J. Gordon Duncan

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Psalm 1 Sermon Notes and Study Guide

Big Idea:  God’s word gives fruit, prosperity, and rest.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

  • What is a pathway of blessing before God in this passage?
  • What does that person do regularly?

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.

  • How does God bless the person who loves the Bible?
  • How does the Bible define prosperity?

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

  • What happens to those who do not study and apply the truth of the scriptures?
  • What comfort is there in God knowing you?

I don’t know anyone who loves music as much as I do.  When I’m in the car, I’m listening to music.  When I’m running I’m listening to music.  When I’m writing sermons, I’m listening to music.  Songs, melodies, and rhythms are constantly in my ear.

In fact, I like music so much, I have to discipline myself sometimes to turn it off. I need to make sure that I’m not crowding out time of prayer, thinking, or just waiting on God.  And to be honest, it is not always easy for me to sit in silence.

Fortunately, and by God’s grace, one of the ordained means by which we praise Him and He is glorified is by our singing.  When we put the words of scripture to song, or when we take the truths of scripture and write music to them, God receives those efforts with glory.  No matter what the words are, our singing, our praising of God in song, must be related to the scriptures.  They must be scripturally true and be representative of what God has told us to or representative of who God is.

So as we begin our study of the Psalms, let’s keep a few things in mind.  These are God-ordained songs that give Him glory.  And they are the word of God which is intended to teach us and transform us.

Intrinsically, every person who claims faith in Jesus Christ should be able to state that they know that there is immense benefit in studying the bible and that we know that God has command it, yet we just do not find the time for it.  So, as we study the Book of Psalms, let’s take the words to heart.  The Psalms were both individual expressions of worship and they were songs that were used to lead the people in worship.  Some of the topics are the bible, others are the people of God, some speak of the character of God, tons of things.  As we spend the next few weeks looking them, let’s pursue God within them, and pursue whatever it is they recommend for us to grow closer to God.  This week, that 4recomeantion is the bible.  So towards that end, let’s pursue this week’s Big Idea:  God’s word gives fruit, prosperity, and rest.  Appropriately so, we are going to look at Psalm 1 this week, so let me read the entire song to you.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.  3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.  4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Now before we jump into this word for word, let me set the table for this particular Psalm.  Remember, each one is part of a larger group but each still tells its own story.  The first Psalm really sets a few principles before us that we need to understand.  Each Psalm speaks specifically about a certain characteristic and character of God Himself.  And the Psalm have tendency, despite the scriptures saying that no one is righteous, they speak what life is like for the righteous and what life is like for the unrighteous or wicked.  Some Psalms are pleading to God to act on behalf of the righteous and others plea that God would pour out judgment on the unrighteous.

Psalm 1 is very much like that.  Now, we do not know exactly who wrote this Psalm.  Many people attribute it to King Solomon, the incredibly wise son of King David, but nobody knows for sure.  And as your study Bible may tell you, the Psalm sort of serves a pattern for the rest of the Psalm.  So with that in mind, let’s look at this one verse by verse.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

The Psalm begins with letting us know specifically that there are blessings from God and there are warnings and disciplines from God.  Let’s start with what God promises to bless.  The Psalmist says that you will be blessed by God if you delight in God’s law and if you mediate on God’s law day and night.

God promises very specific blessings when we study the scriptures.  In fact, those promises are so specific, it is amazing how much we neglect them.I mean, a cursory glance shows us how much God values our study of the Bible.

Let me give you an example.  Here are some of the Bible promises about the bible.

·    2 Timothy 2: Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
·    Psalm 119: How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.
·    Psalm 119: My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
·    Deuteronomy 6: And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

And a plethora of other verses.  God commands us to study the Bible and promises to bless us as we study and put God’s promises into place.  And our generation has access to the Bible in an unprecedented manner.  We have Bibles stacked on our shelves and can find any version we want online.

Yet, we might be the most illiterate group of Christians that have walked the earth.  We know most of what we know because folks have told it to us and not because we have personally studied it ourselves.  Maybe it is because when we hear that God is going to bless us for studying the scriptures we don’t know what that means.

So, let’s take a look at what specific blessings are promised from studying the scriptures.  Really, I wish there were some other motivation, like I don’t know a love of Jesus, but we just need to know, why should we study the Bible day and night like this passage says.  And then, we’ll hear what it says and have to wrestle with whether that is what we really want or not.

Listen to these promises:

·    Studying the Bible causes us to hunger more for God:  1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation
·    We grow in the fullness of God:  Paul prays that we would be Ephesians 3: know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God
·    Studying causes us to walk in the freedom that is ours in Jesus:  John 8:32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
·    Think about that:  Studying the Bible gives you a hunger for God, we enjoy God’s fullness, and we walk in freedom.

You might privately say, “Gordon, is that it?”  Fullness of God, really?  And I will say, ‘I’m not going sucker you in with a bunch of promises.”   You study the scriptures because you desire to know God and know His son Jesus more fully.  Do that, and be blessed as God calls blessed.
If I offer anything else, you will be disappointed.  You see when the scriptures say, “Blessed is the man who does not…” it is saying that God is going to bless one thing and judge or discipline the opposite.  So if God is going to bless the person who delights in the law of God then He is going to judge or discipline those that who do the opposite.
What is the opposite of delighting in the law of God or meditating on the law of God?  Specifically the Psalmist describes that in 3 ways.

·    Walking in the counsel of the wicked
·    Standing in the way of sinners
·    Sitting in the seat of scoffers

Psalm 1 does not care who you are, how long you have been a Christian, or how many good things you have done in your life.  If you are not regularly studying your Bible, if you are not meditating on it regularly, if you are not delighting in the words of God, then you are walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the pathway of sinners, and sitting in the seat of scoffers.

Mission #1:  Studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to receiving God’s blessings.
Mission #2:  Not studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to being deceived by others.

Now, again you might say, “Gordon, I’m not deceived and neither is my family.  My kids go to church, play upward basketball, homeschool, only have Christian friends, only listen to Christian music and basically my kids only interact with stuff that has Christian on it.”  I only listen to Christian music, I read Christian novels, and I watch Fox News.  How can you say I sit in the counsel of the wicked?

And the Psalms says, “Unless regular bible study is part of your regular life, it doesn’t matter whether everything in your house was purchased at Lifeway Bookstore, you are sitting under the counsel of the wicked.”  And you might ask, “Well how do I know if I’m sitting under the influence of wicked people?”  And Psalm 1 will tell you, “If you want that kind of discernment and wisdom then you have to study your Bible regularly.”

Regularly studying your bible and the words of God is described in this hopeful way for you in verse 3.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.

You will be like a plant that is regularly fed by streams of water.  And because you get the nourishing water that you need, you, that tree, will produce the fruit when the time is right.  Your leaves won’t be scorched by sun.  Instead, that tree will be lush, beautiful, and bountiful.

What in the world does it mean for a person to be like a tree, well-nourished that does not fade and produces fruit.  Well, fortunately this one of those pictures in scripture that the scriptures explain pretty well for us. A tree planted by a stream of water is well nourished.  Making connection to scripture looks like this.

Jesus is found in the scriptures.  He said so Himself:  John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.  And what happens when we find Jesus in the scriptures?  John 4:13 Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Clearly, studying the scriptures teaches you of Jesus and knowing Jesus refreshes your soul like a tree by the water.

What does it mean then to yield fruit in its season?  The scriptures always use the picture of bearing fruit as a picture of developing obedience in your heart.  Paul described it in this way when he prayed for the church of Colossae

Colossians 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

When you are filled with the knowledge of God’s will which is found in the scriptures you will bear fruit.  Fruit that is described as Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.  Seek the Lord in the scriptures, and they will enable you to bear the fruit of:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And finally, what does it mean for your leaves not to whither?  This is the language of perseverance under trial.  A tree’s leaves whither when they are exposed to the sun and do not have enough water.  So the believer who maintains the refreshing work of the scriptures in their lives is going to be able to endure the sun’s heat and not wither.

The bible gives us this example from scripture.  Jesus was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4.  Satan tempted Him in 3 ways:

·    Jesus was hungry and Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread.
·    Satan tempted Jesus to cast Himself off of a cliff and have the angels catch Him.
·    And Satan offered to give Jesus every kingdom in the world if Jesus would worship Satan.

Satan tempted Jesus’ physical needs, tempted His trust in God’s care, and tempted Him with power and prestige.  That is where we struggle with perseverance isn’t it?  We struggle to believe that God is going to care for us physically so we slave away at work instead working to honor God.  We struggle to believe that God will protect us so we live recklessly.  We struggle and desire power and prestige and money.

How do we persevere in such trials and be the tree that is not scorched?  We respond as Jesus did.  Jesus responded by quoting the scriptures tucked away in His heart.  In light of the temptation of turning the stones to bread, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8 and said “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  In light of the temptation to cast Himself off the cliff for the angels to bear Him up, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6 and said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”     And in light of the temptation to have all the kingdoms bow to Jesus in exchange for worshiping Satan Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6 again and said, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Psalm 1 calls this prospering.  In all that he does, he prospers.  Not money, not wealth, not prestige.  No.  Prosperity is a refreshed soul that obeys and withstands temptation.  Promising everyone that they are going to have Bentleys and straight teeth if they believe enough is such shortsighted picture of prosperity.  The health and wealth proponents completely miss out on what real prosperity is.  Defining God’s prosperity in the same way the world defines prosperity is foolish.\

Mission #3 Enjoy the Prosperity of God by hiding scriptures in your heart so that you might persevere and not whither during difficult and tempting times.

And as the scriptures so often do, they show us what happens when we walk away from the truths of scripture.  Listen to verse 4

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

So, how does Psalm 1 describe people who do not live a life meditating on and enjoying the scriptures?  Psalm 1 calls them wicked.  Now you might say, “Gordon all that everyone was wicked.  Doesn’t Romans 3:10 say, “There are none that are righteous; no not one.”?  Doesn’t Romans 3:23 say, “For all have fallen short of the glory of God?”

You are exactly right.  However, when you place your faith in God, and now on this side of the cross, when you place your faith in Jesus, you want to know happens?  You are called righteous because you have Jesus’ righteousness.  Romans 3:22 tells us that God gives us the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  Through faith in Jesus, His children are called righteous and can do righteous things.  Those that do not have that faith are described in Psalm 1:4.  They are wicked.

And every blessing that you have as a child of God with faith in Jesus who studies the scripture, the opposite is true of every wicked person who does not have that faith and does not trust the scriptures.  Instead of persevering in the sun and being refreshed by the water with leaves that do not wither, those that do not trust God and do not trust the scriptures are like chaff, useless, dried up chaff that blows away when there is wind gust.  And ultimately, that lack of trust in God, that lack of trusting and bathing in the truths of scriptures, will keep the wicked from standing before God.

Psalm 1:5 says that when God ultimately brings judgment as Christ returns, those that do not trust God and do not have faith in Jesus and do not have hope in the scriptures will not be able to withstand God’s judgment.   They will wither.  They will suffer judgment as sinners and will not be able to stand among the congregation that God calls the righteous.

But those that God knows.  Those that have faith in Jesus who have been transformed to trust in and bathe in the words of God, those folks are described this way in verse 6.

6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

God knows the way of His righteous children.  This is not a knowing like knowing a fact.  This like knowing as in a husband knows his wife.  It is an intimate knowing.  God knows, is tightly bound to, is in an intimate relationship with His children who He has called righteous though none of us deserve that title.  The wicked, those that don’t know God, don’t have faith in Jesus, do not find wisdom in the scriptures, they will perish in judgment.

Mission #4:  Let God’s intimate knowing of you motivate you to know Him better in His scriptures.

Gang, with any idea to inspire us or encourage us to study the scriptures more, it is so hard to find a way to do it without guilting one another.  Well, of course that happened.   Did you read your Bible today?  Well, you can tell me anything.  When was the last time you read your Bible.  And there are a host of self-righteous, sanctimonious approaches to the Bible.  Let me encourage us in this way.

·    John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
·    John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

When you open your Bible, or I guess this day, when you log on to your Bible, you are not just opening up some ancient document from a time long ago.  You are interacting with Christ Himself.  The very words of life, the water you need for refreshment is Jesus, and He is found in the scriptures.  The very obedience that God calls you to is enabled as you trust in Jesus and He is found in the scriptures.  And when you are tempted by everything this world offers, God will prosper you and protect you as you learn more about and take in Jesus who is found in the scriptures.

So with that, let’s remind ourselves us these 4 takeaway Missions:

·    Mission #1:  Studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to receiving God’s blessings.
·    Mission #2:  Not studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to being deceived by others.
·    Mission #3 Enjoy the Prosperity of God by hiding scriptures in your heart so that you might persevere and not whither during difficult and tempting times.
·    Mission #4:  Let God’s intimate knowing of you motivate you to know Him better in His scriptures.

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Addressing the Infectious Disease that is the Health/Wealth Gospel – SK Sermon Preview for 062412

ImageHey Gang,

From the conversations that I have had with folks at SK over the past few months, it appears that the book of James is shaping us in ways that we have never been shaped before.  1 Samuel, Luke, and every other book we have ever studied have made great impact, no doubt.  But God is using the straightforward nature of James coupled with the ongoing circumstances of our lives to cause us to wrestle with what it practically and realistically looks like to live out the Christian life in our day and age.

This Sunday is shaping up to be an excellent example of just that:  God’s straightforward truth coupled with the challenging and rewarding circumstances of our lives.  In a time when SK, like many other churches, is struggling to pay our bills, God brings James 4 our way:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”

Isn’t that verse the description of most of our days?  Doesn’t it describe our plans to make a living?  Shouldn’t the encouragements that follow play a large part in shaping not only the future of Sovereign King but the future of our lives as well?

Please make every effort to be at worship on Sunday.  Make every effort to bring folks you know to worship as well.  Garner and our surrounding areas are infected with pastoral teaching that promises everything from wealth to large homes to straight teeth.  Sound biblical teaching about wealth and the preparation and planning to earn an income is desperately needed.  As we grow in this section of James, we will grow in understanding how to navigate the present and future financial waters that face us as individuals, families, and a church.

I can’t wait to see you all on Sunday.

Gordon

If you are a first time visitor to SK, you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html

June 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 4:11-12

Big Idea:  God loves so we don’t judge.

James 4: 11  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.

·    What are examples of the way we can speak evil against other Christians?
·    Very few people will own up to this.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if this is something in which you need to confess.

The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

·    Why is speaking evil against your brother also judging your brother?
·    How is judging speaking against the law?

12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.

·    Why do we judge when we know only God has that right?
·    How do you reconcile what you know about God’s character when you read that God saves and destroys?

But who are you to judge your neighbor?

·    Why do we think we can judge?
·    Including neighbors here in addition to brothers means we are not allowed to judge non-Christians either.  Why do we feel like we have that right?

I don’t know many Christians who will regularly admit, “You know, I really struggle with judging people.  I judge Christians.  I judge non-Christians.  I just think I am better than everybody else.  Oh, we’ll own up every now and then, but I’m afraid the day to day for most of us is a joyful judgment of the rest of the world.  Even when we have low views of ourselves, we still think we are better than most everybody else.   And when we judge, we justify it by saying, “No, the Bible says that’s wrong.  I’m just being biblical.”  Goodness we are a mess.

You want to know many times the Bible tells us not to command?  Take a guess?  10?  15?  20?   I lost count somewhere in the 2-3 dozen, gang.  Let me give you just a quick sample.

·    Matthew 7:1“Judge not, that you be not judged.
·    Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven
·    John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
·    James 4:11 But who are you to judge your neighbor?
·    Romans 2:1-3 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
·    Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Now, you may hear this and think, “But Gordon, aren’t we supposed to speak out against sin and unholiness in this world?  Won’t this world just go to hell in a hand basket if don’t stand for what the Bible says?”  Listen Gang, I’ve been on both sides.  I have judged people straight up as if I personally sat on the throne of God.  And I have had people tell me that the reason our church doesn’t grow is because I dress like I do and I enjoy a glass a wine in the evening.

So again, I ask, what then do we do?  Well, I don’t know if our passage in James is going to answer every one of those questions, but it is going to answer one very simple questions for us.  So with this intro in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea this week from the book of James.

Big Idea:  God loves so we don’t judge.

Now, before jump into this audacious topic, let’s as always do a bit of reminding ourselves of what James has been talking about.  Last week, James reminded us once again that the path to be lifted up and encouraged before God is to pursue humility.  Humility is the path of walking before God.  We heard commands like, Submit yourself to God and He will lift you up coupled with truths like, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Humility is always recognizing that God alone is good and holy.  We are not.  Always.  Well, after exhorting us to walk in humility before God, James is now going to encourage us to walk in humility before each other.  Listen to James 4:

James 4: 11  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.  The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.   12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.  But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Before we jump into this verse by verse, just reckon for a moment.  I think we are here in some part because we recognize that we should walk in humility before a holy God because are sinful.  But James is putting in front of us that walk in humility before one another is the natural extension of humility before God.  Know humility before God and know humility before each other.  No humility before God and no humility before each other.  Let’s jump into this verse by verse.

