most prominently in Ephesians 4:4-6.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6, NRSV

The body of Christ is one new living body that is made up of Jews and Gentiles. We are not a Jewish body, we are not a Gentile body, we are one new body. We are one new building that Jesus has framed together.

As a matter of fact, there’s three ways that Paul thinks about the Church in Ephesians, and it should be easy for you to remember because they all start with “b.”

  • In Ephesians 2, Paul says that we are God’s building.
  • In Ephesians 4, Paul says that we are God’s body.
  • In Ephesians 5, Paul says that we are God’s bride.

Look at verses 19-22.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” – Ephesians 2:19-22, NRSV

I preached this passage this passage this morning at Hector along with the lectionary reading from the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 7.

  • In 2 Samuel 7, David is high on victory. God has given David’s enemies into his hand. He’s at peace in his house and he’s at rest from his enemies, and he says, Why should I live in a house of cedar and God’s ark dwell in a tent?

  • And Nathan the prophet doesn’t even let him finish his thought, he says, “Yeah, Buddy. Do whatever you want!” But God comes to Nathan that night and tells him to give David a message.

  • God tells David through Nathan: I have never once asked for a house not even since the day that I led my people out of Egypt.

  • I have never once commanded a judge or a leader to build me a house of cedar. And God goes on to tell David I’ve brought you from the pasture tending sheep, and I’ve been with you wherever you went.

  • In verse 10, God says, “I will build a place for my people Israel.” And then in verse 11, He tells David, “I will build a house for you.”

David wants to build a house for God, and all this time God has been working throughout redemptive history to build a house for David. Eventually, David’s son Solomon would come along and build the temple, and God would keep His promise and He was a father to Solomon.

But then eventually, a greater son of David would come along and build a better house. Jesus the Messiah, the son of David who sits on His throne has established a better house than Solomon’s temple, and that house is made up of the body of Christ. In Matthew 16, Jesus said, “I will build MY church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

If you want the church to succeed then let Jesus build His Church! Get out of the way, and let God be God!

The Foundation of God’s house is laid with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone.

[Illustration: You don’t see cornerstones anymore, but they were the first block to be laid on a building. A lot of times when churches would build a new building they would put a Bible in the cornerstone at the groundbreaking that they those in attendance would know that the Scriptures were going to be at the heart and soul of the congregation.

Central Presbyterian Church in Russellville still has the cornerstone that has the letters CPC on it from when it was a Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Clarksville First Presbyterian also used to be a CP Church. They still have the stone sign that says, “Cumberland Presbyterian Church.” But you can go to the University of the Ozarks and read the minutes of the dedication service that they had in that beautiful building. The first hymn that was sung in that building was ‘How Firm a Foundation.’]

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

God has built His house on His son, Jesus as the chief cornerstone, and on the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets as the foundation.

The Bible that you hold in your hands is their testimony that God has and always will have a house for His name and that house is the Church. That house is made up of God’s elect people of all tribes, nations, races, tongues, democrats, republicans, independents, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and yes, even Pentecostals.

Which brings us to our final point.

Thinking of the Future (Revelation 5:6-10)

“Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
   saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
   and they will reign on earth.” – Revelation 5:6-10, NRSV

God in Christ has purchased for Himself a people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

While we were at PAS, we visited McKenzie First Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They had a traditional service and a contemporary service. We visited the traditional service the first week, and the contemporary service the next week.

In both services, I noticed something that you don’t see in many churches around here. There were people of all races, all ages, all backgrounds. There were more older people in the contemporary service than young people. There are were about as many young people as there were older people in the traditional service.

And I thought, “This is the kingdom of God.”

All of these bloodlines of race, ethnicity, and tribe, they all come together and meet at the bloodline of Jesus the Messiah who has brought both Jew and Gentile into Himself and made one new man.

I’m going pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more song.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, send Your Holy Spirit to apply Your Word to our hearts. Make us desire the same things that You desire. You sent Your Son to put hostility to death so make us hate hostility. You sent Your Son to break down the dividing wall between races whether that be Jew or Gentile or between any other races. You sent Your Son create unity among all of those who call upon Him for complete salvation. So, I pray that You would give us Your heart, and let us desire the things You desire. In the name of Your Son who who taught us to pray:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


[1] Sermon Illustration taken from this document: http://www.augsburgfortress.org/media/downloads/0806695951_session2_preaching.pdf

Ministry Matters: Realism & Optimism // 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

Ministry Matters 2

Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

This morning we’re going to continue our series entitled, “Ministry Matters” by looking at the Apostle Paul’s perspective of his ministry.

Normally, I don’t like checklists, but I think the one we’re going to have this morning is going to be helpful. All I really want us to do is walk through the text and see what Paul says about his own ministry that he’s been given and I want us to apply that to the ministry that we’ve been given.

Ministry isn’t just for the pastor, it’s not just for those that have been ordained as elders. Ministry is for every single person that has been born again. Paul goes on to explain this later in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV

The word ‘reconciliation’ means ‘to bring together’ so our job is to go out and let people know that God has come down to where we are in Christ for the purpose of closing the gap that stands between God and man.

  • And according to what we just read, God has committed this task to us. So, God volunteered you for this work.

  • Don’t you just love it when people volunteer you for stuff? “I told [so and so] you’d be more than happy to so that for them.” Well, this is what God did when he saved you. He volunteered you for a work. He put you where you are (the neighborhood you live in, the job where you work, the people you interact with), God put you where you are so that you can improve the lives of others by telling and living out the word of reconciliation.

And I think our text this morning in 2 Corinthians 4 tells us how we should view that task.

Be Realistic About Who You Are, But Optimistic About Who God is (v. 7)

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV

The Vessel
Listen, you are not that great… but God is.
You are weak, but He’s strong.
You are frail, He’s mighty.
In the places where you fail, God shows His power.

That’s what Paul is getting at.

“The pottery lamps which could be bought for a copper or two in the Corinthian market-place provided a sufficient analogy; it did not matter how cheap or fragile they were so long as they showed the light.”[1] – F. F. Bruce

“The marvel of Paul’s statement is not to be overlooked. The gospel minister is a vessel made of common, run-of-the-mill clay—fragile and easily broken. And yet God has entrusted the treasure of the gospel to such a vessel… Why does God do this? According to Paul, he does it to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. God uses what is fragile and yet serviceable so that there might be no mistaking the origin of the gospel minister’s power.”[2]
– The IVP New Testament Commentary

One of the most striking things to me about the commentary is where the author says, “God uses what is fragile yet serviceable.”

  • Other than God, no one knows your brokenness like you do.
  • You’re the one that has to live with your own dark thoughts.
  • You’re the one that really knows all the pain that you’re feeling.
  • You’re the one that knows your struggles with your own sinful nature, and even more so, God knows all of that too, and as long as you’re serviceable, God will use you, and He will use you to pour that treasure that’s in you into another broken and fragile vessel.

It’s okay to be honest about who you are. Paul was even honest about who he was. In Romans 7, he kept saying over and over again that the good that he wanted to do, he couldn’t do, and the evil he wanted to refrain from doing, he did anyway. And he didn’t understand it, but he finally broke down and said, “but thank God I have victory because there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” (Romans 7:25-8:1)

So, you have to be honest about who you are, but you also have to be optimistic about who God is. Paul says that the whole reason God puts His treasure in broken and fragile vessels is so that people don’t get confused about which is more valuable – the vessel or the content.

This is why John says, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

The Content
If you were to read and follow Paul’s logic, you would see that the treasure that Paul specifically says is inside of us is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” mentioned in verse 6.

That’s what it all comes down to. God has given us the light of the knowledge of the Gospel and that’s what makes us valuable.

Last week when we looked at Nicodemus in John 3, he didn’t have this kind of knowledge that Paul talks about. He has his own knowledge based only off of what he could see. Remember, he said, “We know you are a teacher sent from God,” but what he didn’t know is that Jesus was the Son of the Living God, and that kind of knowledge can’t be seen by simply observing Jesus’ miracles, it has to be given to someone by the Father. That’s why when Peter gives his confession, Jesus tells him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)

Peter had seen the miracles, but that’s not what convinced him, it was knowledge and faith that had been imparted to him by the Father.

And that’s the treasure that God puts inside of us, and that’s more valuable than anything this world can offer us.

Not only should we be realistic about who we are and optimistic about who God is, but we should also be realistic about our circsumstances and optimistic about the outcome.

Be Realistic About Your Circumstances, but Optimistic About the Outcome (v. 8-9)

Notice the things that Paul says, “We are hard-pressed… we are perplexed… we are persecuted…. Struck down.”

That’s real. He’s being honest. And I feel like sometimes we’re afraid to be this honest because if we do, we’ll have some prosperity-preaching evanjellyfish say, “Now, you can’t say that, your words have power and you have to speak life and think happy thoughts.”

Paul really was in trouble, he shipwrecked several times, people were out to kill him, he was imprisoned several times. But throughout everything, he could still say that he wasn’t crushed, he wasn’t in despair, he wasn’t forsaken, and he wasn’t destroyed.

It’s okay. We can be honest and say that we live in a post-Christian society. This might have been a predominantly Christian nation at one time, but it’s not now. We can admit there are Christians dying overseas for their faith, but we have to have hope and believe that it’s not always going to be that way.

  • We already believe that one day God will make everything new, but do we believe that God is already in the process of doing that? We should.

  • The end times didn’t begin when John Darby came up with that dispensationalism stuff, the end times began with the resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise that everything will be made new, and death will not have the final word, but resurrection will.

“The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was no isolated event. His return from the dead brought with it, in principle, the resurrection of all things from the dead. The power of death, which had held the entire world in thrall, was reversed at that point, two millennia ago, and the power of His new life has since then been working through the world, the way yeast works through a loaf of bread. For this reason, we are children of hope.”[3] – Douglas Wilson, Heaven Misplaced

And so we are children of hope, and we are (or at least we should be) optimistic about the outcome of God’s work through us in the world, but in the meantime it looks dark, but the darkness is only temporary, and if you’re a Christian then things are already looking brighter.

It’s easy to see all the things that are wrong with the world, but if you can’t see that God is at work then you’re not trying to look hard enough.

  • One of the oldest abortion clinics in Ohio shut down this week, and it looks like more in that state may close down soon too. [4]

Clearly, we see God at work, and we don’t have to wait until the return of Christ to see things turn around. We can experience renewal now. It all starts with God opening our eyes to see the kingdom at work, and to see that we are the workers of the kingdom.

Be Realistic About Death, but Optimistic About Life. (v. 10-15)

Notice, what Paul says right after he says that we are struck down, but not destroyed.

“always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So then death is working in us, but life in you.

13And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:10-15, NKJV

Paul says that as we work for the Lord under these circumstances, then death works in us, but not only does death work in us, life is at work in those around us because as I mentioned earlier, death doesn’t have the final word, resurrection does.

Simply put: our suffering gives life to others.

Think about the suffering of Job. We just studied Elijah on Wednesday nights. Think about all the of the Apostles being slaughtered for the Gospel. I mentioned Paul’s sufferings earlier.

Why is it they suffered the things that they did? It’s so that we could recall their personal pain and glean life from it.

And since you’re a witness to Christ, your suffering can be a conduit of life for someone else.

    • But I’m going to add this as a caveat – If you’re going to suffer then do so for the right reasons. Suffer over the things that matter, and here’s what I mean by that.

    • I’m thinking of 1 Peter 2:18-20, and Peter is addressing people who are employed as bondservants.

 

  • “You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 19For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.” – 1 Peter 2:18-20, NLT

 

To show you the modern application, imagine Peter is talking to you as an employee, and imagine the master mentioned here is your employer, and since your employer can’t beat you like a master could beat a bond-servant, imagine that he reprimands you.

So, Peter says, “If you’re suffering because you’re doing the right thing, then God is pleased, but if you’re suffering because you’re being stupid then you deserve it.”

With that caveat in mind, make sure that you’re suffering for something that’s important because that’s the only kind of suffering that people can glean life from.

On my bookshelf, I have a two volume set of books about martyrs. It’s called, “Jesus Freaks.” And one of my favorite stories is about Saint Maria of Paris.

  • Mary Skobtsova (a.k.a. Saint Maria of Paris) made a rented house in Paris her “convent.” It was a place with open doors for people who were escaping from Nazi Germany and other refugees. It was also the center for service to the poor and needy, and theological discussion. In Saint Maria’s eyes theology and service went hand in hand.

    After the fall of France in 1940, many Jews came asking to receive baptismal certificates, but she and Fr. Dimitri Klepinin were eventually caught and arrested by the Gestapo. She was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she failed a selection and was sent to the gas chamber to die.