James 4: 11  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.

So James commands us to not speak evil against one another.  This is a specific command about how Christians should interact as James is personally addressing “brothers” or fellow believers in this passage.  So let’s ask a couple of questions here.  What does it mean to speak evil against another Christian?  And, why does James care if we do it or not?

Well, Biblically, there are several ways that we can speak evil against one another in the church.  Well, for the sake of time, I’ll just focus on 3 – literally we could be here all day.  We can say things about each other that are not true.  We can condemn each other for things in which we are guilty.  Or we can just speak in such a way that is not gracious. Let me briefly speak to each one of those.

We are so often guilty of the first one which is saying things about one another that are not true.  Now I don’t imagine many of you are walking around making up lies.  For example, I don’t think any of us are accusing one another of beating our wives or stealing from our employers.  But we are extremely guilty of then when we speak of motives.

What we do, because we are oh so spiritual, is that when folks disappoint us, we decide why they did what they did or didn’t do what we wanted them to do.  This happens in marriages all the time.  One or the other will say something straightforward and the other person will immediately say, “Well, you only said that because you feel this way,” as if we were psychic or something.

Kids, you do this to your parents all the time.  They won’t let you do what you want, and you’ll say awful things to them like, “You just don’t want me to have fun,” or “You don’t trust me,” or whatever else you want to throw out at them.  I’m not immune to it.  I’m tempted to decide why some of you aren’t as committed to the ministries of the church like I wish you were.  When some of you show up Sunday after Sunday but never or rarely commit to the ministries in the church, I’m tempted to determine why I think that is.

And here is thing.  Every time we do that, we are committing this sin.  In our hearts, we are speaking evil against one another because we honestly have no idea why people do what they do.  We just feel better about ourselves when we make up our mind and start judging.  Towards that end, let’s shoot for this Mission #1

Mission #1:  Stop sinning by accusing people of motives that you don’t know anything about.

Now another we speak evil about one another is by condemning each other of things in which we are guilty.  Of course we are hypocrites.  Remember Jesus words to the “Godly” of His day.”  Matthew 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees of trying to look good on the outside so as to judge others while at the same time they were guilty of the very sins that they condemned.  James and Jesus are saying, “Stop speaking evil against one another about what sin they commit.  Inside many of you are committing the very same sin.”  For example, in the church, we love to talk about how other people raise their kids.  We’ll see them act up in church or speak back to their parents and goodness we will speak evil against them.  When all the while, we really should just be walking in humility about the struggle all of us have with raising our own kids.  We can be so judgmental in this.

Missions #2:  Stop judging people for things in which you are also guilty.

And finally, we are guilty of speaking evil against one another when we just don’t speak graciously to one another.  Parents, and I’m speaking to myself as much as I am to you, just because you kids are your kids, that does not give you the right the yell at them, call them names, and humiliate them.  We are commanded to speak to each other in this way, Colossians 4: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Brothers and sisters, you are speaking evil against one another when you curse at each other, make fun of each other, and basically troll to your own pleasure.

Mission #3:  Speak graciously to one another with gentile, kind words.

Whew, Gang, we are just getting started here.  James is telling us to stop speaking evil against one another, so in then next verse he explains why should stop speaking that way.

The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

When we speak evil against one another, what we are doing is making ourselves out to be judges.  James says when we speak evil against each other, we are actually speaking against the law itself, judging the law.  When you read Romans 7-8, you see the purpose of God’s law is threefold.  Show us our sin.  Restrain sin.  Show us our need of God.

Whenever we use begin speaking evil against one another and judging one another we are using the law for purposes other than what God intended.  We are misusing and therefore judging the law itself.  Guys, God takes the way we speak about one another incredibly seriously.  James is saying, “Your off-hand comment about how another Christian is living or how they are talking or how they are raising their kids or how they are doing whatever is quite often sinful.”  And when you sin by speaking evil against one another, you are sinning against and judging the law of God.

In the end of verse 11 tells us exactly what we are when we do this.  It says if you judge the law, you are a judge.  We are saying that we are the not only the standard bearers but we are the standard maker.

Gang, these kinds of commands will typically move us in one of two directions.  It will make us never speak about obedience and righteous ever again for fear of sinning.  Or it will make us dig in even further with justifications of why we should speak up more about the sin we see in each other’s lives.  In case, you are tempted towards either, James gives us this command in verse 4.

12    here is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.

The rightful view of our hearts that will keep us from judging one another is found in verse 12.  God alone is the lawgiver and the judge whoever breaks that law.  And coupled with that, He alone is able to save those who break that law and He alone is able to destroy those who break that law.

We can’t do either.  We can speak evil about each other when we break the law but we can’t destroy each other – that is God’s right as a righteous judge to destroy those who break His holy law.  We can perhaps even speak graciously towards each other, but none of us can save someone who has broken the law.

As always, the proper understanding of who God is transforms us.  God is the lone lawgiver and the sole judge and destroyer of all of violate His law.  Why?  Because the law is much more than a list of to do’s and don’ts.    God’s law is the expression of His character.  Obedience to it causes us to reflect God’s character.  Psalm 19 makes that abundantly clear.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure,      making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean,     enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

Because of the law’s nature, God alone has the right to destroy those who disobey it or save those He chooses to save.  When we speak evil against each other, we are attempting to take God’s place as lawgiver, saver, and destroyer.

Gang, there is no doubt that scripture gives us God’s commands, and then subsequently when we have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, we are to teach those commands to one another, raise our children in Godliness, and proclaim God’s holiness to the world.  But we must walk lightly when we begin to speak of others in light of their supposed disobedience.  We are to in all humility proclaim God’s holiness, and we are to do it as though who have absolutely no help of obeying apart from God’s help.

In fact, the goal of proclaiming the laws of God to one another is not first and foremost to get people to obey.  I’ll be careful here because I know that his initially sounds like heresy.  No, the reason are to proclaim the holiness of God through the law is found in Galatians 3.

Galatians 3: Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith

Ask yourself about your motives.  When you joyfully pointing how every Christian in the world is getting it wrong, and how you are subsequently getting it right, is your goal to lead them to Christ so that they can be saved by faith?  Rarely, I’m afraid, right?

Most of our judgmental conversation is to just point out how everyone else gets it wrong.  This takes so much wisdom, grace, and discernment.  We have to ask God, “How in the world do I mention the commandments of God to anyone and point them to Christ?”  God, how do I do it and not speak evil of them or to them?

But the answer is found in the question.  God, help me keep my mouth shut unless my speaking of your commands lead that person to Christ.  Either leading them to repent of sin and seek forgiveness through Christ.  Or to move their heart to realize how desperately they need Christ because they can’t obey what God has commanded.

Think about it for a minute.  Let’s get radically different here for a minute.  What if anytime you thought about the commands of God, whether it was for your own sake, your family’s sake, or another Christian’s sake, what if you thought about it in terms of that law leading others to know Christ and know Him better?  That would remove all speaking of evil and all judging because you would be using the law correctly.

Let’s try to think of an example or two to make this practical.  What if when you spoke about another Christian and the way they loved their wife or loved their husband, you did it in such a way that you led them to Christ.  Hey man.  I know it’s hard to be patient and its hard to be forgiving to your wife.  But that is the way Jesus is with us.  We are His bride and He is patient and forgives us.  That is so much different than, “Pww, I can’t believe the way that guys speaks about his wife.  See the difference?  Instead of speaking about someone’s sin, which is just evil, you are leading them to the commandments of God and pointing them to Jesus.

Let’s try another.  What if when you heard about another Christian believing something or some piece of theology that seemed to be completely unbiblical, what if you spoke to them to lead them to Christ.  What if you said, “Hey, you know Paul tells us to rightly divide the word of truth or other words, piece out theology together correctly so that we can be assured that we know Jesus.”  Let’s talk about our theology and see how it points us to Jesus?  That’s radical isn’t?  That is completely different than saying, “That is some rat house crazy theology they’ve got over there.  Our denomination would do well just to model this humility btw.  Instead of just making phone of other’s theology, which is sinful and speaking evil, we could be leading ourselves and others to a stronger relationship with Christ.

Let’s go for one more.  What if when we spoke to our children about their disobedience we were really trying to point them to Jesus?  When our children openly disobey us by either speaking rudely to us or just flat out refusing to do what we tell them to do, what if we pointed them to Christ instead of just demanding obedience?  You see, a lot of time, when our children disobey, we are mad not because the laws of God have been violated or God’s holiness has been violated.  We are mad because we think we have been violated.  But all the authority we have as parents is just borrowed authority from God.  So we can yell at our kids and say obey me or we can talk them about how we personally struggle to obey God and so we understand how they personally struggle to obey God.  When you do that, you quit speaking evil about your kids and you start pointing yourself and your children to Jesus Christ.

So then Mission #4:  When we speak of the commands of God, let’s do it only as we point to Jesus Christ.

Now, you may have noticed that up until this point, every reference I have made has been about making sure that we do not speak evil about or judge other Christians.  Does that mean we get to judge the world and what they do?  The last half of verse 12 speaks to that.

But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Jesus has already answered for us the question, “Who is our neighbor?”  According to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, every single person on the face of the planet is our neighbor.   So, instant takeaway.  We don’t get to judge non-Christians either.

Why not?  Easy – same answer.  We are neither the lawgiver nor the judge.  Let me bring up a topic that I was very hesitant to bring up in the past month, but in this case, I think it just might be relevant.  In the past month, NC voted on what the legal definition of a marriage is.  Believe it or not, I’m  not even going to discuss the merits of either side, tell you how I voted or tell you what I think of the outcome because in the context of this verse, that is not what I need to talk about.

What needs to be addressed is the judgmental, harsh, dis-compassionate, angry, bitter, and ugly language that churches and supposed Christians used around that conversation in the past month.  I think rightfully the church should speak about the Biblical foundations of covenant marriage that were established in scripture about God bringing together a man and a woman to complete each other and become one.  But if we do it in any way other than a desire to point others towards Jesus Christ, then we are guilty of judging our neighbor.

I can honestly say that most of the conversation I heard about this topic in our culture in the past month were about one thing:  who is right.  And if all we are doing is using Biblical truths to make sure we are right in the public arena, then we are self-serving, judgmental Christians who bring shame to the name of Jesus Christ.  Speak truth but only in a way that it leads people to Jesus.  Do not speak truth just to be seen as right and with the sole purpose of winning an argument.  That type of Christianity is disgusting and far from the humble faith that James has been speaking to in Chapter 4.   If you want to address any area of obedience, holiness, or the commandments of God, according to James and according to Paul, we are to do it in humility, we are not to speak evil of others, and we are only to do it if we can point others to Jesus Christ.

Listen to Romans 8:1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

God loved us even though we were guilty of disobeying His law.  And Jesus has now set us free from our disobedience to the law.  He did what we could not do:  obey the law.  And all of God’s righteous requirement in the law is fulfilled in us when we have faith in Jesus.  So we can’t judge anyone.  Our obedience is simple Jesus’ obedience.  So it is foolish for us to judge others because all we have has been given to us by Jesus.  So we sum that up in our Big Idea:
o    Our Big Idea was this:  Big Idea:  God loves so we don’t judge.
o
With that, let’s ask God to helps us live out these simple missions in application.

·    Mission #1:  Stop sinning by accusing people of motives that you don’t know anything about.
·    Missions #2:  Stop judging people for things in which you are also guilty.
·    Mission #3:  Speak graciously to one another with gentile, kind words.
·    Mission #4:  When we speak of the commands of God, let’s do it only as we point to Jesus Christ.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotions for James 4:6-10

Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.

James 4: 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace.

·    God gives more grace because we keep sinning, how is this an encouragement?
·    How can you describe God because He gives so much grace?

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

·    Why does God oppose the proud and give grace to the humble?
·    Why is it so hard to seek humility?

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

·    How do submitting to God and drawing near to God relate to resisting the devil and the devil fleeing from you?
·    How are the cleansings of hands, and the purifying of hearts acts of repentance?
·    What do those things mean?

9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

·    Why would God want us to be wretched, mourn, and weep?
·    Why would God want our laughter to turn to mourning?

10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

·    Theologians call this the “upside down nature of the Kingdom” – how is God’s plan of exaltation different than ours?
·    Why is humility hard for us to achieve?
·    What do want instead of humility?

Please forgive the typos.

Have you ever thought how incredibly insane this command from Philippians 2 is?

Philippians 2: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

The Bible commands each and every one of us to never have selfish ambition meaning never do anything, work, workout, make money, raise kids, never do those things for selfish reasons.  Instead, do everything in humility.  How does the Bible define humility?  Verse 3 tells us.  Look at every person in the world, every coworker, neighbor, family member, whatever, look at them and truly think and believe, “That person is more significant than I am.”  Insane.  Can’t be done.  Humility also means according to verse 4 that I don’t just look after my own interests but instead I look after your interests as well.  The Bible doesn’t give us the right to make decisions just for ourselves.

And the reason we are supposed to that is because that is exactly how Jesus was.  Philippians tells us this:  Though He (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

Jesus said, “I’m not going to hold onto to being God.  I’m going to be humble, become a servant by becoming a human and I’m going to die.  Jesus considered others more significant than He considered Himself which He proved by dying for us while still hated Him.  So God commands us to be humble just like Jesus was humble.  God loves humility because humility is like Christ and glorifies God.  But we and everyone else hate humility because we don’t want to consider others more significant than ourselves.

I would love regale you guys with some cool or fun story about sometime in my life when I was really humble, but there are two problems with that.  First, there is no way to tell you a story about my being humble without me being prideful.  I would negate all humility by telling you.  I could tell of other people’s humility but not my own.  Here is the second problem with me telling you a story about me being humble.  I don’t have any of those stories.  I don’t think many of us do.

I’ve seen pride.  I’ve seen false humility, you know where we pretend to be humble, but really aren’t, but honest examples of imitating the humble nature of Christ are rare.  What we are going to see this week in the book of James is that he is going to not only command us to be humble, he is going to show us why humility is a better way.  So with that in mind, let’s try to tackle this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.

As a quick reminder, let’s refresh our minds to what James has been talking about these past few weeks.  In the last two weeks, we have seen James tell us these things.  He has said, “Listen, Godly wisdom that comes from God and from the scriptures is pure.  And if the facts that you know are going to be considered Godly wisdom, then you will become more peaceable, more reasonable, and more merciful.  If you don’t see those qualities growing in your life, you are not growing in Godly wisdom.  Then last week we heard James tell us that our passions cause us to run after every single thing but God.  We think every single in this world but God will satisfy us.  He then commanded us to find that hope and comfort and joy in God alone.  Thankfully, James reminded us that when we sin, God yearns for us and gives us more and more grace.  That is where we start this week in verse 6.  In light of all of our sin, we read these verses.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

This challenging passage of scripture begins with the rich promise that God gives us more and more grace when we sin.  And we are going to need more and more grace because of the second half of verse 6.  It tells us  Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Wow, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  You could take this passage this way.  Those that are forgiven, called the children of God, the church, those called Christians, are such because they are humble and God has given them grace.  Everyone else, God opposes and judges.

Now, this is squirmy language, isn’t it?  I mean which one is it?  Does God give you grace because you are humble or are you humble because you received God’s grace?  The answer to some extent is “yes”

You see, the bible teaches us that every person is prideful apart from God but God gives us grace to make us humble and cry out to Him.  Listen to Gospel from the OT for a minute

Proverbs 16: Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.  6 By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.

These tiny verses from Proverbs teach us so much.  Arrogance is an abomination to the Lord which means that our pride and our arrogance is just that – a vile, shameful act against God.  Our pride says, “I do not need you God.  I’m smart, talented, and strong.  At best, I’ll talk you when I really need something, but otherwise I’m good.”  And this verse in Proverbs promises us that God punishes arrogance and pride.  God’s purity and righteousness necessitates that He will punish any that exalt themselves against Him.  However, God displays a consistent, steadfast love and faithfulness and those actions on God’s behalf through Jesus atone for our sin, and through that we grow in a healthy fear of God.  That humbles us and turn away from our pride and arrogance.

So God humbles and we display humility and God lifts us up – otherwise He opposes us.  Now hearing this, logically you would think that all of us would run around seeking humility and being humbled because what could be better than having God lift us up?  But I’m afraid our pride and arrogance is too strong.  None of us want to be humbled – that’s why humility is a gift from God.  He either gifts it to us or He orders our circumstances so that we grow into it.  Either way, humility is God wrought but it is His gift to us so that ultimately we can be lifted up  and not cast down.  Let’s try something news.  Let’s start making very specific applications each week along the way.  We’ll call them missions.

So today’s Mission #1:  Find some area in your life that is really tough, thank God for it and ask Him to lift you up.

Notice, that is not the same as asking God for your tough situation to go away.  Just ask God to lift you up.  So, okay having said all of those things, James wants to show how we walk in humility and teach us one its practical benefits.  Look at verse 7.

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Now these passages go hand in hand:  true humility is submitting to God is resisting the Devil and causes the devil to flee from you.  What’s the connection?  Let me explain it this way.  When you are humble, you are submitting to God and telling Him, “You alone are wise.  Whatever you have planned for me is best, and apart from you, I am a sinner only deserving your grace.”  That posture says, “Sickness or health, poverty or riches, busy or slow, whatever you call me to and command to is not only best, God, but it is what I want.”  Now, I am going to make an audacious statement here and I think it true.”  Submitting to God by saying whatever you call me to do and whatever you command me to do is not some radical form of Christianity.  It is Christianity and anything less is a cheap knockoff form of religion that makes a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Because when we submit ourselves to God in such away, that is in and of itself resisting the Devil.  Submitting to God’s will and God’s command is resisting the devil because you are aligning yourself with God’s character and what God calls good and best.  Anything less is agreeing with Satan.

Hey Gang, I get struggling with difficult circumstances like finances, health, and craziness.  I get it and my life is full of all of that.  So we can humanly struggle with those things because we are weak and flesh.  But as we struggle with difficult circumstances, the posture of faith as a child of God says, “No matter how hard this is, and no matter how hard it is to obey your God and to attempt to be humble, that is what I really want because only you are good and wise.”  That is humility and that is submitting to God and quite frankly that is Christianity.

So, why in the world is submitting to God the same is resisting the devil and why does he flee when you do that?  Simple answer:  the devil flees you when you submit to God because he knows you belong to God, and he can’t mess with you.  You submit to God’s will and God’s commands, and the devil says, “Oh, that one belongs to God, and God won’t let me mess with Him.”

You know these days, the theology surrounding who the devil is is a mess and more shaped by movies like Paranormal Activity and the Exorcist than it is the scriptures.  But I like the ways guys like Luther and the later on the Puritans spoke about Satan.  Luther said “The Devil is God’s Devil” meaning that Satan only is allowed to do and go as far as God allows him to do and go.  God the Father is not some epic battle with Satan.  God is the creator of all, including Satan and the devil only can do and go as far as God allows Him to.

Remember the book of Job?  God picked that fight with Satan, not the other way around.  God said, “Hey Satan, have you considered my servant Job?”  Satan said, “Aaaa, he only loves you because you bless him.  And God said, “Fine, do what you want to do to him, just don’t kill him.”  In the end, Job lost his wife, kids,  and all his money, but ultimately gave God greater glory because He greater experienced the creator of the universe.

Satan only did what God allowed him to do.  As one Puritan writer said, “Satan is God’s lap dog.”  He cannot do a single thing without God allowing it.

So, when you submit to God, when you say, “God in humility whatever you want for me is best,” Satan says, “Oh, that’s one of God’s kids, and I can’t mess with them.”  Jesus purchased them by His blood and took them away from me by His resurrection.

Mission #2 – You submit to God and Satan will run away.

So what we see in verse 8 is a more intimate picture of this humility and submission.  Listen to the promises attached to verse 8.

8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

If you desire intimacy with God, a sense of His closeness and His affection, submitting to Him brings you into the reality that is always there.  Here is what I mean.  I love a good praise song as much as all of you – I better if I’m going to lead all of you in singing them.  I love that rapturous moment where you find your soul lifted it up in praising God.  But we fool ourselves if we think that is the height of experiencing God’s presence.  It is incredibly sweet and one of the aspects that God calls us to as a body of believers.

However, we don’t have to wait for another Sunday to come around to enjoy God’s intimacy.  We don’t have to wait for that one song that we really, really like.  We don’t have to wait from super spiritual moment in the midst of even this sermon.

If you want to enjoy the intimacy of God, draw near to Him by submitting to His will and His commands.  As you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.  It is not that God is not drawing Himself to you.  He constantly does Himself to you because He pledged His love to you in Jesus Christ.  We just happened to become aware of God’s drawing Himself to us when we submit to His will and His commands.  As you draw near to God in this way, you happily and willingly obey what James commands in the second half of verse 8.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

If you want to experience God drawing Himself to you, then cleanse your hands.  Cleansing your hands is biblical terminology for confessing your sin and repenting or walking away from your sin.  Listen, if you are a believer, this is clear.  The Holy Spirit residing in your heart is teaching daily areas in which you can confess your sin and repent.  Confess, ask for forgiveness and find your heart being purified to God.

Double-mindedness is that state of saying, “God is my God,” while you sin.  Sinning is declaring, “I am my God.”   So if you want to intimacy with God, here is

Mission #3:  Confess your sin to God and know His intimacy greater.

Then, James just gets weird at least to we human spirit triumphs over all Americans.  Listen to what he commands us to do in verse 9.

9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Why would God want us to be wretched, mourn, and weep?  Why would God want our laughter to turn to mourning?  Didn’t just tell you that you would experience an intimacy with God like no other if you submitted your will to God and confessed your sins?

Isn’t that supposed to make you happy or something?  Aren’t we looking for comfort from God here?  And the answer is yes, but remember the Kingdom of God is completely upside down compared to the Kingdom of this world.  To experience fully the comforting presence of God, we must align our hearts with His will and His commands.  Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Comfort comes in recovery from something.  We mourn and weep as we find our thoughts, speech, and actions in conflict with God’s will.  Why?  Because if you love God, you want to follow Him in all things and as His child, you take no greater joy than giving Him glory by reflecting His character.

So when you start yelling at your kid and abusing their little hearts or when you secretly lust after another or when you pursue your career more for your ease than serving God, there will come a time where God will call those sins to light.  If you love God, you weep, mourn, and be wretch, as Job repented in ashes, because as a Christian, you have said, “Your will be done.  Not mine.”  The past down is the path up.  As verse 10 says

10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Exaltation comes by humiliation.  That may stink to some of you, and you would do well to wrestle with the desires of your heart right now.  Ask yourself, “Have I been asking God for forgiveness just so I skip hell all this time without realizing that what God calls me to do in that is to repent, walk away from my sin and find myself completely dependent upon Him?”  That is what we are called to, gang.  Nothing less.

Our Mission #4 is this:  Humility is our greatest path to experience the intimacy of God.”

You and I are to walk before God and recognize that every good thing is from Him.  We should look at every possession, at every skill, and every day as a gift from Him.  And we should ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to be humble so that we might experience God’s exaltation.

How scared might we all be to pray, “God make me humble so that I might be exalted.”  It is scary to think about that.  We wonder, “Oh no, what might God take away from me?”  If you can answer what you are afraid God might take away, you are this close to seeing what it is that your trust or enjoy more than God.”

And then you might just say, “Hmm, I love God but I don’t those things taken away.”  And I can’t tell you if God is going to take it away or not, but I can tell you that the path to enjoying greater intimacy with God is in humility asking Him to change you so that you trust Him and His word more than anything else.

But the heart of anyone who is a Christian and who has ask Jesus to forgive them of their sins you take joy in God doing whatever it is that is necessary to move us towards intimacy and loving God more.  Let me tell you a story, and then we’ll walk through a summary of what I hope God has taught us in these few verses.  I used to know this guy in college, and to be honest, I didn’t really like him.  He was arrogant and presumptive, and he was this way probably because he was short like me.  But during my time at ECU, I knew he interacted with a few of my female friends from college in ways that you couldn’t exactly call appropriate.  He took advantage of a couple of girls and didn’t really care.  Oh he claimed to be a Christian, but there was a real break between saying he was one and acting like he was one – at least it seemed that way to me.

And I couldn’t stand this guy.  Whenever I thought about him, I just wanted to punch him in the face.  Well, he was older than I was, so he moved away from ECU a couple of years before me and I lost touch with him.  Well, when I graduated, my first job was a teacher in Rocky Mount.  I  moved there not knowing a single person, not one.

So guess who I got a phone call from about a week in?   Yeah, you guessed it, this dude.  He said, “Oh Gordon, great to find you.  I’m a part of this Bible study  in town with 8-109 other folks.  We would love for you to join us.”

My first reaction was, “Dude, there is no way that I would want to spend any time with you.”  But you know what?  I was lonely, and I thought, “Well, there are going to be 8-10 other folks there.”  So I agreed to go to his Bible study despite pretty much detesting that guy.  Well, I went, met an incredible group of folks and believe it or not, that is where I met my beautiful wife Amy.

I have to thank that dude for that, but that is not the point of my story.  About a year in, I was leading that Bible study and I discovered that this guy had interacted with one of the ladies there just like he had with my friends at ECU.  This time, I was ready to fight.  I was fully prepared to go punch this guy in the face.  Well, I told him, “Dude, we need to talk.”  And without me saying a thing, he said, “Gordon, you have every right to just punch me in the face right now.”

And he went on and detailed how he had been less than a gentleman to several of my friend of whom I was very close.  He cried in repentance, spoke about the need to ask them to forgiven him, and he asked me to forgive him.  Again, he ended by saying, “I would totally understand if you just wanted to punch me in the face right now.”  And I wanted to so badly, but how could I?  He demonstrated humility.  He confessed to everything that I was mad with him about.

He talked reconciling his relationship with those girls but even more importantly, reconciling his relationship with God.  Now I have no idea where that dude is now and what the state of his heart is, but in that moment, he demonstrated humility and diffused what was going to be an incredibly tense situation.  He avoided a butt kicking.  Remember I was taller.

He was humble, and the proper response from me was humility as well.  I didn’t have any right to take it out on him.  Humility on his part created humility on my part.

That is exactly what Jesus has done for us.  Remember that verse from Philippians 2 we looked at earlier?  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Jesus’ humility on your behalf earning your salvation is intended to lead you towards humility.  Those things help us to live out our Big Idea and those 4 Missions that I mentioned earlier.

Our Big Idea was this:  Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.  God loves humility because humility causes us to walk away from our self and our sin and lead us to trusting Him more.

As we do that, we can live out these 4 missions.

·    Mission #1:  Find some area in your life that is really tough, thank God for it and ask Him to lift you up.
·    Mission #2:  You submit to God and Satan will run away.
·    Mission #3:  Confess your sin to God and know His intimacy greater.
·    Mission #4:  Humility is our greatest path to experience the intimacy of God.”

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotions for James 4:1-6

Big Picture Question:  Don’t You Want to Stop Fighting?

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?

  • James assumes that we all fight to some degree.  Do you find this true?
  • In what areas do you most disagree with folks?
  • Why do you think we disagree so much?

Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

  • Why does James say that we fight so much?
  • What do we do when we don’t get what we want?
  • Why don’t we get what we ask for from God?

4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

  • How does friendship with God make a person adulterous?
  • What does it mean to be friends with God?
  • Why does friendship with the word cause enmity or strife with God?

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

  • What does it mean that God’s Spirit yearns jealously over you?
  • How is God’s jealous yearning not sin?
  • How is God’s jealous yearning an act of love to us?

6 But he gives more grace.

  • What does it mean that God gives us grace when we are friends with the world?

Please forgive the typos.

Fundamentally, there should be a host of changes when a person declares faith in Jesus.  The Bible describes what happens when a person has faith in Jesus becoming a new creation.  The old has passed away.  2 Corinthians 5:18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come

That means, at the core of a Christian, at the core of who you are as a believer, you should be completely different than you were prior to knowing to Jesus and different from those who don’t know Jesus.  You should be more gentle.  You should be more merciful.  You should be less quarrelsome.

We saw that last week at the end of chapter 3.  James tells us that the wisdom that comes from having a relationship with God should be described in this way.  James 3: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  If you profess faith in Jesus, you should just be more peacable, gentle, and merciful than the rest of the world.

Looking around at the church, looking at how Christians live their lives, looking at how we agree or disagree with others, looking at whether we are merciful or not, sometimes I just have to wonder.  Many of the reasons why people leave the church is because we aren’t those things.  Heck, look beyond the church, is this how your house is described?  If people saw you and your spouse or you and your kids, would they describe you as peaceable, reasonable, and merciful?

Gang, the church fights a lot.  I’m not saying you have to be perfect.  Jesus’ perfection is yours before God.  But you and I should fundamentally be changed and different.  Pursuing Jesus and His wisdom means you should just fight less.  Much of my counseling is dealing with just that.  So much fighting so much quarrelling so much arguing.  So in light of that, let’s try to answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  Don’t You Want to Stop Fighting?

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  6 But he gives more grace.

Now when I read verse 1 that says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? A host of answers might come to mind.  When I speak to folks who are arguing a lot, their answer to the question of what causes so many fights goes something like this.  I’ll tell you why we fight so much – she does this or my kid does that or my boss does that.  It’s their fault.  Think about your last fight whether it was with spouse or child or boss or sibling.  How much of that argument did you spend telling the other person what they did wrong?

Think about typical things you argue about.  Sex and money are popular topics.  Who is carrying the appropriate amount of weight around a house is another.  Spending money you have agreed not to spend.  What’s for dinner?

Have you ever had one of these fights?  It starts out with, “Hey, why didn’t you help me out with that?”  And then instead of the person answering the question, they deflect and say, “Well, you didn’t do this one thing, so why should I do that?”  And then you have two things to argue about with both people feeling superior and right in their anger.  When we have these fights, we feel incredible justified in our anger.  If we choose not to fight, we feel incredibly self-righteous because we know we are right.  But James is getting ready to flip the script here.  James answers what causes all of our fights and most of us are not going to like the answer.

Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James says that what causes our fights is the war of passions within our hearts.  We don’t get to blame the other person.  We don’t get to remind them of all their mistakes.  We don’t get to get angry with them for the umpteenth time.  Our raging passions cause all of our fights.  Now James explains that in verse 2.  In fact, he gives us 3 examples of raging passions in our hearts though I’m sure he could get us a hundred.

For example, he says, you desire or want something that you don’t have and don’t get.  What’s the result?  You murder.  Now you might say, “Gordon, I’ve never murdered anyone in my life.”  But remember how Jesus speaks of murder.  Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Jesus is telling us that anger and murder are the same sin and bring about the same judgment just as lust and adultery are the same sin and bring about the same judgment.  So James’ point is when you have desire, any desire that goes unmet, we get angry with either the people who are keeping us from that desire or with God who we feel is keeping us from that desire.  He goes onto say that when we covet and want what other people have, and we don’t get it we fight.

Oh we want other people’s beauty and when we can’t get it we fight.  We want other people’s health and when we can’t get it we fight.  We want other people’s wealth and when we can’t get it we fight.  We want other people’s free time and when we can’t get it we fight.

When you are mad at your spouse because they did something fun and you had to work or take care of the kids or whatever, James says you are coveting what they have.  The argument you are having with them is not because they did something irresponsible.  The argument you are having is that you are coveting their freedom to make that choice.  Check yourself is James’ point.

He goes one further in verse 3.  He says you ask and you don’t receive because you ask wrongly so you fight.  You don’t get what you want because you ask with bad motives.  You ask for what you want just to feed your passions.

This is true both in our relationships and in our relationships with God.  Hey kids, you want free time or you want to buy a game or you want something specific for dinner.  You ask and are told no.  Your parents tell you no sometimes because they can see that they only reason you ask is to feed your passion.

You want a certain dinner because you are gracious enough to eat whatever mom makes.  You want a game so you can hide in your room.  You want money to go do what you want.  But you rarely if ever do what your parents ask and if you do, do it, it is so that you can ask for what you want.  Your parents right say no and you fight.  I wish was only a kid issue but husbands and wives have these conversations all the time as well.

But more importantly, our prayers to God are met with a resounding no because we are just asking God to feed our passions. Ask yourself, Gang.  How often do you pray?  How often are your prayers just asking God for stuff?  How often are you just asking God to make your life easier?

It is very easy to neglect all the other aspects of prayer.  How often are our prayers just words of praise to God?  How often are our prayer thanks to God?  How often are we praying for others?  How often are we seeking God’s wisdom?  How often are we asking God what certain passages of scripture mean?

I don’t mean to upset you, but all of those things I just mentioned are supposed to be part of the normal day to day life of a Christian.  In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed something about my prayers.  Let me give you an example.  When my dad died, I prayed that our hearts would be comforted.  I prayed some of my family wouldn’t get stupid.  Once again, as the church is not growing numerically or financially, I found myself praying for those things as well.

But this passage has caused me to stop and examine my motives.  There is nothing wrong with asking for comfort as we grieve my father’s passing.  There is nothing wrong with asking God to grow the church numerically and financially.

But this passage asks me to examine my heart.  What is my motive?  Do I just want to avoid pain?  Sometimes, God uses pain and heartache to draw His children closer and to severe their dependency on other things.  Do I just want the church to grow so numerically and financially so I don’t have to stress so much?  Maybe God wants us to stick closer to Him so we have to trust Him.

I don’t know, gang.  I’m not going to tell you the mind of God.  But this passage specifically says, If you ask for things from God with the wrong motive, asking for them just so you can keep feeding your passions, God is not inclined to give you anything.  In fact, a lot of times He just says now.  Think through what you ask God for, examine your heart, look for real to figure out your motive and the return to God either to ask for nothing, to confess your sin or ask God once again assured you know just why you are asking.  So, let’s make this a moment of action or mission

Mission 1:  Ask God to show you where you ask with poor motives.

Because you know what happens if we just keep feeding our passions?  You know what God calls people who are just slaves to what they want?  Look at verse 4.