One of her last prayers was, “Lord, I am your messenger. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night.” That’s the kind of determination we need if we’re going to lights in the world.

I realize that it hasn’t been very long this morning, but I feel like we’ve been equipped. We’ve been fed by Jesus at His table, and we have read God’s Word. We’re ready to face the world until we meet again next week.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, You are so kind to us. We are cracked earthen vessels and you fill us treasure from Your storehouse and then you tells us to out and pour into other earthen vessels the gift You’ve freely given to us. We ask You to make pliable before You so that You can use us to bring life to others and bring glory to Your name. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_____

[1] Bruce, F. F. New Century Bible Commentary. Wm B Eerdmans, 1980.

[2] The IVP New Testament Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1994.

[3] Heaven misplaced: Christ’s kingdom on earth Douglas Wilson – Canon Press – 2011

[4] “Ohio’s First Abortion Company Closing Columbus Facility After Long Sordid History – Standard Newswire.” Was Dorothy Day a ‘Dissenting Catholic?’ – Standard Newswire, standardnewswire.com/news/95261

Ministry Matters: Receiving Ministry From Jesus // John 3:1-15

Ministry Matters 1

Text: John 3:1-15

Introduction:

Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, opened blind eyes, multiplied food for hungry people, and the list could go on, but all of these miracles pointed to the greatest of miracles – showing people the kingdom. Because once someone saw the kingdom of God at work on earth then they were born again. Their blinded eyes were opened. Why do think Paul went blind for three days and had scales on his eyes after he saw Jesus?

Was it simply because the light from Jesus’ glory was so bright that it blinded and that’s just what happens when you see Jesus? Maybe, but I think it was more than that. I think it was so people could relate to Paul’s story more.

Everyone may not know what it’s like to have Jesus personally come down and knock you off your horse, but anyone who has been saved can say with a surety that they know what’s like for scales to fall from their eyes as a result of seeing the kingdom.

  • That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that if the Gospel is hidden, it’s hidden to those that are perishing whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

This morning, I want us to start a new series called, “Ministry Matters,” and I want us to start it off by looking at this passage because you can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t really minister to people unless you’ve been ministered to. People can’t encounter Jesus through you if you’ve never encountered Jesus.

So, we have Jesus ministering to Nicodemus, and what is it that Nicodemus needs more than anything? He needs a complete transformation. He needs renewal. He needs regeneration.

  • If you don’t know what the word regeneration means, it’s a word that us stodgy Reformed use to describe what happens when Jesus comes in cleans house which is exactly what happens when someone is born again.

So, this morning, I want us to see that Nicodemus’ needs are our needs. His questions are our questions, and when we talk to other people, they’re like Nicodemus. They’ve got questions and Jesus has answers. They’ve got problems and Jesus has solutions.

It is no mere coincidence that this passage follows John 2:25 where John tells us that Jesus knew what is in the heart of man, then that is followed by this encounter with Nicodemus and this is followed by an encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

We have in John 3, Jesus talking with one who represents the intelligentsia, the upper echelon of society. He’s a religious leader. He has money, power, prestige, but he does not know what it is to truly see the Kingdom of God.

We have in John 4, a woman who represents those in the lower class of society. She has had 5 husbands and now she’s shacking up with a man who isn’t even her husband. She’s broke, busted, and disgusted, all because she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.

I think what John is doing here is illustrating his point in John 2:25. He’s essentially saying, “Jesus knows the very heart of man and if you don’t believe me, I recall a conversation He had with a man named Nicodemus, and then there was this other time with a Samaritan woman.” John is making it crystal clear that Jesus is looking beyond what we pretend to be, beyond what society says we are, beyond how everyone else sees us and He sees into our very soul and looks directly at our NEED FOR HIM.

So in this passage, we need to recognize the ways that we are like Nicodemus, and we need to see what it is exactly that Jesus is saying to us through this passage in John 3.

Ways We Are Like Nicodemus:
1. We Are Good At Being Religious
2. We Come to Jesus with What We [Think We] Know
3. We Must Listen to What Jesus Is Saying

We’re Good at Being Religious

We’ve got a lot in common with Nicodemus. First of all, we’re good at being religious. Let’s not get confused. There is a good religion and a bad religion. Good religion motivates us to serve God by caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). There is a bad religion that even the best of us seem to fall into sometimes. It’s this kind of religion that Nicodemus is good at and a lot of us are good at. And it’s sneaky because it hides behind moralism so it looks good on the outside, but on the inside it leaves you full of dead men’s bones. (Matthew 23:27)

The good religion, the true religion that James mentions in James 1:27 is fleshed out more in the next chapter in James 2, and it doesn’t have to do with making sure your shirt is tucked in, or making sure you’ve not cussed, or making sure the Jesus fish on your bumper is on straight, it has to do with how you treat other people.

When we end up falling into Nicodemus’ religion instead of James’ ‘pure and undefiled’ religion, there’s some things that happen.

Church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are to be.
In the deep south, Bible belt culture of Arkansas, we’re good at being religious. Church is all most of us have ever known so we’re good at attending church, but we’re bad at being the Church. I know because I’m bad at being the Church. I’m going to be brutally honest. It’s much easier to ask someone where they go to church than whether or not they know Jesus as their savior.


Worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live.
We always say, “Worship starts at 11 AM.” Now, we all know what that means. It means that the corporate worship service starts at 11 AM, but in reality, Worship starts when you become born-again and it continues all through eternity.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1, NRSV

The King James says, ‘reasonable service.’ Paul is saying that it only makes sense live as a sacrifice. Paul says earlier in Romans 8 that we are being killed all the day long (Romans 8:36). So, if you’re facing death, (and we all are because that’s what it means to be human) then you might as well live as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God. You’re gonna die anyway you might as well lay yourself on the altar. 

  • That’s what it means to live a life of worship, but unfortunately we get in this habit of believing worship is simply what we do on Sunday morning.


Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.
So, when church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are, and worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live, Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.

Nicodemus had no idea who he was talking to. “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” He was right. Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but he was only half right. And that’s the only truth the devil likes, those truths that are half true, but they’re still whole lies.

Nicodemus was speaking to the very God who placed each star in the sky and called it by name. The same God that, by the Word of His mouth, called the universe in being, knew Nicodemus intimately, and knows us intimately inside and out, and He still loves us.