4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Adulterous people.  Friends with the world – enmity with God.  Okay, this is an incredibly quoted passage, so we are going to walk carefully here.  First of all, what does James use the description “adulterous people”

When your passions are not first and foremost glorifying God, any passion you have makes you adulterer.  Let me explain.  James is like a NT prophet here.  To call someone who has faith in God adulterous harkens back to language from Jeremiah, Hosea and others.  A Christian would described as adulterous when they have pledged their life to Jesus Christ, giving themselves completely over, describing yourself as dead but now alive in Christ.

That’s the description of a Christian now – not super Christians, but Christians.  Those folks, we would be described when there is anything in this world that we look to give us more pleasure than God.  More joy than God.  More hope than God.  More comfort than God.  And the list could go on and on.

James rightfully know that we look to everything in this world but God sometimes to make us joyful, hopeful, to give us comfort to give us pleasure.  It is not that God has said we cannot enjoy the things of this world – that was the incorrect approach of the monks – any thing that gives pleasure other than God is wrong.  No, we can enjoy this world – in fact, Christians should enjoy more than anyone else, why?  Because we have found everything we need in God, therefore any joy of this world, any hope of this world, any pleasure of this world is enjoyed in perspective  – recognizing that it is a wonderful gift but a lesser joy than what God gives.

You see, let me explain how we have got this wrong for a long time and then lets figure out what James is calling to.  Friendship with the world means enemy with God.  Many have read this language and thought that it has given the church the right to hate the world – meaning quite often hate the people of the world who are not Christians.  These verse have justified everything from hate speech, to mocking people, to telling folks they can’t drink alcohol and can’t go to the movies.

Could it be those things?  Well, anything in the world that is not declared sinful, is okay – as long as you don’t find your worth in it, as long you don’t find more joy in it than you do God, as long you don’t find more hope in it than God, and on and on.  So take any hobby – running, swimming, reading, golf.  If you take more joy in that than God, you are an adulterer.

Take things like eating, hanging out, and drinking alcohol.  Well, scripture is clear.  Food is gift from God.  Eating too much is a sin.  Hanging with friends is wonderful.  Talking too much is a sin.  Drinking alcohol is fine.  Drinking too much is a sin.

I like sitting on the back porch with friends and a glass of wine as much as the next guy.  That is not sin.  Talking too much, drinking too much is.  Our topics of conversation could sinful.  If we are trusting in those things to bring us down and relax us more than God, they are sin.  You see, if just tell you that this place is sin because its worldly, this food, this drink, this typo clothing – they are worldly and sinful. – I’m not asking you to use your brain or to exercise faith.  Use your brain, read the scriptures, exercise faith and ask yourself, better yet, ask God “Am I adulterous?  Am I turning to something other than you God more than you?   Help me walk in faith and repentance.

This takes a mature faith.  One that is not easily figured out and takes a bit more thinking than just listening to your pastor rail against everything in the world that he doesn’t like.  So let’s make this missionable.

So Mission #2 Ask God to make you love Him more and show you where you need to love the world less.

But more than anything else.  Understanding these things is found in the light of the Gospel, just like everything else.  Listen to the great hope of verse 5.

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

Okay, what in the world does this mean?  Does God yearn jealously for our spirits that He gave us or does God yearn jealously for the Holy Spirit which He gave us?  Well, James talks about the human spirit in 2:26, 4:1,3 and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the whole book.  Since the context of this section is speaking of our human passions, it would seem to make sense that the passage is saying that God yearns jealously for your spirit, the one that He gave you.

So the, why do the scriptures tell us that God yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us?  Well, the OT speaks of God being a jealous God at least 3-4 times and in each case, it describes God in that way surrounding human idolatry.  For example, when Israel renewed their covenant with God and were being warned about the dangers of the Promised Land, we read this:

Exodus 34:14  For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

So it makes sense here that James would tell us that God is jealous in a completely righteous way for our souls because James is telling us that our passions cause us to run after everything else to satisfy us but God.  Our adulterous desires that are greater for things than they are for God are idolatrous.  But what James is telling us here should cause us to pause.

Think about what he is saying.  God is no doubt holy.  His righteous is above ours, and any goodness that we possess comes from Him.  God hates sin and punishes sin.

But James is encouraging us through the gospel hope that when His children sin, yes God hates that sin but he responds with a jealousy for us.  God is jealous for us when we sin.  God wants our heart back when we sin.  God yearns for you to love Him and not whatever passion it is you are feeding.

I so wish my heart, your heart, this church’s heart, and the heart of this city could get this.  Think about it.  When you sin, what happens?  If you have faith in Jesus, when you sin, the very Spirit of God that lives within you convicts you of that sin.  You realize that your harsh word, your lustful though, your drunkish behavior, whatever, the Spirit moves in your heart to say, “No, that is not what God has called you to or commanded you to do.”

And how do we respond?  Ultimately, the work of the Spirit in our hearts is intended to cause us to respond by confessing our sin, repenting and walking away, and enjoying the forgiveness of God.  But we often do it because we think God is mad at us now.  We either consciously or subconsciously think that God has raised His arm to give us a back hand and maybe we think Jesus is up there holding Him back until either we repent or God forgets.

This passage is saying, “Listen, when you sin, you know what God does?”  His heart yearns for you.  He loves you and wants your heart back.  You are pursuing everything in the world to satisfy you and nothing will be God.

So right now, as you struggle with sin, either confessed or hidden, God jealously yearns for you in righteous way.  He wants you back.  He wants you to find joy, hope, comfort, and identify in Him.

He wants you to find comfort in knowing that Jesus has secured all of your goodness for you and Jesus has secured all the payment of penalty for you.  So now, you can joyously walk before God.  You can admit how your passions have caused you to run after everything but God.  And you can thank God for Jesus who takes on God’s wrath and gifts us with God’s holy jealousy.

So Mission #3:  Be motivated to repent of sin because God yearns for you.

And you want what we need then?  You know what will meet our souls’ need more than anything else?  Listen to verse 6.

6 But he gives more grace.

Your sin has not taxed God’s grace.  It will never run out.  God’s grace is not dependent on your faithfulness or your obedience.  It is what your faithlessness and your disobedience need.  You and I need more of God’s love and grace.

We must recognize that our passions draw us into every fight in the world.  We fight our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our kids, and our God.  We run after everything else but God.  And for some reason, we neglect to depend on God’s grace for what we need and instead trust our hands, efforts, and the poor wisdom of our hearts.

I read one author this week who summed up our challenge here in this way.  He said,

I’m not surprised by bitter, socially uncomfortable Christians with messy or dysfunctional relationships at home, tense relationships with co-workers, awkwardness with folks in the church, and secret, unconfessed sin. We have become comfortable with defining ourselves in a less than biblical way.   We approach God as less than needy, so we’re less open to the ministry of others and to the conviction of the Spirit.  This sucks the life out of the devotional aspect of our walk with God.  Tender, heartfelt worship is hard for a person who thinks of himself as having arrived.  No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it. Paul Tripp

So gang, here is what we need to do.  If we want to stop fighting.  If we want to find peace in our hearts and our homes, we must recognize our desperate and daily need for God’s grace.  Memorize simple verse 6.  “But God gives more grace.”

So that when you find yourself in that fight that you always find yourself in, ask God, “What passion is it of mine that is going unmet?”  My passion for money or health?  My passion for children who looked good, Godly, and don’t cause me any problems?  My passion for someone other than my spouse?  My passion to be right or to be seen as Godly?

And as God shows you how your passions are driving you, pray that He would gift you with a passion for Him through Jesus empowered by the Spirit.  And then ask God to remind you of His yearning love for you.  And ask for more grace.  Before we close, let’s remind ourselves of our 3 Missions

·    Mission 1:  Ask God to show you where you ask with poor motives.
·    Mission #2:  Ask God to make you love Him more and show you where you need to love the world less.
·    Mission #3:  Be motivated to repent of sin because God yearns for you.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Easter 2012 Family Devotions and Sermon Notes

Big Idea:  God’s voice of pardon and grace is greater than our voice that shouted “Crucify”

Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed against him, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  40 But the other rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation?  41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due rewards of our deeds.”  42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

  • Why did the second criminal rebuke the first?
  • How did the second criminal ask for mercy and what did Jesus promise him?

 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.  47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”  48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breast.  49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

  • What impact did Jesus’ death have on the centurion?
  • Why do you think the Centurion felt that way?

Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  6 He is not here, but has risen.  Remember, how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

  • What hope do the angels give the women visiting Jesus’ grave?
  • To what do they attached Jesus’ resurrection?
  • Why is that important?

Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

  • What does Jesus do here that is similar to what the angels did
  • Jesus’ resurrection means what to the nations?

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  52 And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

  • What effect did Jesus’ ascension have on His followers?
  • What effect does it have on you?

The story of Jesus and His mock trial and death would be very little to be inspired by.   In fact, without the celebration of this day, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, you might even look at the life of Jesus and say to God, “Why didn’t you speak up?  Why did you allow this?  What were you thinking?”  But on this side of the cross, in the reality of and in the shadow of the cross, we find great hope for celebration and truly the only thing by which we can cast our life and find peace.

However along the way, we find great heartbreak as our beautiful Savior suffers on our behalf.  I mean, listen to Luke 22:63 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him.  64 They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy!  Who is it that struck you?”  65 And they said many other things against him, blaspheming.  As Jesus was being prepared for trial, the guards decided to loosen up a little. Punch Him.  Mock Him.  Even spit on Him.

The entire trial was such a sham that when Jesus came before Pilate, even he realized Jesus innocent.  Pilates says things like:  Luke 23:13 “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people.  And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him.  And later on he says, “Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.”  But oh now.  The crowd wanted Jesus to die.  They had bloodlust in their hearts and minds and they would not be satisfied until Jesus died.

Pilate had the freedom to release one prisoner per year and he appealed to the crowd to let Jesus go, but instead they wanted a guilty man named Barabbas released.  The just kept crying, “Crucify, crucify him!” Luke 23:23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified.  And their voices prevailed.

Notice that last phrase:  And their voices prevailed.  That is the theme and thought I want us to keep in our mind.  We are going to celebrate Jesus resurrection and it we are going to find true hope for our souls.  But first we need to understand that it was our voices that prevailed.  It was our voice, our sin that shouted “Crucify, crucify.”  And thankfully we are going to be met in response by a loving and gracious Savior.  Towards that end, let’s pursue this Big Idea:  God’s voice of pardon and grace is greater than our voice that shouted “Crucify”

So to help us walk through thought this week, we are going to examine the voices that surrounded the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Let’s start with all the voices heard while Jesus hung on the cross. Look at Luke 23:39

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed against him, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  40 But the other rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation?  41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due rewards of our deeds.”  42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Even at the moment of Jesus’ highest agony, as He suffered innocently and in great suffering, there are still voices railing against Him.  And who rails against Him?  Whose voice prevails?  A guilty criminal being rightfully punished.  But his cries of “Save yourself and us” are not just his.  This is the voice of any one of us who choses sin, death, and un-repentance instead of Jesus Christ.

When we hear the clear truths of our Holy God proclaimed and when we see our beautiful Savior dying on our behalf, yet we remain in our sin, our hearts echo this same mocking cry.  Save yourself Jesus.  But the other criminal is a voice of hope to us.  He says, “Hey, we are guilty.  We are receiving the just punishment of our sins.”  And that criminal doesn’t stop with a mere conviction of sin.  He cries out Jesus.  He says, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Our being drawn to Jesus is just this:  We rightfully see our sin.  We see our deserved punishment of death and hell.  And then we see Jesus as our hope in light of that sin and just punishment and we cry out for mercy.

And Jesus, ever the gracious Savior, even while in agony on the cross, speaks mercy.  He says that the rightfully punished and guilty sinner will enjoy heaven with him even on that very day.  Faith and repentance meet grace and mercy.  The voice of our sin is either going to lead us to mock and accuse Jesus or move us to cry out for mercy and forgiveness.  The scriptures show us next what happens and we hear another voice around Jesus.

Luke 23:44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.  47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”  48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breast.  49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Jesus’ death is at hand.  His agony is complete.  He has drunk the cup of God’s wrath to its very dregs and finally He gives up His spirit.  Darkness covers the whole land when it should be bright.  The curtain in the temple that separated sinful men and women from a Holy God is ripped in two – there is now no barrier between sinful humanity and a perfect Holy God.

And in Jesus’ death, does He shout bitterness that He would die while innocent of sin?  Does He shout out in anger that the Father abandoned Him?  No, Jesus’ voice is the voice of trusting His father in what appears to be gross injustice.  He simply and beautifully says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  What a wonderful picture of trust.  What hope it should give us and what an empowering example.  None of us will experience any act of abuse like Jesus.  None of will suffer innocently as He did.  None of us will have as just cause to cry out in anger to God.

Oh, we’ll have pain, experience injustice, and hurt, but nothing like Jesus’.  And Jesus so trustingly says, “Your will is hard my Father, but here I am.”  You know the other day I had a chance to ponder this.  I was working through some anger and hurt.  I felt like someone I loved was being seen in a false light.  They were being diminished and put down and criticized for stupid self-righteous reasons.  I was angry.  I asked myself, “What is the Gospel answer to this anger because if I don’t find one, I’m going to verbally hurt this person and enjoy doing it?”

And I was reminded that Jesus was falsely accused for my sake.  In light of that I knew that the offense that bothered, what this other person had done, was nothing compared to what Jesus went through.  I knew the Gospel to comfort my heart and I had to pray, “God, I still don’t know how to do this.  Please help me.  This picture of Jesus is intended to give us hope for our sin and patience for others.

And that Gospel, that trust in God, is a testimony to the world.  Because when Jesus dies with such trust, faith, and dignity, it has an impression.  The Centurion who was tasked with making sure that Jesus died on that cross looked at Him as He died and said, “Surely this man is innocent.”  The Gospel, the trust in God that says you provide for me even in difficulty, the trust in God no matter what, makes impression in this world.  God uses it to soften the heart.  The voice of trust in God when everything around you tells you to trust yourself has a huge impact and testimony.  But this Easter where we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  Let’s look at the voices at that wonderful glorious moment.

Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  6 He is not here, but has risen.  Remember, how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

The women who cared for Jesus go to His tomb to care for His body which was a common practice in that day.  When they get there, the stone has been rolled away.  They are confused.  Has His body been stolen?  Has been disgraced in some way?  What happens now?

But then a voice speaks comfort to them.  Two dazzling angels appear, and their appearance is so amazing that the ladies just fall to the ground as they recognize that they are in the presence of the heavenly.  And the angels offer a gentle but hopeful rebuke.  They ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  Jesus is not here.  He has risen.”

This is the voice that we must keep in our hearts today.  Jesus is not dead though He died.  Jesus is not humiliated though He was.  Jesus is risen.  His resurrection means hope, forgiveness, salvation, and glory for all who have faith in Him.

You know for silly slogans or reducing Christianity to buzzwords, but I will this would be helpful for us to get used to saying in some meaningful way.  And I’ll be careful not to over spiritualize this passage either.  But when we are discouraged or we don’t understand exactly what God is doing, when we are in similar confusing times like these ladies, we need to remind ourselves of this truth.  Ask your heart, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here.  He is risen.”

The resurrection of Jesus means that all injustice will one day be done away with.  Everything will be made right.  Jesus will be glorified.  His children will experience God the Father’s affection face to face with no fear.  All tears will be wiped away.  No hunger.  No pain.  No doubt.  So why seek the living among the dead?

But there is one voice that is even more comforting than the voice of an angel and that is of course the voice of Jesus.  Later on in Luke 24, Jesus appears to the tiny, faithful group of people who actually missed Him.  This is what He said to them.

Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus’ words of comfort should settle into our hearts so we can remind ourselves of these truths over and over again.  Jesus shows up and says, “Listen Gang, the entire OT, the law of Moses, the Psalm, the Prophets, they all spoke of my life, death, and resurrection, and God has been faithful to bring all of those things to life.”  And then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

Now before we go any further, let’s pray that.  Let’s make that true of us.  Dear God, open our minds to understand the scriptures.  Forgive for not even knowing where our Bible is have the time.  Make this wonderful gift that you have given us, have preserved over thousands of years, make those scriptures the very words of life and help us understand them.

And what does Jesus tell them?  Jesus had to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, that day in which we celebrate right here in this moment.  And what should we do with this wonderful truth?  We should proclaim it to the nations.

We should proclaim that repentance (real change away from sin) is met with real forgiveness (the absolute restoration of your soul before God).   And Jesus told them, don’t worry, power from on High will enable you to proclaim this message.  The Holy Spirit, which fell on believers in Acts 2, is the power that God will use to make these truths real to our hearts and empower us to tell the nations.

The voice of the resurrected Jesus wanted them and you to know a few things.  All that Jesus did shows God’s faithfulness to His promises.  Jesus fully satisfies the payment of your sin.  His resurrection is the guarantee of all of God’s promises.  And as you proclaim repentance, God gives you that forgiveness.  Then you have to get off your butt about it.  That job is hard and scary but the Holy Spirit will enable you to do it.

Let me offer all of us a few encouragements from these promises.  Everything that Jesus did in His life, death, and resurrection gave God glory because they were a part of fulfilling God’s promises.  And everything that you will ever need to please God has been undertaken and accomplished in Jesus.  Our part to play in this is to cry out in faith in Jesus and repent of our sin.

Now, let me make a broader application.  Jesus appeared to this tiny group of people.  They hadn’t been incredibly faithful but now they faithfully waited; most of them abandoned Jesus in His moment on the cross.  But Jesus graciously appeared to them anyway.

We are much like they were.  We are not that big of a group, and we haven’t been incredibly faithful – at least not enough to pat ourselves on the back or anything.  We too like them have the hope that the power of the Holy Spirit has come upon us.  In fact, we sit on this side of the story enjoying the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

But we might fall short in obedience in the latter part of Jesus’ promises.  We run the risk of not proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to the nations.  We run the risk of not proclaiming it to our city.  We run the risk of not proclaiming it to our neighborhood.  And some of us run the risk of not proclaiming it to our kids and ourselves.

But that is our call.  That is our commission and that is our job.  We proclaim Jesus to our hearts, our kids hearts, to each other, to this city, and to the world.  Sometimes the church takes on maybe one of those ideas to the exclusion of the others as if God can’t enable us to obey what He has commanded.

For example, some churches become slaves to merely becoming Godly children progenerators.  We so fear that are children are going to grow up and be ungodly that we become slaves to them fearing that if we miss a prayer or if we let someone other than ourselves have influence on them, then they are going to grow up and fall into sin.  We think we are in control instead of God.  And though we are commanded to raise Godly children, we can do that and proclaim Jesus to the nations.  God doesn’t give us an 18 year break from proclaiming Jesus to the nations so we can raise our kids – both can happen simultaneously.

Sometimes the church becomes obsessed with right theology.  We can quote dead theologians to no end, we can root out the heretics and insure ourselves of being theologically safe and astute, and not proclaim Jesus to the nations.  If you take more joy in the smell of an old book than you do the company of your neighbor or co-worker who needs Jesus, repent.  If you place yourself above others, even other Christians, because your theology is correct and theirs off, repent.  You can have correct theology and still proclaim Jesus to the nations.

I could use a myriad of other examples:  We become obsessed with our own perfection and become graceless to those who fall into sin.  We become obsessed with order and cleanliness or health and beauty, correct worship, and on and on.

But we are to do what Jesus commands here.  He is risen, all the scriptures assured it and He brought about our salvation.  So just as that tiny group heard Him, now this tiny group should hear Him.  You have the Holy Spirit.  He enables you, empowers you, and changes you.

We can do this here, we can grow in obedience, we can raise Godly kids, we can have good theology, and all of that.  But let’s get off of our butts and go tell the nations about Jesus.  As one good friend here at SK said, let’s not be as evangelical as mimes.  Open your mouth, say the name of Jesus to someone who desperately needs to know His grace.  And to guide us in that mission, let’s hear one last voice from Luke 24

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  52 And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Jesus lifted His hands up and blessed His children.  And while He did that, He was lifted up into heaven entering God’s presence as the victorious Son who obediently proclaimed the glory of God to sinful mean and women going so far as to win salvation for them.  I would love to know what words Jesus spoke here but He blessed them nonetheless.

And what did they do in response?   What is the proper response to being blessed by the resurrected Savior?  Worship.  They worshipped Him, return to Jerusalem with great joy and continually blessed God in the temple – the temple btw that no longer had a curtain separating them from God.  That is what we are called to do here.  We are called to worship and bless God in light of the resurrected Jesus.  Think of the voices that we have heard here and find yourself among them.

Are you the cynical voice that cries to Jesus, “You can’t save me; you couldn’t save yourself”?  If so, the gracious resurrected Jesus offers you grace and forgiveness.

Are you the faithful voice that cries to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your glory”?  If so, Jesus meets that cry of your heart with, “You will be with me in paradise.”
Are you totally confused, not understanding what God has done looking for the living among the dead?   If so, the angels cry to your heart that Jesus is risen and you can be forgiven and have great hope again.

Are you the few who need to be reminded of the church’s mission again?  Have you become distracted by singularly focusing on one good thing to the neglect of God’s command to tell the nations of Jesus?  If so, the voice of Jesus tells you that repentance and forgiveness are available for your sin and the Holy Spirit will enable you to do more than just one thing – you can raise Godly kids, have correct theology, AND tell the nations about Jesus.

But know, Jesus is risen and has ascended into Heaven and if you have faith in Him, He blesses you in this moment.  He will gift us faith and repentance, perhaps some of you for the very first time.  He will enable you to proclaim this wonderful message to the nations.  He will bless you.  Jesus will do these things for His glory and the glory of the Father.  Hear this wonderful voice:  John 10:10 I have come to give you life and that life will be more abundant than any other life you can imagine.”

April 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for Palm Sunday 2012

Big Picture Question:  What would it look like for you, your family, this church, and this city to unreservedly serve and glorify Jesus Christ?

John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

  • How did Mary serve Jesus?
  • What was Judas’ problem with Mary’s act of service?
  • Why does Jesus receive Mary’s gift?

 9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

  • Why were the crowds looking for Jesus?
  • Why did the Chief Priests want to put Jesus to death?

 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

  • How did the people worship Jesus?
  • How did this moment fulfill a promise of scripture?
  • What do the crowds and Mary have in common?

 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

  • Why did the people glorify Jesus?
  • How did the Pharisees react?
  • How do these verses demonstrate the deferent responses people have to Jesus?
  • Have you ever worshiped Jesus?  If so, why and how?

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

 

Palm Sunday is celebrated each year one week before we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We don’t have too much of a religious calendar here in America, but we do have a few tried and true celebrations.  I mean, we know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, but we take that time each year to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  We know Jesus wasn’t resurrected on April 8th, but we take that time each year, somewhere around there to celebrate the resurrection.  Some churches celebrate Palm Sunday and others don’t.  We do and for this reason.  Palm Sunday gives us a chance to see one of the few times that Jesus was glorified and praised here on earth.  You see Jesus spent most of His ministry being rejected, lied about, and even spat upon.

Palm Sunday shows Jesus being glorified – not just by His disciples but by an entire city.  And if we pay attention, we will see a call to our hearts to glorify Jesus and we will also see a vision that our entire city might do the same.  So this is not going to be a typical sermon with 5 verses and then an explanation.  I want to walk us through an entire chapter of the book of John so that we can see both the context of Palm Sunday and the application of Palm Sunday.  Towards that end, let’s shoot for this

Big Picture Question:  What would it look like for you, your family, this church, and this city to unreservedly serve and glorify Jesus Christ?

To understand what happens in John that would move an entire city to stop and give praise to Jesus while He rode into town on a donkey, we have to see what happened just prior to all of that.  At the beginning of John 12, Jesus came to a town called Bethany.  That was the city where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, so Jesus is famous there.  The city knows that He performs miracles.  They were at Lazarus’ funeral and were at His tomb.  Lazarus was smelly and dead.  His friends still mourned but the city had moved on, and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

So Jesus returns to that city, and of course has a meal with His friends.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus provide an oasis for Jesus in the midst of world where people are either violent hostile to Him or violently curious about Him.  While Jesus is chilling at their table, something interesting happens.  Listen to this:

John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

What we see here is an act of mercy, service, and glory to Jesus.  Mary shows mercy to Jesus by anointing His hard, dirty, tired feet.  Remember, Jesus travels with no luxuries.  We get mad if the AC breaks.  Jesus had nothing, so Mary anointing His feet is an act of mercy.  Washing Jesus’ feet is an act of stark, honest worship.  Women didn’t unbind their hair public and they certainly didn’t give away expensive perfume, but Mary reserves nothing in her worship.  She will give everything away to worship Jesus:  her dignity, her appearance, and her money.It is an act of service because there are so few who appear to want to serve Jesus.  Everyone wants something from Jesus.  Mary wants to give to Jesus.  And it is also an act of giving Jesus glory.  He alone is worthy of praise, and Mary demonstrates that by worshiping Jesus in the humble act.

This is a supreme example of our Big Picture Question.  How do we give glory to Jesus?  We serve Him.  He is our master.  We are His servants.  We submit ourselves to Him.  We offer praise and glory to Him alone.  Now, you would think that Jesus disciples and followers would like what’s going on here.  But another lesson to be learned is that anytime you boldly serve Jesus, someone is going to be boldy offended.  This time, it is from one of Jesus’ disciples.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Judas doesn’t see what Mary is doing as worship.  He doesn’t see the reckless abandoning heart cry that is Mary’s anointing of Jesus.  No, he sees fiscal responsibility.  He says, “Are you kidding me?  That perfume is worth 300 denarii, that’s a year’s worth of money.”  What would Dave Ramsey say about that?  Then he gets pious probably when he realizes that he should have kept his mouth shut.

He says, “I mean you could have fed the poor with that money.”  But the real reason for his anger was that Judas was a thief.  He used to steal money from the disciples money bag and had he known that Mary had that kind of money, he may very well have tried to steal that too.  Jesus’ response is this:  He says, “Let her worship me and you don’t bother her.   There is going to be plenty of time to do the work of the kingdom which is caring for the poor.  Now is the time to worship me because I am about to leave.”

We should notice a couple of things from the examples of Mary and Judas.  The simplest of which is worship Jesus and not money, right?  But that is not how I want to challenge us today.  As desperately as we need to talk about that as a congregation, I’m not going to do that.  Jesus calls you and me for unreserved, abandoning worship and adoration of Him.  There will always be things that will call our attention away.  Some of those things will be good and will be our responsibility like caring for the poor.  Some of the things that will call our attention away will be sinful like the useless things we do to fill our time.  But in that moment and in that very hour, and in this moment and in this very hour, we are called to worship Jesus.

Let’s follow Mary’s example and abandon all reserve and worship Jesus.  Now right after this, people begin to show up.  Remember Jesus is famous in this city so when they hear that He is near, they show up.  The think, “The Circus is in town.”

9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

So everyone is running and flocking to Jesus.  The Jews want to see and touch Him and ask questions of Him.  I’m sure some who have heard of this story want also to see and hear Lazarus and make sure that the rumors they have heard are true.  The Chief Priest doesn’t really like it though.  They were the religious leaders of the Jews and they don’t want the Jews running to anybody but them.  They offered a shell of worship, a mockery of what true adoration of God looked like.

All they want to do is re-secure their power base.  So the chief priests plan to kill Jesus AND Lazarus because so many people are leaving them and following Jesus.  How in the world could anyone think this is Godly?  The chief priests are plotting murder.  Gang, one lesson to be learned here is this:  Cold, dead, lifeless religion that doesn’t change the heart will ultimately move to hatred of Jesus Christ.   Oh the form of religion may use His name, but if your worship isn’t like Mary’s abandoning of the soul, you will eventually hate Jesus and anyone else who loves Him.  The Town of Garner littered with the casualties of such hollow worship.

The Chief Priests hated Jesus so much that they were willing to kill Him and willing to kill His living example of power, Lazarus.  On side note:  Have you ever considered how ridiculous their plan was to kill Jesus?   I mean if He can raise the dead…I mean, what do they hope to accomplish?  If Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, why do they think killing him would help?

You see again, in our understanding of what whole-hearted, unreserved worship of Jesus looks like, we need to learn from opposite example.  No, I don’t think any of you conspired to kill Jesus this week, but the question is, “Was your heart drawn to Him as the wellspring of life?”  “Did you see Jesus and Jesus alone as the sole hope for joy or do you see it coming by your own hand, your own efforts, or your own accomplishments?”  Is where Jesus takes you the only place you want to go whether or not you know or even like where He leads you?

Well, let’s found out again what worship should look like.  Jesus leaves Bethany and heads to Jerusalem.  Jesus isn’t running away from His enemies.  Jesus knew all along that Jerusalem was where He was going and this is where He would ultimately be tried and crucified.  So, look at verse 12.

John 12:12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

What we are seeing here on Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is a picture of the work of the church.  We are to worship Jesus.  And we are to play a part in bringing our city to worship Jesus.

Look at how Jesus is worshipped here – Jesus is so rarely worshipped.  This picture is so refreshing.  Here, finally in this moment, Jesus is proclaimed as King and Savior.  The waving of palm branches in that day was a royal coronation that declared Jesus as King.  The crowd is yelling “Hosanna” which is a word that we can so easily know and sing and say but easily miss the emphasis of.

Hosanna is a proclamation of the heart that declares that God has done something.   The opportunities for Hosanna in your life are countless and endless.  You might have to look for them sometimes, but the work of God is at least displayed in the heavens.  It is displayed whenever you sit and eat.  It is displayed right now and you hear the words of grace preached.

For Jerusalem that day?   God was worthy of a Hosanna because He has brought the King of His people, the God of this World, the Savior of sinners and wrapped Him in the humility of a man riding on a donkey.  And not one ounce of beauty, deity, or power has been lost.  We are to say, Hosanna Jesus has come in the name of the Lord.

Now, there is another way that this Triumphal Entry is a picture of the church.  The church proclaims Jesus as the Savior riding on a Donkey.   The church is to draw in people to worship Jesus.  We are to play a part in gathering in this city, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces to do the same.

And just like in that day, I’m sure some are going to proclaim Jesus as King because He is the answer to their heart’s cry.  Others are going to gather to see the show.  Yet, either way, we are to proclaim Jesus.

In this moment, you should consider ways in which the Kingdom might be advanced by your living out a life of crying “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel”  Renew your heart now.   Remind and rehearse how great God.  Command your heart to praise Jesus and declare Hosannas.  Ask God to give you an infectious desire to praise God that catches with every single person you bump into so that others in this city might do the same.

Now in this moment, this incredible mind-blowing example of an entire city coming out to worship Jesus, you know who doesn’t get it?   The very people who should have gotten it:  the disciples.  Look at verse 16

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

What the disciples don’t understand here is Jesus being praised for being King.  Oh, they want Him to be king alright.  They still have desires of Jesus being a political king that will overthrow the pagan Roman government that is occupying Israel.

The book of John, being the last Gospel written, explains though that once Jesus died, rose again, and showed Himself glorified, they understand the true nature of Jesus’ kingship.  But at that moment, they didn’t understand the palm waving.  What’s going on here in this passage is larger and greater than any human inauguration the world has ever seen.  The King of Sinners has arrived.  Praise Him.  Overthrowing hostile Romans is too small of a picture for this king.  He is going to overthrow sin and death.

Now verse 17 tells us that the crowd with Jesus and His disciples have been with Him since He raised Lazarus from the dead, and they continue to tell everyone what Jesus has done.  What might they be saying?  Is this the one who was promised?  We know he has the power over death.  Guys, this has got to be the one who we have waited for for so long.  He is the cry of our hearts.

And their testimony is effective.  People are flocking to hear this message.  Gang, what would it look like if your heart valued and treasured Jesus like this?  What if you thought of Jesus as the hope of your heart?  What if you couldn’t help but speak of His majesty and beauty?  I can tell you what would happen and what might happen.  What would happen would be Jesus lifted up, glorified and God praise.  What would happen is that you would have more peace than you could ever imagine.  What might happen would be your home, this church, and this city might just be transformed.

And as always, when Jesus is praised, opposition arises.  So many people are responding that the Pharisees are losing hope.  They say to one another, “Great.  We’ve been fighting this guy for 3 years, and we’ve gained nothing.  It looks like whole world has gone after Him.  You see what is effective here?  People aren’t running around speaking about their subjective experiences that can be argued and disputed.  Though there is a time and place for those types of testimonies, the people of Jesus’ day keep it simple.  They speak about who Jesus Christ is.  They are speaking about what He has done.

They don’t let the conversation change subjects because the subject is Jesus.  They don’t get caught up in political discussion.  They speak about Jesus.  This is powerful testimony.

Gang, if you have wondered why more people don’t come to know Jesus around you.  If you have ever wondered why people disregard your testimony.  If you have ever wondered why you love drama and have to create crisis to feel important.  If you have wondered why you love your sin so much.  If you have ever wondered why this church doesn’t grow faster, I can tell you in least in part.

In the part, the answer is that we aren’t talking about Jesus enough.  Jesus is always the main thing, and we must keep the main thing the main thing.

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Obviously, all of this talk about Jesus is attracting attention, and not just from curious Jews looking for a King or Messiah.  The Greeks with their entire pantheon of gods have heard of Jesus.  Even, they want to know who He is.  So they ask Philip, and Philip gets Andrew and they went to tell Jesus that I guess the Pharisees were right.  Maybe the whole world is asking about Jesus because even those pagan Greeks are here.

But Jesus, as always, surprises.  He doesn’t run to tell all the Greeks about Himself.   No, He makes a declaration:  He says, “It is time.  Now is the hour for the Son of man to be glorified.  Jesus uses the title “Son of Man’ here to identify Himself with us.   The Redeemer of fallen men and women, His time has now come to be glorified.