 

We Come to Jesus with What We Think We Know

Next, not only are we good at being religious, but we have a tendency to come to Jesus with what we think we know.

One of the most striking things about this passage is that the first things Nicodemus says is, “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” And then Jesus proceeds to unravel everything.

“Nicodemus said, “We know.” Then he began to rehearse the things he knew (or thought he knew) and with which he wanted to begin the discussion: (1) that Jesus was continuing to do many miracles; (2) that these miracles were intended to authenticate him as a teacher sent from God; and that therefore, (3) Jesus was the one to whom he should listen. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, Jesus replied that such an approach to knowledge was wrong and that Nicodemus could therefore know nothing until he had first experienced an inward, spiritual transformation. “You must be born anew,” Jesus told him (John 3:7).
– James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith


Do you know what this means? It means that it’s not that tell you who Jesus is, it’s the Spirit. All throughout the Gospels, there were people who saw the miracles, and yet they still wanted to kill Jesus. Even though they saw the miracles, they were still blind. They’re the kind of people that Jesus talked about when he said, “Seeing, they do not see… hearing, they do not hear.”

There have been atheists who have said, “I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I just don’t see any evidence for God. I just see a bunch contradictory fairy tales.” Why? Because they approach God with what they think they know because their eyes haven’t been opened to see the kingdom.

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
– John 3:3, NKJV

When you’re born again your eyes are opened and the whole world looks different, and you begin to see God at work. You wonder why people don’t believe in God, it’s because God hasn’t opened their eyes yet.

So far, what we have in common with Nicodemus is that we’re good at being religious, we come to Jesus with what we think we know, and finally, like Nicodemus, we need to hear what Jesus is saying.


We Must Hear What Jesus is Saying

As we go from verse 5 on down to the rest of the passage, Jesus starts alluding to some Old Testament passages that Nicodemus should know, but he’s not picking it up.

Jesus even tells him in verse 10, “How is it that you’re a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t even know these things?”

So, we’re going to see the first allusion to the Old Testament in verse 5.

Born of Water and Spirit
“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5, NKJV

Jesus knows that Nicodemus had memorized the law and the prophets so He wanted to use imagery that Nicodemus would understand.

The only possible meaning is that Jesus has to be referring to the imagery of water found in Ezekiel 36 where God promises to vindicate his name and sanctify His people by sprinkling them with clean water.

“I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”
– Ezekiel 36:23-27, NLT

Jesus is taking Nicodemus back to this portion of Scripture because although the Old Testament never uses the words, “born again,” Ezekiel 36 shows us what it means.

  • When I was 15 years old I remember my grandfather, a Pentecostal evangelist, preaching a sermon from Ezekiel 36 entitled, “Open Heart Surgery.” As a prop, he had a Build-A-Bear teddy bear, and a rock that he had painted red to represent the heart of stone, and then he had a little plush heart to show the ‘heart of flesh.’ He spent an hour preaching faith and repentance to a packed house at a campmeeting in Reeds Spring, Missouri. 

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15, NKJV

Jesus alludes a second time to a passage of Scripture that Nicodemus should be familiar with, Numbers 21. As a matter of fact, “familiar” is an understatement. Nicodemus should be intimate with this passage because as someone who is a teacher in Israel he is required to memorize the Old Testaments scriptures front and back. Not only that, but these people being bitten by snakes were his people. His was immediately recalling this.

“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” – Numbers 21:4-9, NKJV

I imagine that when Jesus is saying this, that, at least for a split-second, Nicodemus is picturing this incident from the scroll containing the Book of Numbers. He’s had to memorize it, he’s had to hear it taught, it’s been passed down from generation to generation.

God’s people becoming rebellious and complaining and then they are bitten and killed by these snakes.

It’s passages like this that skeptics of the Bible look to and say, “If God is so loving, then why did he send serpents to bite and kill His own people?” When we approach something like this and say that God is not loving because he does something like this, then we start with the assumption that we, as mortal, finite beings, are the ultimate standard of what love and justice is.

That’s where we go wrong. We start trying to interpret the Bible with our own feelings and preferences. So, we must always start with God.

Sin offends God. It’s not about the offense or the sin, it’s about who’s been offended by this sin.

And ultimately, in spite us offending Him with our sin and rebellion, He gives us Jesus. Jesus takes our wrath on Himself, and if we look at our sin as it’s laid on Jesus’ shoulders, then we will live.

Think about the philosophical implications of that for a minute: The Israelites had to confront the confront the very thing that was afflicting them, but they couldn’t do it on their own terms. If they did it on their own terms, they would die, but if they just obeyed Moses, and ultimately God, and did things God’s way, then they would live. And what was required of them wasn’t hard, all they had to do was look, and that’s all you have to do. All you have to do is look at Jesus.

“Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.”
– How Deep the Father’s Love For Us

“Just as the bitten Israelites were healed by a look of faith, so the sinner may be saved by looking to Christ by faith… The moment a sinner does that he is saved, just as God said to Moses, “It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” – Arthur W. Pink

Conclusion

How Do We Become Born Again?
Look to Christ in faith! In Isaiah 45, we have the most loving command that God has ever given humanity.

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” – Isaiah 45:22, KJV

All you have to do is look to Him and be saved!! Then God follows this command with, “for I am God, and there is none else.” He’s saying that there’s no one else who can save you! There’s nobody who can provide an atoning sacrifice!!

John never tells us the conclusion of Nicodemus’ story, but it does tell us the conclusion of the story those who have been born again and those who have not been born again.

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – John 3:36, NKJV

If you want life, eternal and abundant, then it’s yours in Christ.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn together, and as we sing, these altars are our open. Let Jesus minister to you this morning, and let us pray for you.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we are Yours. As the old hymn says, “You have opened the life gate that we may go in” and we are grateful. This morning, I pray that You would grant us faith and repentance. Give us life and power by Your Spirit, and we’ll give You all the praise, glory, and honor. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Which Way Will We Go? // Malachi 3:16-4:6

MALACHI 4

Text: Malachi 3:16-4:6

Introduction

As I was reading over the text in preparation for this message, the words of Jason Upton’s song, “The King’s Way” kept coming to my mind:

“There is a road/That leads to peace that leads to life/But few will follow
We’re at the crossroad/Which way will we go”

This is where the title for this morning’s sermon comes from, and then the chorus says this:

“There is not today a more holy way/Than the steps that lead me to the cross
Where my will can’t be the priority/And these crowns I’ve gained I count as loss
When I hear the Spirit say/That this is the true King’s way”

As we come to the close of Malachi, God gives us another sign of grace by giving us an opportunity to aim for a higher standard of living. The priests have broken God’s commands, they have brought him blemished offerings, they have robbed and stolen from Him. Then finally God tells us in our passage the reward for the righteous and wrath for the wicked, but God doesn’t leave us there. He says, remember the law of Moses, and then he says, “I will send Elijah and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

So God says, “Here’s what the end is going to look like, but before it all comes to a head, I’m going to send you a messenger and he’s going to preach repentance so that you’ll have an opportunity to repent.”

With that being said, we’re going to look at the text under three headings: the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, the reward for the righteous and the wicked, and then the invitation from Malachi to remember the law.

The Distinction (3:16-18)

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. 17“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them
as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18Then you shall again discern
between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.” – Malachi 3:16-18, NKJV

As I read this text, the main idea that I see here is verse 18. God wants there to be division between the righteous and the wicked. Is it because God Himself can’t tell the difference? No, He intimately knows those who are His and those who are not.

According to Isaiah 49:16, God has His people inscribed on the palms of His hands. God is intimately aware of who His people are. So, it’s not for God’s knowledge that there needs to be a difference, it’s for the world’s.

  • We are witnesses to the world of the love and the holiness of God, and when we are selfish like these priests have been it blurs the lines.

  • Think about all the things they’ve done: they dishonored God with their offerings by bringing him lame and blemished offerings that they wouldn’t even serve to their governor, they’ve despised God’s name, they’ve broken covenant with each other, and they’ve robbed from God.

  • As I said last week, it was selfishness that got them into this mess and it will be selflessness that gets them out.

Up to this point, the line between the righteous and the wicked have been blurred, but now that God is acting in judgement, and calling His people to repentance, we will be able to see which is which.

  • When we don’t live consistent with our calling as Christians, when we don’t live consistent with our baptism then we blur the lines, and we destroy the distinction that the world needs to see so that they can see that there’s a difference between the people of God, and everybody else.

So, What’s the standard to tell between the righteous and the wicked. Go back to Malachi 3:5. As you’re looking back to that verse I want you to think about this: every time you see a negative command like a “you shall not do x” then there’s always a positive inverse. For example, when the Apostle Paul says “Let him who stole steal no more” he follows it up with the positive inverse which is, “instead let him work so that he has what he needs.” (Ephesians 4:28)

So, as we look at Malachi 3:5, we’re going to think about the positive inverse of these things:

“And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers,
against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:5, NKJV

Sorcerers – We have this image of what an actual sorcerer might look like. Someone dressed in all black, maybe wearing a funny hat, maybe he’s got a wand or something… but after all what’s a sorcerer? It’s someone that believes they can have a source of power outside of God.

  • To us, power is purpose. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. So, where does your purpose come from? Rick Warren wrote a book called, “The Purpose-Driven Life” and then he wrote another one called, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” I haven’t read either one of them. I’ve heard good reviews and I’ve heard bad reviews so I don’t know, but even with just those titles to those books Warren was on to something.

  • There’s something that drives and empowers everyone, and your drive, your purpose, and your power are not derived from your identity in Christ, then you’re not better than a sorcerer because you’re trying to seek fulfillment outside of God, and it will never work.

Adulterers – On the surface, I’m confident that no one here would fall into that category, but Jesus said that if you look upon a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve already committed adultery. That brings it close to home now doesn’t it?

Why is God bringing judgement on adulterers? It’s because they’re not content with the circumstances that God has placed them in. God has given them a wife, and a family because, as Malachi 2:15 says, God desires godly offspring, and yet, when someone goes out and neglects their covenant vows they show their discontent with the good things that God has given them, and it’s not just their discontent with those things either, but they also show their discontent with God.

  • Ultimately, that’s why we sin. Regardless of any sin we commit, big or small, sin of omission or sin or commission, we sin because we’re not content with the boundaries that God has set for our lives and we think we’ll be free if we escape those boundaries, but really we end up enslaving ourselves.

Purgerors – These are people who don’t value truth. So ask yourself, “Do I prefer the truth over lies.” Last Sunday night we watched a video where Ray Comfort talked to random people on the street in an effort to evangelize to them, and he asked several of them, “Have you ever told a lie?” and the majority of them had said that they had. I mentioned earlier that if you’re a believer, and you live as if you’re not, then you’re living a lie.

  • In Psalm 51:6, David acknowledges that God desires “truth in the inward parts.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, the Apostle Paul speaks against those who do not love the truth so the positive inverse is that we should love the truth.

  • As Christians we should love the truth and value what is true even if it’s hard for us to accept. Truth is real, truth is tangible. You can hold on to what is true, but lies vanish and they disappear.

Then finally, notice the last group of people that Malachi 3:5 addresses: “those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.”

There’s four groups of people mentioned, the widows, the orphans, the foreigners, the workers.

Basically, this comes down to how you treat people who are not as privileged as you are. Most of us are working class citizens and we like the idea of helping widows and orphans, but what about foreigners?

  • Do you see people who come over here from other countries made in the image of God or do you see them as some insect that needs to be exterminated?

“How I treat a brother or a sister from day to day, how I react to the sin scared wino in the street, how I respond to the interruptions of people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car.” – Brennan Manning

Think about the logic of the Apostle James. In James 1:27, he says that pure and true religion is to care for widows and orphans, and then he devotes the first part of chapter 2 to not mistreating those who are poorer in your community, and then he defends the idea that faith without works is dead.

So, what are the works that prove that your faith isn’t dead? Is little pinty-anty things like not cursing if you hit your hand with a hammer or is it feeding someone who is hungry? Is it not smoking or is allowing someone who is hard of hearing to have your seat on the front row?

The logic of James is this: if your faith is legitimate, then it will be expressed in how you treat people who also share the image of God.

  • Your faith isn’t determined by what party you vote for, but rather by how much patience you have for the elderly man in front of you at the gas station who has to have the cashier fill out his check for his gas because he can’t read.

That’s where the distinction lies between the righteous and the wicked, and when we faith to live out our faith then blur the lines.