Now, when we hear that, perhaps we think, ‘No longer will Jesus be humiliated or rejected,” but that is exactly the means by which He will be glorified.  To explain that Jesus casts a powerful image.  I can imagine Jesus looking out at a wheat field.  He says, “The only way you get that kind of harvest is if the grain seed falls to the ground…and dies.”

Now before we go any further, Jesus uses the very workings of nature to illustrate that if He is going to truly reign as King, then He must die.  For Jesus ultimately to be glorified, He must die.  But I don’t think Jesus’ point is merely to illustrate the nature of His Rule.  It is also to point out the nature of  how YOU should live.

I mean Jesus tells us that we must pick up our cross and follow Him doesn’t He?  According to Jesus, if you love your life here in this earth?  Then you are going to have to lose it.  But if you hate your life here on this earth?  Then you will have eternal life.

Jesus’ point is so radical I dare say I don’t know very many human beings who come close to living it out.  Your desire to follow Jesus, your affection for Him should be so great, that it should be the central interest of your life.  And the degree to which you follow Him should make it look like you don’t give a damn about your own personal life.

Does that mean you don’t care for yourself or raise your children?  Of course not.  Does that mean you don’t care for yourself?  Of course not.  The thing is, you care for yourself, you raise your children, you do all of these things, but you don’t do those things for personal, selfish reason.  But we aren’t slaves to raising our children, we aren’t slaves to our body…we aren’t slaves to anything or anyone but Jesus.  You raise your kids, take care of yourself, etc, you do those things because you are hopelessly attracted to, devoted to, and in love with the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

The central frustration of many of your lives though is that God has not made your life what you want it to be.  You want easier, simpler, healthier, richer, and on and on.  That is not what we are called to.  We are called to follow Jesus to such an extent that those worries don’t measure up to the concern we have for proclaiming and giving affection to Jesus Christ.  It should look like we hate this life because we love the next.  It should look like we have died and been reborn.

Have you ever seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”?   In that move, the main character Andy Dufrense offers this wise advice to us:  “Either get busy living or get busy dying.”  If you want to follow and serve Jesus, if you want your family and this church to follow and serve Jesus, if you want this city to follow and serve Jesus, then you have to follow and serve His example:  You have to crucify your life for the Glory of God.

Where Jesus would have you go with the message of the Gospel, that is where you go to the sacrifice of every other personal desire.  Home, school, work, neighborhood, city, church.  You say, “Gordon, that is too hard.  Jesus demands too much.”  And sympathetically but honestly I’ll tell you, “Since when did you think that Jesus demanded less, that He didn’t demand everything?”

Here is what I think is going on here at SK right now.  I think most of us are going through the very painful process of our lives falling to the ground and we are painfully watching ourselves die.  Some of you have dreams of greater work and employment.  Some of you have dreams a healthier life.  Some of you have dreams of more children.  Some of you have dreams of a better lifestyle.

And you know what, those dreams are not inherently bad.  In fact, they can be pretty nice.  But here is the thing.  Do you want Jesus more than all of them?  Are you satisfied with Jesus alone?  If you never get a better job, if your health never improves, if you never get married, or never have kids, or your lifestyle never improves, is Jesus alone enough?  If the answer is, “No, He is not enough,” then I imagine you are going through the very painful process of watching those dreams die.

So, you might ask, “Well, what then?  What is the solution?”  I will make very clear for you.  Take every desire you have in this world, good bad or indifferent.  Lay them at the feet of Jesus Christ.  And pray you can say this, “Jesus you are enough for me.  I love you so much that if I never get desire one in this world, I resolve to live happily because I have Jesus Christ as my Savior.  If you bless me with even one of these desires, I’ll say thanks, but if you bless me with none, my heart is satisfied in you.”

Until your heart can pray that prayer, your effectiveness as a child of God in terms of loving Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, and serving in the name of Jesus is going to be diminished.  In fact, I’ll will say until Jesus is ALL you want, you will not be effective.  The beautiful thing is this:  we aren’t giving up anything if we give our earthly desires to Jesus.  He is more than our souls could ever dream of and more beautiful and gracious and wonderful than our hearts desires.  The way up this Palm Sunday is the way down.  The way to life this Palm Sunday is death.  The way to know joy and happiness is to kill the competing idols in your heart that would take Jesus’ place on the throne.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:19ff

Big Idea:  Obedience completes faith

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

  •  Foolish is a word we don’t use very often.  The Bible uses it to make very strong points.  Why does James think it is foolish for a person to have faith in Jesus but not have obedience (works) as well?

 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

  • Read Genesis 22 together as a family.
  • What was Abraham commanded to do?   Think of all the reasons it was hard for him to obey.
  • How did his obedience demonstrate his faith?

 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.

  • How do works complete faith?
  • What does God count as righteousness?
  • How does verse 23 show us we are saved by faith alone?

 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

  • Justified means “proven to be true” in this case.  How is a person justified by works?

 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

  • Read Joshua 2, 6 to understand the story of Rahab.  How was her faith made clear by works?

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

  • Can a body live without the spirit?  Can a faith live without works?
  • How connected are faith and works in your life?

In a marriage, or really any other relationship, you move ahead on faith and trust.  You find yourself, at some point and time, just saying, “I think I know these things to be true.  I think he loves me or I think she loves me.  I think I can trust my thoughts, feelings, and time with this person.  But when it comes down to it, you really have to faith that they will care for you and that they love you.  That step of faith is one of the reasons people refuse to commit to a marriage and one of the reasons why people hop out of marriages when they are hurt.  Once trust is trust is broken, it is hard to reestablish.

But everyone now and then you have the opportunity to witness some incredibly selfless act by that person and you know they truly do love you.  Maybe they forgive you when you really don’t deserve it.  Maybe they make some great sacrifice for your good.  Maybe they put up with your stupid junk over and over again so that you can go to work or to go school or meet some other commitment.  When folks do that, when they selflessly love you, it is like that moment completes and confirms the faith you have in them.  In the best of situations, it should move you to want to love and serve that person in return.  Why are those things true?  Simply, they pattern the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 4: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Jesus faithfully obeyed to the point of death.  Now we faithfully obey to the point of death if necessary.  That obedience completes our faith, brings it to its fullest and most sincere sense.  Let’s see if we can understand more deeply as we approach the Book of James this week with this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  Obedience completes faith?

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.  24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

As always, let’s try to set these things into their proper context.  James is making the point to everyone person who claims faith in Jesus that true faith in Him will result in obedience.  Faith in Jesus is such a powerful thing that you have no choice but to obey.  Your faith in Jesus is a result of God transforming your heart from death to life.  You are gifted with a love of Jesus and a desire to serve Him and obey Him.  James has made the point in the past few weeks that if you don’t find a desire to serve and obey Jesus going on, then you should check and make sure that you have a genuine faith in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus is not just “save me” but also “change me.”  Any person who claims faith in Jesus but does not find their heart changed is told by James, that faith is dead; its non-existent.

So we ended last week trying to present a glorious picture of Jesus knowing that the great saints of the scripture were transformed by that glory, that cried out in faith and God enabled them to obey.  Moses saw the glory of God and was transformed from murderer to the leader of the people of God.  Isaiah saw the glory of God and cried out “Here I am, send me.”  Peter saw the glory of God and went from a denier of Christ to the preacher whose sermon led thousands of people to Christ.  So now, we return to James who continues to give even more examples of what it looks like to be transformed by faith.

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

James is using some pretty harsh language here.  Language that would merit some form of discipline in my house.  I mean if James said that at my house, he would lose polly pockets or lose computer time or something.  Why does James get to use such harsh language as calling someone foolish?  Well, James is very much a NT prophet calling people to faith and repentance, which is always really the same thing.  He is asking this question:  Do you really want to find out if you can have faith in Jesus without obedience?  Because if you think that you have faith in Jesus and you don’t see Jesus transforming you, then you are a fool.  Faith in Jesus is that powerful and that transformative.

Trusting your own way, your own works, your own life thinking that faith in Jesus doesn’t transform is foolish.  Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  James doesn’t want you, me, or anyone else to think that they can have faith in Jesus and not be changed to grow in obedience and gradually become more like Jesus.  So with that in mind, James declares one of the most controversial passages in all of the scriptures in verse 21.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

James declares that Abraham was justified by works.  What in the world?  Well, let’s understand the example so that we can understand the application.  In Genesis 12, God made a bunch of promises to Abraham.  You see, Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and had apparently given up any hopes of having kids.  God promised not only to give them a child but to make an entire nation of people to worship God out of the child they would have.

An amazing promise:  to an old, infertile couple, God promises not only a child but to do great things through that child.  Well through a series of twists and turns and even a few gross acts of disobedience, God gives them that child, and his name was Isaac.  And then God really decides to test Abraham’s faith.

In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham in this way.  “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
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Abraham obeyed, and just before he sacrificed Isaac, God spared Isaac and even provided a sacrifice in Isaac’s place.  Abraham proved his faith in God by obeying, especially when he no idea what God was going to do.  James say that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac.  So what does that mean?  And doesn’t Paul say that Abraham was NOT justified by his works.  I mean listen to Romans 4

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

So Paul says that Abraham was not justified by his works and James says he was.  What are we going to do?  Doesn’t this contradiction pull apart so much of the truth of scripture and if it a contradiction, shouldn’t we all just go home here because we are wasting our time?  Fortunately, James explains what he means by saying Abraham was justified by his works.  Listen to verse 22.

22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;

James is not using the word “justified” in the same sense that Paul talks about being justified.  Paul is talking about the legal justification of Abraham’s faith and relationship before God and James is talking about the outworking justification of Abraham’s life and faith before men.  Paul is saying, “Faith in Jesus alone assures justification or the repair of relationship between God and Abraham.  James is saying the justification or the proof that those things have happened comes by the evidence of Abraham’s works and obedience before the rest of the world.

That is why in verse 22, James tells us that Abraham’s faith was active along with his works.  His obedience completed his works.  Gang, a ton of people profess faith in Jesus.  A ton of people have had “experiences” or walked an aisle or raised their hand with their eyes closed and they are counting on those moments of faith to save them or forgive them.  James is trying to make the point that you don’t count on that moment.  If you want to be sure, then look at your life and examine to see elements of an active faith like Abraham’s.

Do you see your faith actively moving you to obey?  Do you see your faith completed by your works?  Do you see your faith justified by a real transformation that is taking place?  None of those these replace the fact that you are forgiven and justified by God by faith in Jesus alone.  Obedience just shows that a real faith in present.  That is why James goes on to say in verse 23

23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.

You see, James is making it clear.  God counts our faith as righteousness.  He gifts it to us, and Abraham’s declaration of faith in God and our declaration of faith in Jesus is counted as righteous by God.  By faith, we become the friends of God, not by anything we do but by the outward declaration of faith that God gifts us with.  And as soon we start to get it, then James goes schizophrenic on us in vs 24

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Okay, James, which one is it?  How are you using the word justified and what are you trying to tell us?  Well, remember, James is explaining to us that our works complete our faith.  Another way of saying that is that our works bring our faith to maturity.  Our obedience is the outward justification of our inward faith.

Oh, you are justified before God by faith alone.  James just said that when he quoted and said “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.  So you are justified or made right before God by faith.  Your faith is justified by obedience in the here and now.  Do you have saving faith?  Then James says and has said, “Prove it.”  Love others.  Show mercy.  Demonstrate you know mercy by showing it to others.

Follow the pattern of Abraham.  Trust God in what He commands even when you don’t understand how or what God has called you to do in obedience.  Right now, I know several folks who are in situations that are completely contrary to what scripture has commanded.  They know this.  They admit this to me.  The reason they don’t obey?  Obedience would be hard.  It would be hard financially to obey.  It would be hard relationally to obey.  James would say, “Hey demonstrate you know transformative faith by obeying.”  Your faith justifies you before God.  Your obedience justified you before man.  To help us understand that, James gives another example and this one is much more radical than the example of Abraham.  James gives us the example of a prostitute and how her faith was made evident by her obedience.  How’s that for an example?  Listen to verse 25.

25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

You guys familiar with this story?  If not let me give you a refresher.  Joshua 2 tells the story of Rahab.  Here’s the skinny.  God is about to send the people of God into the land that He promised them way back to Abraham in Genesis.  Joshua, the leader who took over after Moses died, sends a few spies into the land to see what it is like.  Well, obviously if you are spy looking at a land occupied by other people, you can’t just show up and say, “Hey God gave me this land, can you guys pack up and head out?”  You are going to need a place to stay, and what better place to hide out in than, oh I don’t know, a whorehouse?  When soldiers come looking for the spies, Rahab hides them on her roof and thus saves their lives.  The next thing we know, Rahab is completely pagan and from a foreign land begins to speak of Yahweh and faith in Yahweh.  In Joshua 2, she tells the spies this:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

Rahab’s professesion of faith has some very key elements.  She recognizes God’s sovereign right to do as He will (vs 9)  She admits submitting to God (vs 11)  She asks for mercy (vss 12-13)

She then shows great faith and care in these spies entrusting not only her life to them but the life of her family.  She then enables the spies to flee and she sets up a scarlet cord that hangs from her window.  When the raid on the land happens, that cord will be sign of her faith and she and her household will be saved.

Rahab’s faith was made complete by her actions.  Of course she didn’t want her home raided and her family put to death.  It would have been easy for her to say “Oh yeah, I believe in Yahweh.”  But she evidenced that she had faith.  Her actions of care for the spies and the risk she put her family through to spare them justified her declared faith.  Her faith in God was thorough and had thorough, complete, and sufficient actions to show that she truly believed in God.  And James says, “Yep, her works showed that she had faith.  So once again, James wants to tell us that very same thing in verse 26:

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James makes one more analogy to help us understand his point.  And I want us to get this well because next week, James going to us in a brand new direction.  It is like the end of chapter 2 here is the end of complete thought:  one that we at least need mentally master before going forward.  James says, Look at the body.   What makes the body alive is the spirit of a person.   When a person a dies, the spirit departs – the body is just empty flesh.  Unfortunately, and as popular as they are right now – there are no zombies.

There are not inhabited bodies walking around with no spirit.  So just as that is true, so if you claim to have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, and you don’t see God transforming you and making you more like Jesus through obedience, then you faith is dead.  Its non-existent.  This is explained for us really well in Romans 6, so let’s pull up a chair and spend the rest of our time there.  You see what James is telling us about the surety of obedience, Paul explains for us in Romans 6.  Paul explains the engine that makes your transformation in obedience sure.

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Theologically, this teaching is called our “Union with Christ” and it is the engine by which every promise of God comes to you.  Verse 5:  when Jesus died as a penalty for disobedience and sin, you die.  Your payment for sin is paid by faith.  When Jesus was resurrected and brought back to life, your life with God was promised; you have gone from death to life.  But the promise of transformation continues.  Look at verse 6  Not only is your payment for sin completed in Jesus’ death, your old self, the one that was a slave to sin before Jesus, that old self dies as well.  Through Jesus’ work and your faith in Him, you have a new nature.  You are no longer a slave to sin; you are slave to righteousness.  Your faith in Jesus guarantees that you will obey.

So verse 9 explains to us that Jesus’ death for sin is sufficient for everything you need.  Jesus will never die again and you will never have to die for sin again.  Your faith in Jesus insures that you will never ever have to pay the penalty of your sin because Jesus sufficiently paid for it.  As a result, when you think about sin, disobedience, and temptation, tell yourself verse 11:  I am dead to sin.  I am alive to God.  I am in Jesus Christ.  These are hopes, these are more than promises, they are assurances.  They are true of every believer in Jesus.

You can see why James is adamant.  If you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, you will have no choice, you can have great hope, you will obey and be like Jesus.  Dead to sin.  Alive to God.  Look at verse 12

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Paul makes this command to us.   When you see sin in your life, don’t let it reign, don’t let it run rampant.  Don’t obey the temptation that come with your passion.  Verse 13 reiterates that thought.  It tells us, now that you are “in Christ Jesus” now that your penalty for sin is His and His goodness is yours, don’t present your self to sin anymore.  Present yourself to God.   Walk before God has one who has been brought through death and now walks in life.  Present your body as an instrument – a tool – to be used for righteousness – a means by which God will show forth His glory to you and to the world.

Literally, spend your moments presenting yourself, in every moment of every day, as instrument of righteousness.  When you wake up and get in the shower, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you take your kids to school or get your gets ready for school, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you walk into work, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you do laundry, go for a run, check your email, get a cup of coffee, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.

According to this passage, sin isn’t supposed to reign, righteousness is.  You are no longer helpless.  God can enable you to obey.  You will obey.  So wake up each day and present yourself in each of your circumstances as instrument of righteousness to be used by God.  No agenda other than God’s.  Gang, this is a concluding point in the book of James.  Chapter 3 isn’t disconnected but it is a new point, so let’s take a second to recapture what James has emphasized to us.  So much of Christianity has gotten these verses wrong for so long.  I’m not saying we are the ones who get it right.  I’m saying we are the ones who have the opportunity to get it right.  Not because we are special but because we are sitting here right now looking at the truths of scripture that can and will transform us.

Galatians 3: It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

March 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 2:17-19

Big Idea:  Jesus wants more for you than you can imagine.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

·    James describes a conversation between two people about the nature of their relationship with Jesus.  How does each describe their relationship?
·    Verse 17 says that “Faith without Works is Dead,” which side do you think James is on?

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

·    How does James says we should demonstrate our faith?
·    What is the difference between demonstrating your faith and speaking about your faith?
·    What then is the place of talking about your faith?

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

·    How do demons believe the same thing that a Christian does?
·    Why doesn’t their belief save?
·    How then does your belief save?

How in the world does the world know you have faith in Jesus Christ?  With Biblical commands like “Go into the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28), “Let your light so shine” (Matthew 5), and You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5), you and I, and anyone else who claims faith in Jesus Christ, are not given the option of having a private faith.  Faith in Jesus is an outward demonstration and active proclamation of faith before the world with the intention of bringing attention to and glory to Jesus.

So how then does the world know that you have faith in Jesus?  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus by all the things you don’t do anymore?  Don’t drink; don’t smoke; what do you do?  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus because you are an expert at pre-suppositional apologetics or you that you memorized the book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”?  You can argue with the best of them.  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus because you go to work everyday, work hard, live a quiet life, and you hope that your “witness” will be enough to make people wonder?  Or do you just not give it a second’s thought.  Maybe you just want to be forgiven and you desperately hope no one ever asks you about Jesus.

I think in my life I have swung from pretty much all points on the pendulum.  When I was 16, I lost pretty much every friend I ever had because I was so confrontational about Jesus.  I wanted everyone to know what I believed, and I wanted everyone to know what I thought was sin and what I thought was wrong.  That didn’t work out too well for me.

At one point, I swung all the way to other side of the pendulum.  When Amy and I were married, somewhere along our second year of marriage, we just took a year off.  We went to church sporadically.  We didn’t really study our Bible, didn’t really pray.  I was much more concerned with making money than I was about making disciples or telling people about Jesus.

When I went to seminary, I’m afraid I fell into the academic trap.  If you didn’t have an intellectual, theological response to my questions, I would belittle you.  Even if you did have an intellectual, theological, response to my questions, I would still belittle you if you didn’t agree with my view point.  I still have regrets about the damage some relationships took during that time.

Where am I now?   Whew.  I still have theological discussions, but they aren’t my first line defense any more.  There are times when I’m silent about Christ and times when I’m vocal.  I’m much more concerned with establishing a relationship with a person long before I begin preaching to them.  Is this the best way to go about sharing the Gospel?  I don’t know.  We’ll figure it out.  I just don’t want to belittle or demean anyone anymore.

And Jesus doesn’t give me the option of being silent about my faith either.  Fortunately, James this week is going to speak about what it should look like for us to share and demonstrate to the world that we know Jesus Christ.  It is one of those passages of scripture where both extroverts and introverts will think James is stating their case.  Extroverts are going to hear and think, “Get out there and show Jesus,” and introverts are going to hear and think, “Get out there and show Jesus.”

No matter where you fall personality wise, James wants us to know this:  This whole sharing of Jesus is not easy.  It is not just trying to convince someone to think differently or believe differently.   Reducing faith in Jesus to mere belief is fallacy, it is error.  And sharing Jesus is a heck of a lot more than just trying to get someone to walk an aisle and make a decision for Christ.  God can use those things, but faith in Jesus is much more than that.  So with that in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea this week:  Big Idea:  Mere belief in Jesus is not enough to save.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Let’s set all of this into context.  Over the last few weeks, you can summarize James’ argument this way.  James says that the worship that God accepts is for us to reflect the mercy we know by showing mercy to others and doing it in a way that you don’t comprise Biblical convictions.  How do we do that?  James says, “Simple.  Love others as much as you love yourself.  That’s how God did it.  He gave you Jesus, so you go give yourself to others.”  And last week, James went so far as to say if you aren’t doing that, your faith won’t save you.  Faith without the evidence of obedience and works is a dead faith that won’t save.

That’s how powerful faith in Jesus is.  Once you completely cast your life onto Him, He promises to change you.  You have no other choice.   Look for real Gospel change and find real faith.   Look for real faith and find real Gospel change.

So this week, James continues with the theme of what the transformed life in Jesus is supposed to look like.  In verse 18 he says, James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

What we find here is James imagining a conversation between two people who claim to be Christians.  He wants to set the context of his point and he does it by creating a hypothetical argument between two people who say they have faith in Jesus.  One person is saying that they merely have faith in Jesus, and another is saying, “Well, I have works because of Jesus.”

What’s going on here?   Well James is trying to place two choices in front us.  Essentially, James is describing what different people think salvation looks like.  So we definitely need to make sure we understand the distinction that James is making.  First of all, James is not saying that the two options are salvation by faith alone verses salvation by works or earning your way before God.  We know that because the passage we looked at last week was talking about a faith that must evidence itself in a changed life.  James has made it clear:  Faith alone in Jesus saves, but if you have faith in Jesus, you will be changed.

So the two people in this rhetorical conversation are arguing this way.  One of them says that they have faith in Jesus but that faith is not really showing any evidence of a changed life.  Basically, they believe in Jesus but that belief has not grown in obeying Jesus.  And they are okay with this.  This is the “Yeah, I became a Christian when I was a little kid.  I walked the aisle, confessed my sins and asked Jesus into my heart.  I got baptized the next Sunday.” Person.  But, there is no real evidence or any real significant change where this person is actively trying to obey, actively trying to worship, and actively trying to grow in Godliness.  The second person has faith in Jesus as well.  However, the difference between this guy and the other is that their belief in Jesus has changed them and is changing them.  They now obey, do good works and good deeds.  They actively seek to know Christ in a deeper way and they actively seek to have that knowledge change them in obedience.

James wants us to wrestle with these two perspectives on knowing Jesus.  Why?  Because this is a real issue.  It was real issue in James’ day & it is in our day as well.  And eternity hangs in the balance.  You see, a lot people will say, “Well I believe in Jesus.  I walked the aisle when I was a kid or I asked Jesus into my heart,” or they will have some experience that they are counting on to count as security for their relationship with Jesus.  And many of those very same folks will not evidence a transformed heart or a transformed life.

What’s going to happen to them?  Are they resting on a real, sure foundation of faith or have they been duped?  James does not want anyone to be duped or anyone to trust something that is unsure.  Salvation and forgiveness do come by faith alone, but as James has said, that faith, if it is a genuine faith, never remains alone.  Faith in Jesus must and will and is guaranteed to change you.  You must be different than you were before knowing Jesus and you must be different from people who do not know Jesus.  Not because you are incredible and powerful but because Jesus is.  It is not a matter of self-righteous or of saying, “I’m better than you.”

Faith in Jesus just changes you.  There is not choice in the matter.  The transformation in scriptures is described in this way.

·    Romans 6 – You were buried in death before you had faith.  You are raise to life after you have faith in Jesus.
·    Romans 6 – You were a slave to sin before you had faith.  You are a slave to righteousness after you have faith in Jesus.
·    2 Corinthians 5 – After you have faith in Jesus the old passes away and you become a new creation
·    2 Corinthians 5 – You were outside and away from God before you had faith.  You are in Christ after you have faith in Jesus.
·    2 Corinthians 3 God’s glory was veiled to you before you had faith.  God’s glory has been revealed to you after  you have faith in Jesus.
·    Galatians 2:  You lived for yourself before you had faith.  You live for Christ after you have faith in Jesus.

And Biblically we could go on and on with the difference that having faith in Jesus makes.  James’ point is that you cannot say, “I have faith in Jesus but no works.”  That isn’t faith because faith in Jesus must results in works.  He makes that abundantly clear in the second half of verse 18.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

One way or the other, real genuine faith in Jesus is going to be made clear and evidence itself in some way.  And if someone is saying they have faith in Jesus without growing in obedience, James puts them to the test.  He is saying, “Well, if you want to tell me you have faith in Jesus, great, but what I’m counting on is that I can demonstrate my faith, and I’ll count on that.”

Now, how is this not the most arrogant conversation ever presented in scripture?  Well, remember James is making a rhetorical argument.  He is not suggesting any of us go around have debates like this.  He is however recommending to us that we examine our own hearts in light of this hypothetical discussion.  James is asking you and me this question.  If the world were to look at you, would they know that you are a believer in Jesus Christ?  By what would they make their judgment?

Well, I would offer there are a couple of very practical reasons why James is offering this line of thinking.  First, he intends for Christians to be absolutely assured of their salvation.  He doesn’t want anyone to be deceived into thinking they have genuine faith and found out that they don’t when it is too late.  And secondly, he intends for the world that does not know Jesus to have a clear picture of who Jesus is and he wants to that to happen through the changed lives of Christians.  Let me walk you through each one of those purposes.

Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25, one that came up for us just a few weeks ago, but it bears on this portion of James as well.  In that story, Jesus is describing His return and how all the world will eventually be sifted before Him.  He says that He will return in glory which means that Jesus will return as the exalted Savior   And this is what Jesus says He is going to do.  He is going to take all of humanity, every human being in the existence of the world, and divide them on his left and on his right.  He will look at those on His right and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

They of course will ask, “When did we do all of these things for you?”  And Jesus will say, “Any time that you have cared for someone, you have by default cared for me.  Then Jesus will look at everyone on His left, and He will say, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

And they of course will say, “When did we see you in need and pass you over?”  And Jesus will say, “Whenever you didn’t care for people in need, you didn’t care for me.”  Now how in the world can Jesus demand such things of His servants?  So you know how many needy people there are in this world?  If I spent that much time taking care of people, I wouldn’t have any time for…I don’t know, I wouldn’t have time to worry about my own problems.  Hmm.  Maybe you are on to something.

You know I had a conversation the other day, and this time it was with someone at SK.  He and I were doing a couple of projects together and pondering just what it takes to see the Gospel of Jesus grow.  These were his thoughts.  He wondered, “Maybe we have backwards.  Maybe we spend so much time running back and forth our kids, taking them to dance and sports and everything else, that we really miss out on serving folks and telling them about Jesus.  He admitted that there is absolutely nothing wrong with kid extracurricular activities, but then in one of those absolutely revolutionary moments he thought, “What if we tried to help our kids grow and mature by serving others instead of signing up for every single thing in the world?”

Its daunting isn’t it?  You hear that, and I bet there is more than one of you who goes, “Huh, maybe that would be better than running mom’s bus service for multiple kids doing multiple sports, dance, drama, whatever.”  But then American guilt kicks in and you think, “Well, we’ll make time for that but I want my kid to get into a good school…”  And the idea of serving others trails off just like that sentence.  Gang, there is nothing wrong with extra-curricular activities (please hear me on that), and hear me, “There is nothing wrong with hobbies and interests.”  But Jesus in Matthew 25 and James in this week’s passage says this:  You should know you have faith and the world should know you have faith in Jesus by the fact that the mercy you know is evidence in the mercy you show.  That is THE most important thing.   THE most important thing.

James is saying, “You will know if you are saved, and other people will have a sense that you are saved by the fact that you evidence a transformed life.”  You will evidence a transformed conscience.  You will show a desire to know Jesus more intimately.  Studying the Bible and praying will become part of your life.

Those things will be part of your new life, but those things aren’t the examples that Jesus gives and those are the examples that James has been giving either.  No, they emphasize showing mercy as evidence of a transformed life.  Feeding the hungry.  Visiting the lonely.  Clothing the naked.  And lots of other faith stretching activities.

Now at this point, we might all be squirming a bit.  Like I said last week, I’m not trying to make anyone doubt their salvation.  I want people to look at their heart and look at their faith, and ask, “Is God changing me?”  Don’t ask, “Am I perfect,” or “Am I more Godly than the person beside me?”   Ask, “Is God slowly but surely changing me to be like Jesus?

But even then, the heart struggles a bit.  You say wait a minute.  I know I’m growing because look all the theology I know or I can quote lots of old dead guys or the Westminster Confession of Faith (which a work of theology not a dog show btw).  And let me say this carefully and try not to be a hypocrite.  You see our denomination rightly values theological depth.  You can’t be a pastor in the denom without a Master’s Degree and you have to have studied Greek and Hebrew.  You can’t be an elder or a deacon without passing theological exams.  We value getting it right.

But we can have the most orthodox doctrine in the world and completely miss out on Jesus if we are not careful.  James tells us that exact thing.   Listen to verse 19

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James says, “Oh you believe in God and that He is one?  Great.  Demons believe that too and they shudder because they know that they will ultimately and one day suffer punishment in hell.  Now, this is odd.  Why does James pick this particular statement of belief?

Well, this quote about God being one?  It’s taken directly from Deuteronomy 6 where God announces Himself to the people of God surrounding the presentation of the 10 Commandments.  God said this:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

The Israelites called this announcement of God, “the Shema”.  They would pray “The Lord our God the Lord is one,” at least twice a day.  And the truly devoted would make it the first and last words that their children would hear in a day.  It was the height of religious expression and the height or orthodoxy.  The really devout and religious Israelites of the day would use the Shema, the pronouncement that “God is one” as the theological standard of Godliness.  This is like the banner of saying, “I’m a 5 point Calvinist” or “I’m Reformed” or “I’m confessional” or whatever other theologically precise category that folks like to claim.

Well James says, “Don’t pat yourself on the back because you are theologically sound.”   Demons have correct theological thoughts.   The most evil spawn of Satan, the most evil demon you can imagine in all of existence, doesn’t have a theology or a belief problem.    As some of have said, “The Devil thinks more right thoughts about God in a day than you will in your entire life.  They know who God is.  They believe who He is.  Their problem, Satan’s or any demons, the problem is not their theology.  It is not their orthodoxy.  It is their orthopraxy.  It demonstrates that they do not have a saving faith but a belief that leads them into greater sin.

James is essentially asking you, “Who cares how incredible your theology is if it doesn’t result in a transformed life?”  And James specifically wants you to know that your faith must evidence itself in a transformed life beyond yourself.  He has spent all of chapter 2 so far telling us that the expression of your faith must result in showing mercy to others.

Listen, I love theology.  I have given years of my life to the study of theology and reading guys whose names can barely be pronounced.  But none of that matters if I don’t grow in loving the Lord with all my heart soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  Forgive the running analogy, but theology is like water.  You have got to have water to survive.  Some studies say that the overwhelming majority of people today walk around dehydrated because of the amount of caffeine we all drink.  But you can drink all the water in the world and that does not mean you can run a marathon. Oh if you run a marathon, you better drink water, and lots of it.  You have to water.  But water itself is not going to cause you to run 26.2 miles.

Theology is water.  Theology is about belief, and you have to have correct faith and belief in God – all eternity rests on it.  If your faith is in someone or something other than how God has presented Himself in the scriptures, then you are trusting someone or something other than God.   But know this:  it is possible to have a correct belief in who God is and not have salvation.  James says a saving faith in Jesus will result in obedience, works, and acts of mercy.  James say, “Take that water, train, and run a marathon.”  Test and see if your faith is real by putting into action.

Now this is typically the point in the sermon when I try to get you guys to focus in specifically on a direct application of the sermon.  I like direct application.  I think they lead to direct results…but not always.  Sometimes, pastorally, I think either I’m not clear or you guys don’t believe what I’m saying or maybe God is preventing us from going forward.   And other times, I just don’t know.  In discussing this, the lovely talented Amy gave me an article to read on just that topic.  It was so clear that I have just copied a part of it and am going to use it as our conclusion.  Pull up a seat and listen in on this article from Trevin Wax.

A pastor recently asked this question: “We’ve got people getting together who study the Scriptures but aren’t involved in reaching out to their community with the gospel.  “How can I get them motivated?”  In response, I mentioned how our natural tendency as church leaders is to reinforce the commands related to our mission, to tell people again and again what they should be doing. We think, “If they aren’t reaching out to represent and proclaim Christ, they must not know what to do” But is this really the case? In my experience, the problem isn’t that we’ve forgotten our responsibility to love our neighbor and share the gospel.  The problem is that even when we know what our duty is, we still don’t do it.  That’s why I’m convinced that focusing most of your teaching on our missional duty isn’t the best way to motivate people to serve Christ long-term.  It may result in some initial fruit, but it doesn’t affect the heart-change necessary for long-lasting obedience.

So what to do?  Exalt God. Magnify His holiness. Praise His greatness. Exult in His grace.  Set the magnificent, majestic God of the Bible before your people week after week, and pray that they will encounter Him for who He is. Why? Because it’s an encounter with an awesome God that motivates us to mission.

Case in point: our biblical heroes. As you read through the Bible, you’ll notice that whenever people come face to face with God’s greatness, the next scene often shows them on mission.  Moses trembles before God in the burning bush. Next he is standing before Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!”  The majesty of God displayed before Moses’ eyes on a faraway hillside is the same majesty God displays before the greatest empire of the day.  Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord in His temple that was so staggering that he fell on his face like a dead man.  Notice God didn’t even have to tell him what to do.   God simply asks, “Who shall go?” and the awestruck Isaiah volunteers: “Here am I. Send me!”  The Samaritan woman at the well was amazed at the supernatural knowledge of Jesus.  Next we see her running into town telling her friends and family about His greatness.  The women at the tomb are the first to witness the resurrection power of God.  Next we see them telling everyone, “We have seen the Lord!”  Peter denies Christ and hides., but then he encounters the greatness of King Jesus.  Afterwards he proclaims Christ as Messiah and Lord before thousands of people.  Saul is a murder but then he encounters with the risen Jesus.  Afterwards, he spends the rest of his life seeking to help the Gentiles see the very One who initially blinded him.  Why should it be any different with us?