The Reward (4:1-3)

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 4:1-3, NKJV

Society tries to tell us that it’s not politically correct to label people or categorize them, but the reality of the situation is that they’re already labeled or categorized by God based on whether or not they’ve repented and believed the Gospel.

There are those fear God and revere His name, but then there are those who don’t. There is no middle or neutral ground.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, bearing the sins of the world upon Himself, He Himself hung there at the perfect spotless lamb of God who had become sin, He had become shame, He had become guilt, and in that moment He stood in the divide between those honor and serve God, and those who do not, and this was represented perfectly by the fact that on one side a man who had nothing to offer yet all he asked was that Jesus remember Him when He came into His kingdom, and yet on the other side was man who wanted Jesus to just shut up.

And so, Jesus being very God of very God, as one confession said; Jesus being God incarnate, taking the sins of the world on Himself has the right to cast judgement on those, like the one thief wanted Him to just shut up.

The Reward for the Repentant is God remembers them. The penitent thief asked that Christ remember Him when He came into His kingdom, and we just read in Malachi 3:16-17 that God remembers those who fear Him and revere His name. This very last act of His life was one of fear and reverence for Christ as the Living God, and Jesus remembered Him because He promised, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” And so on that day when God makes up His jewels, the thief will be there, but will we?

Another reward for the repentant is that they will be the ones that go forth and prosper as stall-fed calves, and they will be the ones who inherit the earth, and according to our passage, “trample the wicked.”

I think one commentator explained this beautifully when he talked about the picture that’s being painted in Malachi 4:1-3.

“God’s action in destroying the wicked in the day of judgment is pictured in the illustration of a farmer burning off his field after he has harvested his grain. The righteous are likened to the farmer’s calves, which were previously tied up in the dark stalls but are now set free. They burst forth to go leaping and skipping over the recently burnt-off fields. As the sun shines down upon them it brings healing and vigour into their lives of newfound joy and freedom (4:1-3).”[1]

This is an eschatological picture. This is what life will look like when Jesus comes back and makes all things right, and completely unravels all the evil and wickedness in the world.

The Reward for the Rebellious is that they will be the ones who will be trampled on. They will be the ones who will become ash and stubble.

There is coming a day where God will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and that’s when the real distinction will be made, and it’s up to God to make that kind of distinction, not us. We’re too biased and subjective to make those kinds of decisions. God’s judgement is always fair and judicial. Ours isn’t.

The Invitation (4:4-6)

But, here’s the good news, like any good preacher Malachi doesn’t just leave us with judgement. He presents us with a solution to the problem. The problem is that our sin and rebellion have separated us from God, but what’s the solution?

“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” – Malachi 4:4-6, NKJV

In this last group of verses beginning at verse 4, Malachi says, “remember the law of Moses.”

  • This is where it’s important to understand that Christ didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. If Christ did away with the law, then we can just ignore this part of Scripture and go on with our lives.

  • Since Christ fulfills the law, then Malachi is actually pointing us to Christ.

“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40, NKJV

Telling us to remember the law points us to Christ as the Lawgiver, and to the summary of every law that was ever given – love God, and love your neighbor.

This is where the priests in Malachi failed. They failed to love God by dishonoring Him, showing contempt for His table, and profaning His name, then they failed to love each other by breaking covenant with one another, lying to each other, and divorcing their wives for pagan women.

So, when we remember the law we’re not going back to the judicial laws or the ceremonial laws, we’re remembering that we have a responsibility to love God, and love each other. And when we actually love God, and love each other rightly, we’re doing what the priests were not doing.

The next thing God says is in verse 5 – “I will send you Elijah the Prophet.”

What does Elijah do? He proclaims the word of God. Now, we know in the New Testament that this was fulfilled with the coming of John the Baptist.

  • Elijah and John the Baptist both stood before political leaders and held them accountable to God’s moral law.

  • Both of them were forerunners: Elijah was the forerunner of Elisha, John the Baptist is the Forerunner of Christ.

  • Both of them were discouraged: Elijah wanted to die when Jezebel came up against him. John the Baptist was in prison and questioned whether or not Jesus was really the Messiah or if he should look for another.

  • In discouragement both were encouraged: God sent an angel to Elijah to feed him and encourage him. Jesus said there was none born of woman greater than John the Baptist.

The similarities could go on, but if we’re reading this last part of Malachi, what’s the practical meaning for us, now in the 21st century?

Elijah represents the word of God proclaimed and applied. And according to this prophecy in verse 6, “he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, the hearts of children to their fathers.”

When the word of God is rightly applied to someone’s life it not only heals them internally and spiritually, but that internal healing manifests itself in restored relationships. When you see that God’s love for you is personal and that He is willing to forgive Your sin that you can be in relationship with Him, then that should motivate us to forgive the sins of others.

  • God doesn’t just ignore our wounds, He addresses them with the healing power of His word. That’s why Psalm 107:20 speaks of God acting on behalf of the children of Israel and it says, “He sent forth His word and healed them.”

Have you ever poured alcohol into a wound? You know how badly it stings? It stings because it’s working. Two illustrations come to mind:

  1. My stepdad is gone to be with Jesus now, but years ago I remember him telling me about living in Iowa and they would get 2 to 3 feet of snow and all the kids would get together and go sledding. Well, he gets on this sled that they had just threw together and made out of some old scrap metal, and as he going down hill picks up speed and he sees that he’s about to go into a fence, but he couldn’t turn it in time, and to make matters worse, the sled had hit a rock that was covered up by the snow so the sled hits the rock, and it threw him into this barbed wire fence.

    He’s got a few cuts and scrapes, so he thought he was okay until he looked down and noticed that a hunk of flesh had about 7 inches long had been ripped from his calf. The kids put him on the sled because he couldn’t walk, and they pulled back to his house.

    The nearest doctor was 20 miles away in town and there was no way they could get to the hospital or that a doctor could get to them in that snow so his dad did the only thing he knew to do, he gave him rag to bite, and said, “Boy, I’m not gonna lie to you, this is gonna hurt.” and then he pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and poured it in that gash.

    My stepdad said that it was worst pain he ever felt in his life, but he knew that if he didn’t go through it, then he probably would’ve gotten an infection and died.

  2. Good Will Hunting. It’s about a kid that’s been abused and Robin Williams is playing as his therapist, and as they’re speaking about all his relationships that have gone wrong, and how his dad abused him, his therapist says, “It’s not your fault,” and first he responds cooly and collectively, but his therapist keeps saying it over and over again, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.”

    Finally, the kid breaks down and starts balling because the wound was opened up and someone finally applied some medicine to where it really hurt.

If you’ve taken nothing else from Malachi, I want you to understand this: God always pours His word directly into your wounds for the purpose of healing you, even if those wounds are self-inflicted. That’s why God says in Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their backsliding.”

I’m going to pray for us this morning, and if you need healing, God is waiting to heal you. It doesn’t matter if the wound is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. God is in the business putting broken people back together.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, Your Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path, it shows us where we are, and where we’re going. Your Word is sharper than any two edged dividing asunder between the marrow and the bone and even the soul and the spirit. Father, this morning I ask that You take Your Word and heal us with it. Apply the medicine where it hurts, and let us leave this place changed by Your love, Your goodness, and Your mercy. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[1] Flemming, Donald C. “Commentary on Malachi 4:4”. “Bridgeway Bible Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/malachi-4.html. 2005.

Where is Our Trust? // Malachi 3:1-15

MALACHI 3.jpg

Text: Malachi 3:1-15

Mark Weathers, the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Concord, North Carolina was asked to come to a 6th grade class and speak about different world religions when compared to Christianity.

He said, “The first thing I did was make my own ruler. I called it Mark’s Reliable Ruler. Inches were 3/4th the length of the standard inch, I showed the class my reliable ruler and got volunteers to measure various objects. One student used a standard ruler. I used my ruler, and when the measurements didn’t match, I began defending my ruler. The students at first didn’t understand, but as a I continued to hold to my position they got frustrated. One little girl blurted out, “But you can’t do that! It’s not the right ruler.” That’s when I knew they got it. When we make up our own standard and leave the standard God has established, all hell breaks loose.” [1]

And that’s exactly what’s happening in Malachi. They have abandoned the standard of worship and the standard of living that God has set for their lives, and now they’re completely dumbfounded as to why things are going badly for them.

“You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:17, NRSV

As we said last week, they took the order that God established for their lives and they turned into a chaos of their own making, which is always what happens when we do the opposite of what God says. When we rebel against God we don’t establish a new order, instead we just create chaos. We don’t have the capacity within ourselves to create order, only God can do that.

This is what the priests did, and then when things went badly, they blamed God by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

God is fairly logical. In the Pentateuch, God lays out His laws and commands and says, “Alright, this your order for living. If you do these things and follow these laws that I’ve set you’ll have life and blessing, but if you don’t, you’ll have death and curse.” And so, they break God’s laws and then point the finger at God.

  • It’s like that meme going around on the Internet of the guy riding the bike, and while he’s riding his bike he puts a stick in the spoke of his bike, and then when he wrecks and hurts himself, he grabs his knee and starts cursing at the sky. This is what the priests have done. They’ve hurt themselves by dishonoring God.

And so God promises to send His messenger to prepare the way for Him. He’s coming and He’s going to purify the sons of Levi so that they will proper offerings. 

So, as we walk through the text we have three ideas. We’re going to talk about Trusting in Christ’s Coming, Trusting in His Refining Power, and Trusting in God’s Promise for Blessing.

  • And really all three of these ideas are operations of God’s grace toward us.
    • He comes to us as the messenger of a covenant we don’t deserve to partake in.
    • He refines us like silver even though we deserve to be consumed along with our sin and our dross,
    • and God blesses us when we tithe in spite of the fact that we’ve robbed Him. He doesn’t continue beating us up for our robbery in the past.

Trusting in His Coming (v. 1-2)

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;” – Malachi 1:1-2, NRSV

If we look at verses 1 and 2 we see that there’s two messengers spoken of. There is “my messenger” and then there is “the messenger of the covenant.”

Now, here’s where we’re supposed to ask, “Whose the messenger and why is this important?” The first messenger, the forerunner we’ll call him, is a messenger of grace. Because he’s the one saying, “Listen, the king is coming so you should get ready.” This was common in these times. When a king would come, he would often send a messenger or two ahead to ready the people and prepare for the coming of the king.

So, who is the first messenger figure?

    • For the primary audience, it’s Malachi. His name even means, “My messenger” or “God’s Messenger.” He’s God’s mailman. He doesn’t write the mail, he only delivers it.
    • 400 years after Malachi, the messenger was John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist’s message was plain and simple.

 

  • “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
    – Matthew 3:1-2, NRSV

 

    • This wasn’t a call to repent in light of kingdom that will take 2,000+ years to get here this was a call to repent in light of a kingdom that you can reach out and touch.

    • Jesus said, “if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) Then, earlier in Luke 10, Jesus says, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9)

    • And so, Malachi’s message is for us, John the Baptist’s message is for us, and especially Jesus’ message is for us because it’s essentially all the same. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, it’s within your grasp.” If you repent you’ll be refined and you’ll come forth as gold, but you don’t repent, if you remain stubborn and hard-hearted, you’ll be consumed, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

  • And so today, in our day, we’re the messengers, and we’re proclaiming the coming of Christ who is the messenger of the covenant so that people can repent and in their repentance, they make themselves ready for His second coming.

    • The goal of repentance is change. A change mind, a change of heart that leads to a change of attitude and behavior.

Trusting in His Refining Power (v. 3-6)

Back in verse 2, the question is asked, “Who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears?” And verses 3-6 stand as explanation of what will happen when He comes, but verse 2 is a rhetorical question because no one will be able to stand when He appears. And if you think you stand, beware lest you fall. That’s the warning the Apostle Paul would give in 1 Corinthians 10.

Let me be clear, that’s not to say that you can’t have assurance or certainty of your salvation, but your assurance and certainty can’t rest in you or in what you’ve done. It has rest somewhere else, namely on what Christ has done on your behalf. That’s where faith and repentance comes in.

  • Once you’ve repented. Once you’ve changed your mind about who God is, and who you are in relation to Him. Once you’ve realized that you’ve been wrong about how you’ve been living, and you start on your journey with Christ, then you’re in Christ, you’re not just with Him, you’re in Him.

  • When Moses was on Sinai and He asked to see God’s glory, God revealed His back to Moses and even then Moses had to stand within the cleft of a rock to keep from being consumed when God’s glory passed by God, and so it is on the day of the Lord when He appears we won’t be consumed because our life will be hidden in Christ. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Look at verses 3-6.

“he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. 5Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. 6For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” – Malachi 3:3-6, NRSV

When we read this we’ve got ask, “What’s the goal?” What’s God’s end game? I think the answer to that question is in end of verse 3 and 4. God desires offerings in righteousness, and then when the priests begin to make offerings in righteousness those offerings will be pleasing to the Lord.

In chapter 1, we talked about how the priests were offering their lame, their blind, and their blemished animals to God, and what it all came down to is that their heart wasn’t in the worship. There was nothing wrong with the way God had ordered them to make sacrifices. There was nothing wrong with the traditions that had been passed down to them, it was them, it was their heart.

  • I think we get this way sometimes. If people aren’t responding in worship the way we want, then we must think that there’s something wrong with the way we worship. So, we might change the music, we might change the way do church so that we can be more seeker friendly.

  • Now, don’t think that it’s just ‘those people over there in that generic mega church down the road’ that does this. We may not be seeker friendly, but we’re in danger of getting in this mindset as well.

    • Think about it in these terms… what’s the biggest objection to churches having communion every week? “Well, if you do it every week, then it will lose it’s meaning?” Really? We take up an offering every week and that hasn’t seemed to have lost its meaning.

  • So, is it the tradition that’s really the problem or is it us? Of course, I’m just using that as an example. Tradition isn’t always the problem, but we like to point the finger at tradition because it’s easier for us to change external traditions than it is for us to confront internal sin and complacency.

    • The reality of the situation is that often we have a sin problem, and we like to say that in baptism the old man was buried, but the truth is that he can swim awfully well for a dead guy.

And so we see that God’s fire does two things: it refines the righteous, but it also consumes the unrighteous.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” – 2 Peter 3:10-13, NRSV

If we’re going by what Peter says here along with what we read in Revelation then we know that when the day of the Lord comes there will be a fiery blaze of God’s glory that overshadows the whole earth, that’s when the world as we know it will be dissolved with heat, and those who rejected the Gospel, who followed the course of this world will experience the second death, an eternity in the lake of fire.

But then what will be left? Are just left with charred remains? No. Peter tells us that after the fire of God consumes and dissolves everything that has been affected by sin, it will leave behind a new heavens and a new earth. For the old heavens and old earth will have passed away.

  • It’s both a consuming and refining fire.

And then finally in Malachi 3:6 there’s this statement – “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” But I want you to notice what the King James says.

“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
– Malachi 3:6, KJV

God is saying, “I’ve got a plan for you! You deserve to be consumed. Your sin has earned you death, but instead, I’ve got a plan for you!” That’s grace! That’s free grace! They’ve backslid, and God tells them that He hasn’t changed His mind about them, and the evidence that God hasn’t changed His mind about them is the fact that they’re not consumed.

  • The evidence that God hasn’t changed His mind about you is the fact that if you believe on Jesus then you’re no longer bearing the weight of God’s wrath on you!

  • I’ve heard people say, “Once you backslide there’s no coming back!” That’s not what Hosea 14:4 says. God speaks through Hosea and says on no uncertain terms, “I will heal their backsliding.” Translated in the ESV it says, “I will heal their apostasy.” God freely and graciously heals His sons and daughters of backsliding and apostasy, and its by God’s graciousness that you are not consumed.

Trusting in His Promise for Blessing (v. 7-12)

“Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

8Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts…” – Malachi 3:7-10, NRSV

As I said in our first sermon on Malachi, if you think this is simply about throwing your 10% in the offering plate, then you’re missing the big picture.

The goal behind tithes and offerings is so that there may be food in the storehouse for others to benefit from. God doesn’t need your money, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He doesn’t need your crops. There is nothing that you could give to God that would add to His well-being. So, then why is God wanting us to tithe?

  • Giving your tithes and offerings takes the focus off of us, and it’s for that very reason that God says that this is how the priests return to Him. Selfishness is what got them in their condition in the first, and it’s selflessness that will get them out.

In the Old Testament a tithe was a tenth of the produce of the land, consecrated and set apart for special purposes. And, in fact, there were three tithes in the Old Testament.

  • The Levites weren’t given land so they weren’t expected to farm so they would take the tithe that was given to them, and then they would tithe to the priests off of that so that the priests could just work in the temple without worrying about whether or not they could provide for their families.

  • Then there was another tithe taken for work in the temple.

  • And there was a tithe taken at least every three years for the support of the marginalized and the needy in Israel. Ligon Duncan says, “scholars don’t know exactly how to put all these together but it is clear that at least 27% of the produce was mandated by God to be given back to the support of religion and worship in Israel. So the next time you’re tempted to complain about 10% plus offerings, remember that the mandate was a minimum of 27% in the Old Testament.” [2]

Finally, God says that if they will do this, if they will take the focus off of themselves. He will cause things to turn around for them.

“….see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. 12Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:10-12, NRSV

If you’ll quit being selfish, if you’ll realize that worship isn’t about you (because that’s what tithing is, tithing is a part of your worship), then God will bless you.

 

 

But then we have the response of the priests in verses 13-15.

“You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, “How have we spoken against you?” 14You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? 15Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.” – Malachi 3:13-15, NRSV

This is where we have a challenge before us. Are we going to be like the priests and look at the ills of the world around us, and say, “It is vain to serve God” or are we going to walk by faith, and not by sight, and trust that God is refining us and renewing the world around us?

God is in the process of making things right, and calling to account those who have been faithless, and the evidence that one day all things will be made right is the fact God raised His Son from the dead, and has given Him a name that is above every name. (Acts 4:12)

This morning we have to make a choice. Will we serve God by believing that He will provide for us out of the riches of His glory or will we scramble through life trying to keep all of our eggs in one basket trying to provide for ourselves?

Serving God isn’t in vain like these priests said, but serving yourself is.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’ll sing one more hymn. These altars are open. Don’t be afraid to come to the front or kneel at these altars if you need anything from God.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, I’ve done all I can do. This is Your Word, and it’s Your Spirit’s work to apply it to our hearts and lives. We are convicted of our sins and our hearts are heavy. Let us feel Your love and forgiveness today. Let us know Your kindness and Your mercy. We ask You to take the burden of self-reliance off of us, and let us take up Your yoke and Your burden because Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

_____

[1]  “Messages.” Providence Presbyterian Church, http://www.ppcnet.net/messages/.

[2]  “Robbing God.” First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 3 Nov. 2002, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/robbing-god.