Missional fruitfulness comes from a heart gripped by God’s greatness and enthralled with His grace.  May we be so mesmerized by the glory of Jesus Christ that we count it as nothing to lose our lives for the spread of His fame!  Let’s get on our faces before God and then get on our feet for His mission.

 

March 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 1:22-25

Big Idea:  Hearing the word of God comes with a responsibility…but also with a hope.

James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

·    How does James describe a person who hears the word of God but does not do the word of God?
·    Do you enter into worship aware of this responsibility?
·    How might your family better prepare for hearing the word and then doing the word?

23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

·    How does James describe the hearers of the word who do not obey it?
·    What does a mirror reveal?  What do you learn by looking in the mirror?
·    How does those answer help you understand why we are deceived if we don’t obey the word of God?

25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

·    How is the law described?  What makes it so?
·    Why is obedience to the word described as persevering?
·    What are the blessings of obeying the word of God?

I don’t have any idea how many sermons that I have heard in my life.  My guess is that I have been alive for a little over 2,100 Sundays in my life.  That means that I have probably been in 2,000 Sunday sermons and that doesn’t include Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, all the revival sermons my dad peached, sermons I heard in seminary or sermons that I have listened to on tape, cd, or online.  I don’t know.  I guess I have heard 3-4,000 sermons in my life.

And you know what?  That is nothing to brag about.  I don’t get to be self-righteous because I have heard so many sermons.  In fact, I should be a bit fearful.  I am accountable for every single word of scripture that I have ever heard, studied, or preached.  And here is the thing…so are you.

What we are doing here is not a self-help seminar.  This is not information to fill your mental Wikipedia page.  It is not stuff for you to choose pick and choose from.  The sermon is not merely intended to inspire you.  God holds us accountable for each and every word that we hear here.  We are either being transformed closer to the image of Jesus in these moments or our hearts are being hardened.  Either way, we are accountable.

I have a friend, you know how this works, who used to worship and attend worship regularly.  Whether or not he is a believer, I don’t think even he knows, but he was faithful for a period of time.  But after a while of struggling and wrestling, he just opted out.  He no longer wanted to sit and hear the preaching of the scriptures Sunday in and Sunday out.  He admitted that they gave him mixed feelings.    He would be convicted of sin at one moment and angry at the next.  Wondering what life with Christ might be like while battling his doubts.  So he just chose not to sit under the preaching of the word anymore.  He reckoned that if these words weren’t true, he was wasting his time.  But if they were, he might very well be in trouble.  He didn’t want to take that chance anymore, so he opted out.

So as we, you and me, have this opportunity to hear the wonderful words of life proclaimed yet again, let’s take a moment and pray that God would break the hard ground of hearts and transform us in the hearing of His scriptures so that we might produce a harvest of the fruit of worship and obedience.

Big Idea:  Hearing the word of God comes with a responsibility…but also with a hope.

James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

As always, let’s take a second and set the context for these words from James.  Last week, we heard the daunting command of James that told us that in our interaction with each other and the world we should always be doing three things.  We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  James then went onto explain that one of the reasons for these commands is that our anger does not produce righteousness or goodness.  Our anger is typically selfish, self-motived, and self-serving and for that reason, our anger is sin.
However, James offers us the promise that God has implanted His word within us, and that word will change us and bring us more into the image of God Himself.  In fact, it was the word of God that originally brought us to faith in Jesus, and that word continues to work.  So having heard the promises of what God will do with the word, James now speaks about what we are supposed to do with the word of God.  With that, we get the command of verse 22

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

If you don’t remember, and even if you do, it is a good reminder, that James just a few verses ago reminded us to be careful not to be deceived.  Back in verse 16, James encouraged us not to be deceived into thinking that good and perfect come from our own hands, our own effort, or from any thing other than God Himself.

Now deception or being deceived means that we believe, speak, and act as if something is true when actually it is not.  And it appears that James is concerned that we all might be deceived yet again.  None of us like to think that way.  We all think we are smart enough not to be deceived, but apparently the scriptures think we are prone to deception so therefore we should keep more of a heads-up.

The deception that James is warning us of here is this:  we will be deceived if we hear the words of God and we don’t obey and put the words of God into practice.  Right now, in these few moments, in the mornings when you study your Bible, if you listen to a sermon on your phone or on the radio, any moment in which you take in the word of God, if you don’t put those words into practice and if you don’t begin to change, then you are deceived.  You want to know why so often we don’t live lives dependent upon the truths of the scriptures?

You want to know why we don’t study our Bibles regularly?  It not merely that we are lazy or that we aren’t avid readers or that we are undisciplined.  All those things play a part.  But the real reason we avoid the scriptures is that our hearts know that the Bible speaks authoritatively to us.  These words, the very words of life, demand that we walk in faith, obedience, and repentance.  They do not allow for you to remain unchanged.   And since we like our sin or we don’t want to change or we don’t want to submit to God’s authority, we just don’t read the Bible.  Well, verses 23-24 explain the deception that comes from ignoring what the scriptures are telling us.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Now the scriptures don’t make parables and illustrations and use similes for random.  They are specific to the topic and the way the scriptures describe people and circumstances actually give us a greater depth and understanding than mere illustrations that we might come up with.  For example when Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth, it is no merely an illustration.  Your knowing Jesus Christ literally preserves this world and enriches it and gives it more flavor.  So this picture in James is pretty amazing for lots of reasons.

James says that if you hear the scriptures then you are like a person who into a mirror and sees his natural face.  That means you look into a mirror and you don’t over estimate your appearance or underestimate it.  Let’s face it; we have a hard time seeing our natural face.  If you are cocky and arrogant and vain, you look at yourself and think you are God’s gift to women or men or you think I’m took good looking for my own good.  If you are insecure and self-loathing, you look at yourself and think you are horrendous looking finding flaw where there is none and exaggerating every small imperfection.

James is saying that when you read the scriptures, you see your true self.  Not what you think you are or what you think you aren’t.  The scriptures lay you, your heart, your mind, your convictions; those things are laid bare before the scriptures.  That’s why Psalm 119:104 says, “Through your precepts I get understanding.”  Another reason why many of us don’t read the Bible.  We are afraid to find out what it has to say.

But every moment we neglect the scriptures is a moment in which you lose an opportunity to understand your God and your self better.  In fact, one of the evidences of growing in Godliness is not how well you can check off the Godliness checklist.  One of the evidences of growing in Godliness is how well and how deep you understand yourself in light of who God is.  Give me a person who has a grander sense of their sin in light of the Gospel over someone who wants to flaunt their supposed Godliness any day.

But if you keep reading you see that James is saying that merely looking into the mirror of scripture is not enough.  If you and I do not put these things that we hear each Sunday and what we learn each day in the scripture, if we don’t put those things into place, then James says we are deceiving ourselves.  In fact verse 24 says that we are not only deceived but we are

24    For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Neglecting to relentlessly pursue the scriptures in both understanding and obedience is like a person who looks in the mirror, sees what he looks like, and then walks away and completely forgets what they look like.  The scriptures reveal the character of God, the great need of our sin, the beautiful complete work of Jesus Christ, and we only rightly understand ourselves in light of those truths.  And just as the Psalmist in 119 said, We are to hide these words in our heart so that we wouldn’t sin against God.

Let me give you an example.  How many of you have ever specifically sought out the help of the scriptures with a particular struggle against some sin?  Let me use two common examples:  anger and lust.  You know yourself well.  You know that there are specific situations and specific people that when you interact with them, you find yourself tempted to be angry and say things you shouldn’t or you are specifically tempted to lust and fantasize about them.  A lot of times you don’t have any choice about your interaction with them.  They are at your work, school, grocery story, maybe even this church.  So, God has moved in your heart to not only study the scriptures but to memorize them so that you can fight the sin in your heart that the temptation brings out.

But the course of time comes, you get busy, and you begin to neglect the regular pattern of studying the scriptures.  As a result you aren’t being regularly transformed or encouraged or strengthen by one of the primary means that God has given to you for strength.  And you show up here each Sunday but by 4pm on Sunday afternoon, you have already fuzzy about what we talked about and completely forgotten it a week later.  We forget sermons from a week ago like we conveniently forget to pray for people that we have promised to pray for.  Well, you bump into that person or you get in that circumstance that you knew was coming, and without a hesitation, you respond either in lust or in anger.  There is not an ounce of fight within you.  But oh wow, the moment passes and you immediately are reminded of the scriptures both against those sins and the scriptures that promise to help you.  We realize that we have completely neglected the means by which God has promised to work in us.

In essence in that moment of sin, we forgot who we are.  We forget that Jesus Christ has completely bought us out of that sin so that we can have hope.  We forget that through Jesus Christ, we are no longer dead to sin but alive to righteousness.  And as we begin to walk in the guilt of our sin, we forget that through Jesus Christ, we are completely loved in an unchanging never ending way by God the Father.

The scriptures are intended to remind you of these things…remind you of who you are now in Jesus Christ.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, they are an invitation to know Him and know yourself.  Thankfully, James doesn’t only use negative examples or give pictures of when we get it wrong.  We also see what it looks like for us to interact with the scriptures in real, powerful, responsible, obedient fashion.  Listen to verse 25.

25    But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty, perseveres in doing it.  You don’t just hear the word but you obey it as well and therefore blessed in whatever you do.  Oh there is so much here, so let’s take it piece by piece.  The scriptures here are described as the perfect law and the law of liberty.  Why is that?  You see the law of God is a perfect expression of God’s character.  We are commanded not to lie because God is the God of all truth and does not lie.  We are commanded to faithfulness in marriage because God is faithful within the Trinity and Jesus is faithful to His bride, the church.  We are commanded not to lust because we are to be content with all that we have as God has a Holy contentment among the Trinity and Christ demonstrated what contentment was to us.

The law of God and all the commands of God are not merely the to dos and the to don’ts.  They are an expression of who God is.  That is why disobeying the scriptures are not merely breaking a rule or mixup.  Sin is cosmic treason where we declare we will be our own gods and we will sit on the throne.  So apart from knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and knowing His forgiveness and the transformation that comes with faith, the law is death.

Romans 7.10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans tells us that the commandments of God are pictures of the life of God but they prove to be death to you and me.  The sin in our hearts, apart from the work of Jesus, when it hears the law of God, springs forth.  The commands of God inflame the desires of a sinful heart.  The law itself is holy, righteous, and good of course but the law incites a spiritual riot, a spiritual rebellion in our heart against God.  That is why Galatians 2:16 says, “No one is justified by the works of the law.”  No heart can choose enough or obey enough to be justified by obedience because one, we already have sin for which we are guilty and secondly, we don’t obey the law apart from God’s regenerating work in our hearts.

So having said that, how can James call what we are doing here as looking at the perfect law of liberty?  How can the same law that inflames sin in our hearts also be the law that gives us liberty and set us free?  Romans 8 explains that for us.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

There are a lifetime of sermons in just these four verses but let’s see what we can do.  James can call your looking into the scriptures and obeying them looking into the perfect law of liberty for this reason:  If you have faith in Jesus, you are no longer condemned for your disobedience.  Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

How?  Well, since you couldn’t do it, your weakened flesh could not obey the law, God sent His son Jesus in human flesh just like ours, to obey for us.  Jesus’ obedience condemned the judgment of sin on your life and fulfilled the good and righteous demand that God has for the law to be obeyed and fulfilled.  When you respond to God in faith, you are walking not according the flesh and sin any longer but you are walking according to the Spirit.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ and in the Spirit, you should hear that and rightfully rejoice.  But then you might ask, “Well how do I know if I’m in the flesh or in the spirit?  How do I know if my condemnation has been removed?  Look at verse 5.

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

After reading those verse, ask yourself, “Well, has God given me a transformed thought life?”  Not a perfect one, but a transformed one?  Is your mind set on sin and what you want or is it set upon what the Spirit wants as taught to you through the scriptures?  There is a big difference between the two here and we have to get it.  Everything depends on it.  The mind set on sin is set on death.  The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.  The mind set on sin is hostile towards God.

The way you know whether your mind is hostile towards God or not is whether your mind regularly submits to the scriptures in reading, understanding and obeying.  If you do not have a transformed heart and mind that desires to read, study, understand and obey the commands of scripture, you may very well have your heart set on sin and therefore you are hostile to God.  Look at verse 9

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.  If you do not have the Spirit of God transforming you, teaching you, moving you, enabling you, then you do not belong to Jesus.  But if Christ is in you, the promises are amazing.  Even though you live in a sinful, dying body, the Spirit gives you life and righteousness.

The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.  And that same Spirit gives you life, a life that is now able to thankfully obey and enjoy God’s grace.  Through Christ you look into the perfect law of freedom, response in obedience and experience every spiritual blessing in God.  To begin to pull of these things together, think of it this way.

Basic:  when you look in the scriptures, it shows you your real self.  Who you are and who Jesus is.  If you know Jesus Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in you and enables you to see these words as the very perfect words of life and liberty and you take joy in obeying them.  If you don’t know Jesus, these words condemn your heart, and you stay away.

Reminder:  Your obedience or disobedience is evidence of whether you know Christ not the means to knowing Christ.  If you know Christ, you look at the scriptures and obey joyfully.  You find yourself walking back to the scriptures as thirsty man crawls to drink water.  If you do not know Christ, you ignore the scriptures, neglect the scriptures, and even if you do hear them, you deceive yourself by not putting them into practice.

Hope:  The hope here though is that through Jesus Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin.  You have real hope.  Gang, some of us have given up the fight, maybe some of us have never started the fight.  We have given up the hope that real change can happen in our lives.  We can’t even imagine what it would like any more.  That is not the life to which you have been called as a child of God.

Let’s daydream for a minute.  Yes, you and I according to the book of James are absolutely responsible for every word of scriptures spoken here.  Whether I and the elders did a good job communicating it to you almost doesn’t matter.  We prayerfully try to communicate the scriptures in a clear way and then we pray that God would bless these humble words with the power of the Holy Spirit.  But we sit right now with these truth and hopefully your antenna is up, your heart is receptive.

Fortunately and by God’s grace, just as with everything else that God commands and promises, He enables you to live out the responsibility to put these words into practice.  What did we just read from the book of Romans?  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit that was present at creation, the Spirit that God promised to every single person who has faith in Jesus, that Spirit gives life to your mortal body.  Begin praying and hoping that God will move you from disobedience to glorious thankful obedience.  Begin praying and hoping that God is going to do the same in the life of your family and this church  and know that does not know Jesus.

Imagine how transformed we would be right here at SK.  We no longer passively resign ourselves to the fact that we haven’t grown.  We believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in our hearts so that we can obey the scriptures personally.  We believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and working among us to bring others to know Jesus and grow this church and change our community.

Ephesians 4 explains what happens when we trust and strive with the Holy Spirit to cause us to obey the scriptures.  21 Assuming that you have heard about Christ and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.

Do you see the connection?  You trust Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit to enable you to put off your old sef and obey being renewed in your spirit and minds putting on the new self and imitating the likeness of God that is now in you.  And what happens when we do that?  All of a sudden you begin to share that truth with your neighbor.  The work of Jesus in your heart has no choice but to overflow into the lives of other people so that they can experience the truths of scripture and the transforming work of Jesus through the Spirit.

I’m completely unimpressed with anyone’s growth in Godliness and holiness unless it looks like this.  Growth in personal obedience must turn into a grown and desire to share Jesus with others.  When this work here among us doesn’t grow, we aren’t to stoically say, “Oh well, we didn’t grow” or “why should we expect to grow this year” or “well we’ve tried that already.”  Those are faithless words.  They should be uttered in tears and morning and sack clothes and ashes for the lack of our obedience.

We beg God to enable us to obey the scriptures knowing that that prayer God answers.  I promise you it to God’s will for you to obey.  So let’s pray in this moment, “God give us the full range of obedience that you command.  Enable us to put off the old self.  Renew our minds.  Enable us to walk in the new self.  Create your likeness in us.  Move us to share the Gospel with yoru neighbor.

I don’t any of this, “Well we are working on the personal obedience and then we as a church can share Jesus.  Junk theology.  Junk thinking.  We don’t do that with our kids, we don’t do that at work.  We don’t say, “Let’s work on obeying at home and then maybe when we get that down we’ll worry about obeying at school and church.”  We don’t say, “Well I need to focus on obeying at home and then I’ll worry about obeying at work.”

Junk.  We can’t think that way with our kids, our careers, or this church.  If we do, we have forgotten what we look like.  No, the Spirit of God dwells within you.  The Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead.  So the defeatist mentality about personal sin, the reconciliation of relationships and the growth of this church ends now.   Let’s pray.

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment